When the people no longer fear your power, it is a sign that a greater power is coming.
Interfere not lightly with their dwelling, nor lay heavy burdens upon their livelihood. Only when you cease to weary them, will they cease to be wearied of you.
Therefore, the Sage knows himself, but makes no show of himself; loves himself, but does not exalt himself. He prefers what is within to what is without.
(Tao Teh King 72–Wu translation)
When the people no longer fear your power, it is a sign that a greater power is coming. Mabry: “When people lose their fear of power then great power has indeed arrived.”
Immediately there comes to mind the modern film version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Despite his pretenses of love for the animals he is trying to turn into human beings, Dr. Moreau controls them through intense pain when they “misbehave.” At one point some of these altered animals are speaking with him, and one asks him: “Father, if there is no pain, is there no law?” For breaking Dr. Moreau’s “law” always brought pain.
In both religious and civil life the threat of punishment in some form of pain, physical or psychological, is considered necessary to keep people in line and obeying the law. Civil life is perhaps too complex to quickly make a worthy and not merely theoretical statement regarding the threat of pain, but I can confidently say that such a threat is only needful in a religion when it is false, hypocritical, coercive and an infraction of the judgment and freedom of the members. Certainly when there is no longer fear among the members we can know that a higher and greater power has come into function, in both civil and religious life, on the part of the official structure and in the hearts of the people.
So Lao Tzu is telling all those in power (including parents) that only when there is no fear is there justice, right and truth. I am acquainted with a totally pacifist church which holds as a cardinal principle that children must never be caused pain in any form. They are never spanked, shaken, shouted at or “talked to” in any threatening or coercive manner. Rather, the reason for the rules are carefully and rationally explained to them, confident that they have a higher nature that will respond. And it is so. Never have I seen such happy, loving and obedient children in the West as those in that church. I have seen the same thing in India where, at least in the truly religious households, children are respected and treated as intelligent and innately good. I have seen for myself that Lao Tzu is speaking correctly in this verse.
Interfere not lightly with their dwelling, nor lay heavy burdens upon their livelihood. Only when you cease to weary them, will they cease to be wearied of you. This principle should be kept in mind in all aspects of our interaction with people. Interference is never right, though intervention may be. But if it is necessary, we must not forget the wise Biblical injunctions: “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).
Therefore, the Sage knows himself, but makes no show of himself; loves himself, but does not exalt himself. He prefers what is within to what is without. Knowing it is likely that the civil rulers will ignore his wisdom, but realizing that the principles he sets forth will be adopted by the wise in their personal life, Lao Tzu now speaks of the Sage and lists sagely traits for us to apply to ourselves.
The English speak of a person who “keeps himself to himself,” and that is a quality of a true sage. He knows himself and knows his value as part of the life of the Tao, but he does not declaim it or push himself forward and attract the attention of the heedless. He lets them be at peace and so is at peace himself.
He loves himself as he loves the Tao, but he does not put himself above others, for they, too, are part of the Tao, even if they know it not. But he knows it and respects them and leaves them to find it out on their own.
The sage is intent on the inward life, knowing that it is more real than the outer life, plus he knows that the outer proceeds from the inner and that we must first conceive our thoughts, words and deeds inwardly and then project them outwardly in conformity with the inner order, the Way of the Tao that is Itself the Way. The sage always sees things with the inner eye and analyzes them according to the principles of inner realities. Thus his outer life is a perfect reflection and manifestation of his inner, true life.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: On Punishment (2)