The Tao Te Ching



老子, Lǎozǐ

Translated by Charles Johnston

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An Interpretation of Lao Tse’s Book of the Way and of Righteousness

Charles Johnston

1. The way that can be told is not the eternal Way. The word that can be spoken is not the eternal Word.

Unnamed, It is the source of heaven and earth. Named, It is the Mother of all things.

He who is ever without desires sees Its spiritual essence. He who is ever under desire sees only Its limits.

These two, differing in name, are the same in origin. They are the mystery of mysteries. This is the door of spiritual life.

2. When all men have learned the beauty of righteousness, the ugliness of sin is understood.

When all men recognize goodness, then evil is understood.

In the same way, the manifest and the unmanifest define eachother.

Difficult and easy define eachother.

Long and short reveal eachother.

Height and depth manifest eachother.

Musical notes and the tones of the voice determine eachother.

Former and latter define eachother.

Therefore the Master works without working.

He teaches in silence.

Then all things come into being, and he gives them fruition.

He brings them into being, yet seeks not to possess them.

He perfects them, yet seeks no reward.

When his work is accomplished, he remains detached from it.

He seeks no glory, and is therefore glorious.

3. The seclusion of the Masters keeps the world from strife.

A low esteem of wealth keeps the world from covetousness.

When objects of desire are hidden, men’s hearts are undisturbed.

Therefore, where the Master rules, he empties the heart of desires. He fills the inner nature. He strengthens its bones.

He constantly stills the mind and abates desires.

Those who have knowledge, he restrains from bondage to action.

He himself stands free from bondage to action; therefore all whom he rules abide in quietude.

4. The Way seems empty. As it is tried, it is found inexhaustible.

Oh, how profound it is! It seems to be the Forefather of all beings.

It quiets impetuosity. It looses bonds. It tempers its splendour. It follows lowliness.

Oh, how pure it is! It seems to abide for ever.

It is the Son of I-know-not. It seems to have been before the Lord of Heaven.

5. Heaven and earth are without partiality. They regard all creatures as the dog (of straw in the sacrifice).

The Master is without partiality. He regards mankind as the dog of straw.

The Being that is between heaven and earth is like the bellows of the forge, empty, yet possessing power. Put in motion, it sends forth more and more.

He who would tell the Way, soon becomes silent.

It is better to follow the way of work with detachment.

6. The spirit of the valley dies not. It is called the mysterious Mother.

The door of the mysterious Mother is called the source of heaven and earth.

It is eternal and seems to manifest itself.

He who enters into it, finds rest.

7. Heaven and earth endure.

If they endure, it is because they live not for themselves. It is because of this that they endure.

So the Master puts himself after others, yet remains the first.

He is detached from his body, yet conserves his body.

Is it not because he has no desires for himself, that all his desires are fulfilled?

8. The spirit of goodness is like water.

Water excels in doing good to all, yet strives not.

It seeks the lowly places rejected by others.

Therefore he who is like this, draws near to the Way.

His chosen dwelling place is in humility.

His heart loves the depth of the abyss.

His gifts are given with impartial love.

He speaks words of faithfulness.

His government brings peace.

He is skilful in all he undertakes.

He acts in all things with timeliness.

He strives against none; therefore he is not opposed.

9. It is better not to fill the vessel than to try to carry it when quite full.

The blade that is over-sharpened loses its edge, even though it be tested with the hand.

The hall that is filled with gold and jade cannot be guarded.

He who has honours heaped upon him, and thereby grows proud, draws down misfortune upon himself.

He who has done great things and gained renown should withdraw himself.

Such is the Way of heaven.

10. The spiritual should rule the psychic nature.

When he is one-pointed, these act in consonance.

When he masters the bodily powers, rendering them obedient, he is as one new born.

When he frees himself from the illusions of the mind, he puts away all infirmities.

If he would guard the people and bring peace in the kingdom, let him work with detachment.

When he accepts the opening and closing of the gates of heaven, he rests like a brooding bird.

Though his light penetrates everywhere, he appears as if knowing nothing.

He brings forth beings and nourishes them.

Though bringing them forth, he is without the desire of possession.

He cherishes them, yet looks for no reward.

He rules them, yet without dominating them.

This is called perfect righteousness.

11. Thirty spokes unite in the nave. The use of the car depends on the empty space for the axle.

Clay is fashioned into vessels. The use of the vessels depends on the empty space within.

Doors and windows are framed in making a house. The use of the house depends on their empty spaces.

Therefore utility depends on what is manifest, but the use of a thing depends on what is unmanifest.

12. The five colours blind the eyes of men.

The five tones deafen the ears of men.

The five tastes deceive the mouths of men.

Impetuous motion, the passion of pursuit, madden the hearts of men.

The desire of possessions goads men to injurious acts.

Therefore the holy man is concerned with what is within, and not with the desire of the eyes.

Therefore he renounces what is without and cleaves to what is within.

13. The wise man shuns fame equally with infamy. His body weighs him down like a great misfortune.

What mean the words: He shuns fame equally with infamy?

There is something base in fame. To have it, is to be full of apprehension; to lose it, is to be full of apprehension.

Therefore it is said: He shuns fame equally with infamy. What mean the words: His body weighs him down like a great misfortune?

If we suffer great misfortunes, it is because we have bodies.

When we no longer have bodies, what misfortunes can we suffer?

Therefore, when a man shrinks from governing the kingdom, he may be trusted to govern the kingdom; when he is unwilling to govern the kingdom, he is fit to govern the kingdom.

14. You seek the Way, but see it not: it is called colourless.

You listen, but hear it not: it is called soundless.

You would grasp it, but cannot touch it: it is called bodiless.

These three qualities cannot be expressed in words. Therefore they are taken together, and it is called the One.

Its higher part is not manifest; its lower part is not hidden.

It is eternal and cannot be named.

It returns to the unmanifested.

It is called the formless form, the imageless image.

It is called the undefined, the undetermined.

Who meets it, sees not its face; who follows it, sees not its back.

By discerning the immemorial Way, the things of to-day may be governed.

He who understands what was in the beginning, is said to hold the clue of the Way.

15. Those of old, the Masters of the Way, were detached and subtle.

So deep were they, that men knew them not.

Since they could not be observed, I shall endeavour to indicate what they were.

They were circumspect as he who crosses a torrent in winter.

They were alert as he who fears those about him.

They were reserved as a guest.

They were self-effacing as melting ice.

They were natural as uncarved wood.

They were lowly as a valley.

They were impenetrable as troubled water.

Who can make the troubled clear? By stillness it will become clear.

Who can bring life to birth? In quietude it will come to birth.

Who follows the Way seeks not to be overfilled.

Since he is not full of self, he recognises his faults and seeks not to be judged perfect.

16. Seek emptiness of self. Seek stillness.

All things manifest themselves and then return.

When the plant has blossomed, it returns to the root.

The return to the root is called stillness.

That stillness may be called a reporting that it has fulfilled its task.

This reporting of fulfilment is the immemorial rule. To know the immemorial rule, is to be wise.

To ignore it, leads to impetuous and evil motions.

To know the immemorial rule, brings power and forbearance.

Power and forbearance bring compassion.

Compassion brings a kingly heart.

He who is kinglike, grows heavenlike.

Through likeness to Heaven, he possesses the Way.

Possessing the Way, he is eternal; his powers will never fail.

17. In the highest degree, men know only that they have rulers.

In the second degree, they love and praise their rulers.

In the third degree, they fear them.

In the fourth degree, they despise them.

When the rulers lose faith in the Way, the people lose faith in their rulers.

The first rulers are guarded and reticent. While they fulfil their task and complete their work, the people say: We follow our nature.

18. When the Way was no longer followed, humanity and justice were remarked.

When wisdom and prudence came into sight, great deceit showed itself.

When harmony no longer governed the six kinships, the bonds of family love grew conspicuous.

When states fell into disorder, loyalty and devotion were noted.

19. When wisdom and prudence are no longer noteworthy, the people will be happier a hundredfold.

When humanity and justice cease to be noted, the people will be once more kindly and filial.

When craft is forgotten and gain undesired, thieves and robbers will disappear.

Renounce these three, and know that seeming renunciation is not enough.

Therefore I show men what they should seek:

To show simplicity, keep purity, renounce selfishness, abandon desires.

20. Give up the desire to be more learned than others, and you will be freed from care.

How small is the difference between the obedient “yes!” and the disobedient “yea!”

How great is the difference between good and evil.

What all men fear, is easily feared.

They fall into confusion, not checking themselves.

They are carried away, like one who feasts, or one mounted on a tower in spring.

I alone am still; my desires are not aroused.

I am as a new-born child that has not yet smiled to its mother.

I am detached; I seem to have no home.

The multitude have many possessions; I am as one who has lost all.

My thought is indrawn; I seem to know nothing.

The world is wise and prudent; I seem plunged in darkness.

The world is keen; I seem as one bewildered.

I am as a shoreless sea; a barque without a port.

The world is impetuous; I seem inert, like a rustic.

I am apart from other men, because I worship the all-nourishing Mother, the Way.

21. The visible forms of the Great Virtue emanate solely from the Way.

This is the nature of the Way:

It is without form, It is concealed.

How formless It is, how well concealed!

Within It are the forms of beings.

How well concealed It is, how formless!

Within It are beings.

How profound It is, how deeply hidden!

Within It is the Spiritual Power. This Spiritual Power is enduring and true.

Within It is the unchanging Witness; from of old until now, Its name remains.

It is the door through which all beings come forth.

How do I know that it is thus with all beings? I know it through the Way.

22. The partial becomes complete.

The crooked becomes straight.

The empty becomes full.

The worn out becomes new.

He who has little (desire) finds the Way; he who has much, goes astray.

Therefore the Master keeps the oneness of the Way; he is the model of the world.

He seeks not to be seen, therefore he gives light.

He does not magnify himself, therefore he gives inspiration.

He does not vaunt himself, therefore he has true worth.

He does not glorify himself, therefore he is above all.

He strives not, therefore none in the kingdom can stand against him.

The saying of the ancients: “The partial becomes complete,” is not an empty phrase.

When a man has attained, the whole world is subject to him.

23. He who keeps silence, gains detachment.

The tempest does not endure all the morning; the rain storm does not last all day.

What produces these two? Heaven and earth produce them.

If heaven and earth cannot maintain (tempestuous violence), how then can man?

Therefore, the man who gives himself to the Way, becomes one with the Way; he who gives himself to righteousness, becomes one with righteousness; he who gives himself to evil, becomes one with evil.

He who becomes one with the Way, gains the Way; he who becomes one with righteousness, gains righteousness; he who becomes one with evil, gains (the shame of) evil.

He who does not give all (for the Way), ends by losing the Way.

24. Who raises himself on tiptoe, stands not firm; who strains his stride, walks not far.

Who contends for his own view, finds not wisdom.

Who is self-complacent, gives no light.

Who boasts of himself, has no true worth.

Who glorifies himself, shall not long endure.

Viewed from the Way, these acts are like the leavings of a feast, like a repulsive tumour.

Therefore, he who has found the Way, shuns these things.

25. There is unmanifested Being, which existed before the heavens and the earth.

How still It is, and bodiless!

It stands alone, unchanging.

It moves through all things, unmenaced.

It may be regarded as the Mother of the universe.

Its name I know not.

To give It a name, I call It the Way.

To describe It, I call It Great.

Being Great, I call It elusive.

Being elusive, I call It far-reaching.

Being far-reaching, I say It returns.

This is why the Way is great, the heavens are great, the earth is great, the King is great.

Man follows the earth; earth follows heaven; heaven follows the Way; the Way follows Its own Being.

26. Heavy is the root of light; stillness, the master of motion.

Therefore the sage walks ever in the Way, keeping stillness and poise.

Though he possess splendid palaces, he remains detached and still.

Yet the lord of ten thousand chariots may act lightly in his kingdom.

Through lightness he loses his ministers; following desire, he forfeits his throne.

27. Who walks wisely, leaves no footprints; who speaks wisely, makes no mistakes; who reckons wisely, uses no tally; who closes wisely, needs no lock, nor can it be opened; who binds wisely, needs no cord, nor can it be loosed.

Therefore the Master, working justly, seeks to save all, rejecting none.

Working with justice, he seeks to save all; this is why he rejects none.

He has light, and again light.

Therefore the righteous is master of the unrighteous.

The unrighteous is the opportunity of the righteous.

If the one regard not his master, if the other love not his opportunity, though they be prudent, both are blind.

This is the great mystery.

28. Who knows his strength, yet retains gentleness, is the valley of the kingdom. (All flows to him.)

If he be the valley of the kingdom, humility abides with him; he becomes again a little child.

Who knows his light, yet retains darkness, is the exemplar of the kingdom.

If he be the exemplar of the kingdom, holiness abides with him; he becomes again perfect.

Who knows his glory, yet retains humility, is likewise the valley of the kingdom.

If he be the valley of the kingdom, his righteousness is made perfect; he gains again the perfect simplicity (of the Way).

When the perfect simplicity (of the Way) is spread abroad, it moulds all beings.

When the holy man attains, he becomes the ruler in the kingdom. Governing all, he injures none.

29. Who seeks to remake the kingdom, will certainly fail.

The kingdom is divinely planned; man cannot remake it.

If he seek to remake, he destroys; if he seek to seize, he loses.

Among beings, some go before, some follow; some are hot, some are cold; some are strong, some are weak; some move, others halt.

Therefore the sage refrains from excess, luxury, indulgence.

30. He who works for the Master of men in accordance with the Way, seeks not to advance the kingdom by compulsion.

For men render again what they receive.

Where armies halt, spring up thorns and briars.

In the wake of wars come years of fasting.

The sage strikes resolutely and remains still. He dares not advance the kingdom by compulsion.

He strikes resolutely, without vaunting himself.

He strikes resolutely, without boasting.

He strikes resolutely, without arrogance.

He strikes resolutely, but only when a blow must be struck.

He strikes resolutely, but without self-assertion.

The things of nature ripen; then they fade.

Not so is it with the Way. Who follows not the Way, comes to destruction.

31. Weapons of offence, however keen, work evil:

All men hate them. Therefore he who has found the Way is unwilling to use them.

In peace, the sage esteems the left; he who makes war esteems the right.

Weapons of offence work evil; these are not the weapons of the sage.

He uses them from necessity only, but esteems stillness and quietude.

In victory he is not elated. To be elated is to love destruction.

He who loves destruction cannot rule over the kingdom.

In times of rejoicing the left is preferred; in times of mourning the right is preferred.

The second in command occupies the left; the commander in chief occupies the right.

I mean that he takes the place of mourning.

He who has slain a multitude of men should weep over them with tears and sobs.

The victor in the battle takes the place of mourning.

32. The Way, as the Eternal, has no name.

Though according to Its nature It is without size, the whole world could not overcome It.

When princes and kings follow It, all beings submit themselves to them.

Then will Heaven and Earth unite to send down a sweet dew, and the peoples will enter peace without being commanded.

When the Way became differentiated, It took a name.

When this name is established, men must learn to become stable.

He who is stable is free from peril.

The Way extends throughout the universe.

As the streams and torrents of the mountains return to the rivers and the seas (so all beings return to the Way).

33. He who knows other men is prudent.

He who knows himself is wise.

