Those who of old got to be whole:
Heaven through its wholeness is pure;
earth through its wholeness is steady;
spirit through its wholeness is potent;
the valley through its wholeness flows with rivers;
the ten thousand things through their wholeness live;
rulers through their wholeness have authority.
Their wholeness makes them what they are.
Without what makes it pure, heaven would disintegrate;
without what steadies it, earth would crack apart;
without what makes it potent, spirit would fail;
without what fills it, the valley would run dry;
without what quickens them, the ten thousand things would die;
without what authorizes them, rulers would fall.
The root of the noble is in the common,
the high stands on what’s below.
Princes and kings call themselves
“orphans, widowers, beggars,”
to get themselves rooted in the dirt.
A multiplicity of riches
Jade is praised as precious,
but its strength is being stone.
All things generate from their wholeness. To be completely oneself is to be whole. To follow the Tao is to be whole. And by being whole, we generate other positive attributes. Authority does not come from place, position, money, or force: it comes through wholeness.
Certainly one can make others obey their authority in a variety of ways, but that’s quite a bit different. It’s fascism, totalitarianism. To have true authority, one must be whole.
The power of jade is not in its aesthetic quality, but in its material quality. The strength of nobles is in the people who raise them up.
It’s a very grassroots and democratic way of looking at the world. It’s anarchic, despite having social stratification.
Lao Tzu gives us a variety of absences here after describing what comes from wholeness, and it’s the absences that really matter, because they’re the easiest to demonstrate, I think. And then the final stanza lays out a very simple analogy.
Again, this is not directing our behavior, but asking us to consider the implications of our behavior.
It’s a very interesting poem and worth thinking about today.