By Tem Horwitz - Founder and Publisher of Cloud Hands Press
When I first read the Tao Te Ching some 50 or so years ago, I read it through the lens and haze of those times. It felt hip, cool, and counter-cultural. Above all, it offered a radically different way of looking at the world and American culture. Reading it after all these decades, with greater life experience, some passages have become clearer and more relevant. Other passages are a comfortable reminder about what is of value in this world.
Portions of the text appear to be improbable and counter-intuitive, but after many years of practicing and teaching Tai Chi Ch’uan, they make more sense to me. I have learned that the soft and yielding can indeed overcome the hard and aggressive, that lightness is rooted in heaviness and that the watercourse way flourishes over time.
There are two archetypal figures who weave their way through the text: the Sage and the Ruler. Focusing on the Ruler feels appropriate at this moment.
Here are some key reflections from the text:
Great rulers go unnoticed.
The good ruler rules as much by what is done as by what is not done.
You want to rule the world with force? This cannot be done.
The ruler prevails but does not boast.
A victor without pride.
The ruler allows things to take their own course, intervenes when necessary, and does not boast about peace, prosperity and safety. By contrast, the ruler who seeks to be loved is ultimately despised.
Rulers with wisdom believe themselves to be orphaned and worthless and bereft. When the rulers are arrogant, dressed in finery, living in magnificent residences and ruling with an iron fist—We call them thieves!
I think we have all seen how this translates into our world: the Putins, the Orbans, the Trumps and the Erdogans. "The great nation cultivates humility." And we have all seen and experienced how arrogance and self-righteousness play out over time with nations.
Rule the nation the way you would cook a small and tender fish.
The political wisdom and practical knowledge of how the world works—and how it doesn’t-- that is quietly embedded in the text is refreshing. It is presented in such a way that you will find it when you are ready to hear its wisdom. This does not detract from the poetry and the beauty of the text. A deceptively profound text.
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