He who rules other men is potent.

He who rules himself is strong.

He who suffices to himself is rich.

He who acts with energy is possessed of a strong will.

He who departs not from his own nature endures long.

He who dies and yet endures has everlasting life.

34. The Way stretches everywhere; It can go to the left as well as to the right.

All beings rely on It for their life, and It fails them not.

When Its works are accomplished, It does not attribute them to Itself.

It loves and nourishes all beings, but does not seek to constrain them.

Ever free from desires, It may be called little.

All beings are subject to It, It constrains them not. It may be called great.

Therefore, to the end of his life, the holy man does not regard himself as great.

This is why he can accomplish great things.

35. The holy man preserves the great Principle (the Way), and all the peoples of the kingdom hasten to him.

They run together, and he does them no injury; he brings them peace and calm and quietude.

Music and banquets hold the passing traveller.

But when the Way comes forth from our lips, it is flat and tasteless.

It is looked for and cannot be seen; It is listened for and cannot be heard ; It is used and cannot be exhausted.

36. That which contracts has surely expanded.

That which grows weak has surely been strong.

That which fades has surely been bright.

That which grows poor has surely been endowed with gifts.

This is both hidden and revealed.

The gentle triumphs over the hard; the weak triumphs over the strong.

The fish should not leave the depths; the strong arm of the kingdom should not be shown to the people.

37. The Way follows non-action, yet accomplishes all things.

If kings and princes follow the Way, all beings will turn to righteousness.

If, after they have turned, they wish again to go astray, I shall hold them back through that simple Being which is without name.

The simple Being which has no name should not even be desired.

The absence of desire brings peace.

Then the kingdom becomes righteous of itself.

38. Those who have the highest righteousness do not consider that they are righteous; therefore they are righteous.

Those of lesser righteousness never forget that they are righteous; this is why they are not truly righteous.

Those who have the highest righteousness act righteously without thinking of righteousness.

The men of lesser righteousness are consciously righteous.

Those who have supreme humanity act rightly without thinking of humanity.

Those who weigh human rights practise them self-consciously.

Those who follow formalism practise it, and the people do not respond; then they use force to make formalism effective.

This is why men become self-consciously righteous after they have lost the Way; they become self-consciously humane after they have lost righteousness; they concern themselves with the rights of man after they have ceased to be humane; they become formalists after they have lost the sense of the rights of man.

Formalism is only the outer bark of uprightness and sincerity; it is the beginning of disorder.

False wisdom is but the barren flower of the Way and the principle of ignorance.

Therefore the great man cleaves to the substance and ignores mere surfaces.

He honours the fruit and leaves the barren flower.

Therefore he takes the one and rejects the other.

39. These are the things which have gained Unity.

Heaven is pure because it has gained Unity.

Earth is still because it has gained Unity.

The spirits of men are wise because they have gained Unity.

The valleys are filled because they have gained Unity.

The myriad beings are born because they have gained Unity.

Princes and kings are the standard of the world because they have gained Unity.

Such is the fruit of Unity.

If Heaven lost its purity, it would dissolve.

If Earth lost its stillness, it would crumble.

If the spirits of men lost their wisdom, they would cease to be.

If the valleys were not filled, they would dry up.

If the myriad beings were not born, they would come to nothingness.

If princes and kings grew proud of their high station, and ceased to be standards, they would be overthrown.

Therefore nobles remember their common humanity; men of high station remember the lowliness of their beginning.

Therefore princes and kings call themselves orphans, lowly, meek.

Do they not show by this that they remember their common humanity? And they are right!

This is why, if you take a wagon to pieces, you no longer have a wagon.

The wise man seeks no extrinsic value as precious jade, nor would he be despised as a worthless stone.

40. The return to the unmanifest causes the movement of the Way.

Weakness is the method of the Way.

All things in the world are born from the manifest (Logos); the manifest is born from the unmanifest.

41. When those of the highest order of learning hear the Way declared, they follow it with zeal.

When those of the second order of learning have heard the Way declared, they now follow it, now lose it.

When those of the lowest order of learning have heard the Way declared, they mock at it. If they did not mock at it, it would not deserve to be called the Way.

Therefore those of old said:

He who has the understanding of the Way, seems hidden in darkness.

He who has gone far along the Way, seems backward.

He who has ascended the Way, seems of low estate.

The man of high virtue is like the valley.

The man of perfect purity is as though despised.

The man of infinite worth seems full of weakness.

The man of true virtue appears inert.

The man who is simple and true seems low and degraded.

It is a square so great that its corners cannot be seen. It is a vessel so great that it seems uncompleted. It is a voice so great that its sound is imperceptible. It is an image so great that its shape is not perceived.

The Way is hidden, so that none can name it.

It lends its aid and leads all beings to perfection.

42. The Way produced the One; the One produced the Two; the Two produced the Three; the Three produced all beings.

All beings flee from stillness and seek movement.

An immaterial Breath forms harmony.

Men hate to be orphans, lowly and meek; yet the kings so describe themselves.

Therefore, among beings some are exalted because they abase themselves; others are abased because they exalt themselves.

I teach what men teach.

The violent and unbending do not meet a natural death.

I shall take their example as the basis of my teachings.

43. The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world.

The Unmanifest passes through things impenetrable. From this I know that non-action (detachment) is useful.

In the world there are few who know how to teach without words, and to draw profit from non-action.

44. Which is nearer to us, our renown or our own being?

Which is dearer, our own being or riches?

Which is the greater misfortune, to gain wealth, or to lose it?

Therefore he who has limitless desires is exposed to limitless misfortunes.

He who lays up rich treasures, inevitably suffers great losses.

He who suffices for himself dreads no dishonour.

He who holds himself in check risks no falls.

Such a one endures.

45. The holy man is nobly perfect, yet he appears full of imperfections; his riches are not consumed.

He is nobly filled, yet he appears empty; his riches waste not away.

He is nobly upright, yet he appears faulty.

He is nobly discerning, yet he appears simple.

He is nobly eloquent, yet he appears to stammer.

Movement overcomes cold, but quietness overcomes heat. The pure and still become the model of the universe.

46. When the Way ruled the world, the horses were sent to till the fields.

When the Way no longer rules, war horses are bred on the frontier.

There is no greater crime than to yield to desires.

There is no greater ill than not to be self-sufficing.

There is no greater loss than the lust of possessions.

He who is self-sufficing is ever content with his fate.

47. Without leaving my house, I know the universe; without looking through my window, I discover the ways of Heaven.

The farther one goes afield, the less he learns.

This is why the sage goes whither he will without going abroad; he names things without setting eyes upon them; without acting, he accomplishes great things.

48. He who gives himself to studies, each day increases (his information).

He who gives himself to the Way, each day diminishes (his desires).

He diminishes them continually until he attains non-action.

When he has attained non-action all things are possible for him.

Through non-action he becomes master of the kingdom.

He who follows action cannot become master of the kingdom.

49. The sage has no set mental forms. He adapts himself to the minds of the people.

With the good, he is good; with the evil, he is also good. This is the perfection of goodness.

With the sincere, he is sincere; with the insincere, he is also sincere. This is the perfection of sincerity.

The holy sage, living in the world, dwells serene and unperturbed, keeping the same feeling for all.

The hundred families follow him with their ears and eyes.

The sage regards them as his children.

50. Man departs from life to enter into death.

There are thirteen causes of life and thirteen causes of death.

No sooner is the man born, than these thirteen causes of death drag him swiftly toward his end.

What is the reason? It is because he desires to live too impetuously.

But I have learnt that he who rightly rules his life fears neither rhinoceros nor tiger in his path.

He enters the host and needs neither breastplate nor sword.

The rhinoceros finds no unguarded place to pierce with his horn, nor the tiger to tear him with its claws, nor the soldier to pierce him with his sword.

What is the cause? There is no place of death in him.

51. The Way produces beings; righteousness nourishes them. These two give them a body and perfect them through a secret impulsion.

This is why all beings revere the Way and honour righteousness.

None conferred on the Way its dignity, nor on righteousness its nobility: they possess them eternally in themselves.

This is why the Way produces beings, nourishes them, increases them, perfects them, ripens them, feeds them, protects them.

It produces them, but does not appropriate them; It makes them what they are, but does not therefore exalt itself; It reigns over them and leaves them free.

This is what is called perfect righteousness.

52. The Principle of the world became the Mother of the world.

Gaining the Mother, one knows her children.

He who knows the children and retains their Mother, to the end of his days is exposed to no danger.

If he close his mouth, if he shut his ears and eyes, to the end of his days he shall feel no weariness.

But if he open his mouth and increase his desires, to the end of his life he cannot be saved.

He who sees the most subtile things is called enlightened; he who preserves his weakness is called strong.

He who uses the brightness of the Way and returns to its light, need fear no bodily calamity.

He is said to be doubly enlightened.

53. If I were endowed with perception, I would walk in the great Way.

The one thing that I fear is to be involved in action.

The great Way is one, but the people love by-ways.

If the palaces are splendid, the fields are untilled, the granaries are empty.

The princes are adorned with magnificent fabrics; they carry a sharp sword; they fill themselves with exquisite banquets; they are puffed up with riches.

This is what is called glorifying themselves through theft; it is not to follow the Way.

54. He who knows how to establish, fears not destruction; he who knows how to preserve, fears not to lose.

His sons and grandsons will offer sacrifices to him in unbroken succession.

If he follow the Way within himself, his righteousness will become pure.

If he cultivate it in his family, his righteousness will become abounding.

If he cultivate it in the village, his righteousness will become extended.

If he cultivate it in the province, his righteousness will become flourishing.

If he cultivate it in the kingdom, his righteousness will become universal.

This is why I judge other men after myself; I judge other families after one family; I judge other villages after one village; I judge other provinces after one province; I judge the kingdom after the kingdom.

How do I know that it is thus with the kingdom? I know it solely by that (Way).

55. He who possesses firmly established righteousness is like a child new born, who fears neither the stings of poisonous creatures, nor the claws of wild beasts, nor the talons of birds of prey.

His bones are weak, his muscles are soft, and yet he seizes objects firmly.

He is without the passions of sex, yet there is creative power within him. This comes from the perfection of the life-force.

The new-born will cry all day without losing his voice; this comes from the perfection of harmony in his powers.

To know harmony is to be firmly established.

To be firmly established is to be enlightened.

To extend his life outward is calamity.

When the impulse of vital energy springs from the heart, this is called strength.

When beings have thus reached their full growth, they begin to grow old.

This is what is called failure to follow the Way.

He who follows not the Way, soon perishes.

56. The man who knows the Way speaks not; he who speaks knows it not.

He closes his lips, he shuts his ears and eyes, he controls his activity, he frees himself from all bonds, he tempers his light, he seems as one of the multitude. He may be said to be like the Way.

He is untouched by favour as by disgrace, by loss as by gain, by honour as by dishonour.

This is why he is the most honourable man under heaven.

57. With rectitude he governs the realm; with strategy he makes war; with detachment in action he becomes master of the kingdom.

How do I know that it is thus with the kingdom? By this:

The more the ruler multiplies interdictions and restrictions, the poorer become the people;

The more the people seek means of wealth, the more the realm is disturbed;

The more the people gain of craft and subtlety, the more fantastic possessions are multiplied;

The more the laws are complicated, the more robbers increase.

Therefore the Saint says: I practise detachment in action, and the people are converted spontaneously.

I love quietude, and the people become righteous of their own accord.

I do not busy myself, and the people spontaneously grow rich.

I free myself from desires, and the people of themselves return to simplicity.

58. When the government does not scrutinize too closely, the people become rich.

When the government is inquisitorial, the people lack all things.

Happiness is born from misfortune; misfortune is hidden in the heart of happiness. Who can foresee the outcome?

If the prince be not upright, upright men become deceitful, and righteous men perverse.

Men are plunged in errors, and this has already lasted long.

This is why the Saint is just, and injures not.

He is disinterested and harms not.

He is upright and does not chastise.

He is enlightened and does not dazzle.

59. To govern men and serve Heaven, nothing can be compared to moderation.

Moderation should be the first care of man.

When it has become his first care, it may be said that he is storing up righteousness abundantly.

When he stores up righteousness abundantly, there is nothing that he does not overcome.

When there is nothing that he does not overcome, no one knows his limits.

When no one knows his limits, he is able to possess the kingdom.

He who possesses the Mother of the kingdom maintains himself long.

This is to be deeply rooted, and to have a well set stem.

This is the way of long life and an existence that endures.

60. To govern a great kingdom, one should imitate him who cooks a little fish.

When the ruler governs the kingdom according to the Way, the spirits do not show their power.

It is not that the demons lack power, but that the demons do not injure men.

It is not that the spirits cannot injure men, but that the Saint himself does not injure men.

Neither the Saint nor the spirits injure them; this is why their power is blended.

61. The great kingdom shall be as the rivers and the seas, in which all the waters under heaven are united.

In the world, this is the part of the feminine: through quietude it constantly triumphs over the masculine. This quietude is a kind of abasement.

This is why, if the great kingdom abase itself before the little kingdoms, it will win the little kingdoms.

If the little kingdoms abase themselves before the great kingdom, they will win the great kingdom.

This is why some abase themselves in order to receive, while others abase themselves in order to be received.

The great kingdom desires only to unite and guide mankind.

The little kingdom desires only to be permitted to serve mankind.

Therefore both obtain what they desire.

But the great must abase themselves.

62. The Way is the refuge of all beings; it is the treasure of the righteous man and the support of the wicked.

Excellent words can bring us riches, honourable acts can lift us above others.

If a man be not righteous, should he be driven away with contempt?

For his sake the Emperor was established and the three ministers were appointed.

It is good to hold up a tablet of jade, or to mount a chariot with four horses; but it is better to remain still, in order to advance in the Way.

Why did the ancients esteem the Way?

Is it not because the Way is found daily without seeking? Is it not because the guilty gain through It liberty and life?

This is why the Way is the noblest thing in the world.

63. The wise man works without working, he is employed without being employed, he savours that which is without savour.

Great things or small things, many or few, are equal in his eyes.

He repays injuries with kindness.

He begins with easy things when considering hard things; with little things when planning great things.

The hardest things in the world began of necessity by being easy.

The greatest things in the world began of necessity by being small.

Therefore the Saint seeks not at all to do great things; this is why he can accomplish great things.

He who promises lightly, rarely keeps his word.

He who finds many things easy, of necessity meets many difficulties.

Therefore the Saint finds all things difficult; this is why, to his life’s end, he meets with no difficulties.

64. What is at rest is easy to maintain; what has not yet appeared is easy to guard against; what is weak is easy to break; what is small is easy to scatter.

Stop the evil before it exists; quiet the disorder before it arises.

A tree of mighty trunk springs from a root as thin as a hair; a tower nine stories high began in a handful of clay; a journey of a thousand miles began with one step.

He who is absorbed in action fails; he who attaches himself to anything loses it.

Therefore the Saint is not absorbed in action, and does not fail.

He attaches himself to nothing, and loses nothing.

When the men of the world undertake anything, it always fails at the moment of success.

Pay heed to the end as well as to the beginning, and you will never fail.

Therefore the Saint makes his desire consist in the absence of all desire. He does not long for possessions that are difficult to gain.

