Tao Te Ching Verse 65: Staying on the Path
Tao Te Ching Verse 65
translated by Hua-Ching Ni
In ancient times, those who were well-versed in the practice of the subtle Way of the universe did not lead people to disintegrate their minds through intellectual development
for the sake of partial achievement.
Instead, they dissolved all contradictory concepts and images in order to maintain the
natural state of simplicity.
Why are people so hard to manage?
Because they have become complicated.
He who leads others with a conditioned and complicated mind is the source of calamity.
He who leads others with simplicity is the source of blessing.
To know these two principles is to possess a rule and measure, the symbol of the ancient
To keep the rule and measure constantly in your mind,
is to spontaneously manifest integral virtue.
Deep and far-reaching is the subtle truth of integrity.
It leads all things to return from worldly divergence to one great and universal life.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
If we recall verse 19, we get a similar message, at least on the surface: Lao Tzu seems to be encouraging anti-intellectualism! And as with everything Lao Tzu, there is usually more to it than what’s on the surface.
In this verse, he opens up by saying that rulers should aim to keep the people ignorant instead of enlightening them. Taken at face value, one would be reasonably justified in saying, ‘preposterous! Blasphemy!’ Mentally, I sat there open mouthed and in shock, wondering how my 2500 year old teacher could be saying such nonsense. And then, worse, I wondered, ‘if this is crazy, what about the rest of it all?’
I doubled my efforts to understand, mostly because I didn’t want to have wasted the time I’ve already put into the Tao Te Ching by silently denouncing Lao Tzu and his crazy ideas, solely based on my interpretation of a part of this verse.
So what does this ‘keep them ignorant and not enlightened’ thing mean? Well, similar to verse 19, I think we can start to think about this by saying that we ought not overemphasize the importance of knowledge - you know, knowledge for knowledge’s sake. So with that in mind, I can interpret a little differently - the aim of the ruler is not to encourage people to develop only their intellectual achievements. In Hua-Ching Ni’s translation, he talks about intellectual development for the sake of partial achievement. And this makes sense, doesn’t it? We’ve seen over and over again that there is a difference between reading the Tao and doing the Tao. Reading about the Tao and understanding concepts is the first part - putting them into practice and integrating the principles into our lives is the other. So I feel like what Lao Tzu is getting at here is that the primary aim of the ruler is to lead with simplicity. The ruler is not trying to bring about any particular outcome; the people can do what they do. The ruler is the servant, the one who takes care of the human organization of society. The ruler is most effective when not trying to put together plans and designs that create this awesome society -- that’s the people’s job, not the ruler’s.