tao te ching

Tao called Tao is not Tao.

Names can name no lasting name.

Nameless: the origin of heaven and earth.
Naming: the mother of ten thousand things.

Empty of desire, perceive mystery.
Filled with desire, perceive manifestations.

These have the same source, but different names.
Call them both deep –
Deep and again deep:

The gateway to all mystery.

Recognize beauty and ugliness is born.
Recognize good and evil is born.

Is and Isn’t produce each other.
Hard depends on easy,
Long is tested by short,
High is determined by low,
Sound is harmonized by voice,
After is followed by before.

Therefore,
The Sage is devoted to non-action,
Moves without teaching,
Creates ten thousand things without instruction,
Lives but does not own,
Acts but not presume,
Accomplishes without taking credit.

When no credit is taken,
Accomplishment endures.

Don’t glorify heroes,
And people will not contend.
Don’t treasure rare objects,
And no one will steal.
Don’t display what people desire,
And their hearts will not be disturbed.

Therefore, 
The Sage rules 
By emptying hearts and filing bellies,
By weakening ambitions and strengthening bones;
Leads people 
Away from knowing and wanting;
Deters those who know too much
From going too far:
Practices non-action
And the natural order is not disrupted. 

Tao is empty –
Its use never exhausted.
Bottomless –
The origin of all things.

It blunts sharp edges,
Unties knots,
Softens glare,
Becomes one with the dusty world.

Deeply subsistent –
I don’t know whose child it is.

It is older than Ancestor.

Heaven and Earth are not kind:
The ten thousand things are straw dogs to them.

Sages are not kind:
People are straw dogs to them.

Yet Heaven and Earth
And all space between
Are like bellows:
Empty but inexhaustible,
Always producing more.

Longwinded speech is exhausting.
Better stay centered.

The Valley Spirit never dies.
It is called the Mysterious Female.

The entrance to the Mysterious Female
Is called the root of Heaven and Earth,

Endless flow
Of inexhaustible energy.

Heaven is long, Earth enduring.

Long and enduring
Because they do not exist for themselves.

Therefore the Sage
Steps back, but is always in front,
Stays outside, but is always within.

No self-interest?
Self is fulfilled.

Best to be like water,
Which benefits the ten thousand things
And does not contend.
It pools where humans disdain to dwell, 
Close to the Tao.

Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Make fair rules.
Do the right thing.
Work when it’s time.

Only do not contend,
And you will not go wrong.

Hold and fill it –
Not as good as stopping in time.

Measure and pound it –
It will not long survive.

When gold and jade fill the hall,
They cannot be guarded.

Riches and pride
Bequeath error.

Withdrawing when work is done:
Heaven’s Tao.

Can you balance your life force
And embrace the One
Without separation?

Can you control your breath
Gently
Like a baby?

Can you clarify
Your dark vision
Without blemish?

Can you love people
And govern the country
Without knowledge?

Can you open and close
The gate of heaven
Without clinging to earth?

Can you brighten
The four directions
Without action?

Give birth and cultivate.
Give birth and do not possess.
Act without dependence.
Excel but do not rule.
This is called dark Te.

Thirty spokes join one hub.
The wheel’s use comes from emptiness.

Clay is fired to make a pot.
The pot’s use comes from emptiness.

Windows and doors are cut to make a room.
The room’s use comes from emptiness.

Therefore,
Having leads to profit,
Not having leads to use.

Five colors darken the eyes.
Five tones deaden the ears.
Five tastes jade the palate.
Hunting and racing madden the heart.
Exotic goods ensnarl human lives.

Therefore the Sage
Takes care of the belly, not the eye,
Chooses one, rejects the other.

Favor and disgrace are like fear.
Honor and distress are like the self.

What does this mean?

Favor debases us.
Afraid when we get it,
Afraid when we lose it.

The self embodies distress.
No self,
No distress.

Respect the world as your self:
The world can be your lodging.
Love the world as your self:
The world can be your trust.

Searching but not seeing, we call it dim.
Listening but not hearing, we call it faint.
Groping but not touching, we call it subtle.

These three cannot be fully grasped.
Therefore they become one.

Rising it is not bright; setting it is not dark.
It moves all things back to where there is nothing.

Meeting it there is no front,
Following it there is no back.

Live in the ancient Tao,
Master the existing present,
Understand the source of all things.
This is called the record of Tao.