He is zealous to be free from zeal, and escapes the faults of other men.

He guards himself against becoming absorbed in work, in order that he may help all beings to follow out their law.

65. In antiquity, those who excelled in following the Way did not use it to enlighten the people; they used it to keep the people simple and ignorant.

The people is hard to govern because it has too much astuteness.

He who makes use of astuteness to govern the kingdom, is the scourge of the kingdom.

He who does not use astuteness to govern the kingdom, brings happiness to the kingdom.

When a man knows these two things, he is the model.

To know how to be the model, is to be endowed with heavenly virtue.

This heavenly virtue is deep, measureless, opposed to creatures.

By it he succeeds in gaining wide-extended peace.

66. Why are the rivers and the seas able to be the lords of all waters?

Because they know how to put themselves below them.

Because of this, they are able to become the lords of all waters.

So when the Saint wishes to rule the people, he must, by his words, put himself below the people.

When he desires to be placed in front of the people, he must put himself after the people.

So it comes that the Saint is set above the people, yet does not become a burden to the people; he is placed before all and the people suffers no hurt.

Thus all under heaven loves to serve him and does not weary of him.

As he does not claim precedence, there is none under heaven who can go before him.

67. All the world says my path is lofty, yet I am as one of low degree.

It is only because my path is mighty that I am as one of low degree.

As for the intelligent, their littleness has long been recognised.

I am the possessor of three precious things: I hold them and guard them as a treasure.

The first is called love; the second is called economy; the third is called humility, which forbids me to wish to be first under heaven.

I have love, and therefore I can be courageous.

I have economy, and therefore I can spend largely.

I dare not wish to be the first under heaven, therefore I can become the leader of all men.

But to-day they neglect love, to follow rashness; they neglect economy and spend largely; they neglect the lower place, to seek the higher place.

This path leads to death.

He who engages in warfare with a heart full of love gains the victory; if the city be guarded, it cannot be taken.

Whom Heaven would save, to him It gives love as a protection.

68. The excellent leader of armies is free from the spirit of contention.

The excellent warrior does not yield to wrath.

The excellent conqueror strives not.

The excellent leader of men puts himself below them.

This is called the possession of righteousness without contention.

This is called the wisdom to guide the powers of men.

This is called union with Heaven.

Such was the sublime wisdom of the ancients.

69. A warrior of the ancients has said:

I dare not give the signal, as does the host; I had rather receive it, as does the guest.

I dare not advance an inch, I had rather withdraw a foot.

This is to have no rank to follow, no arm to stretch out, no enemy to pursue, no weapon to seize.

There is no greater error than to make light of the enemy.

To make light of the enemy is almost to lose our treasure.

Therefore, when two equally equipped armies meet, he who has the most love wins the victory.

70. My words are easy to understand, easy to carry out.

In the world, none can understand them, none can carry them out.

My words have a source, my acts have a rule.

Men understand them not, and therefore know me not.

Those who understand me are few, yet am I the more honoured.

Therefore the Saint is plainly clad, and carries his jewels in his bosom.

71. To know, and to think that we know not, is the crown.

Not to know, and to think we know, is the affliction.

If you are afflicted by this affliction, then you will not experience it.

The Saint does not experience this affliction, because he is afflicted by it.

This is why he does not experience it.

72. When the people fear not what should be feared, then what is most to be feared descends upon them.

Beware of thinking your dwelling too narrow; beware of resentment over your lot.

I resent not my lot, therefore I find no cause for resentment in it.

Hence the Saint knows himself and does not make himself conspicuous; he exercises restraint and does not glorify himself.

This is why he shuns the one and follows the other.

73. He who dares to disobey, finds death.

He who dares to obey, finds life.

Of these two, one is helpful, one is hurtful.

When Heaven is offended, who can know the cause?

Therefore the Saint acts circumspectly.

This is the Way of Heaven:

It strives not, yet wins the victory.

It speaks not, yet wins obedience.

It calls not, yet men hasten thither.

It seems to delay, yet Its plans are wise.

The net of Heaven is spread out, its meshes are wide, yet none escapes it.

74. If the people fear not death, they will not be frightened by the threat of death.

If the people constantly fear death, and one of them does evil, then I can seize him and put him to death, so that none will dare to imitate him.

There is always a supreme authority to inflict death.

If anyone wish to usurp the place of this supreme authority, and himself inflict death, he is like one who wishes to cut wood in the place of the carpenter.

When one wishes to cut wood in the place of the carpenter, it is rarely that he wounds not his own hands.

75. The people hunger because the prince consumes the produce of the land.

This is why the people hunger.

The people are hard to govern because the prince is too active.

This is why they are hard to govern.

The people despise death, because they seek the means of life too eagerly.

This is why they despise death.

But he who is not over busy with life is wiser than he who esteems life.

76. When a man is born, he is supple and weak; when he dies, he is strong and rigid.

When trees and plants first spring up, they are pliable and tender; when they die, they are dry and hard.

Hardness and force are the attendants of death; suppleness and weakness are the attendants of life.

This is why, when the army is strong, it does not win the victory.

When a tree has grown strong, it is cut down.

He who is strong and great occupies the lower rank; he who is pliable and weak occupies the higher rank.

77. The Way of Heaven is like the maker of a bow, who lowers what is high and raises what is low; who removes excess and supplies what is lacking.

Heaven takes the excess of those who have it, in order to help those who are lacking.

It is not so with men, who take from those who lack, to give to those who have in excess.

Who can give from his abundance to all who are under Heaven? He alone, who possesses the Way.

Therefore the Saint does good without glorying in it.

He accomplishes great things, but is detached from them.

He does not wish his wisdom to be seen.

78. Nothing under Heaven is softer and weaker than water, yet nothing can better break what is hard and strong.

In this, nothing can take the place of water.

The weak triumphs over the strong; the soft triumphs over the hard. No one in the world but knows this, yet no one can put it into practice.

This is why the Saint says: He who bears the reproach of the kingdom becomes the ruler of the kingdom.

He who bears the calamities of the kingdom becomes the king of the whole realm.

The words of truth seem contrary to reason.

79. Though you appease the great hostilities of men, they will still retain a residue of hatred.

How could they become virtuous?

Therefore the Saint keeps the left half of the contract and expects nothing from others.

This is why the virtuous man thinks of giving, and he who is without virtue thinks of asking.

Heaven is without predilection, and gives constantly to the virtuous.

80. Had I a little kingdom with few inhabitants, if they had weapons for ten or for a hundred, they should not use them.

I should teach them to fear death and to remain at home.

If they had boats and chariots, they should not enter them.

If they had breastplates and spears, they should not equip themselves with them.

I should bring them back to the use of knotted cords for records.

They should eat their food with satisfaction, they should find their clothing pleasing, they should be satisfied with their dwellings, they should love simple customs.

Were there another kingdom so close to mine that the crowing of cocks and the barking of dogs could be heard from one to the other, my people should grow old and die without visiting the neighbouring people.

81. Honest words are not ornate; ornate words are not honest.

The man of worth is not glib of speech; the glib of speech is not a man of worth.

He who knows the Way is not erudite; he who is erudite knows not the Way.

The Saint lays not up treasure.

The more he spends himself for men, the greater grows his power.

The more he gives to men, the richer he becomes.

Such is the Way of Heaven, which lavishes blessings on all beings and harms none.

Such is the Way of the Saint, who toils, yet without contention.

The End

See Also


An Interpretation of Lao Tse’s Book of the Way and of Righteousness

With Commentary

By Charles Johnston

Full Text Online (PDF)

Translated by Stephen Mitchell

Tao Te Ching


Tr. Stephen Mitchell


The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.


When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.


If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.

The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.

Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.


The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.

It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.


The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn’t take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.

The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

Hold on to the center.


The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.

It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.


The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.

The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.


The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.


Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.


Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.


We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.


Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.

The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.


Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is a dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
you position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.


Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.

Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.
Seamless, unnamable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can’t know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom.


The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.


Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.


When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”


When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.
When the body’s intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.
When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.


Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.


Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharper;
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.


The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.


If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goad in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
“If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,”
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.


Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao
and you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.


He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand form.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.


There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the earth.
Earth follows the universe.
The universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.


The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.


A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.


Know the male,
yet keep to the female:
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black:
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal:
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the the block:
thus she can use all things.


Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.


Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counterforce.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon oneself.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.


Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.


The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.


Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.


The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold on to them.
Since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.


She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.


If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.


The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could venter themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.


The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.


In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creature flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.


Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.


When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest are seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.


The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.


The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
that is the Master’s way.


Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success of failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.


True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.


When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.


Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.


In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.


The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.


The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and her has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.


Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.


In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgements
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.


The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
While farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn-
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.


Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the universe
and the universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.


He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.


Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can’t be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.


If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass.


If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.


For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.


Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able to step out of its way.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.


When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.


The Tao is the center of the universe,
the good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.

Honors can be bought with fine words,
respect can be won with good deeds;
but the Tao is beyond all value,
and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead
to teach him about the Tao.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek, you find;
and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.


Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her.


What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.


The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.


All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.


Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.


The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of the embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.


The generals have a saying:
“Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.”

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.


My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.


Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.


When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.


The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.


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.


When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.


Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plats are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.


As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and give to what isn’t enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she is better
than anyone else.


Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.


Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.


If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.


True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.

The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.
The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.

The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.

Translated by J. Legge

PDF Version

Tao Te Ching

by Lao-tzu

J. Legge, Translator


The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

(Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth;
(conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.

Always without desire we must be found, If its deep mystery we would sound;
But if desire always within us be, Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.

Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names.
Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.


All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is;
they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is.

So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other;
that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other;
that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other;
that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other;
that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another;
and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.

Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech.

All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself;
they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership;
they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results).
The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).

The work is done, but how no one can see;
‘Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.


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.

Therefore the sage, in the exercise of his government, empties their minds,
fills their bellies, weakens their wills, and strengthens their bones.

He constantly (tries to) keep them without knowledge and without desire,
and where there are those who have knowledge, to keep them from presuming to act (on it).
When there is this abstinence from action, good order is universal.


The Tao is (like) the emptiness of a vessel; and in our employment of it we must be on our guard against all fulness.
How deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the Honoured Ancestor of all things!

We should blunt our sharp points, and unravel the complications of things;
we should attemper our brightness, and bring ourselves into agreement with the obscurity of others.
How pure and still the Tao is, as if it would ever so continue!

I do not know whose son it is. It might appear to have been before God.


Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be benevolent;
they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are dealt with.
The sages do not act from (any wish to be) benevolent;
they deal with the people as the dogs of grass are dealt with.

May not the space between heaven and earth be compared to a bellows?

‘Tis emptied, yet it loses not its power;
‘Tis moved again, and sends forth air the more.
Much speech to swift exhaustion lead we see;
Your inner being guard, and keep it free.


The valley spirit dies not, aye the same;
The female mystery thus do we name.
Its gate, from which at first they issued forth,
Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth.
Long and unbroken does its power remain,
Used gently, and without the touch of pain.


Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long.
The reason why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long
is because they do not live of, or for, themselves.
This is how they are able to continue and endure.

Therefore the sage puts his own person last, and yet it is found in the foremost place;
he treats his person as if it were foreign to him, and yet that person is preserved.
Is it not because he has no personal and private ends, that therefore such ends are realised?


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.

The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the place;
that of the mind is in abysmal stillness;
that of associations is in their being with the virtuous;
that of government is in its securing good order;
that of (the conduct of) affairs is in its ability;
and that of (the initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness.

And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about his low position), no one finds fault with him.


It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to carry it when it is full.
If you keep feeling a point that has been sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.

When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them safe.
When wealth and honours lead to arrogancy, this brings its evil on itself.
When the work is done, and one’s name is becoming distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of Heaven.


When the intelligent and animal souls are held together in one embrace,
they can be kept from separating.
When one gives undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy,
he can become as a (tender) babe.
When he has cleansed away the most mysterious sights (of his imagination),
he can become without a flaw.

In loving the people and ruling the state, cannot he proceed without any (purpose of) action?
In the opening and shutting of his gates of heaven, cannot he do so as a female bird?
While his intelligence reaches in every direction, cannot he (appear to) be without knowledge?

(The Tao) produces (all things) and nourishes them;
it produces them and does not claim them as its own;
it does all, and yet does not boast of it;
it presides over all, and yet does not control them.
This is what is called ‘The mysterious Quality’ (of the Tao).


The thirty spokes unite in the one nave;
but it is on the empty space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends.
Clay is fashioned into vessels;
but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends.
The door and windows are cut out (from the walls) to form an apartment;
but it is on the empty space (within), that its use depends.
Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for profitable adaptation,
and what has not that for (actual) usefulness.


Colour’s five hues from th’ eyes their sight will take;
Music’s five notes the ears as deaf can make;
The flavours five deprive the mouth of taste;
The chariot course, and the wild hunting waste
Make mad the mind; and objects rare and strange,
Sought for, men’s conduct will to evil change.

Therefore the sage seeks to satisfy (the craving of) the belly,
and not the (insatiable longing of the) eyes.
He puts from him the latter, and prefers to seek the former.


Favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared;
honour and great calamity, to be regarded as personal conditions (of the same kind).

What is meant by speaking thus of favour and disgrace?
Disgrace is being in a low position (after the enjoyment of favour).
The getting that (favour) leads to the apprehension (of losing it), and the losing it leads to the fear of (still greater calamity):–
this is what is meant by saying that favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared.

And what is meant by saying that honour and great calamity are to be (similarly) regarded as personal conditions?
What makes me liable to great calamity is my having the body (which I call myself);
if I had not the body, what great calamity could come to me?

Therefore he who would administer the kingdom, honouring it as he honours his own person, may be employed to govern it, and he who would administer it with the love which he bears to his own person may be entrusted with it.


We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it ‘the Equable.’
We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it ‘the Inaudible.’
We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we name it ‘the Subtle.’
With these three qualities, it cannot be made the subject of description;
and hence we blend them together and obtain The One.

Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not obscure.
Ceaseless in its action, it yet cannot be named, and then it again returns and becomes nothing.
This is called the Form of the Formless, and the Semblance of the Invisible; this is called the Fleeting and Indeterminable.

We meet it and do not see its Front;
we follow it, and do not see its Back.
When we can lay hold of the Tao of old to direct the things of the present day,
and are able to know it as it was of old in the beginning,
this is called (unwinding) the clue of Tao.


The skilful masters (of the Tao) in old times, with a subtle and exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep (also) so as to elude men’s knowledge. As they were thus beyond men’s knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort they appeared to be.

Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in winter;
irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them;
grave like a guest (in awe of his host);
evanescent like ice that is melting away;
unpretentious like wood that has not been fashioned into anything;
vacant like a valley, and dull like muddy water.

Who can (make) the muddy water (clear)?
Let it be still, and it will gradually become clear.
Who can secure the condition of rest?
Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.

They who preserve this method of the Tao do not wish to be full (of themselves).
It is through their not being full of themselves that they can afford to seem worn and not appear new and complete.


The (state of) vacancy should be brought to the utmost degree, and that of stillness guarded with unwearying vigour.
All things alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see them return (to their original state).
When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root.
This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness;
and that stillness may be called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.

