Daodejing Chapter 8: like water

Richard Brown
2 min readMar 1, 2023

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.
In choosing your home,
It is the location that counts.
In cultivating your heart-and-mind,
It is the 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.
Where there is no contending,
There is no fault.

「上善若水,水善利萬物而不爭,處眾人之所惡,故幾於道。居善地,心善淵、與善仁、言善信、正善治、事善能、動善時。夫唯不爭,故無尤」

Water is one the most popular metaphors that Laozi used to evoke the workings of the Dao. It is a source of good that sustains life in the darkest and remotest places where humans and other creatures fear to tread, and the humble manner in which it goes about its business provides a very potent example for you to follow.

Let your own life flow like water. Be true to yourself and follow your own path without comparing yourself to others or competing with them. Be willing to work with any person or problem that you encounter. Develop your thinking so that you can achieve clarity of action. Act for the benefit of all and speak with others openly and honestly. Stay disciplined and only take action at the right time.

In this way, you will not only help everyone around you flourish, but also become much more effective as a person and a leader.

Note
I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!

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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.