Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 79


A sweet little chapter with a turn the other cheek message. It begins by observing that even after a conflict is settled, some resentment often remains. So how can we bring true peace to a situation? 

Using contracts as an example, the chapter says that the sage holds up her end of the bargain, but does not try to force the other party to perform. When I taught contract law, my students would express their highest aspiration to draft a contract that would hold up in court. How surprised they were when I would reply that if they were in litigation over a contract, they had already lost no matter what the court decided. 

What I meant was that once a conflict arose and an adversarial process was initiated, both parties had lost the benefit of the relationship they had entered into. The cost and delays of litigation would never replace the benefits they had initially bargained for. 

So, I told my students, their highest aspiration should be to negotiate and draft an agreement that the parties will honor, one that will provide a basis for good faith efforts to resolve any disagreements that might arise without resort to lawsuits.

Of course, we can’t control other people’s behavior, in contracts or in the rest of life, but we can focus on our own behavior, on honoring our commitments, on doing the right thing, on being honest and having integrity, without regard to a quid pro quo. 

My favorite line in this chapter says that “heaven’s Dao is without preference.” Like the sun that graces all with its light and warmth, like the rain that graces all with its nourishment, Dao plays no favorites of worthiness or punishes those without. It offers its life giving energy to all without discrimination. Likewise, we can offer our compassion to all who cross our path, regardless of what they have done or not done for us. 

Having no preference is a great description of wu wei, a thematic principle in the Tao Te Ching. Sometimes mistakenly interpreted as passive non-action, it is better understood as a ready responsiveness to whatever life brings us. If I have a preference, then I might try to force people or circumstances to bend to my will. Instead, if I greet whatever arises without judgment or reactivity, I am free to respond appropriately and in harmony, rather than in conflict and struggle. 

This concept is impressively demonstrated by taiji master Adam Mizner, who responds to any attack with great effectiveness by using whatever energy is directed against him to defeat his attacker. He describes his approach as having no preference. (If you are interested, take a look at this short video.)

In the same way, we can maintain our own inner balance and peace, no matter what we are faced with in life, not by trying to force our will on what is beyond our control, but rather by honoring our own integrity and responding to what is, instead of what we want it to be.

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. ~Rumi

4 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching – Chapter 79”

  1. There are so many things I wish to see changed in this world as we are currently experiencing it, Galen, but it's more important to maintain our own inner balance and peace in order to face challenges with clear and focused perspectives. May God save us from ourselves.

  2. To the extent that what we see in the world reflects our own inner conflicts and projections, you are right that change in the world begins with inner transformation. Thanks for commenting, Martha.

  3. Even when I don't comment, I always read your posts, Galen, because I know I will be enlightened in some way. Today I watched that short video and understand that "no preference" is not a passive stance, but one in which I can learn to let go of what is holding me back by going with the flow. Thank you for being one of my important teachers. 🙂

  4. So glad you watched that video. Adam Mizner is so amazing. I have never studied with him, but I love his videos. Thanks for commenting, DJan, and for your kind words.

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