Tao-te ching Comments

About the Two Parts of a Whole

The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the skilful closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has shut will be impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or knots, while to unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In the same way the sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he does not cast away any man; he is always skilful at saving things, and so he does not cast away anything. This is called "Hiding the light of his procedure".

Therefore the man of skill is a master (to be looked up to) by him who has not the skill; and he who has not the skill is the helper of (the reputation of) him who has the skill. If the one did not honour his master, and the other did not rejoice in his helper, an (observer), though intelligent, might greatly err about them. This is called "The utmost degree of mystery". (Tao-te ching, chapter 27, Legge)


Moss Roberts notices that the majority of commentators of this chapter don't see a connection between its two parts.

He continues: "Though a connection is plausible, this [chapter] may actually comprise two smaller [chapters].*

I think that this chapter is a whole as I understand it as follows:

There are many skills and and skilled people. The wise man is also a skilled person. His skill is to help people regardless of their condition. But in order to be recognized as a skilled master one needs to be honored by someone who has not the corresponding skill. This is called, says Lao-tzu, the almost degree of mystery.

The idea here is that something depends on some other thing in order to be appreciated or considered as a whole (aka complete). Example: we can't define the good if we don't have the idea of what is bad! So good and bad are the two opposing parts of a whole.

This surely must be called "The utmost degree of mystery".

*Dao De Jing, translation and commentary by Moss Roberts, University of California Press, 2004, p. 86.

Commentary by Jhian



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