Daodejing Chapter 5: empty but inexhaustible

Heaven and Earth are not humane,
They treat all things as straw dogs.
The sage is not humane;
He treats all people as straw dogs.
The space between Heaven and Earth is just like a bellows!
It’s empty but inexhaustible;
The more it moves, the more it yields.
Too many words will only lead to failure;
Better to stay centered.

Straw dogs were used instead of living dogs in ancient Chinese ritual practices. During these elaborate ceremonies they were treated with the greatest reverence because they served an important symbolic function, but as soon as the festivities were over they were immediately discarded and returned to their natural state of being a worthless pile of straw.

Heaven and earth adopt the same approach, picking no favorites among the myriad animals and plants in their domain and allowing all of them to flourish of their own accord. In the same way, a great sage allows his people to grow naturally without interfering in their development. Rather than showering them with fake compliments or pushing them to conform to artificial standards of morality and behavior, he treats everyone equally and gives them the freedom to nurture their innate talents and values.

The sage thus remains centered and only speaks when necessary. The less he attempts to impose his will on his people, the greater the dynamism and creativity he unleashes among them. Like an empty bellows, he is a source of inexhaustible energy and potential.

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