Lao Tzu, Chapter 13

Tao Te Ching —
The Classic about Ways And Instances

Lao Tzu

(Translated, with comments, by William P. Coleman)

Chapter 13

Honored, we fear dishonor.
Highly esteemed, misfortune becomes inseparable from our selves.

What does it mean when I say, “Honored, we fear dishonor?”
Honor makes one low:
Getting it brings apprehension.
Losing it brings apprehension;
so being honored means fearing dishonor.

Why do I say that high esteem is like a misfortune?
Having an ego causes great troubles:
it makes me act conscious of my self
when I’d had no sense of it;
so I have troubles.

Someone who respects himself in this way,
by serving heaven in the world,
can be trusted with the world.

Someone who loves himself in this way,
by serving heaven in the world,
can be trusted with the world.

<– Chapter 12

Table of Contents

Chapter 14 –>


my comments:

Any actor or theater director will tell you: the worst way to get an actor to register the emotion you want is to tell him or her what you want. It’s called “acting the result.” The outcome is always terrible, contrived, unconvincing. The way an actor expresses pain is not by trying to look pained — it’s by remembering, re-experiencing, something he once found painful. That way, painful expressions and gestures come naturally and the audience believes them.

Don’t act for the result; act for the reality.

It’s much the same in Tai Chi. If you push hands with the idea of beating your opponent or of avoiding defeat for yourself, then neither if those things is likely to happen. But if you just join with him and constantly respect and meet the reality of what’s happening, then you can win — not that it matters all that much.

As different as Lin Yutang’s translation (below) is from mine, similar ideas arise from both. Lao Tzu does not prescribe self denial, as “spiritual” as that concept might sound to some: he sees a strong relation between love of heaven and love of self. In an analogy to some points made in Chapter 9 and in a different way in Chapter 10, Lao Tzu is not asking for abnegation, any more than he asks for egotism — neither of these is even relevant. They’re not useful categories to think in.

What he asks for is reality.


For comparison, I’m including the translation by Lin Yutang, which I always love and respect, even when I disagree:

13. Praise and Blame

“Favor and disgrace cause one dismay;
What we value and what we fear are within our Self.”

What does this mean:
“Favor and disgrace cause one dismay?”
Those who receive a favor from above
Are dismayed when they receive it,
And dismayed when they lose it.

What does this mean:
“What we value and what we fear are within our Self?”
We have fears because we have a self.
When we do not regard that self as self,
What have we to fear?

Therefore he who values the world as his self
May then be entrusted with the government of the world;
And he who loves the world as his self –
The world may then be entrusted to his care.

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