I pulled these translations off the Internet back in 1997 and set them next to one another so I could look at the differences and similarities, in hope of gaining insight into what the original text might have meant.
I took a couple of courses on religions as part of my philosophy studies in college, and for the most part, only the Tao seemed to make sense. Possibly because it’s less of a religion and more of a philosophy, and it’s compatible with other religions, like Christianity, and, um, my imaginary pal Hanuman the monkey god.
I tend to forget about what I learned from reading the Tao, but periodically I return to read it and remember, and to try to apply it to my own life. I remember when my grandpa Groenwoldt died I read it over and over again, and found that it helped me believe that his spirit is still around us, part of the force of life. I think of him whenever I’m in the garden planting flowers, or playing with my dog, because he loved both of those things.
Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend about religion and agnosticism, and what I believe about spirituality, and I was reminded again of the Tao Te Ching. I forget I already have some of the answers.
One of the three great Chinese religions. It’s more of a philosophy that a religion as we in the West perceive them; as such it’s very compatible with Christian
religion. The Tao Te Ching bears some similarity with many of Christ’s teachings in the gospels.
In addition, there are some striking similarities between a certain translation of the Tao Te Ching and Yoda’s dialogs and discussion about The Force with Luke Sywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, which leads me to believe that George Lucas’s Force was really supposed to be Taoism’s Mystic Way.
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.
1. There are ways but the Way is uncharted
There are ways but the Way is uncharted;
There are names but not nature in words:
Nameless indeed is the source of creation
But things have a mother and she has a name.
The secret waits for the insight
Of eyes unclouded by longing;
Those who are bound by desire
See only the outward container.
These two come paired but distinct
By there names.
Of all things profound,
Say that their pairing is deepest,
The gate to the root of the world.
1. The Way
The Way that can be experienced is not true;
The world that can be constructed is not real.
The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
The world represents all that exists and may exist.
To experience without abstraction is to sense the world;
To experience with abstraction is to know the world.
These two experiences are indistinguishable;
Their construction differs but their effect is the same.
Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.
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.
2. Duality and the Wise Man’s Office …
Since the world points up beauty as such,
There is ugliness too.
If goodness is taken as goodness,
Wickedness enters as well.
For is and is-not come together;
Hard and easy are complementary;
Long and short are relative;
High and low are comparative;
Pitch and sound make harmony;
Before and after are a sequence.
Indeed the Wise Man’s office
Is to work by being still
He teaches not by speech
But by accomplishment;
He does for everything,
Their life he gives to all,
And what he brings to pass
Depends on no one else.
As he succeeds,
He takes no credit
And just because he does not take it,
Credit never leaves him.
When beauty is abstracted
Then ugliness has been implied;
When good is abstracted
Then evil has been implied.
So alive and dead are abstracted from nature,
Difficult and easy abstracted from progress,
Long and short abstracted from contrast,
High and low abstracted from depth,
Song and speech abstracted from melody,
After and before abstracted from sequence.
The sage experiences without abstraction,
And accomplishes without action;
He accepts the ebb and flow of things,
Nurtures them, but does not own them,
And lives, but does not dwell.
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.
and everything will fall into place.
3. The People and the Wise Man’s Policy
If those who are excellent find no preferment,
The people will cease to contend for promotion.
If goods that are hard to obtain are not favored,
The people will cease to turn robbers or bandits.
If things much desired are kept under cover,
Disturbance will cease in the minds of the people.
The Wise Man’s policy, accordingly,
Will be to empty people’s hearts and minds,
To fill their bellies, weaken their ambition,
Give them sturdy frames and always so,
To keep them uniformed, without desire,
And knowing ones not venturing to act.
Be still while you work
And keep full control
3. Without Action
Not praising the worthy prevents contention,
Not esteeming the valuable prevents theft,
Not displaying the beautiful prevents desire.
In this manner the sage governs people:
Emptying their minds,
Filling their bellies,
Weakening their ambitions,
And strengthening their bones.
If people lack knowledge and desire
Then they can not act;
If no action is taken
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.
4. The Nature of the Way …
The Way is a void,
Used but never filled:
An abyss it is,
From which all things come.
It blunts sharpness,
It tempers light,
A deep pool it is,
Never to run dry!
Whose offspring it may be
I do not know:
It is like a preface to God.
The Way is a limitless vessel;
Used by the self, it is not filled by the world;
It cannot be cut, knotted, dimmed or stilled;
Its depths are hidden, ubiquitous and eternal;
I don’t know where it comes from;
It comes before nature.
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.
5. The Thoughts and Talk of the Wise Man
Is then the world unkind?
And does it treat all things
Like straw dogs used in magic rights?
The Wise man too, is he unkind?
And does he treat the folk
Like straw dogs made to throw away?
Between the earth and sky
The space is like a bellows,
Empty but unspent.
When moved its gift is copious.
Much talk means much exhaustion;
Better far it is to keep your thoughts!
Nature is not kind;
It treats all things impartially.
The Sage is not kind,
And treats all people impartially.
Nature is like a bellows,
Empty, yet never ceasing its supply.
The more it moves, the more it yields;
So the sage draws upon experience
And cannot be exhausted.
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.
6. The Valley Spirit ..
The valley spirit is not dead;
They say it is the mystic female.
Her gateway is, they further say,
The base of heaven and earth.
Constantly, and so forever,
Use her without labour.
Experience is a riverbed,
Its source hidden, forever flowing:
Its entrance, the root of the world,
The Way moves within it:
Draw upon it; it will not run dry.
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.
7. The Wise Man … Being Last & UnSelfish
The sky is everlasting
And the earth is very old.
Why so? Because the world
Exists not for itself;
It can and will live on.
The Wise Man chooses to be last
And so becomes the first of all;
Denying self, he too is saved.
For does he not fulfillment find
In being an unselfish man?
Nature is complete because it does not serve itself.
The sage places himself after and finds himself before,
Ignores his desire and finds himself content.
He is complete because he does not serve himself.
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.
8. Peace – the Goal of the Way …
The highest goodness, water-like,
Does good to everything and goes
Unmurmuring to places men despise;
But so, is close in nature to the Way.
If the good of the house is from land,
Or the good of the mind is depth,
Or love is the virtue of friendship,
Or honesty blesses one’s talk,
Or in government, goodness is order,
Or in business, skill is admired,
Or the worth of an act lies in timing,
Then peace is the goal of the Way
By which no one ever goes astray.
The best of man is like water,
Which benefits all things, and does not contend with them,
Which flows in places that others disdain,
Where it is in harmony with the Way.
So the sage:
Lives within nature,
Thinks within the deep,
Gives within impartiality,
Speaks within trust,
Governs within order,
Crafts within ability,
Acts within opportunity.
He does not contend, and none contend against him.
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.
9. To Know when to stop …
To take all you want
Is never as good
As to stop when you should.
Scheme and be sharp
And you’ll not keep it long.
One can never guard
His home when it’s full
Of jade and fine gold:
Wealth, power and pride
Bequeath their own doom.
When fame and success
Come to you, then retire.
This is the ordained Way.
Fill a cup to its brim and it is easily spilled;
Temper a sword to its hardest and it is easily broken;
Amass the greatest treasure and it is easily stolen;
Claim credit and honour and you easily fall;
Retire once your purpose is achieved – this is natural.
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.
10. The Mystic Virtue …
Can you govern your animal soul, hold to the One and never depart from it?
Can you throttle your breath, down to the softness of breath in a child?
Can you purify your mystic vision and wash it until it is spotless?
Can you love all your people, rule over the land without being known?
Can you be like a female, and passively open and shut heaven’s gates?
Can you keep clear in your mind the four quarters of earth and not interfere?
Quicken them, feed them;
Quicken but do not possess them.
Act and be independent;
Be the chief but never the lord:
This describes the mystic virtue.
Embracing the Way, you become embraced;
Breathing gently, you become newborn;
Clearing your mind, you become clear;
Nurturing your children, you become impartial;
Opening your heart, you become accepted;
Accepting the world, you embrace the Way.
Bearing and nurturing,
Creating but not owning,
Giving without demanding,
This is harmony.
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.
11. The Nature of Usefulness …
Thirty spokes will converge
In the hub of a wheel;
But the use of the cart
Will depend on the part
Of the hub that is void.
With a wall all around
A clay bowl is molded;
But the use of the bowl
Will depend on the part
Of the bowl that is void.
Cut out windows and doors
In the house as you build;
But the use of the house
Will depend on the space
In the walls that is void.
So advantage is had
From whatever is there;
But usefulness rises
From whatever is not.
Thirty spokes meet at a nave;
Because of the hole we may use the wheel.
Clay is moulded into a vessel;
Because of the hollow we may use the cup.
Walls are built around a hearth;
Because of the doors we may use the house.
