Tao Te Ching is a difficult book because of its ancient Chinese language that can be rendered in many ways, and also because the strangeness of its concepts developed by its author, Lao Tzu. About the definition of the concepts you may read the short explanations given in the Teachings and Tao-Te sections of this site. Regarding the wisdom of the Book, you may benefit from the commentaries below.
Generally speaking every translator of the Book provides the corresponding commentaries assigned to the chapters. Unfortunately those commentaries are not similar. Therefore they rise a feeling of uncertainness when you read the Book. Or simply you don’t understand what is about. So the question is: how do I know what is the best commentary? The answer: You don’t know!
Still there is a hope. The best commentaries should come from one who is familiarized with the Taoist way of thinking as this way of thinking is the very heart of the Book. Such a person is the author of the comments published here (with his permisson).
Tao Te Ching, chapter 3, verse 1
Not to value and employ men of superior ability is the way to keep the people from rivalry among themselves; not to prize articles which are difficult to procure is the way to keep them from becoming thieves; not to show them what is likely to excite their desires is the way to keep their minds from disorder. (Legge’s translation)
Comment: Everything bad in the human society starts from having too much. In the above quote too much means superior ability, prize what is difficult, and exciting shows. Everything lead to rivalry, thieves and mind disorders.
In our modern psychology too there’s a fact that what is praised too much excite our will – and when we miss the praised items we fall ill. When we feel we are not able to attain what others keep in high esteem we fall down. The ego splits. This is call neurosis.
Tao Te Ching, chapter 4, verse 1
The Tao is (like) the emptiness of a vessel; and in our
employment of it we must be on our guard against all fullness. (Legge’s translation)
Comment: In other words we should keep the right middle way between empty and full. Like the above idea, here too what is too much leads to disorders.
Also one must be careful with fullness because when one attain this state the reverse will come forth.
Also, and more esoterically, the real fullness is the void.
Tao Te Ching, chapter 8, verse 1
The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao. (Legge’s translation)
Comment: Many said that water is the symbol of Taoists’ conduct because it is yin-like, soft, opposed to the yang-like, strong. They believe the Taoist sage always follows the female-like path and rejects the yang-like!
This is not accurate. Here water is the symbol of someone who is useful for many but in the same time he/she doesn’t request a higher position. On the contrary he/she accommodates a low position “which all men dislikes”.
But if someone wishes his way to be near to (the way) of Tao, he/she must be aware that ours is an ever-changing Universe. Therefore, being near to the Tao may mean rejecting yin-like conduct and adopting the yang-like one, as well as vice versa. Food to thoughts.
Comments by Master Jhian.