Five Fragments from the Teachings of Lao-Tzu
Thomas Cleary (Tr.)
Lao-tzu, or Laotse, an image according to legend
Editorial Note
In “The Secret Doctrine” (volume I, p. XXV),
Helena Blavatsky reports that Lao-tzu is said to have
written one thousand books. The most famous among
them is, of course, the Tao Teh-Ching. Two other valuable
books with Lao-tzu’s teachings are at present available in
Western languages: the Wen-tzu and the Hua Hu Ching
The following paragraphs are reproduced from the “Wen-tzu”.
1. Contentment
Lao-tzu said:
Nothing in the world is easier than doing what is good, nothing is harder than doing what is not good. Doing what is good means being calm and uncontrived, suiting your true condition and refusing the rest, not being seduced by anything, following your essential nature, preserving reality, and not changing yourself. Therefore doing what is good is easy.
Doing what is not good means assassination and usurpation, fraud and deception, agitation and covetousness, denial of human nature. Therefore it is said that doing what is not good is hard.
That which now causes great troubles arises from lack of a normal degree of contentment. Therefore it is imperative to examine the grounds of benefit and harm, the borderline of calamity and fortune. [1]
2. The Mind
The vital essence of mind can be influenced spiritually but cannot be guided by talk. The fact that sages can govern the world without leaving their chairs is because feelings reach farther than words.
So when there is trust in verbal agreements, the trust is there before the words. When there is action on common directions, the sincerity of the action is there apart from the directives.
When sages are in positions of leadership, the people are influenced as if spiritually, being led by means of feelings. [2]
3. Common Sense
Lao-tzu said:
Noncontrivance means mastering the strategy of noncontrivance, looking after uncontrived affairs, and employing uncontrived wisdom.
The master hides in formlessness, acts without laziness, does not initiate prosperity or start misfortune.
Beginning in formlessness, acting when there is no choice, if you want good fortune, first let there be no calamity; if you want what is beneficial, first remove what is harmful.
So those who are at peace by noncontrivance are endangered when they lose that whereby they are at peace. Those who are orderly by noncontrivance fall into chaos when they lose that whereby they are orderly. Therefore they do not want to be lustrous like jewels or plentiful like stones. [3]
4. Humaneness
When Wen-tzu asked about humaneness, Lao-tzu said:
If you are in a superior position, don’t be proud of your success; if you are in a subordinate position, don’t be ashamed of your problems. If you are wealthy, don’t be arrogant; if you are poor, don’t steal.[4] Always keep impartial universal love and do not let it fade. This is called humaneness. [5]
5. The Sages
Sages do not want anything and do not avoid anything. When you want something, that may just make you lose it; and if you try to avoid something, that may just bring it about. When you desire something in your heart, then you forget what you are doing. [6]
[1] From “Wen-tzu, Understanding the Mysteries”, Further Teachings of Lao-tzu, translated from the Chinese by Thomas Cleary, Shambhala, Boston and London, 1992, 184 pp., see chapter 131, pp. 126-127. The book has very short chapters.
[2] “Wen-tzu, Understanding the Mysteries”, Thomas Cleary, chapter 25, p. 30.
[3] “Wen-tzu, Understanding the Mysteries”, chapter 45, p. 46.
[4] In order to adapt these sentences to modern nations, we would have to add: “And if you are wealthy, also do no steal.”
[5] “Wen-tzu”, chapter 74, p. 65.
[6] “Wen-tzu”, chapter 131, p. 127.
The above selection of fragments from the Wen-tzu is part of the September 2016 edition of “The Aquarian Theosophist”, pp. 15-17. Original title: “Five Fragments from the Wen-Tzu”. On 20 February 2019, the text was published as an independent article in our associated websites.
See at the associated websites the ancient book “The Tao Teh Ching”, in the version prepared by Lin Yutang
On 14 September 2016, after examining the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to found the Independent Lodge of Theosophists. Two of the priorities adopted by the ILT are learning from the past and building a better future.