Thus tools come from what exists,
But use from what does not.
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.
12. Choice and Discrimination …
The five colors darken the eye;
The five sounds will deaden the ear;
The five flavors weary the taste;
Chasing the beasts of the field
Will drive a man mad.
The goods that are hard to procure
Are hobbles that slow walking feet.
So the Wise Man will do
What his belly dictates
And never the sight of his eyes.
Thus he will choose this but not that.
Too much colour blinds the eye,
Too much music deafens the ear,
Too much taste dulls the palate,
Too much play maddens the mind,
Too much desire tears the heart.
In this manner the sage cares for people:
He provides for the belly, not for the senses;
He ignores abstraction and holds fast to substance.
Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success is as dangerous
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your 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
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.
13. The Nature of Favour and Disgrace …
"Favor, like disgrace
Brings trouble with it;
High rank, like self,
Involves acute distress."
What does that mean, to say
That "favor, like disgrace
Brings trouble with it"?
When favor is bestowed
On one of low degree,
Trouble will come with it.
The loss of favor too
Means trouble for that man.
This, then, is what is meant
By "favor, like disgrace
Brings trouble with it."
What does it mean, to say
That "rank, like self,
Involves acute distress"?
I suffer most because
Of me and selfishness.
If I were selfless, then
What suffering would I bear?
In governing the world,
Let rule entrusted be
To him who treats his rank
As if it were his soul;
World sovereignty can be
Committed to that man
Who loves all people
As he loves himself.
Both praise and blame cause concern,
For they bring people hope and fear.
The object of hope and fear is the self –
For, without self, to whom may fortune and disaster occur?
Who distinguishes himself from the world may be given the world,
But who regards himself as the world may accept the world.
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.
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.
14. They Call it Elusive …
They call it elusive, and say
That one looks
But it never appears.
They say that indeed it is rare,
Since one listens,
But never a sound.
Subtle, they call it, and say
That one grasps it
But never gets hold.
These three complaints amount
To only one, which is
Beyond all resolution.
At rising, it does not illumine;
At setting, no darkness ensues;
It stretches far back
To that nameless estate
Which existed before the creation.
Describe it as form yet unformed;
As shape that is still without shape;
Or say it is vagueness confused:
One meets it and it has no front;
One follows and there is no rear.
If you hold ever fast
To that most ancient Way,
You may govern today.
Call truly that knowledge
Of primal beginnings
The clue to the Way.
Looked at but cannot be seen – it is beneath form;
Listened to but cannot be heard – it is beneath sound;
Held but cannot be touched – it is beneath feeling;
These depthless things evade definition,
And blend into a single mystery.
In its rising there is no light,
In its falling there is no darkness,
A continuous thread beyond description,
Lining what does not exist;
Its form formless,
Its image nothing,
Its name silence;
Follow it, it has no back,
Meet it, it has no face.
Attend the present to deal with the past;
Thus you grasp the continuity of the Way,
Which is its essence.
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.
|15. The Ancient masters of the Way of Nature
The excellent masters of old,
Subtle, mysterious, mystic, acute,
Were much too profound for their times.
Since they were not then understood,
It is better to tell how they looked.
Like men crossing streams in the winter, How cautious!
As if all around there were danger, How watchful!
As if they were guests on every occasion, How dignified!
Like ice just beginning to melt, Self-effacing!
Like a wood-block untouched by a tool, How sincere!
Like a valley awaiting a guest, How receptive!
Like a torrent that rushes along, And so turbid!
Who, running dirty, comes clean like still waters?
Who, being quiet, moves others to fullness of life?
It is he who, embracing the Way, is not greedy;
Who endures wear and tear without needing renewal.
The enlightened possess understanding
So profound they can not be understood.
Because they cannot be understood
I can only describe their appearance:
Cautious as one crossing thin ice,
Undecided as one surrounded by danger,
Modest as one who is a guest,
Unbounded as melting ice,
Genuine as unshaped wood,
Broad as a valley,
Seamless as muddy water.
Who stills the water that the mud may settle,
Who seeks to stop that he may travel on,
Who desires less than what may transpire,
Decays, but will not renew.
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,
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.
16.The Way and Immortality …
Touch ultimate emptiness,
Hold steady and still.
All things work together:
I have watched them reverting,
And have seen how they flourish
And return again, each to his roots.
This, I say, is the stillness:
A retreat to one’s roots;
Or better yet, return
To the will of God,
Which is, I say, to constancy.
The knowledge of constancy
I call enlightenment and say
That not to know it
Is blindness that works evil.
But when you know
What eternally is so,
You have stature
And stature means righteousness
And righteousness is kingly
And kingliness divine
And divinity is the Way
Which is final.
Then, though you die,
You shall not perish.
16. Decay and Renewal
Empty the self completely;
Embrace perfect peace.
The world will rise and move;
Watch it return to rest.
All the flourishing things
Will return to their source.
This return is peaceful;
It is the flow of nature,
An eternal decay and renewal.
Accepting this brings enlightenment,
Ignoring this brings misery.
Who accepts nature’s flow becomes all-cherishing;
Being all-cherishing he becomes impartial;
Being impartial he becomes magnanimous;
Being magnanimous he becomes natural;
Being natural he becomes one with the Way;
Being one with the Way he becomes immortal:
Though his body will decay, the Way will not.
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!"
17. The Ruler of the People …
As for him who is highest,
The people just know he is there.
His deputy’s cherished and praised;
Of the third, they are frightened;
The fourth, they depise and revile.
If you trust people less than enough,
Some of them never trust you.
He is aloof, as if his talk
Were priced beyond the purchasing;
But once his project is contrived,
The folk will want to say of it:
"Of course! We did it by ourselves!"
The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their people,
And their people become unfaithful to them.
When the best rulers achieve their purpose
Their subjects claim the achievement as their own.
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.
18. The Decline of the Way …
The mighty Way declined among the folk
And then came kindness and morality.
When wisdom and intelligence appeared,
They brought with them a great hypocrisy.
The six relations were no more at peace,
So codes were made to regulate our homes.
The fatherland grew dark, confused by strife:
Official loyalty became the style.
When the Way is forgotten
Duty and justice appear;
Then knowledge and wisdom are born
Along with hypocrisy.
When harmonious relationships dissolve
Then respect and devotion arise;
When a nation falls to chaos
Then loyalty and patriotism are 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.
19. The Simplicity of Life …
Get rid of the wise men!
Put out the professors!
Then people will profit
A hundredfold over.
Away with the kind ones;
Those righteous men too!
And let people return
To the graces of home.
Root out the artisans;
Banish the profiteers!
And bandits and robbers
Will not come to plunder.
But if these three prove not enough
To satisfy the mind and heart,
More relevant, then, let there be
A visible simplicity of life,
Embracing unpretentious ways,
And small self-interest
And poverty of coveting.
If we could discard knowledge and wisdom
Then people would profit a hundredfold;
If we could discard duty and justice
Then harmonious relationships would form;
If we could discard artifice and profit
Then waste and theft would disappear.
Yet such remedies treat only symptoms
And so they are inadequate.
People need personal remedies:
Reveal your naked self and embrace your original nature;
Bind your self-interest and control your ambition;
Forget your habits and simplify your affairs.
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?
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.
20. On the Solitary Nature …
Be done with rote learning
And its attendant vexations;
For is there distinction
Of a "yes" from a "yea"
Comparable now to the gulf
Between evil and good?
"What all men fear, I too must fear"-
How barren and pointless a thought!
The reveling of multitudes
At the feast of Great Sacrifice,
Or up on the terrace
At carnival in spring,
Leave me, alas, unmoved, alone,
Like a child that has never smiled.
Lazily, I drift
As though I had no home.
All others have enough to spare;
I am the one left out.
I have the mind of a fool,
Muddled and confused!
When common people scintillate
I alone make shadows.
Vulgar folks are sharp and knowing:
Only I am melancholy.
Restless like the ocean,
Blown about, I cannot stop.
Other men can find employment,
But I am stubborn; I am mean.
Alone I am and different,
Because I prize and seek
My sustenance from the Mother!
What is the difference between assent and denial?
What is the difference between beautiful and ugly?
What is the difference between fearsome and afraid?
The people are merry as if at a magnificent party
Or playing in the park at springtime,
But I am tranquil and wandering,
Like a newborn before it learns to smile,
Alone, with no true home.
The people have enough and to spare,
Where I have nothing,
And my heart is foolish,
Muddled and cloudy.
The people are bright and certain,
Where I am dim and confused;
The people are clever and wise,
Where I am dull and ignorant;
Aimless as a wave drifting over the sea,
Attached to nothing.
The people are busy with purpose,
Where I am impractical and rough;
I do not share the peoples’ cares
But I am fed at nature’s breast.
