Study Guide

Tao Te Ching Chapter 19

By Lao Tzu

Chapter 19

  • We get another curveball thrown our way at the top of this chapter.
  • This whole time the TTC has been telling us how awesome those sages were, but now it tells us to "End sagacity; abandon knowledge." If we do, the people will totally benefit from it (1.19).
  • On top of this, we're also told that if we stop benevolence, or compassion, then the people will go back to being charitable. (Huh?)
  • And lastly, we're told that if we end cunning and lust for profit, then there will be no more thieves and bandits.
  • Some of these ideas—the first two especially—might seem to contradict the other stuff the TTC's been telling us, but the last few lines give us some clarity.
  • Again, here, we're reminded to live simply and selflessly, and to decrease our desires.
  • So maybe the chapter is saying that everybody is better off if there aren't any would-be sages sitting around on their piles of books, thinking they're better than everybody else.
  • Similarly, it could be saying that people will naturally be more generous with each other if nobody is self-righteously giving to those they think are beneath them.
  • And then there's the last one, which isn't much of head-scratcher: if nobody is selfishly lusting after profit in our society, then there would be no stealing.

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