Taoism > Masters > Yang-tzu

[Yang-tzu dialogue with Lao-tzu (Lao Tan)
about the features of a enlightened leader]

Yang Tzu-chu went to see Lao Tan and said, "Here is a man swift as an echo, strong as a beam, with a wonderfully clear understanding of the principles of things, studying the Way without ever letting up - a man like this could compare with an enlightened king, couldn't he?"

Lao Tan said, "In comparison to the sage, a man like this is a drudging slave, a craftsman bound to his calling, wearing out his body, grieving his mind. They say it is the beautiful markings of the tiger and the leopard that call out the hunters, the nimbleness of the monkey and the ability of the dog to catch rats' that make them end up chained. A man like this - how could he compare to an enlightened king?"

Yang Tzu-chu, much taken aback, said, "May I venture to ask about the government of the enlightened king?"

Lao Tan said, "The government of the enlightened king? His achievements blanket the world but appear not to be his own doing. His transforming influence touches the ten thousand things but the people do not depend on him. With him there is no promotion or praise - he lets everything find its own enjoyment. He takes his stand on what cannot be fathomed and wanders where there is nothing at all." (From Chuang-tzu, translation by Burton Watsom, chapter VII, Fit for emperors and kings.)


The conclusion of the dialogue is self-evident: the features of the enlightened leader are not what common people think, namely power, decision, direction, and wisdom. All these features and others as well are but chains. We are chained by our qualities and abilities.

Contrary to Yang-tzu's opinion, the essential aspects of the leader, according to Lao-tzu, are: doing without doing, not forcing one's way and retreating when the time requires. Finally, he says: the leader has no stand and no direction (i.e. "wanders where there is nothing at all").

It would not be useless to see to what extent today's leaders comply with these features!

By Jhian.

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