lao tzu water quote

Seven virtues of water

Lao Tzu teaches us to be natural. It allows us to go with the flow of nature and actively engage with things we do, making what we do effective yet effortless. 

Tao Te Ching Verse 8

Learn from water. It is soft yet strong.

Water is yielding. It accepts whatever comes and doesn’t resist. It goes to filthy places others dread! This allows it to engage with anything, which can be as hard as a rock. Although soft, it never runs away, and the connection enables it to know the ground to find the best solutions to whatever problems it faces. Staying close to the rock can even drill a hole through it if it’s allowed the time.   

Although soft, water can over some of the hardest things in the world. It can adapt to any situation and take on any form. Lao Tzu believes we should strive to be like water to be flexible and adaptable. 

While pliable, water keeps to its center. When its balance is disrupted, it swings back to alignment with gravity.  

Water is not just a taker. It irrigates the farms and nourishes our bodies. We can live without it, yet it never claims credit or tries to compete with anyone. 

Lao Tzu likes to use water to illustrate the virtue of Tao and the ways to bring out the best in us. In Verse 8 of Tao Te Ching, he enumerates the seven virtues of water. They serve as good references to make our life more meaningful and what we do more effortless yet effective. They teach us how to be soft and yet strong.

Water is soft and yet powerful.  It greets you with its pliability and softness. It’s selfless and willing to go to filthy places where no one wants to go, so it knows the ground well. It nourishes the world but never claims credit or try to compete with anyone. It’s, on the other hand, extremely powerful and able to penetrate a hard rock if it’s given time.

S Michell made a interesting transliteration of the text. It’s not a literal translation, but it captures the spirit of the verse.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 8

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

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