The ancients who followed Tao:
Dark, wondrous, profound, penetrating,

Deep beyond knowing.

Because they cannot be known,
They can only be described.

Cautious,
Like crossing a winter stream.
Hesitant,
Like respecting one’s neighbors.
Polite,
Like a guest.
Yielding,
Like ice about to melt.
Blank,
Like uncarved wood.
Open,
Like a valley.
Mixing freely,
Like muddy water.

Calm the muddy water,
It becomes clear.
Move the inert,
It comes to life.

Those who sustain Tao
Do not wish to be full.

Because they do not wish to be full
They can fade away
Without further effort.

Attain complete emptiness,
Hold fast to stillness.

The ten thousand things stir about;
I only watch for their going back.

Things grow and grow,
But each goes back to its root.
Going back to the root is stillness.
This means returning to what is.
Returning to what is
Means going back to the ordinary.

Understanding the ordinary:
Enlightenment.
Not understanding the ordinary:
Blindness creates evil.

Understanding the ordinary:
Mind opens.

Mind opening leads to compassion,
Compassion to nobility,
Nobility to heavenliness,
Heavenliness to Tao.

Tao endures.
Your body dies.

There is no danger.

Great rising and falling-
People only know it exists.
Next they see and praise.
Soon they fear.
Finally they despise.

Without fundamental trust 
There is no trust at all.

Be careful in valuing words.
When the work is done, 
Everyone says
We just acted naturally.

Great Tao rejected:
Benevolence and righteousness appear.

Learning and knowledge professed:
Great hypocrites spring up.

Family relations forgotten:
Filial piety and affection arise.

The nation disordered:
Patriots come forth.

Banish learning, discard knowledge:
People will gain a hundredfold.

Banish benevolence, discard righteousness:
People will return to duty and compassion.

Banish skill, discard profit:
There will be no more thieves.

These three statements are not enough.
One more step is necessary:

Look at plain silk: hold uncarved wood.
The self dwindles; desires fade.

Banish learning, no more grief.
Between Yes and No
How much difference?
What others fear I must fear-
How pointless!

People are wreathed in smiles
As if at a carnival banquet.
I alone am passive, giving no sign,
Like an infant who has not yet smiled.
Forlorn, as if I had no home.

Others have enough and more,
I alone am left out.
I have the mind of a fool,
Confused, confused.

Others are bright and intelligent,
I alone am dull, dull,
Drifting on the ocean,
Blown about endlessly.

Others have plans,
I alone am wayward and stubborn,
I alone am different from others,
Like a baby in the womb.

Great Te (virtue) appears
Flowing from Tao.

Tao in action –
Only vague and intangible.

Intangible and vague,
But within it are images.

Vague and intangible:
Within are entities.

Shadowy and obscure;
Within it there is life,

Life so real,
That within it there is trust.

From the beginning its name is not lost
But reappears through multiple origins.

How do I know these origins?

Like this.

Crippled becomes whole, 
Crooked becomes straight,
Hollow becomes full,
Worn becomes new,
Little becomes more,
Much becomes delusion.

Therefore Sages cling to the One
And take care of this world;
Do not display themselves
And therefore shine;
Do not assert themselves
And therefore stand out;
Do not praise themselves
And therefore succeed;
Are not complacent
And therefore endure:
Do not contend
And therefore no one under heaven
Can contend with them.

The old saying
Crippled becomes whole
Is not empty words.

It becomes whole and returns.

Spare words: nature’s way.

Violent winds do not blow all morning.
Sudden rain cannot pour all day.
What causes these things?
Heaven and Earth.

If Heaven and Earth do not blow and pour for long,
How much less should humans?

Therefore in following Tao:
Those on the way becomes the way,
Those who gain become the gain,
Those who lose become the loss.

All within Tao:
The wayfarer, welcome upon the way,
Those who gain, welcome within gain,
Those who lose, welcome within loss.

Without trust in this,
There is no trust at all.

On tiptoe: no way to stand.
Clambering: no way to walk.
Self-display: no way to shine.
Self-praise: no way to flourish.
Complacency: no way to endure. 

According to Tao,
Excessive food,
Extraneous activity
Inspire disgust.

Therefore, the follower of Tao
Moves on. 

Something unformed and complete
Before heaven and earth were born,
Solitary and silent,
Stands alone and unchanging,
Pervading all things without limit.
It is like the mother of all under heaven,
But I don’t know its name –
Better call it Tao.
Better call it great.

