Tao Te Ching Chapter 3

Translated by D. T. Suzuki & Paul Carus, 1880

Translated by Jane English & Gia-fu Feng, 1989

KEEPING THE PEOPLE QUIET.1. Not boasting of one’s worth forestalls people’s envy.Not prizing treasures difficult to obtain keeps people from committing theft.2. Not contemplating what kindles desire keeps the heart unconfused.

3. Therefore the holy man when he governs empties the people’s hearts but fills their stomachs. He weakens their ambition but strengthens their bones. Always he keeps the people unsophisticated and without desire. He causes that the crafty do not dare to act. When he acts with non-assertion there is nothing ungoverned.

Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling. Not collecting treasures prevents stealing. Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart.The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies, by weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not try to interfere.If nothing is done, then all will be well.

I found a nice website that allows side-by-side comparison of several translations, two at a time, of the Tao Te Ching. It’s at http://www.duhtao.com/sidebyside.html

I compared the above Chapter 3 translations by D. T. Suzuki & Paul Carus, and Jane English & Gia-fu Feng. My aim was to avail myself of two interpretations and then bring my own understanding to what was said there, and my reflection will be found below.

The dualistic mind has the option to impute layers, levels and values to what it perceives as the result of experience. Complexity and ten thousand things are the result. The mind sees patterns in the resulting pieces and seeks to restore a reality which was never fractured in the first place until the mind broke it.

The Tao Te Ching can be fractured too. Simplicity serves as well as complexity. Large pieces are easily fit back together; small pieces magnify the illusion of time and distance. Simplicity rises like a rocket toward complexity in the dualistic mind, which seeks simplicity in the complex.

Perhaps it’s simpler than we know. Rather than seek meaning in the nuances of the ten thousand things, can the path simply be about understanding what we already know, and putting it into action in our experience?


 Tao Te Ching Chapter 3 (Reflected)

If worth and gifts are not exalted as being more than or less than, then there is no envy or quarreling.

If there is no value given to material treasure, then there is no desire to steal.

If there is no desire for things, the heart is not confused

Wisdom rules when the heart is empty of the confusions of more than and less than.

Wisdom rules when the heart is empty of desire for treasure.

Wisdom rules when stomachs are full and bones healthy; when the heart is empty of confusion and desire; when there is no value or reward or justification for ambition.

If people are not corrupted by sophistications of desire and knowledge by the sly and crafty, then the sophistications of the greedy have no power.

The one who knows that there is nothing to contend for is not contentious.

If no value is given or present, then no value can be stolen or absent. Everything is in order then, and all is well.


 There is, of course, the obvious socio-political context of the guidance given. I prefer to not take up the offer made by my dualistic mind to fracture the passage into any more nuances than I already have.

For a nicely drawn elucidation of three perceptive levels evident in Chapter 3 to Louis Weltzer, a person who has a deep and insightful interest in the Tao Te Ching, please avail yourself of The Blog at Ralston Creek Review, http://ralstoncreekreview.com/

3 Responses to Tao Te Ching Chapter 3
  1. Louis W. says:

    These are excellent insights, Bob.

    Before commenting, let me mention another website you might find interesting because it has many translations to compare. It ishttp://earlywomenmasters.net/tao/ch_01.html.

    As I read what you have written, I think of Buddha’s Second Noble Truth, which tells us that the cause of suffering is attachment and greed. So much has been written about desire and attachment that I will not try to add anything here.

    I will comment, though, that desire, value and exaltation are all products of our mind and do not arise from the external world of the 10,000 things. The solution to greed and striving and attachment is also within – it is what you have called “wisdom.” That is a good word for it.

    Thank you for this teaching.

    • bobgriffith says:

      You’re welcome, and thank you, Louis. Your comment on the location of the 10,000 things and their relationship to the mind is very helpful. I tend to wander back and forth in the resonance between the two, the place where one reflects the other, the symbiosis there. My clarity drifts between the wavelengths and my expressions get fuzzy, sort of like a distant AM radio station coming in with a thousand miles of static riding the signal.

      It is always good to clearly see and remember the matrix of understanding which applies to this particular path. It was nice to see my blurry light pass through your prism and emerge as a sharp, clear beam.

  2. I love this, Bob. I especially love the two lines about wisdom ruling. Yes, it does!

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