“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 36” by Lao Tzu

What is in the end to be shrunken,
Begins by being first stretched out.
What is in the end to be weakened,
Begins by being first made strong.
What is in the end to be thrown down,
Begins by being first set on high.
What is in the end to be despoiled,
Begins by being first richly endowed.

Herein is the subtle wisdom of life:
The soft and weak overcomes the hard and strong.

Just as the fish must not leave the deeps,
So the ruler must not display his weapons.

On the surface, this appears to be a very simple passage. The implication is that the firm will eventually yield to the subtle, which is a common metaphor in the Tao Teh Ching. Visualize the stream eventually carving out a canyon through the rock. But as I sat and contemplated this passage, a deeper meaning made itself apparent to me.

I started envisioning the examples Lao Tzu presents in the reverse; for example, “What is in the end made strong, begins by first being weak.” The truth remains the same for every reversed example. I began to see this passage more as an acknowledgment of the continuity of change, of the eternal cycles inherent in all areas of existence. The weak becomes strong, then becomes weak again, and continues. Life leads to death, which leads again to new life. For me, this is the hidden wisdom within this passage.

That’s all I will share about this verse, but I encourage you to read it again and sit and contemplate it.

Thanks for stopping by, and have an inspired day.


Filed under Literature, Spiritual

9 responses to ““Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 36” by Lao Tzu

  1. Thanks for sharing and explaining this – these passages are full of wisdom.

  2. I always thought of that “hard and weak” passage in terms of the strength of nature. A tree that can bend with the wind doesn’t snap. So its softness makes it strong. The professor who taught me this stuff – way back – wrote a book called “Becoming Bamboo.” I don’t know how well that book did but he was one of the best profs. I ever had. Probably because he really believed in what he was doing, trying to make things better, and not just teaching for a paycheck!

    • Thanks for sharing that! I can see the metaphor there, and suspect that there is truth in it. There are layers of interpretation to most of these passages.

  3. Yes, that’s the joy and for some the frustration of texts like this. Actually all texts. But I think we’ve already done “denotation/connotation” here. 🙂