Great means passing on.
Passing on means going far.
Going far means returning.

Therefore,
Tao is great,
And heaven,
And earth,
And humans.

Four great things in the world.
Aren’t humans one of them?

Human follow earth
Earth follows heaven
Heaven follows Tao.

Tao follows its own nature.

Gravity is the root of lightness,
Stillness is the master of passion.

The Sage travels all day
But does not leave the baggage-cart;
When surrounded by magnificent scenery
Remains calm and still.

When a lord of ten thousand chariots
Behaves lightly in this world,
Lightness loses its root,
Passion loses its master.

Good travellers leave no tracks.
Good words leave no trace.
Good counting needs no markers.

Good doors have no bolts
Yet cannot be forced.
Good knots have no rope
But cannot be untied.

In this way the Sage
Always helps people
And rejects none,
Always helps all beings,
And rejects none.
This is called practicing brightness.

Therefore the good person
Is the bad person’s teacher,
And the bad person
Is the good person’s resource.

Not to value the teacher,
Not to love the resource,
Causes great confusion even for the intelligent.

This is called the vital secret.

Know the male, maintain the female,
Become the channel of the world.

Become the channel of the world,
And Te will endure.

Return to infancy.

Know the white, sustain the black,
Become the pattern of the world.

Become the pattern of the world,
And Te will not falter.

Return to the uncarved block.

Know honor, sustain disgrace,
Become the valley of the world,
And Te will prevail.

Return to simplicity.

Simplicity divided becomes utensils
That are used by the Sage as high official.
But great governing does not carve up.

Trying to control the world?
I see you won’t succeed.

The world is a spiritual  vessel
And cannot be controlled.

Those who control, fail.
Those who grasp, lose.

Some go forth, some are led,
Some weep, some blow flutes,
Some become strong, some superfluous,
Some oppress, some are destroyed.

Therefore the Sage
Casts off extremes,
Casts off excess,
Casts off extravagance.

Use Tao to help rule people.

This world has no need for weapons,
Which soon turn on themselves.
Where armies camp, nettles grow;
After each war, years of famine.

The most fruitful outcome
Does not depend on force,
But succeeds without arrogance
Without hostility
Without pride
Without resistance
Without violence.

If these things prosper and grow old,
This is called not-Tao.
Not-Tao soon ends.

Fine weapons are ill-omened tools.
They are hated.
Therefore the old Taoist ignores them.

At home, honor the left.
In war, honor the right.

Weapons are ill-omened tools,
Not proper instruments.
When their use can’t be avoided,
Calm restraint is best.

Don’t think they are beautiful.
Those who think they are beautiful
Rejoice in killing people.

Those who rejoice in killing people
Cannot achieve their purpose in the world.

Good omens honor the left.
Bad omens honor the right.
The lieutenant on the left,
The general on the right,
As in funeral ceremonies.

When many people are killed
We feel sorrow and grief.

A great victory
Is a funeral ceremony.

Tao endures without a name.
Though simple and slight,
No one under heaven can master it.

If kings and lords could posses it,
All beings would become their guests.
Heaven and earth together
Would drip sweet dew
Equally on all people
Without regulation.

Begin to make order, and names arise.
Names lead to more names –
And to knowing when to stop.

Know when to stop:
Avoid danger.

Tao’s presence in this world
Is like valley streams
Flowing into rivers and seas.

Knowing others is intelligent.
Knowing yourself is enlightened.

Conquering others takes force.
Conquering yourself is true strength.

Knowing what is enough is wealth.
Forging ahead shows inner resolve.

Hold your ground and you will last long.
Die without perishing and your life will endure.

Great Tao overflows
To the left  To the right

All beings owe their life to it
And do not depart from it.
It acts without a name.
It clothes and nourishes all beings
But does not become their master.

Enduring without desire,
It may be called slight.
All beings return to it,
But it does not become their master.

It may be called immense.
By not making itself great,
It can do great things.

Hold the great elephant
– The great image –
And the world moves.
Moves without danger
In safety and peace.

Music and sweets
Make passing guests pause,
But the Tao emerges
Flavorless and bland.

Look –
You won’t see it.
Listen –
You won’t hear it.
Use it –
You will never use it up.

To collect, first scatter.
To weaken, first strengthen.
To abolish, first establish.
To conclude, first initiate.

This is called subtle illumination.

Soft and weak overcome stiff and strong.
Fish cannot escape the deep pool.
A country’s sharpest weapons
Cannot be displayed.