The report of that fulfilment is the regular, unchanging rule.
To know that unchanging rule is to be intelligent;
not to know it leads to wild movements and evil issues.
The knowledge of that unchanging rule produces a (grand) capacity and forbearance,
and that capacity and forbearance lead to a community (of feeling with all things).
From this community of feeling comes a kingliness of character;
and he who is king-like goes on to be heaven-like.
In that likeness to heaven he possesses the Tao.
Possessed of the Tao, he endures long; and to the end of his bodily life, is exempt from all danger of decay.


In the highest antiquity, (the people) did not know that there were (their rulers).
In the next age they loved them and praised them.
In the next they feared them; in the next they despised them.
Thus it was that when faith (in the Tao) was deficient (in the rulers) a want of faith in them ensued (in the people).

How irresolute did those (earliest rulers) appear,
showing (by their reticence) the importance which they set upon their words!
Their work was done and their undertakings were successful,
while the people all said, ‘We are as we are, of ourselves!’


When the Great Tao (Way or Method) ceased to be observed, benevolence and righteousness came into vogue.
(Then) appeared wisdom and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy.

When harmony no longer prevailed throughout the six kinships, filial sons found their manifestation;
when the states and clans fell into disorder, loyal ministers appeared.


If we could renounce our sageness and discard our wisdom,
it would be better for the people a hundredfold.
If we could renounce our benevolence and discard our righteousness,
the people would again become filial and kindly.
If we could renounce our artful contrivances and discard our (scheming for) gain, there would be no thieves nor robbers.

Those three methods (of government)
Thought olden ways in elegance did fail
And made these names their want of worth to veil;
But simple views, and courses plain and true
Would selfish ends and many lusts eschew.


When we renounce learning we have no troubles.
The (ready) ‘yes,’ and (flattering) ‘yea;’–
Small is the difference they display.
But mark their issues, good and ill;–
What space the gulf between shall fill?

What all men fear is indeed to be feared; but how wide and without end is the range of questions (asking to be discussed)!

The multitude of men look satisfied and pleased; as if enjoying a full banquet, as if mounted on a tower in spring.
I alone seem listless and still, my desires having as yet given no indication of their presence.
I am like an infant which has not yet smiled. I look dejected and forlorn, as if I had no home to go to.
The multitude of men all have enough and to spare.
I alone seem to have lost everything.
My mind is that of a stupid man; I am in a state of chaos.

Ordinary men look bright and intelligent, while I alone seem to be benighted.
They look full of discrimination, while I alone am dull and confused.
I seem to be carried about as on the sea, drifting as if I had nowhere to rest.
All men have their spheres of action, while I alone seem dull and incapable, like a rude borderer.
(Thus) I alone am different from other men, but I value the nursing-mother (the Tao).


The grandest forms of active force
From Tao come, their only source.
Who can of Tao the nature tell?
Our sight it flies, our touch as well.
Eluding sight, eluding touch,
The forms of things all in it crouch;
Eluding touch, eluding sight,
There are their semblances, all right.
Profound it is, dark and obscure;
Things’ essences all there endure.
Those essences the truth enfold
Of what, when seen, shall then be told.
Now it is so; ’twas so of old.
Its name–what passes not away;
So, in their beautiful array,
Things form and never know decay.

How know I that it is so with all the beauties of existing things?
By this (nature of the Tao).


The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight;
the empty, full; the worn out, new.
He whose (desires) are few gets them;
he whose (desires) are many goes astray.

Therefore the sage holds in his embrace the one thing (of humility), and manifests it to all the world.
He is free from self- display, and therefore he shines;
from self-assertion, and therefore he is distinguished;
from self-boasting, and therefore his merit is acknowledged;
from self-complacency, and therefore he acquires superiority.
It is because he is thus free from striving that therefore no one in the world is able to strive with him.

That saying of the ancients that ‘the partial becomes complete’ was not vainly spoken:–
all real completion is comprehended under it.


Abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity of his nature.
A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a sudden rain does not last for the whole day.
To whom is it that these (two) things are owing? To Heaven and Earth.
If Heaven and Earth cannot make such (spasmodic) actings last long, how much less can man!

Therefore when one is making the Tao his business, those who are also pursuing it, agree with him in it,
and those who are making the manifestation of its course their object agree with him in that;
while even those who are failing in both these things agree with him where they fail.

Hence, those with whom he agrees as to the Tao
have the happiness of attaining to it;
those with whom he agrees as to its manifestation
have the happiness of attaining to it;
and those with whom he agrees in their failure
have also the happiness of attaining (to the Tao).
(But) when there is not faith sufficient (on his part),
a want of faith (in him) ensues (on the part of the others).


He who stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm;
he who stretches his legs does not walk (easily).
(So), he who displays himself does not shine;
he who asserts his own views is not distinguished;
he who vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged;
he who is self-conceited has no superiority allowed to him.
Such conditions, viewed from the standpoint of the Tao, are like remnants of food, or a tumour on the body, which all dislike.
Hence those who pursue (the course) of the Tao do not adopt and allow them.


There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth.
How still it was and formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)!
It may be regarded as the Mother of all things.

I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tao (the Way or Course).
Making an effort (further) to give it a name I call it The Great.

Great, it passes on (in constant flow).
Passing on, it becomes remote.
Having become remote, it returns.
Therefore the Tao is great; Heaven is great;
Earth is great; and the (sage) king is also great.
In the universe there are four that are great,
and the (sage) king is one of them.

Man takes his law from the Earth;
the Earth takes its law from Heaven;
Heaven takes its law from the Tao.
The law of the Tao is its being what it is.


Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of movement.

Therefore a wise prince, marching the whole day, does not go far from his baggage waggons.
Although he may have brilliant prospects to look at, he quietly remains (in his proper place), indifferent to them.
How should the lord of a myriad chariots carry himself lightly before the kingdom?
If he do act lightly, he has lost his root (of gravity);
if he proceed to active movement, he will lose his throne.


The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or footsteps;
the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault with or blamed;
the skilful reckoner uses no tallies;
the skilful closer needs no bolts or bars,
while to open what he has shut will be impossible;
the skilful binder uses no strings or knots,
while to unloose what he has bound will be impossible.
In the same way the sage is always skilful at saving men,
and so he does not cast away any man;
he is always skilful at saving things,
and so he does not cast away anything.
This is called ‘Hiding the light of his procedure.’

Therefore the man of skill is a master (to be looked up to)
by him who has not the skill;
and he who has not the skill is the helper of (the reputation of)
him who has the skill.
If the one did not honour his master,
and the other did not rejoice in his helper,
an (observer), though intelligent, might greatly err about them.
This is called ‘The utmost degree of mystery.’


Who knows his manhood’s strength,
Yet still his female feebleness maintains;
As to one channel flow the many drains,
All come to him, yea, all beneath the sky.
Thus he the constant excellence retains;
The simple child again, free from all stains.

Who knows how white attracts,
Yet always keeps himself within black’s shade,
The pattern of humility displayed,
Displayed in view of all beneath the sky;
He in the unchanging excellence arrayed,
Endless return to man’s first state has made.

Who knows how glory shines,
Yet loves disgrace, nor e’er for it is pale;
Behold his presence in a spacious vale,
To which men come from all beneath the sky.
The unchanging excellence completes its tale;
The simple infant man in him we hail.

The unwrought material, when divided and distributed, forms vessels.
The sage, when employed, becomes the Head of all the Officers (of government);
and in his greatest regulations he employs no violent measures.


If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed.
The kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing.
He who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp loses it.

The course and nature of things is such that
What was in front is now behind;
What warmed anon we freezing find.
Strength is of weakness oft the spoil;
The store in ruins mocks our toil.

Hence the sage puts away excessive effort, extravagance, and easy indulgence.


He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Tao
will not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms.
Such a course is sure to meet with its proper return.

Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up.
In the sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.

A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops.
He does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery.
He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it.
He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery.

When things have attained their strong maturity they become old.
This may be said to be not in accordance with the Tao: and what is not in accordance with it soon comes to an end.


Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen, hateful, it may be said, to all creatures.
Therefore they who have the Tao do not like to employ them.

The superior man ordinarily considers the left hand the most honourable place, but in time of war the right hand.
Those sharp weapons are instruments of evil omen, and not the instruments of the superior man;–
he uses them only on the compulsion of necessity.
Calm and repose are what he prizes; victory (by force of arms) is to him undesirable.
To consider this desirable would be to delight in the slaughter of men;
and he who delights in the slaughter of men cannot get his will in the kingdom.

On occasions of festivity to be on the left hand is the prized position;
on occasions of mourning, the right hand.
The second in command of the army has his place on the left;
the general commanding in chief has his on the right;–
his place, that is, is assigned to him as in the rites of mourning.
He who has killed multitudes of men should weep for them with the bitterest grief;
and the victor in battle has his place (rightly) according to those rites.


The Tao, considered as unchanging, has no name.

Though in its primordial simplicity it may be small, the whole world dares not deal with (one embodying) it as a minister.
If a feudal prince or the king could guard and hold it, all would spontaneously submit themselves to him.

Heaven and Earth (under its guidance) unite together and
send down the sweet dew, which, without the directions of men,
reaches equally everywhere as of its own accord.

As soon as it proceeds to action, it has a name.
When it once has that name, (men) can know to rest in it.
When they know to rest in it, they can be free from all risk of failure and error.

The relation of the Tao to all the world is like that of the great rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.


He who knows other men is discerning;
he who knows himself is intelligent.
He who overcomes others is strong;
he who overcomes himself is mighty.
He who is satisfied with his lot is rich;
he who goes on acting with energy has a (firm) will.

He who does not fail in the requirements of his position, continues long;
he who dies and yet does not perish, has longevity.


All-pervading is the Great Tao!
It may be found on the left hand and on the right.

All things depend on it for their production, which it gives to them, not one refusing obedience to it.
When its work is accomplished, it does not claim the name of having done it.
It clothes all things as with a garment, and makes no assumption of being their lord;–
it may be named in the smallest things.
All things return (to their root and disappear), and do not know that it is it which presides over their doing so;–
it may be named in the greatest things.

Hence the sage is able (in the same way) to accomplish his great achievements.
It is through his not making himself great that he accomplish them.


To him who holds in his hands the Great Image (of the invisible Tao), the whole world repairs.
Men resort to him, and receive no hurt, but (find) rest, peace, and the feeling of ease.

Music and dainties will make the passing guest stop (for a time).
But though the Tao as it comes from the mouth, seems insipid and has no flavour,
though it seems not worth being looked at or listened to, the use of it is inexhaustible.


When one is about to take an inspiration, he is sure to make a (previous) expiration;
when he is going to weaken another, he will first strengthen him;
when he is going to overthrow another, he will first have raised him up;
when he is going to despoil another, he will first have made gifts to him:–
this is called ‘Hiding the light (of his procedure).’

The soft overcomes the hard; and the weak the strong.

Fishes should not be taken from the deep; instruments for the profit of a state should not be shown to the people.


The Tao in its regular course does nothing (for the sake of doing it),
and so there is nothing which it does not do.

If princes and kings were able to maintain it,
all things would of themselves be transformed by them.

If this transformation became to me an object of desire,
I would express the desire by the nameless simplicity.

Simplicity without a name
Is free from all external aim.
With no desire, at rest and still,
All things go right as of their will.


(Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the Tao) did not (seek) to show them,
and therefore they possessed them (in fullest measure).
(Those who) possessed in a lower degree those attributes (sought how) not to lose them,
and therefore they did not possess them (in fullest measure).

(Those who) possessed in the highest degree those attributes did nothing (with a purpose), and had no need to do anything.
(Those who) possessed them in a lower degree were (always) doing, and had need to be so doing.

(Those who) possessed the highest benevolence were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had no need to be doing so.
(Those who) possessed the highest righteousness were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had need to be so doing.

(Those who) possessed the highest (sense of) propriety were (always seeking) to show it,
and when men did not respond to it, they bared the arm and marched up to them.

Thus it was that when the Tao was lost, its attributes appeared;
when its attributes were lost, benevolence appeared;
when benevolence was lost, righteousness appeared;
and when righteousness was lost, the proprieties appeared.

Now propriety is the attenuated form of leal-heartedness and good faith, and is also the commencement of disorder;
swift apprehension is (only) a flower of the Tao, and is the beginning of stupidity.

Thus it is that the Great man abides by what is solid, and eschews what is flimsy; dwells with the fruit and not with the flower.
It is thus that he puts away the one and makes choice of the other.


The things which from of old have got the One (the Tao) are–

Heaven which by it is bright and pure;
Earth rendered thereby firm and sure;
Spirits with powers by it supplied;
Valleys kept full throughout their void
All creatures which through it do live
Princes and kings who from it get
The model which to all they give.

All these are the results of the One (Tao).

If heaven were not thus pure, it soon would rend;
If earth were not thus sure, ‘twould break and bend;
Without these powers, the spirits soon would fail;
If not so filled, the drought would parch each vale;
Without that life, creatures would pass away;
Princes and kings, without that moral sway,
However grand and high, would all decay.

Thus it is that dignity finds its (firm) root in its (previous) meanness,
and what is lofty finds its stability in the lowness (from which it rises).
Hence princes and kings call themselves ‘Orphans,’ ‘Men of small virtue,’ and as ‘Carriages without a nave.’
Is not this an acknowledgment that in their considering themselves mean they see the foundation of their dignity?
So it is that in the enumeration of the different parts of a carriage we do not come on what makes it answer the ends of a carriage.
They do not wish to show themselves elegant-looking as jade, but (prefer) to be coarse-looking as an (ordinary) stone.


The movement of the Tao
By contraries proceeds;
And weakness marks the course
Of Tao’s mighty deeds.

All things under heaven sprang from It as existing (and named);
that existence sprang from It as non-existent (and not named).


Scholars of the highest class, when they hear about the Tao,
earnestly carry it into practice.
Scholars of the middle class, when they have heard about it,
seem now to keep it and now to lose it.
Scholars of the lowest class, when they have heard about it,
laugh greatly at it.
If it were not (thus) laughed at, it would not be fit to be the Tao.

Therefore the sentence-makers have thus expressed themselves:–

‘The Tao, when brightest seen, seems light to lack;
Who progress in it makes, seems drawing back;
Its even way is like a rugged track.
Its highest virtue from the vale doth rise;
Its greatest beauty seems to offend the eyes;
And he has most whose lot the least supplies.
Its firmest virtue seems but poor and low;
Its solid truth seems change to undergo;
Its largest square doth yet no corner show
A vessel great, it is the slowest made;
Loud is its sound, but never word it said;
A semblance great, the shadow of a shade.’

The Tao is hidden, and has no name;
but it is the Tao which is skilful at imparting (to all things what they need) and making them complete.


The Tao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced All things.
All things leave behind them the Obscurity (out of which they have come),
and go forward to embrace the Brightness (into which they have emerged),
while they are harmonised by the Breath of Vacancy.

What men dislike is to be orphans, to have little virtue, to be as carriages without naves;
and yet these are the designations which kings and princes use for themselves.
So it is that some things are increased by being diminished, and others are diminished by being increased.

What other men (thus) teach, I also teach.
The violent and strong do not die their natural death.
I will make this the basis of my teaching.


The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the hardest;
that which has no (substantial) existence enters where there is no crevice.
I know hereby what advantage belongs to doing nothing (with a purpose).

