Daodejing Chapter 45 breakdown: great perfection

Richard Brown
2 min readJan 21, 2024

Chapter 45 of the Daodejing calls on you to recognize and appreciate the depth and complexity of reality by looking beyond outward appearances and finding the inner essence. Only by keeping a cool head will you be able to fully understand everything that is happening around you.

Section 1
Great perfection
Seems incomplete,
But its usefulness
Never fades.
Great fullness
Seems empty,
But it is never
Exhausted.

True perfection is so rare that you are unlikely to be able to recognize it if you do not have an open mind. It is not about a flawless external appearance but the inherent usefulness and functionality that persists despite seeming imperfections.

In the same way, true plenty is not a barn bulging with grain from an exceptional harvest, but a carefully cultivated farm that delivers sufficient food to sustain everyone through rain and shine.

Section 2
Great straightness
Seems curved.
Great skill
Seems clumsy.
Great eloquence
Sounds like stammering.

The chapter provides more examples of how it easy it can be to jump to conclusions if you do not put aside your prejudices and preconceptions when looking at something for the first time. Initial impressions can be deceiving. True understanding requires looking beyond superficial qualities to see the underlying reality.

Section 3
Movement overcomes cold.
Calm overcomes heat.
Clarity and calm
Bring order to
All-under-heaven.

The final section offers practical advice on how to leverage opposite but complementary actions to counterbalance extremes. Movement generates warmth and can thus overcome cold, while stillness or calm can cool you down amidst fierce heat.

The clarity that comes with calm enables you to create order and harmony in your own life and adopt a balanced and measured approach towards leading others. By keeping your head while others lose theirs, you will be able to take the right decisions at the right time.

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.