The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives 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.
21. The Omnipresent Virtue …
The omnipresent Virtue will take shape
According only to the Way.
The Way itself is like some thing
Seen in a dream, elusive, evading one.
In it are images, elusive, evading one.
In it are things like shadows in twilight.
In it are essences, subtle but real,
Embedded in truth.
From of old until now,
Under names without end,
The First, the Beginning is seen.
How do I know the beginning of all,
What its nature may be?
Harmony is only in following the Way.
The Way is without form or quality,
But expresses all forms and qualities;
The Way is hidden and implicate,
But expresses all of nature;
The Way is unchanging,
But expresses all motion.
Beneath sensation and memory
The Way is the source of all the world.
How can I understand the source of the world?
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 goal 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.
22. The Crooked shall be made Straight
The crooked shall be made straight
And the rough places plain;
The pools shall be filled
And the worn renewed;
The needy shall receive
And the rich shall be perplexed.
So the Wise Man cherishes the One,
As a standard to the world:
Not displaying himself,
He is famous;
Not asserting himself,
He is distinguished;
Not boasting his powers,
He is effective;
Taking no pride in himself,
He is chief.
Because he is no competitor,
No one in all the world
can compete with him.
The saying of the men of old
Is not in vain:
"The crooked shall be made straight-"
To be perfect, return to it.
Accept and you become whole,
Bend and you straighten,
Empty and you fill,
Decay and you renew,
Want and you acquire,
Fulfill and you become confused.
The sage accepts the world
As the world accepts the Way;
He does not display himself, so is clearly seen,
Does not justify himself, so is recognized,
Does not boast, so is credited,
Does not pride himself, so endures,
Does not contend, so none contend against him.
The ancients said, "Accept and you become whole",
Once whole, the world is as your home.
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.
23. Sparing indeed is the Nature of its
Sparing indeed is nature of its talk:
The whirlwind will not last the morning out;
The cloudburst ends before the day is done.
What is it that behaves itself like this?
The earth and sky! And if it be that these
Cut short their speech, how much more yet should man!
If you work by the Way,
You will be of the Way;
If you work through its virtue
you will be given the virtue;
Abandon either one
And both abandon you.
Gladly then the Way receives
Those who choose to walk in it;
Gladly too its power upholds
Those who choose to use it well;
Gladly will abandon greet
Those who to abandon drift.
Little faith is put in them
Whose faith is small.
Nature says only a few words:
High wind does not last long,
Nor does heavy rain.
If nature’s words do not last
Why should those of man?
Who accepts harmony, becomes harmonious.
Who accepts loss, becomes lost.
For who accepts harmony, the Way harmonizes with him,
And who accepts loss, the Way cannot find.
He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
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.
24. The Persons of the Way are humble …
On tiptoe your stance is unsteady;
Long strides make your progress unsure;
Show off and you get no attention;
Your boasting will mean you have failed;
Asserting yourself brings no credit;
Be proud and you will never lead.
To persons of the Way, these traits
Can only bring distrust; they seem
Like extra food for parasites.
So those who choose the Way,
Will never give them place.
Straighten yourself and you will not stand steady;
Display yourself and you will not be clearly seen;
Justify yourself and you will not be respected;
Promote yourself and you will not be believed;
Pride yourself and you will not endure.
These behaviours are wasteful, indulgent,
And so they attract disfavour;
Harmony avoids them.
There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
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.
25.Before the Earth or Sky Began …
Something there is, whose veiled creation was
Before the earth or sky began to be;
So silent, so aloof and so alone,
It changes not, nor fails, but touches all:
Conceive it as the mother of the world.
I do not know its name:
A name for it is "Way";
Pressed for designation,
I call it Great.
Great means outgoing,
The Way is great,
The sky is great,
The earth is great,
The king also is great.
Within the realm
These four are great;
The king but stands
For one of them.
Man conforms to the earth;
The earth conforms to the sky;
The sky conforms to the Way;
The Way conforms to its own nature.
25. Beneath Abstraction
There is a mystery,
Ubiquitous and liquid,
The mother of nature.
It has no name, but I call it "the Way";
It has no limit, but I call it "limitless".
Being limitless, it flows away forever;
Flowing away forever, it returns to my self:
The Way is limitless,
So nature is limitless,
So the world is limitless,
And so I am limitless.
For I am abstracted from the world,
The world from nature,
Nature from the Way,
And the Way from what is beneath abstraction.
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.
26. The Place of Peace …
The heavy is foundation for the light;
So quietness is master of the deed.
The Wise Man, though he travel all the day,
Will not be separated from his goods.
So even if the scene is glorious to view,
He keeps his place, at peace, above it all.
For how can one who rules
Ten thousand chariots
Give up to lighter moods
As all the world may do?
If he is trivial,
His ministers are lost;
If he is strenuous,
There is no master then.
Gravity is the source of lightness,
Calm, the master of haste.
A lone traveller will journey all day, watching over his belongings;
Only safe in his own bed may he lose them in sleep.
So the captain of a great vessel should not act lightly or hastily.
Acting lightly, he loses sight of the world,
Acting hastily, he loses control of himself.
The captain can not treat his great ship as a small boat;
Rather than glitter like jade
He must stand like stone.
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.
27. The Good Man and the Bad Man …
A good runner leaves no tracks.
A good speech has no flaws to censure.
A good computer uses no tallies.
A good door is well shut without bolts and cannot be opened.
A good knot is tied without rope and cannot be loosed.
The Wise Man is always good at helping people, so that none are cast out;
he is always good at saving things, so that none are thrown away.
This is called applied intelligence.
Surely the good man is the bad man’s teacher;
and the bad man is the good man’s business.
If the one does not respect his teacher,
or the other doesn’t love his business,
his error is very great.
This is indeed an important secret.
The perfect traveller leaves no trail to be followed;
The perfect speaker leaves no question to be answered;
The perfect accountant leaves no working to be completed;
The perfect container leaves no lock to be closed;
The perfect knot leaves no end to be ravelled.
So the sage nurtures all men
And abandons no one.
He accepts everything
And rejects nothing.
He attends to the smallest details.
For the strong must guide the weak;
The weak are raw material to the strong.
If the guide is not respected,
Or the material is not cared for,
Confusion will result, no matter how clever one is.
This is the secret of perfection:
When raw wood is carved, it becomes a tool;
When a man is employed, he becomes a tool;
The perfect carpenter leaves no wood to be carved.
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.
28. The Nature of Opposites and Change
Be aware of your masculine nature;
But by keeping the feminine way,
You shall be to the world like a canyon,
Where the Virtue eternal abides,
And go back to become as a child.
Be aware of the white all around you;
But rememb’ring the black that is there,
You shall be to the world like a tester,
Whom the Virtue eternal, unerring,
Redirects to the infinite past.
Be aware of your glory and honor;
But in never relinquishing shame,
You shall be to the world like a valley,
Where Virtue eternal, sufficient,
Sends you back to the Virginal Block.
When the Virginal Block is asunder,
And is made into several tools,
To the ends of the Wise Man directed,
They become then his chief officers:
For "The Master himself does not carve."
Using the male, being female,
Being the entrance of the world,
You embrace harmony
And become as a newborn.
Using strength, being weak,
Being the root of the world,
You complete harmony
And become as unshaped wood.
Using the light, being dark,
Being the world,
You perfect harmony
And return to the Way.
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.
29. The World is a Sacred Vessel …
As for those who would take the whole world
To tinker as they see fit,
I observe that they never succeed:
For the world is a sacred vessel
Not made to be altered by man.
The tinker will spoil it;
Usurpers will lose it.
For indeed there are things
That must move ahead,
While others must lag;
And some that feel hot,
While others feel cold;
And some that are strong,
While others are weak;
And vigorous ones,
While others worn out.
So the Wise Man discards
To make sweeping judgements,
Or to a life of excess.
Those who wish to change the world
According with their desire
The world is shaped by the Way;
It cannot be shaped by the self.
Trying to change it, you damage it;
Trying to possess it, you lose it.
So some will lead, while others follow.
Some will be warm, others cold
Some will be strong, others weak.
Some will get where they are going
While others fall by the side of the road.
So the sage will be neither extravagant nor violent.
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.
30. The Means of the Way …
To those who would help
The ruler of men
By means of the Way:
Let him not with his militant might
Try to conquer the world;
This tactic is like to recoil.
For where armies have marched,
There do briars spring up;
Where great hosts are impressed,
Years of hunger and evil ensue.
The good man’s purpose once attained,
He stops at that;
He will not press for victory.
His point once made, he does not boast,
Or celebrate the goal he gained,
Or proudly indicate the spoils.
He won the day because he must:
But not by force or violence.
