Daodejing Chapter 65 breakdown: Daoist sages of ancient times

Richard Brown
2 min readSep 29, 2023

Chapter 65 of the Daodejing calls for a return to the golden age when Daoist sages ruled over the earth and ensured harmony and prosperity for all by following the Dao. This requires stripping away all the so-called knowledge and wisdom from other schools of thought that have made the common people hard to govern and deprived them of their innate simplicity.

Section 1
Daoist sages of ancient times,
Did not enlighten the people
About the Dao,
But kept them on
The path of simplicity.

Laozi sets the scene in the opening section of the chapter with a description of how Daoist sages of old ruled the common people. Rather than teaching them about the Dao, they guided them by embodying its simplicity and harmony with nature in their attitudes and behavior. Attempting to describe how to follow the Dao with words would have only led to confusion and worse among the people.

Section 2
Now the people
Are difficult to rule,
Because they have
Too much cleverness.
To rule with cleverness
Is to rob the state.
To rule without cleverness
Is to bless the state.

In the second section, Laozi contrasts the peaceful harmony of the good old days with the chronic instability of the contemporary age. The common people have become hard to govern, he argues, because their hearts and minds have been polluted by the complex rules and perverse dogmas imposed by their rulers. The only way for them to survive in an environment riven with gross corruption, hypocrisy, inequality, and materialism is to be as cunning and crafty as the elite that rules them.

Section 3
To understand this pattern
Is to have primal power.
Primal power is
Deep and distant!
It leads all things back
To the natural order.

Laozi concludes by describing individuals who understand the need to strip away all the fake knowledge and ideologies that have led society to the brink of collapse and revert to the simplicity and harmony of the Dao as possessing “primal power”. Only by tapping into this “deep and distant” source can the prosperity and contentment enabled by the ancient Daoist sages be restored.

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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.