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The Individual and the State

Part 54 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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Who is firmly established is not easily shaken.

Who has a firm grasp does not easily let go.

From generation to generation his ancestral sacrifices shall be continued without fail.

Cultivated in the individual, character will become genuine.

Cultivated in the family, character will become abundant.

Cultivated in the village, character will multiply.

Cultivated in the state, character will prosper.

Cultivated in the world, character will become universal.

Therefore: According to (the character of) the individual, judge the individual; according to (the character of) the family, judge the family; according to (the character of) the village, judge the village; according to (the character of) the state, judge the state; according to (the character of) the world, judge the world.

How do I know this is so? By this.

(Tao Teh King 54)

Who is firmly established is not easily shaken.

This seems quite obvious, but Lao Tzu’s purpose is to tell us that the only way to not be easily shaken by the vagaries of life is to previously become inwardly firm and stable. Life is lived from the inside out, so the interior condition of the individual will determine the state of his outer life.

Who has a firm grasp does not easily let go. When our ideals and principles are not products of whim or shallow observation, but rather are based on a deep and intelligent insight, we will not easily be moved from our convictions and purpose.

From generation to generation his ancestral sacrifices shall be continued without fail. Not only will the settled and insightful individual be stable and continuing through the years, because he will impart these qualities to his children by example, they, too, will continue steadfast and immovable. Neither he nor his family will be without roots.

Cultivated in the individual, character will become genuine. The forest is green because each individual tree is green. In the same way integrity and personal worth are present only when consciously and wisely cultivated by the individual. When a person is self-motivated and self-disciplined his good qualities will be both authentic and enduring.

Cultivated in the family, character will become abundant. When all the members of a family are united in the pursuit of virtue they will support and strengthen one another so that their collective goodness will increase steadily.

Cultivated in the village, character will multiply. If the same is true of a village, then the countryside will be benefited by their example and virtue will become sought after, for virtue, like vice, can be contagious.

Cultivated in the state, character will prosper. An entire people can attain a level of righteousness unthought of by common men. There have been times in history when entire countries have been renowned for their virtue. For example, everyone who has studied English history knows that during the reign of the King Saint Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century, honesty was so prevalent that if a person dropped their purse on a road they could go back weeks later and find it there undisturbed. Countries have been renowned for kindness and hospitality. Thailand was commonly called The Land of Smiles.

Cultivated in the world, character will become universal. This incredible ideal is even possible worldwide, because if it can be so with a family, a town and a country it can be so with an entire planet.

Therefore: According to (the character of ) the individual, judge the individual; according to (the character of ) the family, judge the family; according to (the character of ) the village, judge the village; according to (the character of ) the state, judge the state; according to (the character of ) the world, judge the world. This is a bedrock principle of personal wisdom. Character is everything. I know this is so because I grew up in a small town of four hundred and fifty people in which character was the measure of the individual. Money meant nothing, literally. Integrity alone mattered. I lived in this atmosphere for years and have never forgotten it, or seen it anywhere else. But if it could be there it can be anywhere. So I know Lao Tzu is not just dreaming or theorizing.

Mabry’s translation implies that it is possible through the two virtues mentioned at the beginning: being established and having a firm grasp.

How do I know this is so? By this. Wu translates this: “How do I know about the world? By what is within me.” This is the key to it all. The individual ultimately determines the world. This must be realized.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: The Character of the Child

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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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