That things with age decline in strength,
You well may say, suits not the Way;
And not to suit the Way is early death.
Powerful men are well advised not to use violence,
For violence has a habit of returning;
Thorns and weeds grow wherever an army goes,
And lean years follow a great war.
A general is well advised
To achieve nothing more than his orders:
Not to take advantage of his victory.
Nor to glory, boast or pride himself;
To do what is dictated by necessity,
Not by choice.
For even the strongest force will weaken with time,
And then its violence will return, and kill it.
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.
31. Weapons at best are tools of bad omen
Weapons at best are tools of bad omen,
Loathed and avoided by those of the Way.
In the usage of men of good breeding,
Honor is had at the left;
Good omens belong on the left
Bad omens belong on the right;
And warriors press to the right!
When the general stands at the right
His lieutenant is placed at the left.
So the usage of men of great power
Follows that of the funeral rite.
Weapons are tools of bad omen,
By gentlemen not to be used;
But when it cannot be avoided,
They use them with calm and restraint.
Even in victory’s hour
These tools are unlovely to see;
For those who admire them truly
Are men who in murder delight.
As for those who delight to do murder,
It is certain they never can get
From the world what they sought when ambition
Urged them to power and rule.
A multitude slain!- and their death
Is a matter for grief and for tears;
The victory after a conflict
Is a theme for a funeral rite.
Armies are tools of violence;
They cause men to hate and fear.
The sage will not join them.
His purpose is creation;
Their purpose is destruction.
Weapons are tools of violence,
Not of the sage;
He uses them only when there is no choice,
And then calmly, and with tact,
For he finds no beauty in them.
Whoever finds beauty in weapons
Delights in the slaughter of men;
And who delights in slaughter
Cannot content himself with peace.
So slaughters must be mourned
And conquest celebrated with 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.
32. The Way eternal has no name …
The Way eternal has no name.
A block of wood untooled, though small,
May still excel the world.
And if the king and nobles could
Retain its potency for good,
Then everything would freely give
Allegiance to their rule.
The earth and sky would then conspire
To bring the sweet dew down;
And evenly it would be given
To folk without constraining power.
Creatures came to be with order’s birth,
And once they had appeared,
Came also knowledge of repose,
And with that was security.
In this world,
Compare those of the Way
To torrents that flow
Into river and sea.
The Way has no true shape,
And therefore none can control it.
If a ruler could control the Way
All things would follow
In harmony with his desire,
And sweet rain would fall,
Effortlessly slaking every thirst.
The Way is shaped by use,
But then the shape is lost.
Do not hold fast to shapes
But let sensation flow into the world
As a river courses down to 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.
33. Wisdom and Enlightenment …
It is wisdom to know others;
It is enlightenment to know one’s self.
The conqueror of men is powerful;
The master of himself is strong.
It is wealth to be content;
It is willful to force one’s way on others.
Endurance is to keep one’s place;
Long life it is to die and not perish.
Who understands the world is learned;
Who understands the self is enlightened.
Who conquers the world has strength;
Who conquers the self has harmony;
Who is determined has purpose.
Who is contented has wealth;
Who defends his home may long endure;
Who surrenders his home may long survive it.
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.
34. The Great Way OverFlows on every Side
O the great Way o’erflows
And spreads on every side!
All beings come from it;
No creature is denied.
But having called them forth,
It calls not one its own.
It feeds and clothes them all
And will not be their lord.
Without desire always,
It seems of slight import.
Yet, nonetheless, in this
Its greatness still appears:
When they return to it,
No creature meets a lord.
The Wise Man, therefore, while he is alive,
Will never make a show of being great:
And that is how his greatness is achieved.
The Way flows and ebbs, creating and destroying,
Implementing all the world, attending to the tiniest details,
Claiming nothing in return.
It nurtures all things,
Though it does not control them;
It has no intention,
So it seems inconsequential.
It is the substance of all things;
Though it does not control them;
It has no exception,
So it seems all-important.
The sage would not control the world;
He is in harmony with the world.
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.
35. The great Form without form …
Once grasp the great Form without form,
And you roam where you will
With no evil to fear,
Calm, peaceful, at ease.
At music and viands
The wayfarer stops.
But the Way, when declared,
Seems thin and so flavorless!
It is nothing to look at
And nothing to hear;
But used, it will prove
If you offer music and food
Strangers may stop with you;
But if you accord with the Way
All the people of the world will keep you
In safety, health, community, and peace.
The Way lacks art and flavour;
It can neither be seen nor heard,
But its benefit cannot be exhausted.
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.
36. The Way of Subtle Light …
What is to be shrunken
Is first stretched out;
What is to be weakened
Is first made strong;
What will be thrown over
Is first raised up;
What will be withdrawn
Is first bestowed.
This indeed is
The gentle way
The hard and strong.
As fish should not
Get out of pools,
The realm’s edged tools
Should not be shown
To reduce someone’s influence, first expand it;
To reduce someone’s force, first increase it;
To overthrow someone, first exalt them;
To take from someone, first give to them.
This is the subtlety by which the weak overcome the strong:
Fish should not leave their depths,
And swords should not leave their scabbards.
The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.
If powerful men and women
could enter 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.
37. The Way is always still, at rest …
The Way is always still, at rest,
And yet does everything that’s done.
If then the king and nobles could
Retain its potency for good,
The creatures all would be transformed.
But if, the change once made in them,
They still inclined to do their work,
I should restrain them then
By means of that unique
Found in the Virgin Block,
Which brings disinterest,
With stillness in its train,
And so, an ordered world.
The Way takes no action, but leaves nothing undone.
When you accept this
The world will flourish,
In harmony with nature.
Nature does not possess desire;
Without desire, the heart becomes quiet;
In this manner the whole world is made tranquil.
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.
38. A Man of Highest Virtue …
A man of highest virtue
Will not display it as his own;
His virtue then is real.
Low virtue makes one miss no chance
To show his virtue off;
His virtue then is nought.
High virtue is at rest;
It knows no need to act.
Low virtue is a busyness
Pretending to accomplishment.
Compassion at its best
Consists in honest deeds;
Morality at best
Is something done, aforethought;
High etiquette, when acted out
Without response from others,
Constrains a man to bare his arms
And make them do their duty!
Truly, once the Way is lost,
There comes then virtue;
Virtue lost, comes then compassion;
After that morality;
And when that’s lost, there’s etiquette,
The husk of all good faith,
The rising point of anarchy.
Foreknowledge is, they say,
The Doctrine come to flower;
But better yet, it is
The starting point of silliness
. So once full-grown, a man will take
The meat and not the husk,
The fruit and not the flower.
Rejecting one, he takes the other.
Well established hierarchies are not easily uprooted;
Closely held beliefs are not easily released;
So ritual enthralls generation after generation.
Harmony does not care for harmony, and so is naturally attained;
But ritual is intent upon harmony, and so can not attain it.
Harmony neither acts nor reasons;
Love acts, but without reason;
Justice acts to serve reason;
But ritual acts to enforce reason.
When the Way is lost, there remains harmony;
When harmony is lost, there remains love;
When love is lost, there remains justice;
And when justice is lost, there remains ritual.
Ritual is the end of compassion and honesty,
The beginning of confusion;
Belief is a colourful hope or fear,
The beginning of folly.
The sage goes by harmony, not by hope;
He dwells in the fruit, not the flower;
He accepts substance, and ignores abstraction.
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,
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.
39. The Ancient receipt of the One …
These things in ancient times received the One:
The sky obtained it and was clarified;
The earth received it and was settled firm;
The spirits got it and were energized;
The valleys had it, filled to overflow;
All things, as they partook it came alive;
The nobles and the king imbibed the One
In order that the realm might upright be;
Such things were then accomplished by the One.
Without its clarity the sky might break;
Except it were set firm, the earth might shake;
Without their energy the gods would pass;
Unless kept full, the valleys might go dry;
Except for life, all things would pass away;
Unless the One did lift and hold them high,
The nobles and the king might trip and fall.
The humble folk support the mighty ones;
They are base on which the highest rest.
The nobles and the king speak of themselves
As "orphans," "desolate" and "needy ones."
Does this not indicate that they depend
Upon the lowly people for support?
Truly a cart is more than the sum of its parts.
Better to rumble like rocks
Than to tinkle like jade.
In mythical times all things were whole:
All the sky was clear,
All the earth was stable,
All the mountains were firm,
All the riverbeds were full,
All of nature was fertile,
And all the rulers were supported.
But, losing clarity, the sky tore;
Losing stability, the earth split;
Losing strength, the mountains sank;
Losing water, the riverbeds cracked;
Losing fertility, nature disappeared;
And losing support, the rulers fell.
Rulers depend upon their subjects,
The noble depend upon the humble;
So rulers call themselves orphaned, hungry and alone,
To win the people’s support.
