Daodejing: dealing with the permanence of change

Richard Brown
2 min readMar 19, 2024

I am enjoying the final review of my Daodejing translation. It is giving me the opportunity to think about the text from a much broader (and I hope deeper) perspective than when I am agonising over which word to use to translate a particular term.

One of the key themes of the text is the permanence of change. In theory, this is a blindingly obviously concept, but in practice we struggle mightily with how to react it. When everything is going right, it is natural to want your life to continue as it is forever. When everything is going wrong, it is equally tempting to complain that the whole world is conspiring against you and pray for the nightmare to end as soon as possible.

The Daodejing views change not just as a permanent process but also a neutral one. It sees nothing intrinsically “good” or “bad” about a specific event or outcome, whether it be a birth, marriage, promotion, divorce, or death. These are all part of the natural cycle. Rather than allowing your emotions to govern your reactions to them, you need to deal with each event in a similarly neutral or detached manner.

This approach to handling change is well encapsulated in Chapter 58 of the text when it says: “Fortune is rooted in misfortune. Misfortune lurks beneath fortune.” Just as great personal success can lead to complacency, arrogance, and eventual decline if you allow yourself to become too consumed by it, tough times can often be a breeding ground for growth and eventual success if you face them with equanimity and calm.

The key to dealing with change, therefore, is to recognise the natural ebb and flow of life and maintain a balanced and composed mind. By not allowing yourself to be overly disturbed or affected by external events or internal emotions, you will be able to face life’s ups and downs with a greater sense of peace and detachment.

Links
Daodejing Chapter 58: fortune and misfortune
Daodejing Chapter 58 breakdown: the sage is pointed but does not pierce

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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.