81True words are not pleasing.
Pleasing words are not true.
Those who are right do not argue.
Those who argue are not right.
Those who know are not learned.
Those who are learned do not know.
The sage does not hoard.
The more he does for others,
The more he has.
The more he thereby gives to others,
The ever more he gets.
Is to benefit and not to harm.
The sage's Way
Is to act and not to contend.
The IdealThe final chapter of the Tao Te Ching sums up the most important aspects of living up to the ideal of Tao, the Way, and what signifies the sage who follows it. The similarities to the Christian ideals, as expressed in the words of Jesus, are obvious. This whole chapter could be summarized: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
This proximity to Christian ethics would raise hesitation, since we have the tendency to interpret foreign cultures and thoughts according to our own beliefs. Could we be reading things into Lao Tzu that come from our own minds and not his?
But this golden rule is far from unique to Christianity. It can be found in numerous other traditions and philosophies. It's not unlikely for Lao Tzu to share it. Also, the Tao Te Ching contains many similar thoughts, as well as several arguments that lead to the same conclusion.
The unselfish ideal is universal. Lao Tzu clearly supports it, too.
One should not spend life gathering riches and privileges that others lack, although they might need them more. One should try to do good without forcing it upon people, and without needing to take credit for it. We should all try to help and care for one another. It's as simple as that.
If we could, we would swiftly reach Heaven on Earth.
Words, Words, Words
Also in his warnings against false speech and preaching, Lao Tzu expresses thoughts very close to those of Jesus and other thinkers through time. The truth is not always pleasant to hear. Those, whose words are always pleasing, probably avoid words that would upset us, whether they are true or not.
There's a lot of that going on, nowadays. Flattery, hypocrisy, and empty promises are poured over us constantly. The truth is said to be relative, which is taken as an excuse for bending it to one's liking and advantage.
It's also far too common for people in positions of responsibility to hide their failures and shortcomings by not telling us what they know. And in our everyday life we claim to be kind, by serving each other numerous white lies and flattery, but rarely sincerity.
This use of words has gone on so long and so much, that we are ourselves confused about whether or not what we say is true. We lie so much that we get lost in it, and we say so much that we can't keep track of it. As Hamlet says: "Words, words, words." We need to halt the flow and examine its content, before continuing.
Arguments can be constructive when those involved use them to investigate their thoughts, striving for conclusions that all can agree upon. But there are lots of arguments where that process doesn't take place, and they are usually the most heated ones, going on the longest. Sadly, they are also usually about the most important topics.
We listen the least when we talk the loudest. Many arguments are not exchanges of views, but repeated statements of the refusal to discuss.
Those who are right and know it, don't feel protective about it. Mistakes and lies are short-lived, but the truth will most certainly prevail without battle. It's what remains when lies have been revealed and mistakes have been corrected.
Truth wins without a fight, so there's no need to start one over it. The only thing needed is some patience. If we impatiently insist on the truth, we will be less convincing and it will just take longer for the truth to win.
When truth is fought for, it seems to be untrue. Why else fight for it? Countless times, we have experienced how lies and deceptions were forced on us, so we have good reason to suspect whatever is aggressively propagated.
The sage just lowers his voice and waits for sincere questions. They will come.
Wisdom, Not Learning
There is much good to say about learning, but it doesn't necessarily bring wisdom. Knowing the facts is not the same as understanding what they represent or prove. Good learning is gathered in order to have substantial material for reaching conclusions. But learning without concluding is as meaningless as amassing riches that one cannot ever spend in a lifetime. It's excessive baggage.
Our time is one of rapidly growing knowledge. The total of human knowledge is said to be doubled every few years. But most of this knowledge is in need of processing. It has yet to be used for conclusions. We number things and name them, but that's not to understand them. We're just expanding our catalogs.
Sadly, this rapidly increased knowledge and the widening gap to our understanding of it, leave most people in bewilderment. Not only is there more and more we have no chance of getting to know, but we also gasp at all we need to learn in order to introduce ourselves to any specific subject. Reaching knowledge about even the smallest thing seems like a gargantuan feat.
So, the more human knowledge is gathered, the less we know and the farther we get from understanding. There is less and less that we dare to believe we comprehend, without being experts on it.
That way, our society is quickly moving towards a world ruled by experts, as if there are always facts demanding this or that solution, and neither priorities nor ideals have anything to do with it. As if society is merely a machine and we are its fuel.
But facts are often inconclusive and experts are rarely infallible. Any social situation is so complex that several options are present. When we make our choices, we need to consider what future we want to reach.
We cannot surrender our responsibilities to facts that are yet uncertain or ambiguous. Nor can we allow those who claim to be the most learned to make all our choices for us. That ends in a world nobody wanted.
Knowledge without true understanding is blind. If we follow the blind we are sure to leave the Way.
Tao, the Way, is to benefit and not to harm. Therefore we know that what doesn't benefit us is not according to Tao, and it will probably harm us. A simple rule. When we are considering what path to follow and how to act, we can simply choose what's the most beneficial and the least harmful.
All through our history, we have far too many examples of this simple rule being neglected, and the costly results thereof.
It's not easy to follow Tao, the Way, but the result is certainly worth the effort.