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.
40. The Movement of the Way is a Return
The movement of the Way is a return;
In weakness lies its major usefulness.
From What-is all the world of things was born
But What-is sprang in turn from What-is-not.
40. Motion and Use
The motion of the Way is to return;
The use of the Way is to accept;
All things come from the Way,
And the Way comes from nothing.
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.
41. On Hearing of the Way …
On hearing of the Way, the best of men
Will earnestly explore its length.
The mediocre person learns of it
And takes it up and sets it down.
But vulger people, when they hear the news,
Will laugh out loud, and if they did not laugh,
It would not be the Way.
And so there is a proverb:
"When going looks like coming back,
The clearest road is mighty dark."
Today, the Way that’s plain looks rough,
And lofty virtue like achasm;
The purest innocence like shame,
The broadest power not enough,
Established goodness knavery,
Substantial worth like shifting tides.
Great space has no corners;
Great powers come late;
Great music is soft sound;
The great Form no shape.
The Way is obscure and unnamed;
It is a skilled investor, nonetheless,
The master of accomplishment.
When the great man learns the Way, he follows it with diligence;
When the common man learns the Way, he follows it on occasion;
When the mean man learns the Way, he laughs out loud;
Those who do not laugh, do not learn at all.
Therefore it is said:
Who understands the Way seems foolish;
Who progresses on the Way seems to fail;
Who follows the Way seems to wander.
For the finest harmony appears plain;
The brightest truth appears coloured;
The richest character appears incomplete;
The bravest heart appears meek;
The simplest nature appears inconstant.
The square, perfected, has no corner;
Music, perfected, has no melody;
Love, perfected, has no climax;
Art, perfected, has no meaning.
The Way can be neither sensed nor known:
It transmits sensation and transcends knowledge.
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.
42. On the Sun and the Shade … (Yin and
The Way begot one,
And the one, two;
Then the two begot three
And three, all else.
All things bear the shade on their backs
And the sun in their arms;
By the blending of breath
From the sun and the shade,
Equilibrium comes to the world.
Orphaned, or needy, or desolate, these
Are conditions much feared and disliked;
Yet in public address, the king
And the nobles account themselves thus.
So a loss sometimes benefits one
Or a benefit proves to be loss.
What others have taught
I also shall teach:
If a violent man does not come
To a violent death,
I shall choose him to teach me.
The Way bears sensation,
Sensation bears memory,
Sensation and memory bear abstraction,
And abstraction bears all the world;
Each thing in the world bears feeling and doing,
And, imbued with mind, harmony with the Way.
As others have taught, so do I teach,
"Who loses harmony opposes nature";
This is the root of my teaching.
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.
43. Instruction without Words …
The softest of stuff in the world
Penetrates quickly the hardest;
Insubstantial, it enters
Where no room is.
By this I know the benefit
Of something done by quiet being;
In all the world but few can know
Accomplishment apart from work,
Instruction when no words are used.
Water overcomes the stone;
Without substance it requires no opening;
This is the benefit of taking no action.
Yet benefit without action,
And experience without abstraction,
Are practiced by very few.
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.
44. Which is Dearer, fame or self ..?
Which is dearer, fame or self?
Which is worth more, man or pelf?
Which would hurt more, gain or loss?
The mean man pays the highest price;
The hoarder takes the greatest loss;
A man content is never shamed,
And self-restrained, is not in danger:
He will live forever.
Health or reputation: which is held dearer?
Health or possessions: which has more worth?
Profit or loss: which is more troublesome?
Great love incurs great expense,
And great wealth incurs great fear,
But contentment comes at no cost.
For who knows when to stop
Does not continue into danger,
And so may long endure.
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.
45. The Wise Man, pure and still …
Most perfect, yet it seems
Its use is not impaired.
Filled up, and yet it seems
Poured out, an empty void:
It never will run dry.
The straightest, yet it seems
To deviate, to bend;
The highest skill and yet
It looks like clumsiness.
The utmost eloquence,
It sounds like stammering.
As movement overcomes
The cold, and stillness, heat,
The Wise Man, pure and still,
Will rectify the world.
Great perfection seems incomplete,
But does not decay;
Great abundance seems empty,
But does not fail.
Great truth seems contradictory;
Great cleverness seems stupid;
Great eloquence seems awkward.
As spring overcomes the cold,
And autumn overcomes the heat,
So calm and quiet overcome the world.
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.
46. The Way of Contentment …
When the Way rules the world,
Coach horses fertilize the fields;
When the Way does not rule,
War horses breed in the parks.
No sin can exceed
Incitement to envy;
No calamity’s worse
Than to be discontented,
Nor is there an omen
More dreadful than coveting.
But once be contented,
And truly you’ll always be so.
When a nation follows the Way,
Horses bear manure through its fields;
When a nation ignores the Way,
Horses bear soldiers through its streets.
There is no greater mistake than following desire;
There is no greater disaster than forgetting contentment;
There is no greater sickness than seeking attainment;
But one who is content to satisfy his needs
Finds that contentment endures.
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.
47. The world may be known without leaving
the house …
The world may be known
Without leaving the house;
The Way may be seen
Apart from the windows.
The further you go,
The less you will know.
Accordingly, the Wise Man
Knows without going,
Sees without seeing,
Does without doing.
Without taking a step outdoors
You know the whole world;
Without taking a peep out the window
You know the colour of the sky.
The more you experience,
The less you know.
The sage wanders without knowing,
Looks without seeing,
Accomplishes without acting.
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.
48. The student learns by daily increment
The student learns by daily increment.
The Way is gained by daily loss,
Loss upon loss until
At last comes rest.
By letting go, it all gets done;
The world is won by those who let it go!
But when you try and try,
The world is then beyond the winning.
The follower of knowledge learns as much as he can every day;
The follower of the Way forgets as much as he can every day.
By attrition he reaches a state of inaction
Wherein he does nothing, but nothing remains undone.
To conquer the world, accomplish nothing;
If you must accomplish something,
The world remains beyond conquest.
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.
49. Wise Men hear and see …
The Wise Man’s mind is free
But tuned to people’s need:
"Alike to be good and bad
I must be good,
For Virtue is goodness.
To honest folk
And those dishonest ones
Alike, I proffer faith,
For Virtue is faithful."
The Wise Man, when abroad,
Impartial to the world,
Does not divide or judge.
But people everywhere
Mark well his ears and eyes;
For wise men hear and see
As little children do.
The sage does not distinguish between himself and the world;
The needs of other people are as his own.
He is good to those who are good;
He is also good to those who are not good,
Thereby he is good.
He trusts those who are trustworthy;
He also trusts those who are not trustworthy,
Thereby he is trustworthy.
The sage lives in harmony with the world,
And his mind is the world’s mind.
So he nurtures the worlds of others
As a mother does her 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.
50. How best to be at peace …
On leaving life, to enter death:
Thirteen members form a living body;
A corpse has thirteen, too:
Thirteen spots by which a man may pass
From life to death. Why so?
Because his way of life
Is much too gross.
As I have heard, the man who knows
On land how best to be at peace
Will never meet a tiger or a buffalo;
In battle, weapons do not touch his skin.
There is no place the tiger’s claws can grip;
Or with his horn, the buffalo can jab;
Or where the soldier can insert his sword.
Why so? In him there is no place of death.
Men flow into life, and ebb into death.
Some are filled with life;
Some are empty with death;
Some hold fast to life, and thereby perish,
For life is an abstraction.
Those who are filled with life
Need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds,
Nor wear armour and shields in battle;
The rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn,
The tiger no place for its claw,
The soldier no place for a weapon,
For death finds no place in them.
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.
51. The Mystic Power …
The Way brings forth,
Its virtue fosters them,
With matter they take shape,
And circumstance perfects them all:
That is why all things
Do honor the Way
And venerate its power.
The exaltation of the Way,
The veneration of its power,
Come not by fate or decree;
But always just because
By nature it is so.
So when the Way brings forth,
Its power fosters all:
They grow, are reared,
And fed and housed until
They come to ripe maturity.
You shall give life to things
But never possess them;
Your work shall depend on none;
You shall be chief but never lord.
This describes the mystic power.
The Way bears all things;
Harmony nurtures them;
Nature shapes them;
Use completes them.
Each follows the Way and honours harmony,
Not by law,
But by being.
The Way bears, nurtures, shapes, completes,
Shelters, comforts, and makes a home for them.
Bearing without possessing,
Nurturing without taming,
Shaping without forcing,
This is harmony.
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.
52. Practicing constancy …
It began with a matrix:
The world had a mother
Whose sons can be known
As ever, by her.
But if you know them,
You’ll keep close to her
As long as you live
And suffer no harm.
Stop up your senses;
Close up your doors;
Be not exhausted
As long as you live.
