Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 8 Commentary

This is part of a series examining the Tao Te Ching from a Christ-centered, LDS perspective.

Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching is one of my favorite chapters. To me, it perfectly describes the essence of the yin, feminine aspect.

Here is the text:

Water. Public domain.
The highest goodness resembles water
Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention
It stays in places that people dislike
Therefore it is similar to the Tao
Dwelling with the right location
Feeling with great depth
Giving with great kindness
Speaking with great integrity
Governing with great administration
Handling with great capability
Moving with great timing
Because it does not contend
It is therefore beyond reproach

Benefits myriad things without contention

I love the idea that the highest goodness benefits things without contention, being even in places that people don't want to be. Are these not explicitly Christian values?

  • Matthew 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

    3 Nephi 11:29  For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. 

    Because it does not contend, it is beyond reproach.
  • To me, this chapter of the Tao Te Ching is essentially a condensed version of key parts of the Sermon on the Mount. Compare Matthew 5:39-44
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.
 41 And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
 43 ¶Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
What is all this but giving with great kindness? Dwelling with the right location and feeling with great depth? 

Because it does not contend

In the context of eternal marriage, this chapter stands out to me as being particularly relevant for women as they relate to their husbands, and men as they relate to Christ (like in 1 Corinthians 11:3). This is an instruction manual on how to appropriately submit. Appropriate submission involves feeling and giving and governing and speaking, kindness and integrity and capability and administration. And as the chapter concludes, it marks itself with a notable lack of contention--which contention Christ says is of the devil (see 3 Nephi 11:29, quoted above).

The Bible teaches that wives are to submit to their husbands and that husbands are to submit to Christ. This is a brief explanation of how to do that--not necessarily instructions how, but rather an explication of the adverbs involved with the action. Godly submission, this chapter explains, is hardly "giving up" or "being less" or something--true, godly submission is full of work. It is about giving and doing and speaking and being, and all without contention. This is how a house of order can work: the only way a house can be a house of order is if someone is in charge, and someone else submits to the decisions of the guy in charge.

Enjoy this Ensign article on the responsibilities of husbands. It is very clear about the leadership role of the husband in marriage and the submissive role of the wife in marriage. 

Check out Romans 7:4 for another take on marriage and its relationship to Christ. In a symbolic way, believers become married to Christ for the purposes of bringing up spiritual fruit. Understanding the role of the submissive member of a relationship is important for both men and women, because both men and women are supposed to be perfectly subordinate to Christ. 


Chapter 8 gives a pattern for how to submit like water--and be like the "highest good." Submission and kindness without contention blesses myriad things and leaves the actor "beyond reproach."

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