Daodejing Chapter 77 breakdown: the Dao of heaven

Richard Brown
2 min readNov 11, 2023

Chapter 77 of the Daodejing uses the metaphor of shooting with a bow to illustrate the importance of maintaining a finely tuned sense of balance in how you pursue your life. The passage also features a stinging critique of human greed and injustice by contrasting the Dao of heaven, which takes from the rich to help the poor, with the Dao of man, who robs the poor to make the rich even richer. It is the responsibility of the sage ruler to restore fairness and balance by ensuring that his state operates in accordance with nature and the Dao.

Section 1
The Dao of heaven
Is like shooting with a bow.
If you aim it too high,
You lower it.
If you aim it too low,
You raise it.
If you use too much force,
You reduce it.
If you do not use enough force,
You increase it.

The opening section of the chapter compares the Dao of heaven to shooting with a bow. Just as an archer adjusts their aim and form to hit the target accurately, you should maintain a strong sense of balance in your thoughts, emotions, and actions to stay on the right path.

Section 2
The Dao of heaven
Takes from those
Who have too much,
And gives to those
Who do not have enough.
The Dao of man
Does the opposite.
It takes from those
Who do not have enough,
And gives to those
Who have too much.

The second section contrasts how the Dao of heaven and the Dao of man operate. Whereas the Dao of heaven promotes natural fairness and balance by taking from those who have too much and giving to those who do not have enough, the Dao of man exacerbates social inequality and division by enriching the wealthy at the expense of the poor and downtrodden.

Section 3
Who can give to the world
Everything they have in excess?
Only someone who
Has attained the Dao.
The sage gets things done
Without seeking profit.
He accomplishes his task
Without claiming credit.
He has no desire
To display his worth.

The chapter concludes by arguing that only a sage who has attained the Dao can live in harmony with the natural order and rule a state effectively. Because he acts without seeking personal profit or recognition and accomplishes tasks quietly and humbly, with no desire to display his worth or gain attention, he has the ability restore fairness and balance by ensuring that society operates in accordance with the Dao of heaven.

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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.