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Hard and Soft

Part 76 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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When man is born, he is tender and weak; at death, he is hard and stiff. When the things and plants are alive, they are soft and supple; when they are dead, they are brittle and dry. Therefore hardness and stiffness are the companions of death, and softness and gentleness are the companions of life.

Therefore when an army is headstrong, it will lose in a battle.

When a tree is hard, it will be cut down.

The big and strong belong underneath.

The gentle and weak belong at the top.

(Tao Teh King 76)

When man is born, he is tender and weak; at death, he is hard and stiff. When the things and plants are alive, they are soft and supple; when they are dead, they are brittle and dry. Therefore hardness and stiffness are the companions of death, and softness and gentleness are the companions of life. Feng and English: “Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death. The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.” A major principle of Taoism is the insistence on flexibility and the ability to “roll with the punches” rather than punch back and compound the conflict.

In the Taoist view life is pliable and death, or that which breeds death, is hard and unyielding. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5), is the same view. It did not originate with Jesus, for the Psalm says: “The meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” (Psalms 37:11). According to the Aquarian Gospel the Essenes were well acquainted with the Taoist writings, and the psalmist may have been also. (Not all of the psalms were written by David). There is a great deal of mistaken thought and action that arises from a misapplied insistence on standing up and being firm about principles that are purely personal rather than truly matters of justice and righteousness. The principle of forgiveness and returning good for evil is purely Taoist in the context of this section of the Tao Teh King. So is: “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (II Corinthians 3:6).

Therefore when an army is headstrong, it will lose in a battle. Wu: “Therefore, a mighty army tends to fall by its own weight, just as dry wood is ready for the axe.” Any individual or group which exalts their “standards” or ideas of “right” above good sense and respect for others will also lose and fall. “Here I stand,” insisted Martin Luther and look at the spiritual blight he ushered into the world. Nailing personal ideas to doors as Luther did is not the way to bring either wisdom or right.

When a tree is hard, it will be cut down. This is why both spiritual and political movements come and go. When they become “giants of the forest” their death warrant is already made out.

The big and strong belong underneath. Wu: “The mighty and the great will be laid low.” Mabry: “The strong and rigid are broken and laid low.” This can be understood in two legitimate ways. One is that the great and powerful should be the servants of the people, they should be the support and burden-bearers for those of lesser power than they. The other is that such people will, if they do not cultivate humility, flexibility and care for those “beneath” them, themselves be broken and brought low.

The gentle and weak belong at the top. Wu: “The humble and the weak will be exalted.” Mabry: “The soft and weak will always overcome.” Here again we find that the meek and humble will eventually rise, even if only after tremendous suffering and upheaval. Also that it is those who are mild and aware of their own frailty that have the moral strength needed to be leaders and governors.

All the preceding can be applied to the inner polity of the seeker for enlightenment. Each one of us is a kingdom and often various of our aspects clamor for the pre-eminence and control–even tyranny. Just as a state should be ordered rightly, so must we be. Therefore Lao Tzu is a master teacher of both governments and individuals who seek to be united with the Tao and embody its traits perfectly.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Bending the Bow

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Introduction to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Chapters of The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Preface to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

  1. On the Absolute Tao
  2. The Rise of Relative Opposites
  3. Action Without Deeds
  4. The Character of Tao
  5. Nature
  6. The Spirit of the Valley
  7. Living for Others
  8. Water
  9. The Danger of Overweening Success
  10. Embracing the One
  11. The Utility of Not-Being
  12. The Senses
  13. Praise and Blame
  14. Prehistoric Origins
  15. The Wise Ones of Old
  16. Knowing the Eternal Law
  17. Rulers
  18. The Decline of Tao
  19. Realize the Simple Self
  20. The World and I
  21. Manifestations of Tao
  22. Futility of Contention
  23. Identification with Tao
  24. The Dregs and Tumors of Virtue
  25. The Four Eternal Models
  26. Heaviness and Lightness
  27. On Stealing the Light
  28. Keeping to the Female
  29. Warning Against Interference
  30. Warning Against the Use of Force
  31. Weapons of Evil
  32. Tao is Like the Sea
  33. Knowing Oneself
  34. The Great Tao Flows Everywhere
  35. The Peace of Tao
  36. The Rhythm of Life
  37. World Peace
  38. Degeneration
  39. Unity Through Complements
  40. The Principle of Reversion
  41. Qualities of the Taoist
  42. The Violent Man
  43. The Softest Substance
  44. Be Content
  45. Calm Quietude
  46. Racing Horses
  47. Pursuit of Knowledge
  48. Conquering the World by Inaction
  49. The People’s Hearts
  50. The Preserving of Life
  51. The Mystic Virtue
  52. Stealing the Absolute
  53. Brigandage
  54. The Individual and the State
  55. The Character of the Child
  56. Beyond Honor and Disgrace
  57. The Art of Government
  58. Unobtrusive Government
  59. Be Sparing
  60. Governing a Big Country
  61. Big and Small Countries
  62. The Good Man’s Treasure
  63. Difficult and Easy
  64. Beginning and End
  65. The Grand Harmony
  66. The Lords of the Ravines
  67. The Three Treasures
  68. The Virtue of Not-Contending
  69. Camouflage
  70. They Know Me Not
  71. Sick-Mindedness
  72. On Punishment (1)
  73. On Punishment (2)
  74. On Punishment (3)
  75. On Punishment (4)
  76. Hard and Soft
  77. Bending the Bow
  78. Nothing Weaker than Water
  79. Peace Settlements
  80. The Small Utopia
  81. The Way of Heaven

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