Tao-te ching Comments

Parable of the Small Fish

Quote

    Governing a great state is like cooking small fish.
    Let the kingdom be governed according to the Tao...
    (Ch. 60, Legge version.)

Commentary

Commenting upon the first line of this chapter, D.C. Lau states that this is "a famous but obscure line" and explains it in a footnote: "a small fish can be spoiled simply by being handled".* Still it's difficult to understand what is the connection between handle a small fish and governing a kingdom.

But if we consider the phrase "Let the kingdom be governed according to the Tao", we understand the true significance of the first line. In short, it's meaning is: When the Kingdom is governed according to the Tao, (the act of) governing is a very simple matter, like cooking a small fish.

Governing according to Tao, the ruler practices the nondoing (wu-wei) and everything enter the right path/way without effort.

Not having to do too much with the governing is the right way if you want the kingdom to be in good order. Please compare this statement with the story of the Yellow Emperor in the Lieh-tzu ("The Yellow Emperor visits the immortals land", Eva Wong's Lieh-tzu a Taoist Guide to Practical Living, Shambala, p.51)

Anther commentary on the first lines of this chapter seems to confirm my own. It belongs to Moss Roberts who says: "<Cooking a small fish> represents minimal handling which will include a minimum of official activity..." And: "The fish remains intact, uninjured; the metaphor suggests attentiveness...".**

*For the comments of D.C. Lau see www.friesian.com/taote.htm.
** Dao De Jing - The Book of the Way, University of California Press, 2004, p. 151.

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Commentary by Jhian

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