The Supreme Good of Taoism: Explained

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Tao Te Ching" by Lao Tzu. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the “Supreme Good” in Taoism? How is the Supreme Good like water? How does living by the principles of the Supreme Good allow you to have objective wisdom?

In Taoism, the Supreme Good is like water in that it provides nourishment to all living beings without bias. If you live by its principles, you will be respected by others and will be able to stay centered despite the chaos in the world.

Continue reading to learn more about the Supreme Good.

The Supreme Good

To live according to the Tao, strive to achieve balance through objectivity. The Tao is the birthplace of all things and doesn’t discriminate between “good” and “evil.” In the same way, you must embrace all people and things, disregarding any sense of personal perspective and removing the concepts of “good” and “evil” from your mind.

Once you’ve dedicated yourself to objectivity, you can engage with the balance that the universe creates. The Tao creates perfect balance by taking from those who have too much and giving to those who have too little. To live within the Tao, give to those in need without expectation, and never keep too much for yourself. This allows for the emergence of the “Supreme Good.”

Similar to water, the Supreme Good provides nourishment to all living beings without bias or intention. It goes where the universe sends it, even if it seems undesirable. To begin living by the principles of the Supreme Good:

  • Live amongst other beings. Don’t place yourself on a pedestal. 
  • Keep your thoughts simple. Don’t over-complicate things.
  • Be fair in the face of conflict. Don’t allow your prejudices to take hold. 
  • Listen to those around you. Don’t try to control that which is not yours to control.
  • Work towards something you love. Don’t succumb to societal pressures. 
  • Be present with your friends and family. Don’t allow distractions or earthly ambitions to take you away from the present. 

If you live according to the principles of the Supreme Good, people will respect you without you demanding their attention, just as they respect the water that sustains them. 

Objective Wisdom

If you stay centered within the Tao’s objective wisdom instead of relying on your own biased perspective, the chaos of life won’t cause you to spiral. Whether in anguish or in bliss, don’t let your emotions influence your perspective. Instead, rely on the Tao for guidance.

If you engage with the objectivity of the Tao in your daily life, you’ll be able to engage with it in crisis. Instead of overwhelming yourself with the big picture, take things day-by-day, completing small tasks as they arise. This daily practice in objectivity will allow you to remain unbiased in the most extreme of circumstances.

If you find yourself in conflict with someone else, respect your foe and don’t underestimate their abilities. If you underestimate your enemies, you’ll make careless mistakes and reckless decisions. Holding your opponent in high esteem will let you know when to take action and when to be patient. 

When engaged in conflict, remember the following:

  • Show kindness to all people, even those that are unkind.
  • Be trusting of all people, even those that are untrustworthy.

This helps you remain an unbiased vessel that’s willing to connect with all people, even those others have deemed “bad.”

When you fail, don’t place the blame on others or demand someone else solve your problems. Take responsibility for your actions, complete the tasks you set out to do, and fix any mistakes that you make. 

The Supreme Good of Taoism: Explained

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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