Tao endures without a name,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords could possess it,
All beings would transform themselves.

Transformed, they desire to create;
I quiet them through nameless simplicity.
Then there is no desire.

No desire is serenity,
And the world settles of itself.

High Te? No Te!
That’s what Te is.
Low Te doesn’t lack Te;
That’s what Te is not.

Those highest in Te take no action
And don’t need to act
Those lowest  in Te take action
And do need to act.

Those highest in benevolence take action
But don’t need to act.
Those highest in righteousness take action
And do need to act.
Those highest in propriety take action
And if people don’t reciprocate
Roll up their sleeves and throw them out.

Therefore,
Lose Tao
And Te follows.
Lose Te
And benevolence follows.
Lose benevolence
And righteousness follows.
Lose righteousness
And propriety follows.

Propriety dilutes loyalty and sincerity:
Confusion begins.
Foreknowledge glorifies the Tao:
Stupidity sets in.

And so the ideal person dwells
In substance, not dilution,
In reality, not glory,
Accepts one, rejects the other.

Of old, these attained the One:

Heaven attaining the One
Become clear.
Earth attaining the One
Become stable.
Spirits attaining the One
Become sacred.
Valleys attaining the One
Become bountiful.
Myriad beings attaining the One
Become fertile.
Lords and kings attaining the One
Purified the world.

If Heaven were not clear
It might split.
If Earth were not stable,
It might erupt.
If spirits were not sacred
They might fade.
If valleys were not bountiful
They might wither.
If myriad beings were not fertile,
They might perish.
If rulers and lords were not noble,
They might stumble.

Therefore,
Noble has humble as its root,
High has low as its foundation.
Rulers and lords call themselves
Poor lonely orphans.
Isn’t this using humility as a root?

They use many carriages
But have no carriage;
They do not desire to glisten like jade
But drop like a stone.

Reversal is Tao’s movement.
Yielding is Tao’s practice.

All things originate from being.

Being originates from non-being.

The great scholar hearing the Tao
Tries to practice it.
The middling scholar hearing the Tao,
Sometimes has it, sometimes not.
The lesser scholar hearing the Tao
Has a good laugh.
Without that laughter 
It wouldn’t be Tao.

Therefore, these sayings:

The bright road seems dark,
The road forward seems to retreat,
The level road seems rough.

Great Te seems hollow.
Great purity seems sullied.
Pervasive Te seems deficient.
Established Te seems furtive.
Simple truths seems to change.

The great square has no corners.
The great vessel is finished late.
The great sound is scarcely voiced.
The great image has no form.

Tao hides, no name.

Yet Tao alone gets things done.

Tao engenders One,
One engenders Two,
Two engenders Three,
Three engenders the ten thousand things.

The ten thousand things carry shade
And embrace sunlight.
Shade and sunlight, yin and yang,
Breath blending into harmony.

Humans hate
To be alone, poor and hungry.
Yet kings and princes
Use these words as titles.
We gain by losing,
Lose by gaining.

What others teach, I also teach:
A violent man does not die a natural death.
This is the basis of my teaching.

The softest thing in the world
Rules roughshod over the strongest.

No-thing enters no-space.

This teaches me the benefit of no-action.

Teaching without words,
Benefit without action-

Few in this world can attain this.

Name or body: which is closer?
Body or possessions: which means more?
Gain or loss: which one hurts?

Extreme love exacts a great price.
Many possessions entail heavy loss.

Know what is enough-
Abuse nothing.
Know when to stop-
Harm nothing.

This is how to last a long time.

Great accomplishment seems unfinished
But its use is continuous.

Great fullness seems empty
But in use is inexhaustible.

Great straightness seems bent,
Great skill seems clumsy,
Great eloquence seems mute.

Exertion overcomes cold.
Calm overcomes heat.

Pure calm is the norm under heaven.

With Tao under heaven
Stray horses fertilize the fields.
Without Tao under heaven
Warhorses are bred at the frontier.

There is no greater calamity
Than not knowing what is enough.
There is no greater fault
Than desire for success.

Therefore,
Knowing that enough is enough
Is always
Enough.

Without going out the door,
Know the world.
Without peeping through the window,
See heaven’s Tao.

The further you travel
The less you know.

This is why the Sage
Knows without budging,
Identifies without looking,
Does without trying.