There are few in the world who attain to the teaching without words, and the advantage arising from non-action.


Or fame or life,
Which do you hold more dear?
Or life or wealth,
To which would you adhere?
Keep life and lose those other things;
Keep them and lose your life:–which brings
Sorrow and pain more near?

Thus we may see,
Who cleaves to fame
Rejects what is more great;
Who loves large stores
Gives up the richer state.

Who is content
Needs fear no shame.
Who knows to stop
Incurs no blame.
From danger free
Long live shall he.


Who thinks his great achievements poor
Shall find his vigour long endure.
Of greatest fulness, deemed a void,
Exhaustion ne’er shall stem the tide.
Do thou what’s straight still crooked deem;
Thy greatest art still stupid seem,
And eloquence a stammering scream.

Constant action overcomes cold; being still overcomes heat.
Purity and stillness give the correct law to all under heaven.


When the Tao prevails in the world,
they send back their swift horses to (draw) the dung-carts.
When the Tao is disregarded in the world,
the war-horses breed in the border lands.

There is no guilt greater than to sanction ambition;
no calamity greater than to be discontented with one’s lot;
no fault greater than the wish to be getting.
Therefore the sufficiency of contentment is an
enduring and unchanging sufficiency.


Without going outside his door, one understands (all that takes place) under the sky;
without looking out from his window, one sees the Tao of Heaven.
The farther that one goes out (from himself), the less he knows.

Therefore the sages got their knowledge without travelling;
gave their (right) names to things without seeing them;
and accomplished their ends without any purpose of doing so.


He who devotes himself to learning (seeks)
from day to day to increase (his knowledge);
he who devotes himself to the Tao (seeks)
from day to day to diminish (his doing).

He diminishes it and again diminishes it,
till he arrives at doing nothing (on purpose).
Having arrived at this point of non-action,
there is nothing which he does not do.

He who gets as his own all under heaven
does so by giving himself no trouble (with that end).
If one take trouble (with that end),
he is not equal to getting as his own all under heaven.


The sage has no invariable mind of his own;
he makes the mind of the people his mind.

To those who are good (to me), I am good;
and to those who are not good (to me), I am also good;–
and thus (all) get to be good.
To those who are sincere (with me), I am sincere;
and to those who are not sincere (with me), I am also sincere;–
and thus (all) get to be sincere.

The sage has in the world an appearance of indecision, and keeps his mind in a state of indifference to all.
The people all keep their eyes and ears directed to him, and he deals with them all as his children.


Men come forth and live; they enter (again) and die.

Of every ten three are ministers of life (to themselves);
and three are ministers of death.

There are also three in every ten whose aim is to live,
but whose movements tend to the land (or place) of death.
And for what reason?
Because of their excessive endeavours to perpetuate life.

But I have heard that he who is skilful in managing the life entrusted to him for a time travels on the land without having to shun rhinoceros or tiger, and enters a host without having to avoid buff coat or sharp weapon. The rhinoceros finds no place in him into which to thrust its horn, nor the tiger a place in which to fix its claws, nor the weapon a place to admit its point.
And for what reason? Because there is in him no place of death.


All things are produced by the Tao, and nourished by its outflowing operation.
They receive their forms according to the nature of each, and are completed according to the circumstances of their condition.
Therefore all things without exception honour the Tao, and exalt its outflowing operation.

This honouring of the Tao and exalting of its operation is not the result of any ordination, but always a spontaneous tribute.

Thus it is that the Tao produces (all things), nourishes them, brings them to their full growth,
nurses them, completes them, matures them, maintains them, and overspreads them.

It produces them and makes no claim to the possession of them;
it carries them through their processes and does not vaunt its ability in doing so;
it brings them to maturity and exercises no control over them;–
this is called its mysterious operation.


(The Tao) which originated all under the sky
is to be considered as the mother of them all.

When the mother is found, we know what her children should be. When one knows that he is his mother’s child, and proceeds to guard (the qualities of) the mother that belong to him, to the end of his life he will be free from all peril.

Let him keep his mouth closed, and shut up the portals (of his nostrils),
and all his life he will be exempt from laborious exertion.
Let him keep his mouth open, and (spend his breath) in the promotion of his affairs, and all his life there will be no safety for him.

The perception of what is small is (the secret of clear-sightedness;
the guarding of what is soft and tender is (the secret of) strength.

Who uses well his light,
Reverting to its (source so) bright,
Will from his body ward all blight,
And hides the unchanging from men’s sight.


If I were suddenly to become known, and (put into a position to) conduct (a government) according to the Great Tao,
what I should be most afraid of would be a boastful display.

The great Tao (or way) is very level and easy; but people love the by-ways.

Their court(-yards and buildings) shall be well kept, but their fields shall be ill-cultivated, and their granaries very empty.
They shall wear elegant and ornamented robes, carry a sharp sword at their girdle, pamper themselves in eating and drinking, and have a superabundance of property and wealth;–such (princes) may be called robbers and boasters.
This is contrary to the Tao surely!


What (Tao’s) skilful planter plants
Can never be uptorn;
What his skilful arms enfold,
From him can ne’er be borne.
Sons shall bring in lengthening line,
Sacrifices to his shrine.

Tao when nursed within one’s self,
His vigour will make true;
And where the family it rules
What riches will accrue!
The neighbourhood where it prevails
In thriving will abound;
And when ’tis seen throughout the state,
Good fortune will be found.
Employ it the kingdom o’er,
And men thrive all around.

In this way the effect will be seen in the person, by the observation of different cases;
in the family; in the neighbourhood; in the state; and in the kingdom.

How do I know that this effect is sure to hold thus all under the sky?
By this (method of observation).


He who has in himself abundantly the attributes (of the Tao) is like an infant.
Poisonous insects will not sting him; fierce beasts will not seize him;
birds of prey will not strike him.

(The infant’s) bones are weak and its sinews soft, but yet its grasp is firm.
It knows not yet the union of male and female, and yet its virile member may be excited;–
showing the perfection of its physical essence.
All day long it will cry without its throat becoming hoarse;–
showing the harmony (in its constitution).

To him by whom this harmony is known,
(The secret of) the unchanging (Tao) is shown,
And in the knowledge wisdom finds its throne.
All life-increasing arts to evil turn;
Where the mind makes the vital breath to burn,
(False) is the strength, (and o’er it we should mourn.)

When things have become strong, they (then) become old, which may be said to be contrary to the Tao.
Whatever is contrary to the Tao soon ends.


He who knows (the Tao) does not (care to) speak (about it);
he who is (ever ready to) speak about it does not know it.

He (who knows it) will keep his mouth shut and close the portals (of his nostrils).
He will blunt his sharp points and unravel the complications of things;
he will attemper his brightness, and bring himself into agreement with the obscurity (of others).
This is called ‘the Mysterious Agreement.’

(Such an one) cannot be treated familiarly or distantly;
he is beyond all consideration of profit or injury; of nobility or meanness:–
he is the noblest man under heaven.


A state may be ruled by (measures of) correction;
weapons of war may be used with crafty dexterity;
(but) the kingdom is made one’s own (only)
by freedom from action and purpose.

How do I know that it is so? By these facts:–
In the kingdom the multiplication of prohibitive enactments increases the poverty of the people;
the more implements to add to their profit that the people have, the greater disorder is there in the state and clan;
the more acts of crafty dexterity that men possess, the more do strange contrivances appear;
the more display there is of legislation, the more thieves and robbers there are.

Therefore a sage has said,
‘I will do nothing (of purpose), and the people will be transformed of themselves;
I will be fond of keeping still, and the people will of themselves become correct.
I will take no trouble about it, and the people will of themselves become rich;
I will manifest no ambition, and the people will of themselves attain to the primitive simplicity.’


The government that seems the most unwise,
Oft goodness to the people best supplies;
That which is meddling, touching everything,
Will work but ill, and disappointment bring.

Misery!–happiness is to be found by its side!
Happiness!–misery lurks beneath it!
Who knows what either will come to in the end?

Shall we then dispense with correction?
The (method of) correction shall by a turn become distortion,
and the good in it shall by a turn become evil.
The delusion of the people (on this point) has indeed subsisted for a long time.

Therefore the sage is (like) a square which cuts no one (with its angles);
(like) a corner which injures no one (with its sharpness).
He is straightforward, but allows himself no license; he is bright, but does not dazzle.


For regulating the human (in our constitution) and rendering the (proper) service to the heavenly, there is nothing like moderation.

It is only by this moderation that there is effected an early return (to man’s normal state).
That early return is what I call the repeated accumulation of the attributes (of the Tao).
With that repeated accumulation of those attributes, there comes the subjugation (of every obstacle to such return).
Of this subjugation we know not what shall be the limit;
and when one knows not what the limit shall be, he may be the ruler of a state.

He who possesses the mother of the state may continue long.
His case is like that (of the plant) of which we say that its roots are deep and its flower stalks firm:–
this is the way to secure that its enduring life shall long be seen.


Governing a great state is like cooking small fish.

Let the kingdom be governed according to the Tao, and the manes of the departed will not manifest their spiritual energy.
It is not that those manes have not that spiritual energy, but it will not be employed to hurt men.
It is not that it could not hurt men, but neither does the ruling sage hurt them.

When these two do not injuriously affect each other, their good influences converge in the virtue (of the Tao).


What makes a great state is its being (like) a low-lying, down-flowing (stream);–
it becomes the centre to which tend (all the small states) under heaven.

(To illustrate from) the case of all females:–the female always overcomes the male by her stillness.
Stillness may be considered (a sort of) abasement.

Thus it is that a great state, by condescending to small states, gains them for itself;
and that small states, by abasing themselves to a great state, win it over to them.
In the one case the abasement leads to gaining adherents, in the other case to procuring favour.

The great state only wishes to unite men together and nourish them;
a small state only wishes to be received by, and to serve, the other.
Each gets what it desires, but the great state must learn to abase itself.


Tao has of all things the most honoured place.
No treasures give good men so rich a grace;
Bad men it guards, and doth their ill efface.

(Its) admirable words can purchase honour;
(its) admirable deeds can raise their performer above others.
Even men who are not good are not abandoned by it.

Therefore when the sovereign occupies his place as the Son of Heaven, and he has appointed his three ducal ministers, though (a prince) were to send in a round symbol-of-rank large enough to fill both the hands, and that as the precursor of the team of horses (in the court-yard), such an offering would not be equal to (a lesson of) this Tao, which one might present on his knees.

Why was it that the ancients prized this Tao so much?
Was it not because it could be got by seeking for it,
and the guilty could escape (from the stain of their guilt) by it?
This is the reason why all under heaven consider it the most valuable thing.


(It is the way of the Tao) to act without (thinking of) acting;
to conduct affairs without (feeling the) trouble of them;
to taste without discerning any flavour;
to consider what is small as great, and a few as many;
and to recompense injury with kindness.

(The master of it) anticipates things that are difficult while they are easy,
and does things that would become great while they are small.
All difficult things in the world are sure to arise from a previous state in which they were easy,
and all great things from one in which they were small.
Therefore the sage, while he never does what is great, is able on that account to accomplish the greatest things.

He who lightly promises is sure to keep but little faith; he who is continually thinking things easy is sure to find them difficult. Therefore the sage sees difficulty even in what seems easy, and so never has any difficulties.


That which is at rest is easily kept hold of;
before a thing has given indications of its presence, it is easy to take measures against it;
that which is brittle is easily broken;
that which is very small is easily dispersed.
Action should be taken before a thing has made its appearance;
order should be secured before disorder has begun.

The tree which fills the arms grew from the tiniest sprout;
the tower of nine storeys rose from a (small) heap of earth;
the journey of a thousand li commenced with a single step.

He who acts (with an ulterior purpose) does harm;
he who takes hold of a thing (in the same way) loses his hold.
The sage does not act (so), and therefore does no harm;
he does not lay hold (so), and therefore does not lose his bold.
(But) people in their conduct of affairs are constantly ruining them when they are on the eve of success.
If they were careful at the end, as (they should be) at the beginning, they would not so ruin them.

Therefore the sage desires what (other men) do not desire, and does not prize things difficult to get;
he learns what (other men) do not learn, and turns back to what the multitude of men have passed by.
Thus he helps the natural development of all things, and does not dare to act (with an ulterior purpose of his own).


The ancients who showed their skill in practising the Tao did so,
not to enlighten the people, but rather to make them simple and ignorant.

The difficulty in governing the people arises from their having much knowledge.
He who (tries to) govern a state by his wisdom is a scourge to it; while he who does not (try to) do so is a blessing.

He who knows these two things finds in them also his model and rule.
Ability to know this model and rule constitutes what we call the mysterious excellence (of a governor).
Deep and far-reaching is such mysterious excellence, showing indeed its possessor as opposite to others,
but leading them to a great conformity to him.


That whereby the rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams, is their skill in being lower than they;–it is thus that they are the kings of them all. So it is that the sage (ruler), wishing to be above men, puts himself by his words below them, and, wishing to be before them, places his person behind them.

In this way though he has his place above them, men do not feel his weight,
nor though he has his place before them, do they feel it an injury to them.

Therefore all in the world delight to exalt him and do not weary of him.
Because he does not strive, no one finds it possible to strive with him.


All the world says that, while my Tao is great, it yet appears to be inferior (to other systems of teaching).
Now it is just its greatness that makes it seem to be inferior.
If it were like any other (system), for long would its smallness have been known!

But I have three precious things which I prize and hold fast.
The first is gentleness; the second is economy; and the third is shrinking from taking precedence of others.

With that gentleness I can be bold;
with that economy I can be liberal;
shrinking from taking precedence of others,
I can become a vessel of the highest honour.
Now-a-days they give up gentleness and are all for being bold;
economy, and are all for being liberal;
the hindmost place, and seek only to be foremost;–
(of all which the end is) death.

Gentleness is sure to be victorious even in battle, and firmly to maintain its ground.
Heaven will save its possessor, by his (very) gentleness protecting him.


He who in (Tao’s) wars has skill
Assumes no martial port;
He who fights with most good will
To rage makes no resort.
He who vanquishes yet still
Keeps from his foes apart;
He whose hests men most fulfil
Yet humbly plies his art.

Thus we say, ‘He ne’er contends,
And therein is his might.’
Thus we say, ‘Men’s wills he bends,
That they with him unite.’
Thus we say, ‘Like Heaven’s his ends,
No sage of old more bright.’


A master of the art of war has said, ‘I do not dare to be the host (to commence the war);
I prefer to be the guest (to act on the defensive).
I do not dare to advance an inch; I prefer to retire a foot.’
This is called marshalling the ranks where there are no ranks;
baring the arms (to fight) where there are no arms to bare;
grasping the weapon where there is no weapon to grasp;
advancing against the enemy where there is no enemy.

There is no calamity greater than lightly engaging in war.
To do that is near losing (the gentleness) which is so precious.
Thus it is that when opposing weapons are (actually) crossed, he who deplores (the situation) conquers.


My words are very easy to know, and very easy to practise;
but there is no one in the world who is able to know and able to practise them.

There is an originating and all-comprehending (principle) in my words, and an authoritative law for the things (which I enforce).
It is because they do not know these, that men do not know me.

