Daodejing Chapter 8 breakdown: akin to the Dao

Richard Brown
2 min readDec 12, 2023

Chapter 8 of the Daodejing uses the qualities of water as a metaphor to convey the virtues of humility, harmony, kindness, sincerity, and living in accordance with the natural flow of the Dao. It presents these principles as guidelines for personal conduct, social interactions, governance, and the cultivation of your character.

Section 1
The highest good is like water.
Water benefits the myriad things.
It does not contend.
It settles in places
That the masses disdain.
It is akin to the Dao.

The chapter begins by likening the highest good to water, emphasizing its nourishing and non-confrontational nature. Water is seen as a model for virtuous behaviour because it sustains all life without striving or contention and settles in lowly places, which others might disdain. It embodies the values of humility and of being in a state of wuwei, natural, unforced action.

Section 2
In choosing your home,
It is location that counts.
In cultivating your heart-and-mind,
It is depth that counts.
In dealing with others,
It is kindness that counts.
In speaking,
It is good faith that counts.
In governing,
It is order that counts.
In practical matters,
It is competence that counts.
In action,
It is timing that counts.

The text advises that in choosing a place to live the location matters most, underlining the importance of being in harmony with your surroundings. This principle extends to all aspects of life, suggesting that you should seek balance in your environment, relationships, and actions.

When it comes to cultivating your thoughts and emotions, the passage counsels you to explore beneath the surface to increase your understanding not just of yourself but the world around you. Its emphasis on kindness and good faith in dealing with others underscores the importance of showing generosity, empathy, and sincerity in your interpersonal relationships.

The chapter also highlights the importance of order and competence in governance and practical affairs, reflecting the idea that effective leadership and practical skills should be in harmony with the natural order and societal needs. Acting in accordance with the natural rhythm and timing of events, rather than forcing actions against the natural flow is another critical quality that you need to hone.

Section 3
Where there is no contending,
There is no fault.

The chapter concludes with a reminder of the importance of not engaging in conflict and competition with others. Just as water flows according to its innate nature and shapes itself to the environment, you should align your actions with the effortless and spontaneous flow of the Dao.

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Daodejing Chapter 8: like water

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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.