Pursue knowledge, gain daily.
Pursue Tao, lose daily.
Lose and again lose,
Arrive at non-doing.

Non-doing – and nothing not done.

Take the entire world as nothing.
Make the least effort,
And the world escapes you.

The Sage has no set heart.

Ordinary people’s hearts
Become the Sage’s heart.

People who are good
I treat well.
People who are not good
I also treat well:
Te as goodness.

Trustworthy people
I trust.
Untrustworthy people
I also trust:
Te as trust.

Sages create harmony under heaven
Blending their hearts with the world.
Ordinary people fix their eyes and ears on them,
But Sages become the world’s children.

Emerge into life, enter death.

Life is only the thirteen body parts,
Death is only the thirteen body parts.

Human life, moving towards death,
Is the same thirteen.

Why is this?

Because life gives life to substance.

You have heard of people
Good at holding on to life.
Walking overland they don’t avoid
Rhinos and tigers.
In battle they don’t arm themselves.
The rhino’s horn finds nothing to gore,
The tiger’s claws find nothing to flay,
Weapons find nothing to pierce.

Why is this?

They have no mortal spot.

Tao bears them
Te nurses them
Events form them
Energy completes them.

Therefore the ten thousand beings
Honor Tao and respect Te.

Tao is honored
Te is respected
Because they do not give orders
But endure in their own nature.

Therefore,
Tao bears them and Te nurses them,
Rears them,
Raises them,
Shelters them,
Nurtures them,
Supports them,
Protects them.

Bears them without owning them,
Helps them without coddling them,
Rears them without ruling them.

This is called original Te.

The world has a source: the world’s mother.

Once you have a mother,
You know the children.
Once you know the children,
Return to the mother.

Your body dies.
There is no danger.

Block the passage,
Bolt the gate:
No strain
Until your life ends.

Open the passage,
Take charge of things:
No relief
Until your life ends.

Seeing the small is called brightness.
Maintaining gentleness is called strength.
Use this brightness to return to brightness.

Don’t cling to your body’s woes.
Then you can learn endurance.

Having some knowledge
When walking the Great Tao
Only brings fear.

The Great Tao is very smooth,
But people like rough trails.

The government is divided,
Fields are overgrown,
Granaries are empty,
But the nobles’ clothes are gorgeous,
Their belts show off swords,
And they are glutted with food and drink.
Personal wealth is excessive.

This is called thieves’ endowment
But it is not Tao.

Well planted, not uprooted.
Well embraced, never lost.
Descendants will continue
The ancestral rituals.

Maintain oneself:
Te becomes real.
Maintain the family:
Te becomes abundant.
Maintain the community:
Te becomes extensive.
Maintain the country:
Te becomes prolific.
Maintain the world:
Te becomes omnipresent.

Therefore,
Through self contemplate self,
Through family contemplate family,
Through community contemplate community,
Through country contemplate country,
Through world contemplate world.

How do I know the world?

Like this!

Be filled with Te,
Like a baby:

Wasps, scorpions and vipers
Do not sting it.
Fierce tigers do not stalk it.
Birds of preys do not attack it.

Bones weak, muscles soft.
But its grasp is tight.

It does not yet know
Union of male and female,
But its sex is formed,
Its vital essence complete.

It can scream all day and not get hoarse,
Its harmony is complete.

Knowing harmony is called endurance.
Knowing endurance is called illumination.
Increasing life is called fortune.
Mind controlling energy is called power.

When beings prosper and grow old,
Call them not-Tao.
Not-Tao soon ends.

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

Block the passage
Bolt the gate
Blunt the sharp
Untie the knot
Blend with the light
Become one with the dust-
This is called original unity.

It can’t be embraced
It can’t be escaped,
It can’t be helped
It can’t be harmed,
It can’t be exalted
It can’t be despised,

Therefore it is revered under Heaven.

Use the expected to govern the country,
Use surprise to wage war,
Use non-action to win the world.
How do I know?

Like this!

The more prohibitions and rules,
The poorer people become.
The sharper people’s weapons,
The more they riot.
The more skilled their techniques,
The more grotesque their works.
The more elaborate the laws,
The more they commit crimes.

Therefore the Sage says:
I do nothing
And people transform themselves.
I enjoy serenity
And people govern themselves.
I cultivate emptiness
And people become prosperous.
I have no desires
And people simplify themselves.

If government is muted and muffled
People are cool and refreshed.
If government investigates and intrudes,
People are worn down and hopeless.

