The Tao – Verse 19

Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,
And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.

Give up kindness, renounce morality,
And men will rediscover filial piety and love.

Give up industry, renounce profit,
And bandits and thieves will disappear.

These three are outward forms alone;
they are not sufficient in themselves.
It is more important
To see the simplicity,
To realize one’s true nature,
To cast off selfishness
And temper desire.


The thing about sainthood, kindness and industry is that they represent out-going energy. Seeing the simplicity of the Tao, realising one’s true nature, casting off selfishness and tempering desire are about the inner self.

It looks contradictory, because kindness is universally respected, so why does Lao Tzu criticise it?

Kindness is best when it is directed by consciousness, when the giver knows themself first, then kindness will be pure and not more food for the ego. It will also be directed to those who most need it.

Sainthood has so often been the refuge of a scoundrel. No-one is really a saint. It is better to be human, and totally so.

Industry and profit can lead to wealth in a few hands, to greed and hunger for power.

Masters sometimes suggest to be selfish first; to complete the search for self-knowledge before trying to change the world. Realizing one’s true nature will help the world more than any other measure. Consciousness must come before action.

Desire should be tempered, but not denied. It should not lead to an obsession with wealth and power. Temperance is the key.