Open your senses;
Be busier still:
To the end of your days
There’s no help for you.
You are bright, it is said,
If you see what is small;
A store of small strengths
Makes you strong.
By the use of its light,
Make your eyes again bright
From evil to lead you away.
This is called "practicing constancy."
The origin of the world is its mother;
Understand the mother, and you understand the child;
Embrace the child, and you embrace the mother,
Who will not perish when you die.
Reserve your judgments and words
And you maintain your influence;
Speak your mind and take positions
And nothing will save you.
As observing detail is clarity,
So maintaining flexibility is strength;
Use the light but shed no light,
So that you do yourself no harm,
But embrace clarity.
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.
53. Walking on the mighty Way …
When I am walking on the mighty Way,
Let me but know the very least I may,
And I shall only fear to leave the road.
The mighty Way is easy underfoot,
But people still prefer the little paths.
The royal court is dignified, sedate
, While farmers’ fields are overgrown with weeds;
The granaries are empty and yet they
Are clad in rich-embroidered silken gowns.
They have sharp swords suspended at their sides;
With glutted wealth, they gorge with food and drink.
It is, the people say,
The boastfulness of brigandage,
But surely not the Way!
53. Difficult Paths
With but a small understanding
One may follow the Way like a main road,
Fearing only to leave it;
Following a main road is easy,
Yet people delight in difficult paths.
When palaces are kept up
Fields are left to weeds
And granaries empty;
Wearing fine clothes,
Bearing sharp swords,
Glutting with food and drink,
Hoarding wealth and possessions –
These are the ways of theft,
And far from the Way.
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.
54. Set firm in the Way: none shall uproot
Set firm in the Way: none shall uproot you;
Cherish it well and none shall estrange you;
Your children’s children faithful shall serve
Your forebears at the altar of your house.
Cultivate the Way yourself,
and your Virtue will be genuine.
Cultivate it in the home,
and its Virtue will overflow.
Cultivate it in the village,
and the village will endure.
Cultivate it in the realm,
and the realm will flourish.
Cultivate it in the world,
and Virtue will be universal.
One will be judged by the Man of the Way;
Homes will be viewed through the Home of the Way;
And the Village shall measure the village;
And the Realm, for all realms, shall be standard;
And the World, to this world, shall be heaven.
How do I know the world is like this?
54. Cultivate Harmony
Cultivate harmony within yourself, and harmony becomes real;
Cultivate harmony within your family, and harmony becomes fertile;
Cultivate harmony within your community, and harmony becomes abundant;
Cultivate harmony within your culture, and harmony becomes enduring;
Cultivate harmony within the world, and harmony becomes ubiquitous.
Live with a person to understand that person;
Live with a family to understand that family;
Live with a community to understand that community;
Live with a culture to understand that culture;
Live with the world to understand the world.
How can I live with the world?
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.
55. Harmony experienced is known as constancy
Rich in virtue, like an infant,
Noxious insects will not sting him;
Wild beasts will not attack his flesh
Nor birds of prey sink claws in him.
His bones are soft, his sinews weak,
His grip is nonetheless robust;
Of sexual union unaware,
His organs all completely formed,
His vital force is at its height.
He shouts all day, does not get hoarse:
Hie person is a harmony.
Harmony experienced is known as constancy;
Constancy experienced is called enlightenment;
Exuberant vitality is ominous, they say;
A bent for vehemence is called aggressiveness.
That things with age decline in strength,
You well may say, suits not the Way;
And not to suit the Way is early death.
55. Soft Bones
Who is filled with harmony is like a newborn.
Wasps and snakes will not bite him;
Hawks and tigers will not claw him.
His bones are soft yet his grasp is sure,
For his flesh is supple;
His mind is innocent yet his body is virile,
For his vigour is plentiful;
His song is long-lasting yet his voice is sweet,
For his grace is perfect.
But knowing harmony creates abstraction,
And following abstraction creates ritual.
Exceeding nature creates calamity,
And controlling nature creates violence.
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.
56. Those who know do not talk and talkers
do not know …
Those who know do not talk
And talkers do not know.
Stop your senses,
Close the doors;
Let sharp things be blunted,
The light tempered
And turmoil subdued;
For this is mystic unity
In which the Wise Man is moved
Neither by affection
Nor yet by estrangement
Or profit or loss
Or honor or shame.
Accordingly, by all the world,
He is held highest.
Who understands does not preach;
Who preaches does not understand.
Reserve your judgments and words;
Smooth differences and forgive disagreements;
Dull your wit and simplify your purpose;
Accept the world.
Friendship and enmity,
Profit and loss,
Honour and disgrace,
Will not affect you;
The world will accept you.
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.
57. The world is won by refraining …
"Govern the realm by the right,
And battles by stratagem."
The world is won by refaining.
How do I know this is so?
As taboos increase, people grow poorer;
When weapons abound, the state grows chaotic;
Where skills multiply, novelties flourish;
As statutes increase, more criminals start.
So the Wise Man will say:
As I refrain, the people will reform:
Since I like quiet, they will keep order;
When I forebear, the people will prosper;
When I want nothing, they will be honest.
57. Conquer with Inaction
Do not control the people with laws,
Nor violence nor espionage,
But conquer them with inaction.
The more morals and taboos there are,
The more cruelty afflicts people;
The more guns and knives there are,
The more factions divide people;
The more arts and skills there are,
The more change obsoletes people;
The more laws and taxes there are,
The more theft corrupts people.
Yet take no action, and the people nurture eachother;
Make no laws, and the people deal fairly with eachother;
Own no interest, and the people cooperate with eachother;
Express no desire, and the people harmonize with each other.
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.
58. Wise Men hear and see …
Happy your people;
Restless your people.
"Bad fortune will
Promote the good;
Good fortune, too,
Gives rise to the bad."
But who can know to what that leads?
For it is wrong and would assign
To right the strangest derivations
And would mean that goodness
Is produced by magic means!
Has man thus been so long astray?
Accordingly, the Wise Man
Is square but not sharp,
Honest but not malign,
Straight but not severe,
Bright but not dazzling.
58. No End
When government is lazy and informal
The people are kind and honest;
When government is efficient and severe
The people are discontented and deceitful.
Good fortune follows upon disaster;
Disaster lurks within good fortune;
Who can say how things will end?
Perhaps there is no end.
Honesty is ever deceived;
Kindness is ever seduced;
Men have been like this for a long time.
So the sage is firm but not cutting,
Pointed but not piercing,
Straight but not rigid,
Bright but not blinding.
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.
59. "There’s nothing else like stores
saved up." …
"For ruling men or serving God,
There’s nothing else like stores saved up."
By "stores saved up" is meant forehandedness,
Accumulate Virtue, such that nothing
Can resist it and its limit
None can guess: such infinite resource
Allows the jurisdiction of the king;
Whose kingdom then will long endure
If it provides the Mother an abode.
Indeed it is the deeply rooted base,
The firm foundation of the Way
To immortality of self and name.
Manage a great nation as you would cook a delicate fish.
To govern men in accord with nature
It is best to be restrained;
Restraint makes agreement easy to attain,
And easy agreement builds harmonious relationships;
With sufficient harmony no resistance will arise;
When no resistance arises, then you possess the heart of the nation,
And when you possess the nation’s heart, your influence will long endure:
Deeply rooted and firmly established.
This is the method of far sight and long life.
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.
60. Rule a large country as small fish
are cooked …
Rule a large country
As small fish are cooked.
The evil spirits of the world
Lose sanction as divinities
When government proceeds
According to the Way;
But even if they do not lose
Their ghostly countenance and right,
The people take no harm from them;
And if the spirits cannot hurt the folk,
The Wise Man surely does no hurt to them.
Since then the Wise Man and the people
Harm each other not at all,
Their several virtues should converge.
When you use the Way to conquer the world,
Your demons will lose their power to harm.
It is not that they lose their power as such,
But that they will not harm others;
Because they will not harm others,
You will not harm others:
When neither you nor your demons can do harm,
You will be at peace with them.
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.
61. The great land is a place to which
the streams descend …
The great land is a place
To which the streams descend;
It is the concourse and
The female of the world:
It overcomes the male.
By quietness and by humility
The great land then puts down the small
And gets it for its own;
But small lands too absorb the great
By their subservience.
Thus some lie low, designing conquest’s ends;
While others lowly are, by nature bent
To conquer all the rest.
The great land’s foremost need is to increase
The number of its folk;
The small land needs above all else to find
Its folk more room to work.
That both be served and each attain its goal
The great land should attempt humility.
A nation is like a hierarchy, a marketplace, and a maiden.
A maiden wins her husband by submitting to his advances;
Submission is a means of union.