They who know me are few, and I am on that account (the more) to be prized.
It is thus that the sage wears (a poor garb of) hair cloth, while he carries his (signet of) jade in his bosom.


To know and yet (think) we do not know is the highest (attainment);
not to know (and yet think) we do know is a disease.

It is simply by being pained at (the thought of) having this disease that we are preserved from it. The sage has not the disease.
He knows the pain that would be inseparable from it, and therefore he does not have it.


When the people do not fear what they ought to fear,
that which is their great dread will come on them.

Let them not thoughtlessly indulge themselves in their ordinary life;
let them not act as if weary of what that life depends on.

It is by avoiding such indulgence that such weariness does not arise.

Therefore the sage knows (these things) of himself, but does not parade (his knowledge);
loves, but does not (appear to set a) value on, himself.
And thus he puts the latter alternative away and makes choice of the former.


He whose boldness appears in his daring (to do wrong, in defiance of the laws) is put to death;
he whose boldness appears in his not daring (to do so) lives on.
Of these two cases the one appears to be advantageous,
and the other to be injurious. But

When Heaven’s anger smites a man,
Who the cause shall truly scan?

On this account the sage feels a difficulty (as to what to do in the former case).

It is the way of Heaven not to strive, and yet it skilfully overcomes;
not to speak, and yet it is skilful in (obtaining a reply;
does not call, and yet men come to it of themselves.
Its demonstrations are quiet, and yet its plans are skilful and effective.
The meshes of the net of Heaven are large; far apart, but letting nothing escape.


The people do not fear death; to what purpose is it to (try to) frighten them with death? If the people were always in awe of death, and I could always seize those who do wrong, and put them to death, who would dare to do wrong?

There is always One who presides over the infliction death.
He who would inflict death in the room of him who so presides over it may be described as hewing wood instead of a great carpenter.
Seldom is it that he who undertakes the hewing, instead of the great carpenter, does not cut his own hands!


The people suffer from famine because of the multitude of taxes consumed by their superiors.
It is through this that they suffer famine.

The people are difficult to govern because of the (excessive) agency of their superiors (in governing them).
It is through this that they are difficult to govern.

The people make light of dying because of the greatness of their labours in seeking for the means of living.
It is this which makes them think light of dying.

Thus it is that to leave the subject of living altogether out of view is better than to set a high value on it.


Man at his birth is supple and weak; at his death, firm and strong. (So it is with) all things.
Trees and plants, in their early growth, are soft and brittle; at their death, dry and withered.

Thus it is that firmness and strength are the concomitants of death;
softness and weakness, the concomitants of life.

Hence he who (relies on) the strength of his forces does not conquer;
and a tree which is strong will fill the out-stretched arms, (and thereby invites the feller.)

Therefore the place of what is firm and strong is below,
and that of what is soft and weak is above.


May not the Way (or Tao) of Heaven be compared to the (method of) bending a bow?
The (part of the bow) which was high is brought low, and what was low is raised up.
(So Heaven) diminishes where there is superabundance, and supplements where there is deficiency.

It is the Way of Heaven to diminish superabundance, and to supplement deficiency.
It is not so with the way of man. He takes away from those who have not enough to add to his own superabundance.

Who can take his own superabundance and therewith serve all under heaven.
Only he who is in possession of the Tao!

Therefore the (ruling) sage acts without claiming the results as his;
he achieves his merit and does not rest (arrogantly) in it:
he does not wish to display his superiority.


There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water,
and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing that can take precedence of it;–
for there is nothing (so effectual) for which it can be changed.

Every one in the world knows that the soft overcomes the hard,
and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in practice.

Therefore a sage has said,
‘He who accepts his state’s reproach,
Is hailed therefore its altars’ lord;
To him who bears men’s direful woes
They all the name of King accord.’

Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.


When a reconciliation is effected (between two parties) after a great animosity, there is sure to be a grudge remaining (in the mind of the one who was wrong). And how can this be beneficial (to the other)?

Therefore (to guard against this), the sage keeps the left-hand portion of the record of the engagement, and does not insist on the (speedy) fulfilment of it by the other party. (So), he who has the attributes (of the Tao) regards (only) the conditions of the engagement, while he who has not those attributes regards only the conditions favourable to himself.

In the Way of Heaven, there is no partiality of love;
it is always on the side of the good man.


In a little state with a small population, I would so order it, that,
though there were individuals with the abilities of ten or a hundred men, there should be no employment of them;
I would make the people, while looking on death as a grievous thing, yet not remove elsewhere (to avoid it).

Though they had boats and carriages, they should have no occasion to ride in them;
though they had buff coats and sharp weapons, they should have no occasion to don or use them.

I would make the people return to the use of knotted cords (instead of the written characters).

They should think their (coarse) food sweet; their (plain) clothes beautiful;
their (poor) dwellings places of rest; and their common (simple) ways sources of enjoyment.

There should be a neighbouring state within sight, and the voices of the fowls and dogs should be heard all the way from it to us,
but I would make the people to old age, even to death, not have any intercourse with it.


Sincere words are not fine; fine words are not sincere.
Those who are skilled (in the Tao) do not dispute (about it);
the disputatious are not skilled in it.
Those who know (the Tao) are not extensively learned;
the extensively learned do not know it.

The sage does not accumulate (for himself).
The more that he expends for others, the more does he possess of his own;
the more that he gives to others, the more does he have himself.

With all the sharpness of the Way of Heaven, it injures not;
with all the doing in the way of the sage he does not strive.

Translated by D.T. Suzuki & Paul Carus

The Canon of Reason and Virtue

(Lao-tze’s Tao Teh King)

Translated by D.T. Suzuki & Paul Carus

1: Reason’s Realization

1. The Reason that can be reasoned is not the eternal Reason. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The Unnamable is of heaven and earth the beginning. The Namable becomes of the ten thousand things the mother.

Therefore it is said:

2. “He who desireless is found

The spiritual of the world will sound.

But he who by desire is bound

Sees the mere shell of things around.”

3. These two things are the same in source but different in name. Their sameness is called a mystery. Indeed, it is the mystery of mysteries. Of all spirituality it is the door.

2: Self-Culture

1. Everywhere it is obvious that if beauty makes a display of beauty, it is sheer ugliness. It is obvious that if goodness makes a display of goodness, it is sheer badness. For

2. “To be and not to be are mutually conditioned.

The difficult, the easy, are mutually definitioned.

The long, the short, are mutually exhibitioned.

Above, below, are mutually cognitioned.

The sound, the voice, are mutually coalitioned.

Before and after are mutually positioned.”

3. Therefore

The holy man abides by non-assertion in his affairs and conveys by silence his instruction. When the ten thousand things arise, verily, he refuses them not. He quickens but owns not. He acts but claims not. Merit he accomplishes, but he does not dwell on it.

“Since he does not dwell on it

It will never leave him.”

3: Keeping The People Quiet

1. Not boasting of one’s worth forestalls people’s envy.

Not prizing treasures difficult to obtain keeps people from committing theft.

2. Not contemplating what kindles desire keeps the heart unconfused.

3. Therefore the holy man when he governs empties the people’s hearts but fills their stomachs. He weakens their ambition but strengthens their bones. Always he keeps the people unsophisticated and without desire. He causes that the crafty do not dare to act. When he acts with non-assertion there is nothing ungoverned.

4: Sourceless

1. Reason is empty, but its use is inexhaustible. In its profundity, verily, it resembleth the arch-father of the ten thousand things.

2. “It will blunt its own sharpness,

Will its tangles adjust;

It will dim its own radiance

And be one with its dust.”

3. Oh, how calm it seems to remain! I know not whose son it is. Apparently even the Lord it precedes.

5: The Function Of Emptiness

1. But for heaven and earth’s humaneness, the ten thousand things are straw dogs. But for the holy man’s humaneness, the hundred families are straw dogs.

2. Is not the space between heaven and earth like unto a bellows? It is empty; yet it collapses not. It moves, and more and more comes forth. [But]

3. “How soon exhausted is

A gossip’s fulsome talk!

And should we not prefer

On the middle path to walk?”

6: The Completion Of Form

1. “The valley spirit not expires,

Mysterious woman ’tis called by the sires.

The mysterious woman’s door, to boot,

Is called of heaven and earth the root.

Forever and aye it seems to endure

And its use is without effort sure.”

7: Dimming Radiance

1. Heaven endures and earth is lasting. And why can heaven and earth endure and be lasting? Because they do not live for themselves. On that account can they endure.

2. Therefore

The holy man puts his person behind and his person comes to the front. He surrenders his person and his person is preserved. Is it not because he seeks not his own? For that reason he can accomplish his own.

8: Easy By Nature

1. Superior goodness resembleth water. The water’s goodness benefiteth the ten thousand things, yet it quarreleth not.

2. Water dwelleth in the places which the multitudes of men shun; therefore it is near unto the eternal Reason

3. The dwelling of goodness is in lowliness. The heart of goodness is in commotion. When giving, goodness showeth benevolence. In words, goodness keepeth faith. In government goodness standeth for order. In business goodness exhibiteth ability. The movements of goodness keep time.

4. It quarreleth not. Therefore it is not rebuked.

9: Practising Placidity

1. Grasp to the full, are you not likely foiled? Scheme too sharply, can you wear long? If gold and jewels fill the hall no one can protect it.

2. Rich and high but proud, brings about its own doom. To accomplish merit and acquire fame, then to withdraw, that is Heaven’s Way.

10: What Can Be Done?

1. Who by unending discipline of the senses embraces unity cannot be disintegrated. By concentrating his vitality and inducing tenderness he can become like a little child. By purifying, by cleansing and profound intuition he can be free from faults.

2. Who loves the people when administering the country will practise nonassertion.

Opening and closing the gates of heaven, he will be like a mother-bird; bright, and white, and penetrating the four quarters, he will be unsophisticated. He quickens them and feeds them. He quickens but owns not. He acts but claims not. He excels but rules not. This is called profound virtue.

11: The Function Of The Non-Existent

1. Thirty spokes unite in one nave and on that which is non-existent [on the hole in the nave] depends the wheel’s utility. Clay is moulded into a vessel and on that which is non-existent [on its hollowness] depends the vessel’s utility. By cutting out doors and windows we build a house and on that which is non-existent [on the empty space within] depends the house’s utility.

2. Therefore, existence renders actual but non-existence renders useful.

12: Abstaining From Desire

1. “The five colors [combined] the human eye will blind;

The five notes [in one sound] the human ear confound;

The five tastes [when they blend] the human mouth offend.”

2. “Racing and hunting will human hearts turn mad,

Treasures high-prized make human conduct bad.”

3. Therefore

The holy man attends to the inner and not to the outer. He abandons the latter and chooses the former.

13: Loathing Shame

1. “Favor bodes disgrace; it is like trembling.

Rank bodes great heartache. It is like the body.”

2. What means “Favor bodes disgrace; it is like trembling?”

Favor humiliates. Its acquisition causes trembling, its loss causes trembling. This is meant by “Favor bodes disgrace; it is like trembling.”

3. What means “Rank bodes great heartache, it is like the body?”

I suffer great heartache because I have a body. When I have no body, what heartache remains?

4. Therefore who administers the empire as he takes care of his body can be entrusted with the empire.

14: Praising The Mysterious

1. We look at Reason and do not see it; its name is Colorless. We listen to Reason and do not hear it; its name is Soundless. We grope for Reason and do not grasp it; its name is Bodiless.

2. These three things cannot further be analyzed. Thus they are combined and conceived as a unity which on its surface is not clear and in its depth not obscure.

3. Forever and aye Reason remains unnamable, and again and again it returns home to non-existence.

4. This is called the form of the formless, the image of the imageless. This is called the transcendentally abstruse.

5. In front its beginning is not seen. In the rear its end is not seen.

6. By holding fast to the Reason of the ancients, the present is mastered and the origin of the past understood. This is called Reason’s clue.

15: The Revealers Of Virtue

1. Those of yore who have succeeded in becoming masters are subtile, spiritual, profound, and penetrating. On account of their profundity they can not be understood. Because they can not be understood, therefore I endeavor to make them intelligible.

2. How cautious they are! Like men in winter crossing a river. How reluctant! Like men fearing in the four quarters their neighbors. How reserved! They behave like guests. How elusive! They resemble ice when melting. How simple! They resemble rough wood. How empty! They resemble the valley. How obscure! They resemble troubled waters.

3. Who by quieting can gradually render muddy waters clear? Who by stirring can gradually quicken the still?

4. He who cherishes this Reason is not anxious to be filled. Since he is not filled, therefore he may grow old; without renewal he is complete.

16: Returning To The Root

1. By attaining the height of abstraction we gain fulness of rest.

2. All the ten thousand things arise, and I see them return. Now they bloom in bloom but each one homeward returneth to its root.

3. Returning to the root means rest. It signifies the return according to destiny. Return according to destiny means the eternal. Knowing the eternal means enlightenment. Not knowing the eternal causes passions to rise; and that is evil.

4. Knowing the eternal renders comprehensive. Comprehensiveness renders broad. Breadth renders royal. Royalty renders heavenly. Heaven renders Reason-like. Reason renders lasting. Thus the decay of the body implies no danger.

17: Simplicity In Habits

1. Of great rulers the subjects do not notice the existence. To lesser ones people are attached; they praise them. Still lesser ones people fear, and the meanest ones people despise.

2. For it is said:

“If your faith be insufficient, verily, you will receive no faith.”

3. How reluctantly they [the great rulers] considered their words! Merit they accomplished; deeds they performed; and the hundred families thought: “We are independent.”

18: The Palliation Of Vulgarity

1. When the great Reason is obliterated, we have benevolence and justice. Prudence and circumspection appear, and we have much hypocrisy.

2. When family relations no longer harmonize, we have filial piety and paternal devotion. When the country and the clans decay through disorder, we have loyalty and allegiance.

19: Returning To Simplicity

1. Abandon your saintliness; put away your prudence; and the people will gain a hundredfold!

2. Abandon your benevolence; put away your justice; and the people will return to filial piety and paternal devotion.

3. Abandon smartness; give up greed; and thieves and robbers will no longer exist.

4. These are three things for which culture is insufficient. Therefore it is said:

“Hold fast to that which will endure,

Show thyself simple, preserve thee pure,

And lessen self with desires fewer.”

20: Different From The Vulgar

1. Abandon learnedness, and you have no vexation. The “yes” compared with the “yea,” how little do they differ! But the good compared with the bad, how much do they differ!

2. If what the people dread cannot be made dreadless, there will be desolation, alas! and verily, there will be no end of it.

3. The multitudes of men are happy, so happy, as though celebrating a great feast. They are as though in springtime ascending a tower. I alone remain quiet, alas! like one that has not yet received an omen. I am like unto a babe that does not yet smile.

4. Forlorn am I, O so forlorn! It appears that I have no place whither I may return home.

5. The multitude of men all have plenty and I alone appear empty. Alas! I am a man whose heart is foolish.

6. Ignorant am I, O, so ignorant! Common people are bright, so bright, I alone am dull.

7. Common people are smart, so smart, I alone am confused, so confused.

8. Desolate am I, alas! like the sea. Adrift, alas! like one who has no place where to stay.

9. The multitude of men all possess usefulness. I alone am awkward and a rustic too. I alone differ from others, but I prize seeking sustenance from our mother.

