What are the metaphors and key concepts in Tao Te Ching #15? What are some real-life examples that connect to the concepts?

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Tao Te Ching’s chapter 15 deals with the theme of excellence. The author uses a lot of analogies to explain how the enlightened sages of the past, the “masters of excellence”, used to behave and engage with their surroundings. This gives us guidance with regard to how we should carry ourselves, if we strive to achieve the same level of excellence.

For example we should be “cautious, like crossing a river in the winter.” The analogy of crossing a river in the winter tells us that one should not be striving forward too much, one shouldn’t rush unnecessarily, but still move forward slowly and carefully. Rushing to cross a river in the winter can prove to be a very dangerous undertaking that could go badly wrong—just like rushing through life, constantly striving for more can be dangerous and detrimental to ourselves.

The author also uses the metaphor of “uncarved wood”, in order to highlight the importance of a pure state of self, free from any outside influence or indoctrination. Being overly influenced only causes unnecessary difficulty.

When applying chapter 15 to everyday life, one could say that it is a warning against striving too much for quick success in life. People should not rush. Rather, they should be considerate, moderate and balanced in their approach to life in order to find happiness. Once a person stops striving for more, a lot of pressure will fall off of their shoulders and life will become a lot easier: “He who holds on to the Way seeks no excess. . .He can grow old in no need to be renewed.”

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