So when a large country submits to a small country
It will adopt the small country;
When a small country submits to a large country
It will be adopted by the large country;
The one submits and adopts;
The other submits and is adopted.
It is in the interest of a large country to unite and gain service,
And in the interest of a small country to unite and gain patronage;
If both would serve their interests,
Both must submit.
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.
to teach him about the Tao.
Why did the ancient Masters esteem the
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.
62. The good man’s treasure is the bad
man’s refuge …
Like the gods of the shrine in the home,
So the Way and its mystery waits
In the world of material things:
The good man’s treasure,
The bad man’s refuge.
Fair wordage is ever for sale;
Fair manners are worn like a cloak;
But why should there be such waste
Of the badness in men?
On the day of the emperor’s crowning,
When the three noble dukes are appointed,
Better than chaplets of jade
Drawn by a team of four horses,
Bring the Way as your tribute.
How used the ancients to honor the Way?
Didn’t they say that the seeker may find it,
And that sinners who find are forgiven?
So did they lift up the Way and its Virtue
Above everything else in the world.
The Way is the fate of men,
The treasure of the saint,
And the refuge of the sinner.
Fine words are often borrowed,
And great deeds are often appropriated;
Therefore, when a man falls, do not abandon him,
And when a man gains power, do not honour him;
Only remain impartial and show him the Way.
Why should someone appreciate the Way?
The ancients said, "By it, those who seek may easily find,
And those who regret may easily absolve"
So it is the most precious gift.
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.
63. Act in repose – Choosing hardship …
Act in repose;
Be at rest when you work;
Relish unflavored things.
Great or small,
Frequent or rare,
Requite anger with virtue.
Take hard jobs in hand
While they are easy;
And great affairs too
While they are small.
The troubles of the world
Cannot be solved except
Before they grow too hard.
The business of the world
Cannot be done except
While relatively small.
The Wise Man, then, throughout his life
Does nothing great and yet achieves
A greatness of his own.
Again, a promise lightly made
Inspires little confidence;
Or often trivial, sure that man
Will often come to grief.
Choosing hardship, then, the Wise Man
Never meets with hardship all his life.
Attend to do-nothing;
Taste the flavorless,
Magnify the small,
Multiply the few,
Return love for hate.
Deal with the difficult while it is yet easy;
Deal with the great while it is yet small;
The difficult develops naturally from the easy,
And the great from the small;
So the sage, by dealing with the small,
Achieves the great.
Who finds it easy to promise finds it hard to be trusted;
Who takes things lightly finds things difficult;
The sage recognizes difficulty, and so has none.
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.
64. Be as careful of the end as you were
of the beginning …
A thing that is still is easy to hold.
Given no omen, it is easy to plan.
Soft things are easy to melt.
Small particles scatter easily.
The time to take care is before it is done.
Establish order before confusion sets in.
Tree trunks around which you can reach with
your arms were at first only miniscule sprouts.
A nine-storied terrace began with a clod.
A thousand-mile journey began with a foot put down.
Doing spoils it, grabbing misses it;
So the Wise Man refrains from doing
and doesn’t spoil anything;
He grabs at nothing so never misses.
People are constantly spoiling a project when
it lacks only a step to completion.
To avoid making a mess of it, be as careful of
the end as you were of the beginning.
So the Wise Man wants the unwanted;
he sets no high value on anything
because it is hard to get.
He studies what others neglect
and restores to the world what multitudes have passed by.
His object is to restore everything to its natural course,
but he dares take no steps to that end.
64a. Care at the Beginning
What lies still is easy to grasp;
What lies far off is easy to anticipate;
What is brittle is easy to shatter;
What is small is easy to disperse.
Yet a tree broader than a man can embrace is born of a tiny shoot;
A dam greater than a river can overflow starts with a clod of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles begins at the spot under one’s feet.
Therefore deal with things before they happen;
Create order before there is confusion.
64b. Care at the End
He who acts, spoils;
He who grasps, loses.
People often fail on the verge of success;
Take care at the end as at the beginning,
So that you may avoid failure.
The sage desires no-desire,
And returns to the places that people have forgotten;
He would help all people to become natural,
But then he would not be natural.
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.
65. Those ancients who were skilled in
the Way …
Those ancients who were skilled in the Way
Did not enlighten people by their rule
But had them ever held in ignorance:
The more the folk know what is going on
The harder it becomes to govern them.
For public knowledge of the government
Is such a thief that it will spoil the realm;
But when good fortune brings good times to all
The land is ruled without publicity.
To know the difference between these two
Involves a standard to be sought and found.
To know that standard always, everywhere,
Is mystic Virtue, justly known as such;
Which Virtue is so deep and reaching far,
It causes a return, things go back
To that prime concord which at first all shared.
The ancients did not seek to rule people with knowledge,
But to help them become natural.
It is difficult for knowledgeable people to become natural.
To use law to control a nation weakens the nation.
But to use nature to control a nation strengthens the nation.
Understanding these two paths is understanding subtlety;
Subtlety runs deep, ranges wide,
Resolves confusion and preserves peace.
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.
66. How could the rivers and the seas become
like kings to valleys …?
How could the rivers and the seas
Become like kings to valleys?
Because of skill in lowliness
They have become the valley’s lords.
So then to be above the folk,
You speak as if you were beneath;
And if you wish to be out front,
Then act as if you were behind.
The Wise Man so is up above
But is no burden to the folk;
His station is ahead of them
To see they do not come to harm.
The world will gladly help along
The Wise Man and will bear no grudge.
Since he contends not for his own
The world will not contend with him.
66. Lead by Following
The river carves out the valley by flowing beneath it.
Thereby the river is the master of the valley.
In order to master people
One must speak as their servant;
In order to lead people
One must follow them.
So when the sage rises above the people,
They do not feel oppressed;
And when the sage stands before the people,
They do not feel hindered.
So the popularity of the sage does not fail,
He does not contend, and no one contends against him.
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.
67. Compassion, frugality and ruling …
Everywhere, they say the Way, our doctrine,
Is so very like detested folly;
But greatness of its own alone explains
Why it should be thus held beyond the pale.
If it were only orthodox, long since
It would have seemed a small and petty thing!
I have to keep three treasures well secured:
The first, compassion; next, frugality;
And third, I say that never would I once
Presume that I should be the whole world’s chief.
Given compassion, I can take courage;
Given frugality, I can abound;
If I can be the world’s most humble man,
Then I can be its highest instrument.
Bravery today knows no compassion;
Abundance is, without frugality,
And eminence without humility:
This is the death indeed of all our hope.
In battle, ’tis compassion wins the day;
Defending, tis compassion that is firm:
Compassion arms the people God would save!
All the world says,
"I am important;
I am separate from all the world.
I am important because I am separate,
Were I the same, I could never be important."
Yet here are three treasures
That I cherish and commend to you:
The first is compassion,
By which one finds courage.
The second is restraint,
By which one finds strength.
And the third is unimportance,
By which one finds influence.
Those who are fearless, but without compassion,
Powerful, but without restraint,
Or influential, yet important,
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.
68. The Stature of the Ancients …
A skillful soldier is not violent;
An able fighter does not rage;
A mighty conqueror does not give battle;
A great commander is a humble man.
You may call this pacific virtue;
Or say that it is mastery of men;
Or that it is rising to the measure of God,
Or to the stature of the ancients.
Compassion is the finest weapon and best defence.
If you would establish harmony,
Compassion must surround you like a fortress.
A good soldier does not inspire fear;
A good fighter does not display aggression;
A good conqueror does not engage in battle;
A good leader does not exercise authority.
This is the value of unimportance;
This is how to win the cooperation of others;
This to how to build the same harmony that is in nature.
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.
69. Strategy and Compassion …
The strategists have a saying:
"If I cannot be host,
Then let me be guest.
But if I dare not advance
Even an inch,
Then let me retire a foot."
This is what they call
A campaign without a march,
Sleeves up but no bare arms,
Shooting but no enemies,
Or arming without weapons.
Than helpless enemies, nothing is worse:
To them I lose my treasures.
When opposing enemies meet,
The compassionate man is the winner!
There is a saying among soldiers:
It is easier to lose a yard than take an inch.
In this manner one may deploy troops without marshalling them,
Bring weapons to bear without exposing them,
Engage the foe without invading them,
And exhaust their strength without fighting them.
There is no worse disaster than misunderstanding your enemy;
To do so endangers all of my treasures;
So when two well matched forces oppose eachother,
The general who maintains compassion will win.
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.
70. Honour comes when least I’m Known …
My words are easy just to understand:
To live by them is very easy too;
Yet it appears that none in all the world
Can understand or make them come to life.
My words have ancestors, wy works a prince;
Since none know this, unknown I too remain.
But honor comes to me when least I’m known:
The Wise Man, with a jewel in his breast,
Goes clad in garments made of shoddy stuff.
