The way is the sanctuary for the myriad things.
It provides treasure for the good,
Refuge for the not good.
Fine words can win respect.
Fine deeds can win admiration.
Even if someone is not good,
Why abandon them?
When the son-of-heaven was enthroned,
And the three dukes were installed,
Instead of presenting them with jade,
And a team of four horses,
Would it not have been better,
To sit in stillness,
And give them the way?
Why did the ancients prize the way so much?
Has it not been said:
“By seeking and attaining it,
You will be spared the consequences of your mistakes.”
This is why the way is prized by the whole world.
Appearances can be deceptive. Just because someone is well-dressed and gives good PowerPoint does not necessarily mean that they are an expert in their field. Indeed, the polish they put on their presentations may very well be designed to hide their lack of knowledge rather than to illuminate it.
By declaring the way as a “sanctuary” for everyone including both the “good” and “not good,” Laozi is not just challenging the conventional perception that virtue is always rewarded and wrongdoing is punished. He is also cautioning against evaluating people based solely on appearances.
Sure, fine words and deeds can indeed win respect and admiration, but it is important to remember that eloquence and gestures can all too easily create an illusion of virtue or competence, while masking baser intentions. Better to spend more time observing and interacting with someone to find out what makes them tick rather than rushing into judgment about them.
1.) Laozi is probably referring to King Wu, the first head of the Zhou Dynasty, and his three highest-ranking officials, Taishi, Taifu, and Taibao, However, his criticism of excessive consumption and ostentation could just as easily apply to the ruling class of his own time (or indeed any other for that matter).
2.) I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province.