Tao Thought: Conservation and daodejing 72

Don’t let a thread fall without noticing it.

Don’t rake dry brown leaves carelessly.
Think how difficult it was
For something to take this existence.

Frugality is lauded in almost every culture. Nearly all of us have been taught to conserve and save. Those who do not waste and yet do not become misers are most admirable.

We can be aware of conservation everyday. We should think whether we what we discard can be reused or recycled. We should consider whether our expenditures are really necessary. We should be aware if we are wasting our time and efforts on frivolous activities. We should not abuse our environment with garbage, pollutants, and (mindless) recreational activities.

Conservation is impossible without a sound understanding of the wholeness of cycles. Unless we remember how precious something is,home much effort it took for it to come into being, we will not value it. Unless we think about its proper transformation into its next phase—a leaf withering, a flower browning, a lake drying up—we will not know our relation to it. Everything lives or dies in its own time. We too are part of the same cycles, only we have the option of contemplating and acting within that context. To do so with grace and awareness is the essence of one who follows Tao.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

daodejing translated by current scholars

When people no longer fear authority
a greater authority will appear

Don’t restrict where people dwell
Don’t repress how people live
If they aren't repressed
they won't protest

Thus the sage knows himself
but doesn't reveal himself
He loves himself
but doesn't exalt himself

Thus he picks this over that



If people fear your power,
then you don't really have any.

Leave them alone in their homes.
Respect them in their lives,
and they won't grow weary of you.

The sage knows herself,
but doesn't dwell on herself;
Loves herself, but no more
than she loves everyone else.

She adopts the concerns of heaven as her own.



When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won't be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.


Stanford Studies on Daoism


  • The Laozi Story
  • Date and Authorship of the Laozi
  • Textual Traditions
  • Commentaries
  • Approaches to the Laozi

Approaches to the Laozi

To begin with Dao, the etymology of the graph suggests a pathway, or heading in a certain direction along a path. Most commentators agree in translating dao as “way.” As a verb, perhaps on account of the directionality involved, dao also conveys the sense of “speaking.” Thus, the opening phrase of chapter 1, dao ke dao, literally “Dao that can be dao-ed,” is often rendered, “The Way that can be spoken of.” In most cases, the capitalized form -- “Way” or “Dao” -- is used, to distinguish it from other usages of the term.

The concept of dao figures centrally also in Confucian writings, and as mentioned some parts of the current Laozi represent a critique of the Confucian school (especially chs. 18 and 19). In general, whereas dao signifies a means to a higher end in other schools of Chinese philosophy, the Laozi sees it as an end in itself. This distinction is captured in the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition), which defines “Dao” as follows: “In Taoism, an absolute entity which is the source of the universe; the way in which this absolute entity functions.” “In Confucianism and in extended uses,” however, the term means “the way to be followed, the right conduct; doctrine or method.”

The Laozi underscores both the ineffability and creative power of Dao. Chapter 1 states that the “constant” (chang, also translated as “eternal” -- e.g., W. T. Chan 1963) Dao cannot be described; it is “nameless.” Chapter 14 brings out clearly that Dao transcends sensory perception; it has no shape or form. Nameless and formless, Dao can only be described as “dark” (xuan) or wu, literally “not having” any name, form, or other characteristics of things (see also chs. 21 and 32). Indeed, though suggestive, the term “Dao” itself is no more than a symbol -- as the Laozi makes clear, “I do not know its name; I style it Dao” (ch. 25; see also ch. 34). This suggests a sense of radical transcendence, which may explain why the Laozi has been approached so often as a mystical text.

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