Daodejing Chapter 59: nothing beats prudence

Richard Brown
2 min readSep 3, 2023

In ruling the people
And serving heaven,
Nothing beats prudence.
Only with prudence
Can you be ready early.
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.
This is called a deep root
And a firm stalk,
The Dao of long life
And enduring clarity.


「治人事天莫若嗇,夫唯嗇是謂早服;早服謂之重積德,重積德則無不克;無不克則莫知其極,莫知其極可以有國;有國之母可以長久,是謂深根固柢,長生久視之道。」

The key to a long and happy life is to build up your capacity to focus on what is important so that you do not waste time and energy on trivialities. That means developing the right mindset to achieve your goals and overcome even the toughest challenges. You are ready for anything once you have put a firm foundation in place.

Notes
1.) In modern Chinese, the character 嗇/sè means stinginess or miserliness. In this chapter, Laozi uses it in a positive sense to refer to nourishing your life-force through rigorous self-cultivation and focusing your attention judiciously so that you do not drain your vital energy. Other English translations of the term include thrift, sparing, and conservation.

2.) Frustratingly, the chapter does not provide any specific details on how to develop your inner power. Most likely it involves nurturing your vital essence (/qì) through breathing exercises and clearing your mind through meditation.

3.) The “mother of the state” refers the Dao, which is often described as the mother of all things.

4.) The root is the source of energy that enables a plant or tree to live. The deeper it is buried, the longer the life of the plant or tree. Like a root, a Daoist sage ruler acts as the hidden source of the stability and longevity of the state.

5.) 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!

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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.