Tao Thought: Invisibility and daodejing 76

Invisibility is the best advantage.
But if forced to a confrontation,
Come out with all your skill.

There was once a roadside vendor who sold rheumatism formulas to the passersby. He was a cheery old man who was faithfully at his spot for years. One day a young bully began to harass the vendor. The old man tried very hard to avoid the confrontation, but eventually the bully became convinced that he had a coward to abuse as he pleased. When the moment of attack came, the old man defeated him with superior boxing skills. Significantly, the old man was never seen again. He had manifested his superiority at a critical moment, but once he had exposed himself, he disappeared.

In this competitive world, it is best to be invisible. Go through life without showing off, attracting attention to yourself, or making flamboyant gestures. These will only attract the hostility of others. The wise accomplish all that they want without arousing the envy or scorn of others. They make achievements only for the sake of fulfilling their inner yearnings.

Yet it is inevitable that you will have to prove yourself at one time or another. When that is necessary, then you must marshal all your skills and do your very best. Prove yourself when it is demanded, and when you must prove yourself, be superior. At that moment, it is no time to talk of philosophy and humility. Act. Do. Then fade back into invisibility.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations

Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

Tao Te Ching translated by various current scholars

When people are born they are soft and supple
when they perish they are hard and stiff

When plants shoot forth they are soft and tender
when they die they are withered and dry

Thus it is said the hard and strong are followers of death
the soft and weak are followers of life

When an army becomes strong it suffers defeat
when a plant becomes hard it snaps

The hard and strong dwell below
the soft and weak dwell above



At birth a person is soft and yielding,
at death stiff and hard.

All beings, the grass, the trees: alive, soft, and yielding;
dead, stiff, and hard.

Therefore the hard and inflexible are friends of death.
The soft and yielding are friends of life.

An unyielding army is destroyed.
An unbending tree breaks.

The hard must humble itself or be otherwise humbled.
The soft will ultimately ascend.



Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plats are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.




This site contains segments of an extended interpretive theory of Classical Chinese philosophy that takes Daoism (Taoism) as the philosophical center. The interpretive theory turns on a new, more philosophical reading of the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi (ChuangTzu 莊子). My analysis highlights skeptical and relativist themes in his thinking. The crucial novelty is the assumption that Zhuangzi was a philosopher of language, like his close friend and philosophical interlocutor, Hui Shi, . He was deeply engaged with the linguistic and other insights of the Later Mohists (sometimes called Neo-Mohists or Dialectical Mohists) and the School of Names. His relation to the other famous Daoist, Laozi (Lao Tzu) is rather more indirect but their views are complementary in that both deal with 道daoguide at a higher level than do Confucians or Mohists.

The site also contains my related writings about Confucianism, Mohism, LegalismAsian values, human rights and rule of law. and some reflections on Asian values, human rights and rule of law.

If you find the interpretive approach and style worthwhile, you may be interested in my systematic and more complete treatment of Chinese thought. I am please to report that Oxford University Press has reissued my book, A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought , in affordable paperback (at last!).

I add essays and translation here as I finish them for publication and also include links to classes I teach at the University of Hong Kong.

Much of this is work in progress and I would appreciate any feedback about, e.g., where it is hard to follow, makes historical errors, etc. Any Chinese characters in various postings use Big5 coding (gradually changing to Unicode). Hover over note icons in the detail pages for a brief description of each article.

If you have any comments, criticisms or suggestions send mail to: chansen (at)

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