Reduce the size and population of the state. Ensure that even though the people
have tools of war for a troop or a battalion they will not use them; and also
that they will be reluctant to move to distant places because they look on death
as no light matter.
Even when they have ships and carts, they will have no use for them; and even
when they have armour and weapons, they will have no occasion to make a show of
Bring it about that the people will return to the use of the knotted rope,
Will find relish in their food,
And beauty in their clothes,
Will be content in their abode,
And happy in the way they live.
Though adjoining states are within sight of one another, and the sound of dogs
barking and cocks crowing in one state can be heard in another, yet the people
of one state will grow old and die without having had any dealings with those of
I’m struck with the comment: reduce the size and population of the state. In the time this was written the world had a minuscule population compared to now. Modern society even promotes an ethic of growth and progress—more is better! I can only think that Taoism will play a larger role for humanity in some distant future. For now, humanity is STILL in the first stage of: If you would have a thing shrink, You must first stretch it [see ch. 36]. After all, for the way of heaven, a few thousand years is like the blink of an eye.
Being reluctant to move to distant places because I look on death as no light matter puzzled me… until I looked at death as the death of illusions. The illusion that the ‘grass is greener’ over yonder has lead me to waste considerable life time chasing this illusion. I now regard such a waste as no light matter, and so I am more reluctant to pursue dreams. Happy-ness lies right here BEHIND me, not ahead of me. If I can’t savor this moment, it’s dead.
When I seek self worth in worldly matters, I’m constantly drawn to move to distant places. When I achieve the distant goal it is soon replaced by another, and so on…an endless path. No wonder Jesus advised us to ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth’.
Before civilization, we gathered our food on the forest floor. Our instinct to move to distant places came in very handy—it kept us on the lookout for needed nutrients. This same instinct in civilized circumstances easily leads us astray. Alas, our biological instincts can’t keep pace with our innovations.
I notice that as I become more content with the way things are, the less I use tools. I suppose this applies to all tools across the board—even money and language. I have money, but don’t need to use it as much when I’m happy. I speak, but not as impulsively, when I know contentment, i.e., One who knows does not speak; one who speaks does not know [see ch. 56].
How do I bring it about that the people will return to the use of the knotted rope? In fact, how do I bring it about for myself? I find myself returning to greater simplicity only when I’m happy in the way I live. When I’m not, I look for ways to improve life, which usually means complicating it with innovative ways (technology) to make it easier… ironic, for this usually has the opposite effect. Woe to him who innovates while ignorant of the constant [see ch. 16].
As the eldest head of the household, I’m able to bring it about that the people (in my family) either stay or return to simplicity by embracing simplicity myself. If the head isn’t stable, the rest of the body will scatter all over the place. In this era, the heads of society embrace ‘growth and progress’; no wonder there is such confusion across the land.
When I am content and happy in the way I live, I am more neutral in worldly matters. Waiting is easy so I naturally take longer to decide ‘yeh’ or ‘ney’. This slows down the pace of life.
Oddly, I sometimes feel uneasy with being content—especially when I see everyone buzzing about; I wonder whether I should be too. Then I remember, it’s okay to be happy in the way I live. These words of the Tao bless a deeper reality; all I need do is listen and remember. The multitude all have a purpose. I alone am foolish and uncouth. I alone am different from others, And value being fed by the mother [see ch. 20].
As a political platform, this chapter seems to fit the Libertarian party among others. Though, the message here is probably far more radical. An Amish Libertarian could appreciate its sentiments best, probably.