My words are easy to understand
And my actions are easy to perform
Yet no other can understand or perform them.
My words have meaning; my actions have reason;
Yet these cannot be known and I cannot be known.
We are each unique, and therefore valuable;
Though the sage wears coarse clothes, his heart is jade.
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.
71. True knowledge, aberrations and health
of mind …
To know that you are ignorant is best;
To know what you do not, is a disease;
But if you recognize the malady
Of mind for what it is, then that is health.
The Wise Man has indeed a healthy mind;
He sees an aberration as it is
And for that reason never will be ill.
Who recognizes his limitations is healthy;
Who ignores his limitations is sick.
The sage recognizes this sickness as a limitation.
And so becomes immune.
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.
72. Revealing Inner Nature to the World
If people do not dread your majesty,
A greater dread will yet descend on them.
See then you do not cramp their dwelling place,
Or immolate their children or their stock,
Nor anger them by your own angry ways.
It is the Wise Man’s way to know himself,
And never to reveal his inward thoughts;
He loves himself but so, is not set up;
He chooses this in preference to that.
When people have nothing more to lose,
Then revolution will result.
Do not take away their lands,
And do not destroy their livelihoods;
If your burden is not heavy then they will not shirk it.
The sage maintains himself but exacts no tribute,
Values himself but requires no honours;
He ignores abstraction and accepts substance.
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.
73. Its mesh is coarse but none are lost
A brave man who dares to, will kill;
A brave man who dares not, spares life;
And from them both come good and ill;
"God hates some folks, but who knows why?"
The Wise Man hesitates there too:
God’s Way is bound to conquer all
But not by strife does it proceed.
Not by words does God get answers:
He calls them not and all things come.
Master plans unfold but slowly,
Like God’s wide net enclosing all:
Its mesh is coarse but none are lost.
Who is brave and bold will perish;
Who is brave and subtle will benefit.
The subtle profit where the bold perish
For Fate does not honour daring.
And even the sage dares not tempt fate.
Fate does not attack, yet all things are conquered by it;
It does not ask, yet all things answer to it;
It does not call, yet all things meet it;
It does not plan, yet all things are determined by it.
Fate’s net is vast and its mesh is coarse,
Yet none escape it.
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.
74. The fear of death …
The people do not fear at all to die;
What’s gained therefore by threat’ning them with death?
If you could always make them fear decease,
As if it were a strange event and rare,
Who then would dare to take and slaughter them?
The executioner is always set
To slay, but those who substitute for him
Are like would-be master carpenters
Who try to chop as that skilled craftsman does
And nearly always mangle their own hands!
If people were not afraid of death,
Then what would be the use of an executioner?
If people were only afraid of death,
And you executed everyone who did not obey,
No one would dare to disobey you.
Then what would be the use of an executioner?
People fear death because death is an instrument of fate.
When people are killed by execution rather than by fate,
This is like carving wood in the place of a carpenter.
Those who carve wood in place of a carpenter
Often injure their hands.
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.
75. To value life above its worth …
The people starve because of those
Above them, who consume by tax
In grain and kind more than their right.
For this, the people are in want.
The people are so hard to rule
Because of those who are above them,
Whose interference makes distress.
For this, they are so hard to rule.
The people do not fear to die;
They too demand to live secure:
For this, they do not fear to die.
So they, without the means to live,
In virtue rise above those men
Who value life above its worth.
When rulers take grain so that they may feast,
Their people become hungry;
When rulers take action to serve their own interests,
Their people become rebellious;
When rulers take lives so that their own lives are maintained,
Their people no longer fear death.
When people act without regard for their own lives
They overcome those who value only their own lives.
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.
76. Unbending rigor is the mate of death,
and wielding softness, company of life …
Alive, a man is supple, soft;
In death, unbending, rigorous.
All creatures, grass and trees, alive
Are plastic but are pliat too,
And dead, are friable and dry.
Unbending rigor is the mate of death,
And wielding softness, company of life:
Unbending soldiers get no victories;
The stiffest tree is readiest for the axe.
The strong and mighty topple from their place;
The soft and yielding rise above them all.
A newborn is soft and tender,
A crone, hard and stiff.
Plants and animals, in life, are supple and succulent;
In death, withered and dry.
So softness and tenderness are attributes of life,
And hardness and stiffness, attributes of death.
Just as a sapless tree will split and decay
So an inflexible force will meet defeat;
The hard and mighty lie beneath the ground
While the tender and weak dance on the breeze above.
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.
77. The Way of the Bow well bent …
Is not God’s Way much like a bow well bent?
The upper part has been disturbed, pressed down;
The lower part is raised up from its place;
The slack is taken up; the slender width
Is broader drawn; for thus the Way of God
Cuts people down when they have had too much,
And fills the bowls of those who are in want.
But not the way of man will work like this:
The people who have not enough are spoiled
For tribute to the rich and surfeited.
Who can benefit the world
From stored abundance of his own?
He alone who has the Way,
The Wise Man who can act apart
And not depend on others’ whims;
But not because of his high rank
Will he succeed; he does not wish
To flaunt superiority.
Is the action of nature not unlike drawing a bow?
What is higher is pulled down, and what is lower is raised up;
What is taller is shortened, and what is thinner is broadened;
Nature’s motion decreases those who have more than they need
And increases those who need more than they have.
It is not so with Man.
Man decreases those who need more than they have
And increases those who have more than they need.
To give away what you do not need is to follow the Way.
So the sage gives without expectation,
Accomplishes without claiming credit,
And has no desire for ostentation.
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.
78. The Paradox of the Nature of Water
Nothing is weaker than water,
But when it attacks something hard
Or resistant, then nothing withstands it,
And nothing will alter its way.
Everyone knows this, that weakness prevails
Over strength and that gentleness conquers
The adamant hindrance of men, but that
Nobody demonstrates how it is so.
Because of this the Wise Man says
That only one who bears the nations shame
Is fit to be its hallowed lord;
That only one who takes upon himself
The evils of the world may be its king.
This is paradox.
Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water,
Yet nothing can better overcome the hard and strong,
For they can neither control nor do away with it.
The soft overcomes the hard,
The yielding overcomes the strong;
Every person knows this,
But no one can practice it.
Who attends to the people would control the land and grain;
Who attends to the state would control the whole world;
Truth is easily hidden by rhetoric.
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.
79. The Way favours the good men …
How can you think it is good
To settle a grievance too great
To ignore, when the settlement
Surely evokes other piques?
The Wise Man therefore will select
The left-hand part of contract tallies:
He will not put the debt on other men.
This virtuous man promotes agreement;
The vicious man allots the blame.
"Impartial though the Way of God may be,
It always favors good men."
When conflict is reconciled, some hard feelings remain;
This is dangerous.
The sage accepts less than is due
And does not blame or punish;
For harmony seeks agreement
Where justice seeks payment.
The ancients said: "nature is impartial;
Therefore it serves those who serve all."
If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
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.
80. The ideal land is small …
The ideal land is small
Its people very few,
Where tools abound
Ten times or yet
Beyond their use;
Where people die
And die again
But never emigrate;
Have boats and carts
Which no one rides.
Weapons have they
And armor too,
But none displayed.
The folk returns
To use again
The knotted chords.
Their meat is sweet;
Their clothes adorned,
Their homes at peace,
Their customs charm.
And neighbor lands
So each may hear
The barking dogs,
The crowing cocks
Across the way;
Where folks grow old
And folks will die
And never once
Exchange a call.
Let your community be small, with only a few people;
Keep tools in abundance, but do not depend upon them;
Appreciate your life and be content with your home;
Sail boats and ride horses, but don’t go too far;
Keep weapons and armour, but do not employ them;
Let everyone read and write,
Eat well and make beautiful things.
Live peacefully and delight in your own society;
Dwell within cock-crow of your neighbours,
But maintain your independence from them.
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.
81. The Wise Man’s way, to do his work
without contending for a crown. …
As honest words may not sound fine,
Fine words may not be honest ones;
A good man does not argue, and
An arguer may not be good!
The knowers are not learned men
And learned men may never know.
The Wise Man does not hoard his things;
Hard-pressed, from serving other men,
He has enough and some to spare;
But having given all he had,
He then is very rich indeed.
God’s Way is gain that works no harm;
The Wise Man’s way, to do his work
Without contending for a crown.
81. The Sage
Honest people use no rhetoric;
Rhetoric is not honesty.
Enlightened people are not cultured;
Culture is not enlightenment.
Content people are not wealthy;
Wealth is not contentment.
So the sage does not serve himself;
The more he does for others, the more he is satisfied;
The more he gives, the more he receives.
Nature flourishes at the expense of no one;
So the sage benefits all men and contends with none.