“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 22” by Lao Tzu


Bend and you will be whole.
Curl and you will be straight.
Keep empty and you will be filled.
Grow old and you will be renewed.

Have little and you will gain.
Have much and you will be confused.

Therefore, the Sage embraces the One,
And becomes a Pattern to all under Heaven.
He does not make a show of himself,
Hence he shines;
Does not justify himself,
Hence he becomes known;
Does not boast of his ability,
Hence he gets his credit;
Does not brandish his success,
Hence he endures;
Does not compete with anyone,
Hence no one can compete with him.
Indeed, the ancient saying: “Bend and you will remain whole” is no idle word.
Nay, if you have really attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.

This passage is brimming with wisdom, so much so that I read it multiple times, gaining deeper insight with each pass.

The first thing that came to me was the importance of humility to the sage. The sage leads by example, choosing to humbly walk the path and abstaining from boasting about his or her wisdom. As a westerner, I am well aware of the dangers of hubris and how this leads to the inevitable fall of an individual. By following the simple (yet not easy) steps outlined in this passage, one avoids the pitfalls of hubris and self-importance.

I noticed that the phrase “Bend and you will remain whole” appears twice in this passage, at the beginning as well as at the end. Clearly, Lao Tzu wanted to emphasize this. On the surface, it appears that he is asserting that one should be flexible, to bend and “go with the flow” instead of fighting and resisting the inevitable changes which occur in life. But I feel that there is more here, especially when you consider that Lao Tzu states that this “is no idle word.” I think that many people consider flexibility and non-resistance to be the opposite of striving, hence being idle. But this is not so. The opposite of striving is not-striving; it’s acceptance; it’s bending; it’s making a conscious decision to not struggle against the forces of nature and to accept the way that is being presented. Bending to the way of the One is an act—it is not being passive. And when you do this, you move a little closer to attaining wholeness and a connection with the One.



Filed under Literature, Spiritual

6 responses to ““Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 22” by Lao Tzu

  1. it can get tricky initially to mesh ‘taking action’ with bending – it seems counter intuitive. it helps me a lot to think on this in the way that Tolle notes and that is indicated here…we are not supposed to just turn into a pile of mush. if we are in a state of acceptance of the moment, we are working in concert with it to bring it to our perceived highest outcome. it IS action – procreative action – to accept and respond ‘with bend’…to get eventual union. we have to meet people and situations *where they are*, not where we want or expect them to be. that can take hard work, actually! this is not the mantra of the weak, by any means. this is the best kind of warrior work. thank you for the reminder.

    • Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. I am in complete agreement with you. And yes, this is not the mantra of the weak. So well put! I hope you have a wonderful and meaningful day.


  2. I’m late finding time to read this. Beautiful. Bending isn’t passive. It’s not the same as lying down. To be flexible is to be alive and responsive.

    • Hi Amber. “Alive and responsive.” That is a perfect description of bending in the manner that Lao Tzu was suggesting. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Blessings!

  3. I, too, often read these many times. This time, I noticed the word ‘brandish’ — as in “Does not brandish his success.” That’s a powerful and particular word to use, isn’t it? It gives clarity to his meaning, about how one might brandish his/her success as a weapon of sorts. So many layers of wisdom. 🙂 Thanks again for sharing it; I’ll be revisiting this one again. Blessings to you and yours, Jeff. Jamie

    • Hi Jamie. Great point! Brandish is such an aggressive word. It certainly evokes the “knowledge is power” image, but not in a nice way.

      I’m glad you are enjoying these posts as much as I am enjoying writing them. Texts like these take on more layers of meaning each time you read and contemplate them.