21: Emptying The Heart

1. “Vast virtue’s form

Follows Reason’s norm.

2. “And Reason’s nature

Is vague and eluding.

3. “How eluding and vague

All types including!

How vague and eluding,

All beings including!

How deep and how obscure.

It harbors the spirit pure,

Whose truth is ever sure,

Whose faith abides for aye

From of yore until to-day.

4. “Its name is never vanishing,

It heeds the good of everything.”

5. Through what do I know that “it heeds the good of everything”? In this way, verily: Through IT.

22: Humility’s Increase

1. “The crooked shall be straight,

Crushed ones recuperate,

The empty find their fill.

The worn with strength shall thrill;

Who little have receive,

And who have much will grieve.”

2. Therefore

The holy man embraces unity and becomes for all the world a model.

Not self-displaying he is enlightened;

Not self -approving he is distinguished;

Not self-asserting he acquires merit;

Not self-seeking he gaineth life.

Since he does not quarrel, therefore no one in the world can quarrel with him.

3. The saying of the ancients: “The crooked shall be straight,” is it in any way vainly spoken? Verily, they will be straightened and return home.

23: Emptiness And Non-Existence

1. To be taciturn is the natural way. A hurricane: does not outlast the morning. A cloudburst does not outlast the day.

2. Who causes these events but heaven and earth? If even heaven and earth cannot be unremitting, will not man be much less so?

3. Those who pursue their business in Reason, men of Reason, associate in Reason. Those who pursue their business in virtue associate in virtue. Those who pursue their business in ill luck associate in ill luck. When men associate in Reason, Reason makes them glad to find companions. When men associate in virtue, virtue makes them glad to find companions. When men associate in ill luck, ill luck makes them glad to find companions.

“If your faith is insufficient, verily shall ye receive no faith.”

24: Trouble From Indulgence

1. One on tiptoe is not steady;

One astride makes no advance.

Seff-displayers are not enlightened,

Self-asserters lack distinction,

Self-approvers have no merit,

And self-seekers stunt their lives.

2. Before Reason this is like surfeit of food; it is like a wen on the body with which people are apt to be disgusted.

3. Therefore the man of reason will not indulge in it.

25: Imaging The Mysterious

1. There is a Being wondrous and complete. Before heaven and earth, it was. How calm it is! How spiritual!

2. Alone it standeth, and it changeth not; around it moveth, and it suffereth not; yet therefore can it be the world’s mother.

3. Its name I know not, but its nature I call Reason.

4. Constrained to give a name, I call it the great. The great I call the departing, and the departing I call the beyond. The beyond I call home.

5. The saying goes: “Reason is great, heaven is great, earth is great, and royalty also is great. [There are four things in the world that are great, and royalty is one of them.]

6. Man’s standard is the earth. The earth’s standard is heaven. Heaven’s standard is Reason. Reason’s standard is intrinsic.

26: The Virtue Of Gravity

1. The heavy is of the light the root, and rest is motion’s master.

2. Therefore the holy man in his daily walk does not depart from gravity. Although he may have magnificent sights, he calmly sits with liberated mind.

3. But how is it when the master of the ten thousand chariots in his personal conduct is too light for the empire? If he is too light he will lose his vassals. If he is too passionate he will lose the throne.

27: The Function Of Skill

1. “Good travelers leave no trace nor track,

Good speakers, in logic show no lack,

Good counters need no counting rack.

2. “Good lockers bolting bars need not,

Yet none their locks can loose.

Good binders need no string nor knot,

Yet none unties their noose.”

3. Therefore the holy man is always a good saviour of men, for there are no outcast people. He is always a good saviour of things, for there are no outcast things. This is called applied enlightenment.

4. Thus the good man does not respect multitudes of men. The bad man respects the people’s wealth. Who does not esteem multitudes nor is charmed by their wealth, though his knowledge be greatly confused, he must be recognized as profoundly spiritual.

28: Returning To Simplicity

1. “Who his manhood shows

And his womanhood knows

Becomes the empire’s river.

Is he the empire’s river,

He will from virtue never deviate,

And home he turneth to a child’s estate.

2. “Who his brightness shows

And his blackness knows

Becomes the empire’s model.

Is he the empire’s model,

Of virtue ne’er shall he be destitute,

And home he turneth to the absolute.

3. “Who knows his fame

And guards his shame

Becomes the empire’s valley.

Is he the empire’s valley,

For e’er his virtue will sufficient be,

And home he turneth to simplicity.”

4. Simplicity, when scattered, becomes a vessel of usefulness. The holy man, by using it, becomes the chief leader; and truly, a great principle will never do harm.

29: Non-Assertion

1. When one desires to take in hand the empire and make it, I see him not succeed. The empire is a divine vessel which cannot be made. One who makes it, mars it. One who takes it, loses it.

2. And it is said of beings:

“Some are obsequious, others move boldly,

Some breathe warmly, others coldly,

Some are strong and others weak,

Some rise proudly, others sneak.”

3. Therefore the holy man abandons excess, he abandons extravagance, he abandons indulgence.

30: Be Chary Of War

1. He who with Reason assists the master of mankind will not with arms strengthen the empire. His methods invite requital.

2. Where armies are quartered briars and thorns grow. Great wars unfailingly are followed by famines. A good man acts resolutely and then stops. He ventures not to take by force.

3. Be resolute but not boastful; resolute but not haughty; resolute but not arrogant; resolute because you cannot avoid it; resolute but not violent.

4. Things thrive and then grow old. This is called un-Reason. Un-Reason soon ceases.

31: Quelling War

1. Even victorious arms are unblest among tools, and people had better shun them. Therefore he who has Reason does not rely on them.

2. The superior man when residing at home honors the left. When using arms, he honors the right.

3. Arms are unblest among tools and not the superior man’s tools. Only when it is unavoidable he uses them. Peace and quietude he holdeth high.

4. He conquers but rejoices not. Rejoicing at a conquest means to enjoy the slaughter of men. He who enjoys the slaughter of men will most assuredly not obtain his will in the empire.

32: The Virtue Of Holiness

1. Reason, in its eternal aspect, is unnamable.

2. Although its simplicity seems insignificant, the whole world does not dare to suppress it. If princes and kings could keep it, the ten thousand things would of themselves pay homage. Heaven and earth would unite in dripping sweet dew, and the people with no one to command them would of themselves be righteous.

3. As soon as Reason creates order, it becomes namable. Whenever the namable in its turn acquires existence, one learns to know when to stop. By knowing when to stop, one avoids danger.

4. To illustrate Reason’s relation to the world we compare it to streams and creeks in their course towards rivers and the ocean.

33: The Virtue Of Discrimination

1. One who knows others is clever, but one who knows himself is enlightened.

2. One who conquers others is powerful, but one who conquers himself is mighty.

3. One who knows contentment is rich and one who pushes with vigor has will.

4. One who loses not his place endures.

5. One who may die but will not perish, has life everlasting.

34: Trust In Its Perfection

1. How all-pervading is the great Reason! It can be on the left and it can be on the right.

2. The ten thousand things depend upon it for their life, and it refuses them not. When its merit is accomplished it assumes not the name. Lovingly it nourishes the ten thousand things and plays not the lord. Ever desireless it can be classed with the small. The ten thousand things return home to it. It plays not the lord. It can be classed with the great.

3. Therefore

The holy man unto death does not make himself great and can thus accomplish his greatness.

35: The Virtue Of Benevolence

1. “Who holdeth fast to the great Form,

Of him the world will come in quest:

For there we never meet with harm,

There we find shelter, comfort, rest.”

2. Music with dainties makes the passing stranger stop. But Reason, when coming from the mouth, how tasteless is it! It has no flavor. When looked at, there is not enough to be seen; when listened to, there is not enough to be heard. However, when used, it is inexhaustible.

36: The Secret’s Explanation

1. That which is about to contract has surely been expanded. That which is about to weaken has surely been strengthened. That which is about to fall has surely been raised. That which is about to be despoiled has surely been endowed.

2. This is an explanation of the secret that the tender and the weak conquer the hard and the strong.

3. As the fish should not escape from the deep, so with the country’s sharp tools the people should not become acquainted.

37: Administration Of Government

1. Reason always practises non-assertion, and there is nothing that remains undone.

2. If princes and kings could keep Reason, the ten thousand creatures would of themselves be reformed. While being reformed they might yet be anxious to stir; but I would restrain them by the simplicity of the Ineffable.

3. “The simplicity of the unexpressed

Will purify the heart of lust.

Is there no lust there will be rest,

And all the world will thus be blest.”

38: Discourse On Virtue

1. Superior virtue is unvirtue. Therefore it has virtue. Inferior virtue never loses sight of virtue. Therefore it has no virtue.

2. Superior virtue is non-assertion and without pretension. Inferior virtue asserts and makes pretensions.

3. Superior benevolence acts but makes no pretensions. Superior justice acts and makes pretensions.

4. Superior propriety acts and when no one responds to it, it stretches its arm and enforces its rules.

5. Thus one loses Reason and then virtue appears. One loses virtue and then benevolence appears. One loses benevolence and then justice appears. One loses justice and then propriety appears. The rules of propriety are the semblance of loyalty and faith, and the beginning of disorder.

6. Traditionalism is the flower of Reason, but of ignorance the beginning.

7. Therefore a great organizer abides by the solid and dwells not in the external. He abides in the fruit and dwells not in the flower.

8. Therefore he discards the latter and chooses the former.

39: The Root Of Order

1. From of old these things have obtained oneness:

2. “Heaven by oneness becometh pure.

Earth by oneness can endure.

Minds by oneness souls procure.

Valleys by oneness repletion secure.

“All creatures by oneness to life have been called.

And kings were by oneness as models installed.”

Such is the result of oneness.

3. “Were heaven not pure it might be rent.

Were earth not stable it might be bent.

Were minds not ensouled they’d be impotent.

Were valleys not filled they’d soon be spent.

When creatures are lifeless who can their death prevent?

Are kings not models, but on haughtiness bent,

Their fall, forsooth, is imminent.”

4. Thus, the nobles come from the commoners as their root, and the high rest upon the lowly as their foundation. Therefore, princes and kings call themselves orphaned, lonely, and unworthy. Is this not because they take lowliness as their root?

5. The several parts of a carriage are not a carriage.

6. Those who have become a unity are neither anxious to be praised with praise like a gem, nor disdained with disdain like a stone.

40: Avoiding Activity

1. “Homeward is Reason’s course,

Weakness is Reason’s force.”

2. Heaven and earth and the ten thousand things come from existence, but existence comes from non-existence.

41: Sameness In Difference

1. When a superior scholar hears of Reason he endeavors to practise it.

2. When an average scholar hears of Reason he will sometimes keep it and sometimes lose it.

3. When an inferior scholar hears of Reason he will greatly ridicule it. Were it not thus ridiculed, it would as Reason be insufficient.

4. Therefore the poet says:

5. “The Reason–enlightened seem dark and black,

The Reason–advanced seem going back,

The Reason–straight-levelled seem rugged and slack.

6. “The high in virtue resemble a vale,

The purely white in shame must quail,

The staunchest virtue seems to fail.

7. “The solidest virtue seems not alert,

The purest chastity seems pervert,

The greatest square will rightness desert.

8. “The largest vessel is not yet complete,

The loudest sound is not speech replete,

The greatest form has no shape concrete.”

9. Reason so long as it remains latent is unnamable. Yet Reason alone is good for imparting and completing.

42: Reason’s Modifications

1. Reason begets unity; unity begets duality; duality begets trinity; and trinity begets the ten thousand things.

2. The ten thousand things are sustained by Yin [the negative principle]; they are encompassed by Yang [the positive principle], and the immaterial breath renders them harmonious.

3. That which the people find odious, to be orphaned, lonely, and unworthy, kings and princes select as their titles. Thus, on the one hand, loss implies gain, and on the other hand, gain implies loss.

4. What others have taught I teach also.

5. The strong and aggressive do not die a natural death; but I will obey the doctrine’s father.

43: Its Universal Application

1. The world’s weakest overcomes the world’s hardest.

2. Non-existence enters into the impenetrable.

3. Thereby I comprehend of non-assertion the advantage. There are few in the world who obtain of non-assertion the advantage and of silence the lesson.

44: Setting Up Precepts

1. “Name or person, which is more near?

Person or fortune, which is more dear?

Gain or loss, which is more sear?

2. “Extreme dotage leadeth to squandering.

Hoarded wealth inviteth plundering.

3. “Who is content incurs no humiliation,

Who knows when to stop risks no vitiation,

Forever lasteth his duration.”

45: Greatest Virtue

1. “Greatest perfection imperfect will be,

But its work ne’er waneth.

Greatest fulness is vacuity,

Its work unexhausted remaineth.”

2. “Straightest lines resemble curves;

Greatest skill like a tyro serves;

Greatest eloquence stammers and swerves.”

3. Motion conquers cold. Quietude conquers heat. Purity and clearness are the world’s standard.

46: Moderation Of Desire

1. When the world possesses Reason, race horses are reserved for hauling dung. When the world is without Reason, war horses are bred in the common.

2. No greater sin than yielding to desire. No greater misery than discontent. No greater calamity than greed.

3. Therefore, he who knows content’s content is always content.

47: Viewing The Distant

1. “Without passing out of the gate

The world’s course I prognosticate.

Without peeping through the window

The heavenly Reason I contemplate.

The further one goes,

The less one knows.”

2. Therefore the holy man does not travel, and yet he has knowledge. He does not see things, and yet he defines them. He does not labor, and yet he completes.

48: Forgetting Knowledge

1. He who seeks learnedness will daily increase. He who seeks Reason will daily diminish. He will diminish and continue to diminish until he arrives at non-assertion.

2. With non-assertion there is nothing that he cannot achieve. When he takes the empire, it is always because he uses no diplomacy. He who uses diplomacy is not fit to take the empire.

49: Trust In Virtue

1. The holy man has not a heart of his own. The hundred families’ hearts he makes his heart.

2. The good I meet with goodness; the bad I also meet with goodness; that is virtue’s goodness. The faithful I meet with faith; the faithless I also meet with faith; that is virtue’s faith.

3. The holy man dwells in the world anxious, very anxious in his dealings with the world. He universalizes his heart, and the hundred families fix upon him their ears and eyes. The holy man treats them all like children.

50: The Estimation Of Life

1. Abroad in life, home in death.

2. There are thirteen avenues of life; there are thirteen avenues of death; on thirteen avenues men that live pass unto the realm of death.

3. Now, what is the reason? It is because they live life’s intensity.

4. Yea, I understand that one whose life is based on goodness, when traveling on land will not fall a prey to the rhinoceros or the tiger. When coming among soldiers, he need not fear arms and weapons. The rhinoceros finds no place wherein to insert its horn. The tiger finds no place wherein to put his claws. Weapons find no place wherein to thrust their blades. The reason is that he does not belong to the realm of death.

51: Nursing Virtue

1. Reason quickens all creatures. Virtue feeds them. Reality shapes them. The forces complete them. Therefore among the ten thousand things there is none that does not esteem Reason and honor virtue.

2. Since the esteem of Reason and the honoring of virtue is by no one commanded, it is forever spontaneous.

3. Therefore it is said that Reason quickens all creatures, while virtue feeds them, raises them, nurtures them, completes them, matures them, rears them, and protects them.

