Tao Te Ching 61: Humility

– 61 –

A great country is like the lowland,

toward which all streams flow.

It is the reservoir of all under heaven,

the feminine of the world.

The female overcomes the male with stillness.

Her tranquility gives rise to her humility,

The more powerful a country grows,

the greater the need for humility.

If a great country lowers itself before a small one,

it wins friendship and trust.

And if a small country can lower itself before a great one,

it will win over that ‘great’ country.

If a nation is centred in the Tao,

if it nourishes its own people,

if it does not meddle in the affairs of others,

it will be of great benefit of all others.


Most nations want to achieve ‘greatness’: to be higher, more elevated, prosperous and powerful than other countries. Nationalism is born of the ego’s desire to cement a stronger identity for itself and it does so by trying to convince itself that it’s somehow better than others.

This is not the way of the Tao. Lao Tzu asks us to adopt the opposite approach and to recognise the value of humility. Instead of trying to be bigger, stronger and more powerful than others, Lao Tzu suggests we embrace humility, to become like the lowland toward which all streams flow along their path to the sea. This is the feminine approach, which is one of stillness, equanimity and peace.

There’s no place for conflict, war or erroneous notions of being ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’ when a country is at one with the Tao. We’ve tried it the other way. It didn’t work. Perhaps it’s time for us to approach world affairs and foreign policy with an altogether different approach.

This doesn’t mean that we become the doormats of the world. To embody the Tao is to be in perfect balance, not idle passivity. It’s a state of alignment and a necessary recalibration after centuries of striving to subjugate and dominate others. True victory is not coming out on top: it the realisation and actualisation of unity, peace and harmony between nations.

If you have enjoyed this series on the Tao Te Ching, it is now available as a collected volume in both paperback and ebook format on Amazon.


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