Posted by: Peace Day Pilgrim | March 10, 2009

Lao Tzu on Wisdom

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 48

Translated & Annotated by Derek Lin


Pursue knowledge, daily gain(1)

Pursue Tao, daily loss(2)


Loss and more loss

Until one reaches unattached action(3)

With unattached action, there is nothing one cannot do(4)


Take the world by constantly applying noninterference

The one who interferes is not qualified to take the world(5)




(1) Both gain and loss in this chapter refer to the complexity of life. When we pursue academic study, the increase of book knowledge leads to more complexity and ever-increasing desires. The more we know, the more we want.


(2) The essence of the  Tao is simplicity, so when we pursue the Tao, we reduce  and discard the complexity in our lives. As we streamline and simplify, our desires will also decrease, and we discover that a simple and uncluttered life leads to peace and contentment.


(3) “Unattached action” is my translation for wu wei, the state where we act without attachments to specific  outcomes. I cannot use these characters directly in translation, because, unlike the word Tao, they are not yet a formally recognized part of the English language.


(4) The principle of wu wei is very powerful. By focusing on the process instead of the end result, we allow all things to progress naturally and minimise our tendency to meddle. The net effect is that the difficult becomes easy, and we struggle less but accomplish more.


(5) “Take the world” in these two lines means achieving one’s goals in the world. Those who do not understand wu wei may expend excessive resources, time, and energy toward achieving their goals, but end up with poor results.  This is because they insist on asserting  their manipulative influence, which makes everything more complex and therefore difficult  to manage.  They are so eager to achieve that they trip over themselves.


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