Daodejing Chapter 5: straw dogs

Richard Brown
2 min readFeb 17, 2023

--

Heaven and earth are not benevolent.
They treat the myriad things as straw dogs.
The sage is not benevolent.
He treats the masses as straw dogs.
The space between heaven and earth
Is just like a bellows!
It is empty,
But inexhaustible.
The more it moves,
The more it yields.
Many words dissolve into nothing.
Better to hold fast to the centre.

「天地不仁,以萬物為芻狗;聖人不仁,以百姓為芻狗。天地之間,其猶橐籥乎!虛而不屈、動而愈出,多言數窮,不如守中。」

Straw dogs were used instead of living dogs in ancient Chinese ritual practices. During these elaborate ceremonies they were treated with the greatest reverence because they served an important symbolic function, but as soon as the festivities were over they were immediately discarded and returned to their natural state of being a worthless pile of straw.

Heaven and earth adopt the same approach, picking no favourites among the myriad animals and plants in their domain and allowing all of them to flourish of their own accord. In the same way, a great sage allows his people to grow naturally without interfering in their development. Rather than showering them with fake compliments or pushing them to conform to artificial standards of morality and behavior, he treats everyone equally and gives them the freedom to nurture their innate talents and values.

The sage thus remains centred and only speaks when necessary. The less he attempts to impose his will on his people, the greater the dynamism and creativity he unleashes among them. Like an empty bellows, he is a source of inexhaustible energy and potential.

Note
I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!

--

--

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.