TAO TE CHING 27: Following the Light




Good actions leave no trace;
Good speech leaves no blame;
Good plans do not need stick and carrot;
Good closure needs no barriers, has no loopholes;
Good bonds do not need ropes and restrictions and do not create insoluble problems.

Therefore the sage is always good. When it comes to saving people or abandoning them, he has no reason to abandon them.
Ever good, he saves beings; he has no reason to abandon them.
This is called following the light.

Hence the good person is the teacher of the not so good and the not so good is material the good works with.
Not to support the teacher, or not to cherish the material,
however clever one may be, is ignorant.
This is called requesting the wonderful.


The first section points out several dimension of living skilfully. To lie skilfully is to do so in such a manner that one does not leave a wake of problems. A good action is one that is done cleanly and from which one can move on without having, in the process, creates more problems. In the case of right speech, this generally means not spreading blame or criticism which only leads to endless reverberations as others take sides. In the case of planning, the best plans are ones that flow with least need for coercion. A well made plan fits in with the grain of the situation. Similarly, bringing something to an end, if well done, creates peace. It does not call for enforcement and it is not so ambiguous as to be full of holes and exemptions. Above all, good relationships do not require “ropes and restrictions” and do not lead to insoluble problems. This last line is certainly worth considering in relevance to romantic relationships. A good marriage is not restrictive and not full of insoluble problems, but how many such are there?

The second section follows from the first. The sage acts in the way described and so has no reason not to be helpful. His words and deeds do not generate the kinds of friction and animosity that would give reason for refusing help or withdrawing from engagement. This is interesting to reflect upon. It does not say that the sage actively seeks to do good. It says that he naturally does so because of having no reason not to. This implies that Taoism does not see human nature as essentially selfish, in the way that much Western thinking does. People are born in relationships and these naturally expand as life matures unless there is impediment.

The phrase “This is called following the light” is 是谓袭明. The character for radiance, ming 明, shows a sun and moon together. The sun and the moon are symbols of spiritual light. They shine upon us continuously. 明 can thus be the guidance of Heaven, or even of the Tao itself. It is reflected in us when we set up no impediment, which, in Taoism, equates with acting naturally.

The third section show how this works out as a natural process of the wise guiding the less wise, whether through teacher-disciple relations or simply in the natural course of things. However, for this to work, there needs to be respect for the wise and the wise need to cherish those who have less clarity. Advancing on the spiritual path is not a matter of being superlatively clever or learned. It is, rather, a result of humbly seeking to enter into the mystery, the realm of wonders.

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