Daodejing Chapter 59 breakdown: a deep root and firm stalk

Richard Brown
2 min readSep 5, 2023

By highlighting the qualities required to become an effective ruler of a state, Chapter 59 of the Daodejing also provides pointers on the personal traits and mindset that we all need to develop to lead a long and fulfilling life. The passage underlines the importance of prudence, preparation, and resilience in both governance and self-cultivation. It presents a holistic perspective on effective leadership and living in harmony with the natural order.

Section 1
In ruling the people
And serving heaven,
Nothing beats prudence.
Only with prudence
Can you be ready early.

The chapter begins with a reminder that a ruler is responsible not just for governing the people but also serving the larger cosmic order (heaven). In the context of Laozi’s teachings, this means aligning human actions with the natural principles of the Dao.

Learning to exercise prudence (嗇/sè) in how you focus your attention is the critical first step in making sure you are ready to undertake this responsibility. If you waste too much time on non-essential matters, you will weaken your resilience, drain your vital energy, and be too distracted to think clearly.

Section 2
To be ready early brings
Abundant inner power.
Abundant inner power means
You can overcome any difficulty.
Once you can overcome any difficulty,
You know no limits.
Once you know no limits,
You possess the state.
Once you possess
The mother of the state,
You endure.

Developing your physical, mental, and spiritual strength through a rigorous process of self-cultivation prepares you to overcome even the most daunting challenges.

Having proven your ability to surmount formidable hurdles, you are equipped to “possess the state” by ruling in harmony with the principles of the Dao. Possessing the “mother of the state” signifies that you have put everything in place for effective governance and a long and healthy life.

Section 3
This is called a deep root
And a firm stalk,
The Dao of long life
And enduring clarity.

Just as a plant or tree needs strong roots to withstand external forces, you need a solid foundation to navigate the complexities of the world. By aligning your thoughts and actions with the Dao and cultivating prudence and resilience, you not only lead a long and productive life but also achieve a state of enduring clarity and insight.

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Daodejing Chapter 59: nothing beats prudence

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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.