The Art of Living: Ultimate Effectiveness

A Modern Reading of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: Sections 50–55

Erik Schön
Jan 2 · 5 min read
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Photo: J Gowell/Unsplash

What is the meaning of life? Why is this important? How do you live your life to make it more meaningful? The Art of Living provides timeless answers to these eternal questions including new perspectives on the world, people and their behaviours; practical tools for avoiding and handling conflicts, and, actionable advice on how to lead effectively and make a difference. “This is powerful, this is for practical people struggling with business goals, lacking time with family … feeling stressed.” (All parts)

50. Truly Set on Living

In the cycle of life and death:
companions of life are one third,
companions of death are one third,
one third are set on living, they slide from life to death.

How come? They are too set on living.

Those truly set on living:
cross the country, facing rhinos and tigers;
enter war without weapons or shields;
rhinos have nowhere to jab;
tigers have nowhere to stick;
opponents have nowhere to pierce.

How come? Those truly set on living
are without mortal spots.

Those who understand ultimate purpose (tao) certainly have a penetrating familiarity with the overall pattern of things; those who understand this pattern certainly know how to deal with contingencies. And those who know how to deal with contingencies will not find themselves harmed by other things. For those of the very best character, fire cannot burn them, water cannot drown them, heat and cold cannot harm them, birds and beasts cannot hurt them. This is not to say they don’t pay any attention to such things, but rather that because they are alert to danger, secure amid changing fortunes, and careful in their undertakings, nothing is able to do them harm.

51. Ultimate Effectiveness

Purpose is created,
integrity nurtures it.
Conditions are setup,
momentum completes them.

Therefore, everyone
honours purpose;
respects integrity.

Purpose is honoured,
integrity is respected
since they enable self-organisation without coercion.

Purpose is created;
integrity nurtures it,
rears,
raises,
shelters,
nurtures,
supports,
protects.

Create without owning;
act without coercion,
nurture without orders.
This is ultimate effectiveness.

“Integrity” (de) is interpreted by the verb that means “to obtain” … “integrity” (de) is something that is effective … it does not take over what it helps to exist (it remains uninvolved); it acts through action that is neither dependant nor expectant of any return (without applying pressure); it makes things develop (but without exerting authority).

52. Back To the Beginning

The beginning of everything
is the mother of everything.

Once you know the mother,
you know the children.
Once you know the children,
safeguard the mother
be without danger
until life ends.

Block the passage, bolt the gate:
be without strain
until life ends.

Open the passage, take on too much:
be without relief
until life ends.

Seeing the small is real sensitivity;
safeguarding the weak is real strength.
Seeing how things reveal themselves;
relying on sensitivity;
to stay clear of calamities

This is according with common sense.

Ultimate purpose (tao) is formless and reality is constantly evolving … By embracing ultimate purpose (tao), it is possible to embrace variations in circumstances, which marks an important step toward a system of variation that is capable of replacing all models.

53. Thieves’ Purpose

Having some knowledge
of ultimate purpose,
only turn-offs bring fear.

Although the road to ultimate purpose is smooth,
people prefer shortcuts.

Although the court is clean and garnished,
the fields are overgrown and granaries empty;
their clothing is gorgeous with weapons in their belts;
they are glutted with food and drink;
their wealth is excessive.

This is called thieves’ purpose,
avoid confusing it with ultimate purpose.

One explanation for people getting lost along the way is … of their own making: They are tempted from the straight and narrow by beckoning byways and shortcuts.

54. Well Planted, Well Embraced

Well planted, rooted.
Well embraced, saved.
Descendants will continue
the ancestral habits.

Maintain self:
effectiveness becomes real.
Maintain family:
effectiveness becomes abundant.
Maintain community:
effectiveness becomes enduring.
Maintain society:
effectiveness becomes prolific.
Maintain the world:
effectiveness becomes universal.

Therefore,
through self, contemplate others;
through family, contemplate families;
through community, contemplate communities;
through society, contemplate societies;
through the world, contemplate past and future worlds;

How do I know?
From this!

You do make a difference … You are like a wave of energy that illuminates the room — everyone will see the light and become affected.

55. The Baby’s Effectiveness

Filled with effectiveness like a baby:
wasps, scorpions and vipers avoid stinging it;
tigers avoid stalking it;
eagles avoid attacking it;
soft bones, weak muscles, tight grip;
ignorant of the union of man and woman,
yet its sex is formed,
its vital energy complete;
screaming all day without getting hoarse,
its harmony complete.

Knowing harmony is endurance.
Knowing endurance is sensitivity.
On the other hand, striving to increase life is dangerous,
forcing you to use energy needlessly.
Beings prosper and age naturally;
going against this is going against ultimate purpose.
Go against ultimate purpose and the end is near.

Vitality is managing one’s energy effectively across the seasons of one’s lifetime. The newly born child is an image of the fullness of potency: a robustness that makes it immune from environing evils … What gives the baby its vigour is its capacity to respond from the centre, being supple, yet firm, flexible yet potent. The baby, unconsciously and without motivation, is the embodiment of harmony and equilibrium.

Ultimate purpose (tao) is more than the cycle of any individual life. We rise, flourish, fail. Ultimate purpose (tao) never fails. We are waves. It is the sea.

The Art of Living: All Parts

Contents: A very short summary of each part
Introduction: How to make life more meaningful

Glossary: Explanation of key terms
Acknowledgements: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Sources: Where to learn more

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

Everything Begins With An Idea

Erik Schön

Written by

Executive and strategist who has successfully developed and deployed strategy for over 20 years in small, medium and large organizations.

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

Erik Schön

Written by

Executive and strategist who has successfully developed and deployed strategy for over 20 years in small, medium and large organizations.

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

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