4. To quicken but not to own, to make but not to claim, to raise but not to rule, this is called profound virtue.

52: Returning To The Origin

1. When the world takes its beginning, Reason becomes the world’s mother.

2. As one knows his mother, so she in turn knows her child; as she quickens her child, so he in turn keeps to his mother, and to the end of life he is not in danger. Who closes his mouth, and shuts his sense-gates, in the end of life he will encounter no trouble; but who opens his mouth and meddles with affairs, in the end of life he cannot be saved.

3. Who beholds his smallness is called enlightened. Who preserves his tenderness is called strong. Who uses Reason’s light and returns home to its enlightenment does not surrender his person to perdition. This is called practising the eternal.

53: Gaining Insight

1. If I have ever so little knowledge, I shall walk in the great Reason. It is but expansion that I must fear.

2. The great Reason is very plain, but people are fond of by-paths.

3. When the palace is very splendid, the fields are very weedy and granaries very empty.

4. To wear ornaments and gay clothes, to carry sharp swords, to be excessive in drinking and eating, to have a redundance of costly articles, this is the pride of robbers.

5. Surely, this is un-Reason.

54: The Cultivation Of Intuition

1. “What is well planted is not uprooted;

What’s well preserved can not be looted!”

2. By sons and grandsons the sacrificial celebrations shall not cease.

3. Who cultivates Reason in his person, his virtue is genuine.

Who cultivates it in his house, his virtue is overflowing.

Who cultivates it in his township, his virtue is lasting.

Who cultivates it in his country, his virtue is abundant.

Who cultivates it in the world, his virtue is universal.

4. Therefore,

By one’s person one tests persons.

By one’s house one tests houses.

By one’s township one tests townships.

By one’s country one tests countries.

By one’s world one tests worlds.

5. How do I know that the world is such? Through IT.

55: The Signet Of The Mysterious

1. He who possesses virtue in all its solidity is like unto a little child.

2. Venomous reptiles do not sting him, fierce beasts do not seize him. Birds of prey do not strike him. His bones are weak, his sinews tender, but his grasp is firm. He does not yet know the relation between male and female, but his virility is strong. Thus his metal grows to perfection. A whole day he might cry and sob without growing hoarse. This shows the perfection of his harmony.

3. To know the harmonious is called the eternal. To know the eternal is called enlightenment.

4. To increase life is called a blessing, and heart-directed vitality is called strength, but things vigorous are about to grow old and I call this un-Reason.

5. Un-Reason soon ceases!

56: The Virtue Of The Mysterious

1. One who knows does not talk. One who talks does not know. Therefore the sage keeps his mouth shut and his sense-gates closed.

2. “He will blunt his own sharpness, His own tangles adjust; He will dim his own radiance, And be one with his dust.”

3. This is called profound identification.

4. Thus he is inaccessible to love and also inaccessible to enmity. He is inaccessible to profit and inaccessible to loss. He is also inaccessible to favor and inaccessible to disgrace. Thus he becomes world-honored.

57: Simplicity In Habits

1. With rectitude one governs the state; with craftiness one leads the army; with non-diplomacy one takes the empire. How do I know that it is so? Through IT.

2. The more restrictions and prohibitions are in the empire, the poorer grow the people. The more weapons the people have, the more troubled is the state. The more there is cunning and skill, the more startling events will happen. The more mandates and laws are enacted, the more there will be thieves and robbers.

3. Therefore the holy man says: I practise non-assertion, and the people of themselves reform. I love quietude, and the people of themselves become righteous. I use no diplomacy, and the people of themselves become rich. I have no desire, and the people of themselves remain simple.

58: Adaptation To Change

1. Whose government is unostentatious, quite unostentatious, his people will be prosperous, quite prosperous. Whose government is prying, quite prying, his people will be needy, quite needy.

2. Misery, alas! rests upon happiness. Happiness, alas! underlies misery. But who foresees the catastrophe? It will not be prevented!

3. What is ordinary becomes again extraordinary. What is good becomes again unpropitious. This bewilders people, and it happens constantly since times immemorial.

4. Therefore the holy man is square but not sharp, strict but not obnoxious, upright but not restraining, bright but not dazzling.

59: Hold Fast To Reason

1. To govern the people is the affair of heaven and there is nothing like thrift.

Now consider that thrift is said to come from early practice.

2. By early practice it is said that we can accumulate an abundance of virtue. If one accumulates an abundance of virtue then there is nothing that can not be overcome.

3. When nothing can not be overcome then no one knows his limit. When no one knows his limit one can have possession of the commonwealth.

4. Who has possession of the commonwealth’s mother [thrift] may last and abide.

5. This is called the possession of deep roots and of a staunch stem. To life, to everlastingness, to comprehension, this is the way.

60: How To Maintain One’s Place

1. Govern a great country as you would fry small fish: [neither gut nor scale them.]

2. If with Reason the empire is managed, its ghosts will not spook. Not only will its ghosts not spook, but its gods will not harm the people. Not only will its gods not harm the people, but neither will its holy men harm the people. Since neither will do harm, therefore their virtues will be combined.

61: The Virtue Of Humility

1. A great state, one that lowly flows, becomes the empire’s union, and the empire’s wife.

2. The wife always through quietude conquers her husband, and by quietude renders herself lowly.

3. Thus a great state through lowliness toward small states will conquer the small states, and small states through lowliness toward great states will conquer great states.

4. Therefore some render themselves lowly for the purpose of conquering; others are lowly and therefore conquer.

5. A great state desires no more than to unite and feed the people; a small state desires no more than to devote itself to the service of the people; but that both may obtain their wishes, the greater one must stoop.

62: Practise Reason

1. The man of Reason is the ten thousand creatures’ refuge, the good man’s wealth, the bad man’s stay.

2. With beautiful words one can sell. With honest conduct one can do still more with the people.

3. If a man be bad, why should he be thrown away? Therefore, an emperor was elected and three ministers appointed; but better than holding before one’s face the jade table [of the ministry] and riding with four horses, is sitting still and propounding the eternal Reason.

4. Why do the ancients prize this Reason? Is it not, say, because when sought it is obtained and the sinner thereby can be saved? Therefore it is world-honored.

63: Consider Beginnings

1. Assert non-assertion.

Practise non-practice.

Taste the tasteless.

Make great the small.

Make much the little.

2. Requite hatred with virtue.

3. Contemplate a difficulty when it is easy. Manage a great thing when it is small.

4. The world’s most difficult undertakings necessarily originate while easy, and the world’s greatest undertakings necessarily originate while small.

5. Therefore the holy man to the end does not venture to play the great, and thus he can accomplish his greatness.

6. Rash promises surely lack faith, and many easy things surely involve in many difficulties.

7. Therefore, the holy man regards everything as difficult, and thus to the end encounters no difficulties.

64: Mind The Insignificant

1. What is still at rest is easily kept quiet. What has not as yet appeared is easily prevented. What is still feeble is easily broken. What is still scant is easily dispersed.

2. Treat things before they exist. Regulate things before disorder begins. The stout tree has originated from a tiny rootlet. A tower of nine stories is raised by heaping up [bricks of] clay. A thousand miles’ journey begins with a foot.

3. He that makes mars. He that grasps loses.

The holy man does not make; therefore he mars not. He does not grasp; therefore he loses not. The people when undertaking an enterprise are always near completion, and yet they fail.

4. Remain careful to the end as in the beginning and you will not fail in your enterprise.

5. Therefore the holy man desires to be desireless, and does not prize articles difficult to obtain. He learns, not to be learned, and seeks a home where multitudes of people pass by.

6. He assists the ten thousand things in their natural development, but he does not venture to interfere.

65: The Virtue Of Simplicity

1. The ancients who were well versed in Reason did not thereby enlighten the people; they intended thereby to make them simple-hearted.

2. If people are difficult to govern, it is because they are too smart. To govern the country with smartness is the country’s curse. To govern the country without smartness is the country’s blessing. He who knows these two things is also a model [like the ancients]. Always to know the model is called profound virtue.

3. Spiritual virtue, verily, is profound. Verily, it is far-reaching. Verily, it is to everything reverse. But then it will procure great recognition.

66: Putting Oneself Behind

1. That rivers and oceans can of the hundred valleys be kings is due to their excelling in lowliness. Thus they can of the hundred valleys be the kings.

2. Therefore the holy man, when anxious to be above the people, must in his words keep underneath them. When anxious to lead the people, he must with his person keep behind them.

3. Therefore the holy man dwells above, but the people are not burdened. He is ahead, but the people suffer no harm.

4. Therefore the world rejoices in exalting him and does not tire. Because he strives not, no one in the world will strive with him.

67: The Three Treasures

1. All in the world call me great; but I resemble the unlikely. Now a man is great only because he resembles the unlikely. Did he resemble the likely, how lasting, indeed, would his mediocrity be!

2. 1 have three treasures which I cherish and prize. The first is called compassion. The second is called economy. The third is called not daring to come to the front in the world.

3. The compassionate can be brave; the economical can be generous; those who dare not come to the front in the world can become perfect as chief vessels.

4. Now, if people discard compassion and are brave; if they discard economy and are generous; if they discard modesty and are ambitious, they will surely die.

5. Now, the compassionate will in attack be victorious, and in defence firm. Heaven when about to save one will with compassion protect him.

68: Complying With Heaven

1. He who excels as a warrior is not warlike. He who excels as a fighter is not wrathful. He who excels in conquering the enemy does not strive. He who excels in employing men is lowly.

2. This is called the virtue of not-striving. This is called utilizing men’s ability. This is called complying with heaven-since olden times the highest.

69: The Function Of The Mysterious

1. A military expert used to say: ‘I dare not act as host [who takes the initiative] but act as guest [with reserve]. I dare not advance an inch, but I withdraw a foot.”

2. This is called marching without marching, threatening without arms, charging without hostility, seizing without weapons.

3. No greater misfortune than making light of the enemy! When we make light of the enemy, it is almost as though we had lost our treasure–[compassion].

4. Thus, if matched armies encounter one another, the one who does so in sorrow is sure to conquer.

70: Difficult To Understand

1. My words are very easy to understand and very easy to practise, but in the world no one can understand, no one can practise them.

2. Words have an ancestor; Deeds have a master [viz., Reason]. Since he is not understood, therefore I am not understood. Those who understand me are few, and thus I am distinguished.

3. Therefore the holy man wears wool, and hides in his bosom his jewels.

71: The Disease Of Knowledge

1. To know the unknowable, that is elevating. Not to know the knowable, that is sickness.

2. Only by becoming sick of sickness can we be without sickness.

3. The holy man is not sick. Because he is sick of sickness, therefore he is not sick.

72: Holding Oneself Dear

1. If the people do not fear the dreadful, the great dreadful will come, surely.

2. Let them not deem their lives narrow. Let them not deem their lot wearisome. When it is not deemed wearisome, then it will not be wearisome.

3. Therefore the holy man knows himself but does not display himself. He holds himself dear but does not honor himself. Thus he discards the latter and chooses the former.

73: Daring To Act

1. Courage, if carried to daring, leads to death; courage, if not carried to daring, leads to life. Either of these two things is sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful.

2. “Why ’t is by heaven rejected,

Who has the reason detected?”

Therefore the holy man also regards it as difficult.

3. The Heavenly Reason strives not, but it is sure to conquer. It speaks not, but it is sure to respond. It summons not, but it comes of itself. It works patiently, but is sure in its designs.

4. Heaven’s net is vast, so vast. It is wide-meshed, but it loses nothing.

74: Overcome Delusion

1. If the people do not fear death, how can they be frightened by death? If we make people fear death, and supposing some would [still] venture to rebel, if we seize them for capital punishment, who will dare?

2. There is always an executioner who kills. Now to take the place of the executioner who kills is taking the place of the great carpenter who hews. If a man takes the place of the great carpenter who hews, he will rarely, indeed, fail to injure his hand.

75: Harmed Through Greed

1. The people hunger because their superiors consume too many taxes; therefore they hunger. The people are difficult to govern because their superiors are too meddlesome; therefore they are difficult to govern. The people make light of death on account of the intensity of their clinging to life; therefore they make light of death.

2. He who is not bent on life is worthier than he who esteems life.

76: Beware Of Strength

1. Man during life is tender and delicate. When he dies he is stiff and stark.

2. The ten thousand things, the grass as well as the trees, while they live are tender and supple. When they die they are rigid and dry.

3. Thus the hard and the strong are the companions of death. The tender and the delicate are the companions of life.

Therefore he who in arms is strong will not conquer.

4. When a tree has grown strong it is doomed.

5. The strong and the great stay below. The tender and the delicate stay above.

77: Heaven’s Reason

1. Is not Heaven’s Reason truly like stretching a bow? The high it brings down, the lowly it lifts up. Those who have abundance it depleteth; those who are deficient it augmenteth.

2. Such is Heaven’s Reason. It depleteth those who have abundance but completeth the deficient.

3. Man’s Reason is not so. He depleteth the deficient in order to serve those who have abundance.

4. Where is he who would have abundance for serving the world?

5. Indeed, it is the holy man who acts but claims not; merit he acquires but he does not dwell upon it, and does he ever show any anxiety to display his excellence?

78: Trust In Faith

1. In the world nothing is tenderer and more delicate than water. In attacking the hard and the strong nothing will surpass it. There is nothing that herein takes its place.

2. The weak conquer the strong, the tender conquer the rigid. In the world there is no one who does not know it, but no one will practise it.

3. Therefore the holy man says:

“Him who the country’s sin makes his,

We hail as priest at the great sacrifice.

Him who the curse bears of the country’s failing.

As king of the empire we are hailing.”

4. True words seem paradoxical.

79: Keep Your Obligations

1. When a great hatred is reconciled, naturally some hatred will remain. How can this be made good?

2. Therefore the sage keeps the obligations of his contract and exacts not from others. Those who have virtue attend to their obligations; those who have no virtue attend to their claims.

3. Heaven’s Reason shows no preference but always assists the good man.

80: Remaining In Isolation

1. In a small country with few people let there be aldermen and mayors who are possessed of power over men but would not use it. Induce people to grieve at death but do not cause them to move to a distance. Although they had ships and carriages, they should find no occasion to ride in them. Although they had armours and weapons, they should find no occasion to don them.

2 Induce people to return to [the old custom of] knotted cords and to use them [in the place of writing], to delight in their food, to be proud of their clothes, to be content with their homes, and to rejoice in their customs: then in a neighboring state within sight, the voices of the cocks and dogs would be within hearing, yet the people might grow old and die before they visited one another.

81: Propounding The Essential

1. True words are not pleasant; pleasant words are not true. The good are not contentious; the contentious are not good. The wise are not learned; the learned are not wise.

2. The holy man hoards not. The more he does for others, the more he owns himself. The more he gives to others, the more will he himself lay up an abundance.

3. Heaven’s Reason is to benefit but not to injure; the holy man’s Reason is to accomplish but not to strive.

See Also:

Tao Te Ching with Select Commentaries from the Past 2000 years, tr. Red Pine

The Tao Te Ching in original Chinese with select translations and word-by-word meanings

The Sayings of Lao Tzu by Lionel Giles

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