True words are not fine-sounding; fine-sounding words are not true.
A good man does not argue; he who argues is not a good man.
The wise one does not know many things; he who knows many things is not wise.
The Sage does not accumulate (for himself). He lives for other people, and grows richer himself; he gives to other people, and has greater abundance.
The Tao of Heaven blesses, but does not harm.
The Way of the Sage accomplishes, but does not contend.
(Tao Teh King)
True words are not fine-sounding; fine-sounding words are not true. Wu: “Sincere words are not sweet, Sweet words are not sincere.” Mabry: “True words are not beautiful. Beautiful words are not true.” Blackney: “As honest words may not sound fine, fine words may not be honest ones.”
This is a fact, but one that is usually ignored on all levels of life. If a card house of plausibility is constructed, then no one cares very much whether or not it will really prove workable. And when it does not, people do not seem to mind very much. This is glaringly evident in politics, especially government budgets and programs. But it is equally true in religious, philosophical, practical and personal life. “Alka-Seltzer tastes great!” That little gem of prevarication clued me in when I was only three or four years old that advertising was falsehood. But a cousin of mine, when she was only six or seven years old, could talk me in and out of anything. “Sounds great!” is part of the Great Alka-Seltzer Con of life. We must be on our guard, but without being cynical or fearful.
A good man does not argue; he who argues is not a good man. Legge: “Those who are skilled (in the Tao) do not dispute (about it); the disputatious are not skilled in it.” Byrn: “Wise men don’t need to debate; men who need to debate are not wise.” People who are in the wrong love to argue and wrangle because it is very near to the idea that the strongest wins and the winner is right. Argumentation destroys right understanding and right attitude. The cleverest and most glib will win and thereby “prove” their position is right. I know of a spiritual radio station that adamantly refuses to broadcast debates because they are just vehicles of egotistical declaration of personal ideas and never produce any true benefit. People just cheer for the side they like and then argue as to who won the debate. Debates are very close to the “My dad can beat up your dad” attitude.
Legge’s translation implies that the Tao cannot even be spoken about, so those who know the Tao know they cannot argue about It. Byrn’s translation indicates that wise people are secure in their wisdom and do not need to challenge or change other people’s opinions. On the other hand, the weak and insecure cannot manage without controversy and strong-arm intellectual tactics.
The wise one does not know many things; he who knows many things is not wise. Wu: “The wise are not erudite, The erudite are not wise.” Mabry: “The wise are not necessarily well-educated. The well-educated are not necessarily wise.” Legge: “Those who know (the Tao) are not extensively learned; the extensively learned do not know it.” Feng and English: “Those who know are not learned. The learned do not know.” Chan: “A wise man has no extensive knowledge; He who has extensive knowledge is not a wise man.” Byrn: “Wise men are not scholars, and scholars are not wise.”
Intellectuality has no correlation with wisdom. As Yogananda pointed out, most “scholars” and “experts” have what he called “intellectual indigestion.” Paramhansa Nityananda told people: “You were born with a brain, not a book,” meaning that native intelligence is needed, and in many instances excessive study prevents the arising of good sense. Lao Tzu is not being anti-intellectual but is against getting ideas from sources other than one’s own intelligence and integrity. In other words, formal study requires intellectual digestion and processing.
The Sage does not accumulate (for himself). He lives for other people, and grows richer himself; he gives to other people, and has greater abundance. This is because the Tao does the same. It is inexhaustible goodness in all aspects of existence. Those who have united consciously with the Tao become egoless and intent on the welfare of others, tap the inner and outer wealth and abundance of the Tao and are the Tao to the world.
The Tao of Heaven blesses, but does not harm. Wu: “The Way of Heaven is to benefit, not to harm.” Even the pains and struggles of life are part of the Tao’s blessing, and only good can come of them and other problems if we allow it to be so. The fact is, suffering and struggle come from transgression of the Tao, not as punishment but as a means of our learning and self-correction. For example, life does not pass us by, but we pass by life. This we must learn. It may hurt, but eventually will become healing.
The Way of the Sage accomplishes, but does not contend. Wu: “The Way of the Sage is to do his duty, not to strive with anyone.” Mabry: “The Sage’s way is to work, yet not to compete.” The wise do not bother poking into other people’s lives, but quietly and contentedly live their own life the best they can, because they are secure, intelligent and wise. They are self-contained and self-sufficient like the Tao. They never compare themselves with others to see if they are ahead of them or behind. They simply are what they are, and therefore they advance and evolve. They do not change the world; they change themselves. And then the world is changed. For the world is the Tao. That is the sum and substance of the matter.