“Those who tiptoe don’t stand
those who stride don’t walk
those who consider themselves don’t appear
those who display themselves don’t shine
those who flatter themselves achieve nothing
those who parade themselves don’t lead
travelers have a saying
too much food and a tiring pace
some things are simply bad
those who possess the Way thus shun them”
(Taoteching, verse 24, translation by Red Pine)
TE CH’ING says, “People raise themselves up on their tiptoes to see over the heads of others, but they cannot stand like this for long. People take longer strides to stay in front of others, but they cannot walk like this very far. Neither of these is natural.”
WU CH’ENG says, “To tiptoe is to lift the heels in order to increase one’s height. To stride is to extend the feet in order to increase one’s pace. A person can do this for a while but not for long. Likewise, those who consider themselves don’t appear for long. Those who display themselves don’t shine for long. Those who flatter themselves don’t succeed for long. And those who parade themselves don’t lead for long.”
SU CH’E says, “Anyone can stand or walk. But if those who are not content with standing tiptoe to extend their height or those who are not content with walking stride to increase their speed, their stance and their pace are sure to suffer. It’s the same with those who consider themselves, or display themselves, or flatter themselves, or parade themselves. It’s like eating or drinking. As soon as you’re full, stop. Overeating will make you ill. Or it’s like manual work. As soon as you’re done, quit. Overwork will only exhaust you.”
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Selfless and free of desire is the mind of the sage. Conniving and clever is the mind of the common person. Observing themselves, displaying themselves, flattering themselves, and parading themselves, they hasten their end, like someone who eats too much.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “Those who cultivate the Tao yet still think about themselves are like people who overeat or overwork. Food should satisfy the hunger. Work should suit the task. Those who keep to the Way do only what is natural.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Why should Taoists avoid things? Doesn’t the Tao dwell in what others avoid? [see verse 8]. Taoists don’t avoid what others hate, namely humility and weakness. They only avoid what others fight over, namely flattery and ostentation. Hence, they avoid some things and not others. But they never fight.”
CHANG TAO-LING says, “Who follows the Way lives long. Who loses the Way dies early. This is the unbiased law of Heaven. It doesn’t depend on offerings or prayers.”
TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Those who straddle two sides are unsure of the Way.” [In line two, k’ua (stride) can also mean “straddle”].
A couple verses back, Lao-tzu specifically urged us to not consider, display, flatter, or parade ourselves. And he repeats the admonition in today’s verse. Those who do these things, don’t appear, don’t shine, achieve nothing, and don’t lead. Why not? Because, while these might be the way of Humankind, it isn’t the Way. It just isn’t natural. Like standing on tiptoe to see over the heads of others. Or taking long strides to stay in front of others. What has Lao-tzu been teaching us with these verses this week? Things can’t last. We need to accept the natural waxing and waning.
And there is another thing that Lao-tzu teaches in today’s verse: Some things are simply bad. This may sound obvious to my readers. Or, some of you may have become so brainwashed by those who would tell you that everything is relative. There are no absolutes. There is nothing good, and nothing bad.
Even Lao-tzu has talked before about our subjective opinions of good and bad, saying there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between what is good and what is bad. And, by calling this good, this becomes bad.
But let’s not misunderstand Lao-tzu. Then, he was talking about the subjective. Today, he is talking about the objective. And there is objective good and bad. The Virtue, he has talked about previously, the te in Taoteching, is obviously good. And, some things are bad. Like not following the Tao. Or, like he notes in recalling the travelers’ saying, “Too much food and a tiring pace.”
If we are going to possess the Tao, we need to shun these bad things.