Thursday, February 24, 2011

74: The Supreme Executioner


If people are not afraid of dying,
Why threaten them with death?
If people live in constant fear of death,
And if breaking the law is punished by death,
Then who would dare?
There is one appointed supreme executioner.
Truly, trying to take the place of the supreme executioner
Is like trying to carve wood like a master carpenter.
Of those who try to carve wood like a master carpenter,
There are few who do not injure their hands.

The Supreme Executioner

This chapter is unclear in several ways, in its Chinese original, and has been translated in quite different manners. The first part deals with the fear of death, the second with the executioner. The subjects connect, since Lao Tzu first discusses how fear of the death penalty makes people abide by the law, and then moves on to the one executing the punishment...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 74 Translation and Commentary

1 comment:

  1. This is Stephen Mitchell's translation. Do you know where the first lines came from? I also found them in a Spanish translation of the same chapter:
    ***** 74 *****
    If you realize that all things change,
    there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
    If you aren't afraid of dying,
    there is nothing you can't achieve.

    Trying to control the future
    is like trying to take the master carpenter's place.
    When you handle the master carpenter's tools,
    chances are that you'll cut your hand.