Daodejing Chapter 67 breakdown: the three treasures

Richard Brown
3 min readOct 4, 2023

Chapter 67 of the Daodejing begins by explaining the reason for the greatness of the Dao. It goes on to describe the transformational power of the “three treasures” of compassion, frugality, and humility, as well as the paradoxical outcomes you will achieve when applying them in your daily life.

Section 1
All-under-heaven says
That my Dao is great
Because it resembles nothing.
It is because it is great,
That it resembles nothing.
If it resembled something,
It would long ago
Have become small.

In the opening section of the chapter, Laozi makes the bold claim that the Dao is considered great because it does not resemble anything and by extension is so vast and formless that it is impossible to describe. Anything that has form and can be fully described, in contrast, is limited and hence becomes “small.”

Section 2
I have three treasures that I hold and cherish.
The first is compassion.
The second is frugality.
The third is refusing to put yourself above everyone.

In the second section, Laozi lists the “three treasures” that provide the building blocks for leading a meaningful life and achieving success as an individual and a leader.

Compassion signifies kindness and empathy towards all beings, including refraining from war and capital punishment. Frugality entails simplicity, modesty, and living without excess. Modesty or humility is characterized in the text as refusing to put yourself above everyone else.

Section 3
I have three treasures
That I hold and cherish.
The first is compassion.
The second is frugality.
The third is refusing to
Put yourself above everyone.

In the third section, Laozi describes the paradoxical outcomes that result from the three treasures.

Compassion provides you with the courage to confront the challenges and conflicts that you encounter in a calm and humane manner, even if that means you ultimately have to resort to warfare. When you care deeply for others and the world, you will act bravely to defend them when necessary.

Frugality allows for a generous spirit to emerge because you are content to live modestly without incurring a crushing financial burden to fund a lavish lifestyle. This gives you more freedom to give to others who are in genuine need of support to feed their families.

Humility turns you into a true leader who gains respect and loyalty by serving others rather than imposing authoritarian control over them. Because you have no interest in the trappings of power, you are solely focused on working towards the common good and enabling peace and prosperity for all.

Section 4
Courageousness without compassion,
Generosity without frugality,
And leadership without
Refusing to put yourself above everyone,
Are fatal mistakes.

In section 4, Laozi warns against swinging to the extremes of courageousness, generosity, and leadership without humility.

Unchecked courage can lead to reckless assaults on other people or states that cause unnecessary losses and destruction for all parties concerned. Unchecked generosity can create personal poverty and a growing sense of entitlement among people who have benefitted from your largesse. And leadership without humility can produce tyranny, rebellion, and the ultimate destruction of the state.

Section 5
With compassion comes
Victory in offence,
And impregnability in defence.
Heaven saves,
Compassion protects.

Laozi concludes by highlighting the pivotal role of compassion in both offensive and defensive strategies. If your courage is rooted in compassion, you will not only achieve victory in battle because you are fighting to protect your people and territory. You will also minimize losses on both sides by bringing the conflict to a close as soon as you have won it and coming to a settlement with your opponent that secures enduring peace between both parties.

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Daodejing Chapter 67: compassion and courageousness

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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.