Bad fortune rests upon good fortune.
Good luck hides within bad luck.

Who knows how it will end?

If there is no principle
Principle reverts to disorder,
Good reverts to calamity,
People’s confusion hardens and lingers on.

Therefore the Sage
Squares without cutting,
Corners without extending,
Shines without dazzling.

Governing people and serving heaven
Is like living off the land.
Living sparingly and responding quickly
Means accumulating Te.

There is nothing that cannot be overcome.
There is no limit.

You can become the country
And the country’s mother,
And nourish and extend it.

This is called deep roots, firm base.

This is the Tao of living long and seeing far.

Govern big countries
Like you cook little fish.

When Tao harmonizes the world,
Demons lose their power.

Not that demons lose their power,
But their power does not harm people.

Not that their power does not harm people,
But the Sage does not harm people.

If neither does harm,
Then Te flows and returns.

A great nation flows down
To be the world’s pool,
The female under heaven

In stillness
The female constantly overcomes the male,
In stillness
Takes the low place.

Therefore a great nation
Lowers itself
And wins over a small one.

A small nation
Keeps itself low
And wins over a great one.

Sometimes becoming low wins,
Sometimes staying low wins.

A great nation desires nothing more
Then to unite and protect people.
A small nation desires nothing more
Than to enter the service of people.

When both get what they wish
The great one should be low.

Tao is the mysterious center of all things,
A treasure for those who are good,
A refuge for those who are not.

Beautiful words can be traded,
Noble deeds can embrace reputations,
But if people lack them,
Why should they be rejected?

When the Son of Heaven is enthroned
And the Three Ministers installed,
Presenting jade discs
And four-horse chariots
Cannot compare to sitting still
And offering the Tao.

The ancients honored this Tao.
Didn’t the say:
Through it seekers find,
Through it the guilty escape?
This is why Tao is honored under Heaven.

Act without acting
Serve without serving
Taste without tasting
Big, little,
Many, few –
Repay hatred with Te.

Map difficult through easy
Approach great through narrow.

The most difficult things in the world
Must be accomplished through the easiest.
The greatest things in the world
Must be accomplished through the smallest.

Therefore the Sage
Never attempts great things
And so accomplishes them.

Quick promises
Mean little trust.
Everything easy
Means great difficulty.
Thus for the Sage
Everything is difficult,
And so in the end
Nothing is difficult.

At rest is easy to hold.
Not yet impossible is easy to plan.
Brittle is easy to break.
Fine is easy to scatter.

Create before it exists.
Lead before it goes astray.

A tree too big to embrace
Is born from a slender shoot.
A nine-storey tower
Rises from a pile of earth.
A thousand-mile journey
Begins with a single step.

Act and you ruin it.
Grasp and you lose it.
Therefore the Sage
Does not act
And so does not ruin
Does not grasp
And so does not lose.

People commonly ruin their work
When they are near success.
Proceed at the end as at the beginning
And your work won’t be ruined.

Therefore the Sage
Desire no desires
Prizes no prizes
Studies no studies
And returns
To what others pass by.

The Sage
Helps all beings find their nature,
But does not presume to act.

Taoist rulers of old
Did not enlighten people
But left them dull.

People are difficult to govern
Because they are very clever.

Therefore,
Ruling through cleverness
Leads to rebellion.
Not ruling through cleverness
Brings good fortune.
Know these two things
And understand the enduring pattern.

Understand the enduring pattern:
This is called original Te.

Original Te goes deep and far.
All things reverse
Return
And reach the great headwaters.

Rivers and seas
Can rule the hundred valleys.
Because they are good at lying low
They are lords of the valleys.

Therefore those who would be above
Must speak as if they are below.
Those who would lead
Must speak as if they are behind.

If this way the Sage dwells above
And the people are not burdened.
Dwells in front
And they are not hindered.

Therefore the whole world
Is delighted and unwearied.

Since the Sage does not contend
No one can contend with the Sage.

Everyone under heaven calls my Tao great,
And unlike anything else.

It is great only because
It is unlike anything else.
If it were like anything else
It would stretch and become thin.

I have three treasures
To maintain and conserve:
The first is compassion.
The second is frugality.
The third is not presuming
To be first under heaven.

Compassion leads to courage.
Frugality allows generosity.
Not presuming to be first
Creates a lasting instrument.

Nowadays,
People reject compassion
But want to be brave,
Reject frugality
But want to be generous,
Reject humility
And want to come first.

