Fur Elise of Taoism

Nestled in the tao to ching at number 17 is a bit of a Fur Elise of Taoism but it’s a goodie and it relates so closely to what can make a teacher great, it’s also a provocative model for a leader – I know a few Secondary School Principals who are feared and a few Prime Ministers who are liked!

When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.
If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.
The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

tao te ching edited by stephen mitchell


  1. How is this translation? I have read Derek Lin’s translation, which has a lot of interesting commentary.

  2. Kia ora Henry. I have two copies of tao te ching. One (as above) translated by Stephen Mitchell, and another (which I have been told is a more pure or accurate translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English). I’ve returned to the notes in Mitchell’s text to find this rather sparce footnote: “One of several chapters that are as relevant to child-rearing as to government. ‘The Master doesn’t talk, he acts’: His words are in perfect harmony with his actions. He is always genuine.” I will post the second version I have of chapter 17 today. I have read your ‘introduction’ and your ‘journey’ sounds very compelling. I am very drawn to the antique wisdom of Asia. I’m about to embark on learning Qi Gong also. A Chinese doctor I visit in Auckland (Rona Wang) has recommended I learn from a DVD as the teaching is ‘good or true’. So beside this computer I have a man sitting in lotus wearing red, the face and body of ‘Shaolin Dhyana Exercise’. Perhaps he is what is referred to as the ‘main lecturer: ShiXingliao’? Would you recommend I invest in a copy of Derek Lin’s translation? Kind thanks, Emily from wild & grace

  3. Sounds like you are making a lot of progress with your journey. The footnote to chapter 17 in that translation is just speaking about how applicable that chapter is to one’s personal life, and also to those in power. How I interpret one’s “words . . . in perfect harmony with one’s actions” is that our actions and words do not mislead; that is to say, that we behave ourselves without deceit to be pure like water, because water reflects its surroundings and does not hide anything in its reflection.
    Derek Lin’s translation is worth reading and very close to the original (I have at some entries side by side). An example of his chapter 17 commentary: “The most skillful rulers work behind the scene . . . [and] use a light touch and produce seamless results.”
    Hope this is helpful.

    1. The water analogy you use is very beautiful. Nature in Aotearoa is very potent and feeds many people’s soul-life here. I have witnessed people struggling with the other ‘walls’ living on an island at the ‘bottom of the world’ produces, but there is a raw elemental magic and a sometimes frightening power in Te Ra (the sun) that weaves our roots into the land so our bodies don’t flee. I will dwell on ‘light touch’. Emily

I love reading your comments, kia ora for taking the time to share your thoughts

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