Good walking leaves no track behind it;
Good speech leaves no mark to be picked at;
Good calculation makes no use of counting-slips;
Good shutting makes no use of bolt and bar,
And yet nobody can undo it;
Good tying makes no use of rope and knot,
And yet nobody can untie it.
Hence, the Sage is always good at saving men,
And therefore nobody is abandoned;
Always good at saving things,
And therefore nothing is wasted.
This is called “following the guidance of the Inner Light.”
Hence, good men are teachers of bad men,
While bad men are the charge of good men.
Not to revere one’s teacher,
Not to cherish one’s charge,
Is to be on the wrong road, however intelligent one may be.
This is an essential tenet of the Tao.
This is an interesting passage and begs the question: what does it mean to save? It appears that a sage is efficient at saving both people and things.
The saving of things is something dear to me. In our consumer society, things are too often used and discarded. Items have built-in obsolescence so that they break and cost more to fix than they do to replace. Unfortunately, this path is not sustainable, and if we do not change how we use and reuse our valuable and limited resources, we will reach a point where we will no longer be able to continue with our current economic model.
The other act of saving regards people, and this immediately kicked up negative associations of proselytizers knocking on my door and attempting to convert me to some form of religious doctrine. But I do not think that is the kind of saving that Lao Tzu was talking about here. I suspect that he is instructing the sage to practice compassion and empathy, to not be judgmental of others, and to serve as an example of how to live in balance with nature and spirit.
Essentially, I can sum this passage up as an instruction to help other people while not being wasteful.