This is death.

Compassion:
Attack with it and win.
Defend with it and stand firm.

Heaven aids and protects
Through compassion.

The accomplished person is not aggressive.
The good soldier is not hot-tempered.
The best conqueror does not engage the enemy.
The most effective leader takes the lowest place.

This is called the Te of not contending.
This is called the power of the leader.
This is called matching Heaven’s ancient ideal.

My words are very easy to understand,
Very easy to practice.

No one under heaven can understand them,
No one can practice them.

Words have ancestors,
Deeds have masters,
If people don’t understand this,
They don’t understand me.

Few understand me,
And that is my value.

Therefore the Sage wears rough clothing
And carries jade inside.

Know not-knowing: supreme.

Not know knowing: faulty.

Only faulting faults is faultless.
The Sage is faultless
By faulting faults,
And so is without fault.

When people are not in awe of power,
Power becomes great.

Do not intrude into their homes,
Do not make their lives weary.
If you do not weary them,
They will not become weary of you.

Therefore the Sage
Has self-knowledge without self-display,
Self-love without personal pride,
Rejects one, accepts the other.

Courage to dare kills,
Courage not to dare saves.

One brings profit, one brings harm.

Heaven hates what it hates-
Who knows why?
Even the Sage finds it difficult.

Heaven’s Tao does not contend
But prevails,
Does not speak
But responds,
Is not summoned
But arrives,
Is utterly still
But plans all actions.

Heaven’s net is wide, wide,
Loose –
But nothing slips through.

If people do not fear death,
How can you threaten them with death?
But if people with a normal fear of death
Are about to do something vicious,
And I could seize and execute them,
Who would dare?

There is always an official executioner.
Trying to take the executioner’s place,
Is like trying to replace a master woodworker-
Few would not slice their own hands.

People are hungry.

When rulers tax grain
People are hungry.

People are rebellious.

When rulers are active
People are rebellious.

People ignore death.

When searching only for life’s bounty
People ignore death.

Only those who don’t strive after life
Truly respect life.

Humans are born soft and weak.
They die stiff and strong.
The ten thousand plants and trees
Are born soft and tender,
And die withered and sere.

The stiff and strong
Are Death’s companions
The soft and weak
Are Life’s companions.

Therefore,
The strongest armies do not conquer,
The greatest trees are cut down.

The strong and great sink down.
The soft and weak rise up.

Heaven’s Tao
Is a stretched bow,
Pulling down the top,
Pulling up the bottom.
If it’s too much, cut.
If it’s not enough,
Add on it:
Heaven’s
Tao.

The Human Route
Is not like this,
Depriving the poor,
Offering to the rich.

Who has a surplus
And still offers it to the world?
Only those with Tao.

Therefore the Sage
Acts and expects nothing,
Accomplishes and does not linger,
Has no desire to seem worthy.

Nothing in the world is soft and weak like water.
But when attacking the hard and strong
Nothing can conquer so easily.

Weak overcomes strong,
Soft overcomes hard.

Everyone knows this,
No one attains it.

Therefore the Sage says:
Accept a country’s filth
And become master of its sacred soil.
Accept a country’s ill fortune
And become king under heaven.

True words resemble their opposites.

Appease great hatred.
And hatred will remain.

How can this be good?

Therefore the Sage
Holds the tally
But does not judge people.
Those who have Te
Control the tally.
Those who lack Te
Collect their due.

Heaven’s Tao has no favorites.
But endures in good people.

Small country, few people-
Hundreds of devices,
But none are used.

People ponder on death
And don’t travel far.
They have carriages and boats,
But no one goes on board;
Weapons and armor,
But no one brandishes them.
They use knotted cords for counting.

Sweet their food,
Beautiful their clothes,
Peaceful their homes,
Delightful their customs.

Neighboring countries are so close
You can hear their chickens and dogs.
But people grow old and die
Without needing to come and go.

Sincere words are not pretty.
Pretty words are not sincere.

Good people do not quarrel.
Quarrelsome people are not good.
The wise are not learned.
The learned are not wise.

The Sage is not acquisitive –
Has enough
By doing for others,
Has even more
By giving to others.

Heaven’s Tao
Benefits and does not harm.
The Sage’s Tao
Acts and does not contend.






Tao Te Ching,
Lao-Tzu,
Translated by
Stephen Addiss
and Stanley Lombardo…