Tao Te Ching


A path fit for travel

Is not an unvarying path

A name fit for calling

Is not a generic name

“Nothing” names the origin of heaven and earth

“Being” names the mother of the myriad beings

And so, always be dispassionate

In order to see the mysteries

Always be passionate

In order to see the objectives

These two mean the same (when) emerging

While diverging in significance

The sameness tells of their mystery

Mystery leading to greater mystery

(Is) the gateway to every mystery



All under heaven know the beauty of things as beauty

So ugliness is already there

All know the good of things as the good

So the not-good is already there

And so being and nothingness beget each other

Difficult & easy complete each other

Lasting & brief contrast each other

High & low rely on each other

Tone & voice resonate with each other

Before & after follow each other

This is how wise ones abide without interfering with the work,

Practice without speaking their doctrine

A myriad beings emerge here, but without explanation

Are produced, but with no claims

Are developed, but with no expectations

Works are accomplished, but with no dwelling

Insofar as there is no dwelling

This means there is no departure



Not exalting worthies

Keeps the people from rivalry

Not prizing goods which are hard to obtain

Keeps the people from acting like thieves

Not displaying the desirable

Keeps the people’s hearts from confusion

This is how wise ones approach government

Emptying the hearts

(And) filling the bellies

Weakening the ambitions

(And) strengthening the bones

Always keeping the people free of sophistication, free of desires

So that even the clever ones will not presume to meddle at all

(Where) action does not take action

There nothing is out of order



The way (is) an emptiness, and in its use

Somehow there is nothing in excess

So deep –

As if ancestor to the myriad beings

Blunt in its sharpness

Resolved in its tangles

Shaded in its glare

One with this world

So deep & clear

Seeming as though seeming to exist

We do not know whose child this is

(But) imagine it divinity’s ancestor



Heaven & earth are not compassionate

Treating the myriad beings as straw dogs

Wise ones are not compassionate

Regarding the hundred families as straw dogs

The space between heaven & earth

How this is like bellows & flutes!

Empty, yet never exhausted

(When) moved then more is produced

Lots of words adds up to exhaustion,

(This is) never as good as holding the center



The spirit of the valley does not die

It may be known as the mysterious feminine

The gateway of the mysterious feminine

May be known as the source of heaven and earth

Endless, continuous, seeming to exist

To practice this is not effort



Heaven is eternal, earth endures

The reason why heaven & earth can continue and endure

              is this:

That their lives are not their own

In this way (they) can go on living

This is why wise ones put themselves last

And yet (their) being advances

Exclude themselves

And yet (their) being persists

Is it not because they have no self-interest?

Thus (they) can fulfill their self-interests



The highest good is like water

Water’s goodness benefits the myriad beings

And yet does not strive

Dwells in places which everyone else regards with contempt

And in this way is close to the way

In dwelling the good is place

In mind the good is depth

In relations the good is compassion

In speech the good is sincerity

In government the good is organization

In business the good is competence

In movement the good is timing

It is only when there is no contention

That there then is no resentment



To maintain but then overdo something

Is not as good as one’s showing restraint

To rough out but then (over)hone something

Does not help hold (the edge) long

(When) coins and jade fill the hall

Nobody can defend this

(Being) wealthy & honored and then being proud

The natural consequence is one’s own misfortune

(When) the work succeeds a body retires

Keeping to heaven’s path



(Are) shaping a soul & embracing union

Possible without separation?

(Are) concentrating the breath & attaining responsiveness

Possible (as a) newborn child?

(Are) cleansing & clearing the mystery’s vision

Possible without a stain?

(Are) caring for people & ruling a realm

Possible without interfering?

(Are) opening & closing the gates of heaven

Possible playing the woman?

(Are) clarifying & simplifying the four directions

Possible without knowledge?

Create things & care for them

Create but do not possess

Act but do not expect

Lead but do not rule

These may be called “mystical powers*”


Thirty spokes converge in one hub

Then depending upon what does not exist

                  is the vehicle’s usefulness

Mold clay in order to produce a vessel

Then depending upon what does not exist

                  is the vessel’s usefulness

Cut out doors and windows in order to make a dwelling

Then depending upon what does not exist

                  is the dwelling’s usefulness

Thus, the existence of something serves to make value

The lack of something serves to make utility



The five colors will make the human eye blind

The five tones will make the human ear deaf

The five flavors will make the human palate jaded

Racing for speed and hunting for sport

Will make the human heart go mad

Goods which are hard to obtain

Will bring human progress obstruction

This is why wise ones

Regard the belly instead of regarding the sight

And so dismiss That to choose This



Favor & disgrace are equally frightening

Exaltation and big trouble are the same as oneself

Why say that favor & disgrace are equally frightening

Favor sets up a downfall

To get it is the same as a warning

To lose it is the same as a warning

Which says that favor & disgrace are equally frightening

Why say that exaltation and big trouble

                  are the same as oneself?

This is the reason that we have big troubles:

Assuming that we are selves

As long as we are not selves

What troubles do we have?

And so, to respect & regard as oneself

                  the workings of the world

Is the same as deserving to inhabit the world

To love & regard as oneself

                  the workings of the world

Is the same as deserving to be steward to the world



Looking for things not seen

Descriptions will tell of “the invisible”

Listening for things not heard

Descriptions will tell of “the inaudible”

Reaching for things not grasped

Descriptions will tell of “the intangible”

These three do not allow complete investigation

And so are confused and considered as one

What height is not bright

What depth is not dark

An unbroken continuity does not permit description –

A return home to non existence

And so this is called the form of the formless

The image of nothingness

It is called obscure  & elusive

When it is met its head is not seen

When it is followed its end is not seen

To grasp the path of the ancients

Is the way to master present existence

The capacity to comprehend the ancient beginnings

May be called the clue* to the way



The ancient gentlemen who were skilled at practice

Were subtle & mysterious, profound & penetrating

A depth not easy to fathom

Inasmuch as they were not easy to fathom

It is thus an effort to construct their appearance

So ready –

As if fording a stream in winter

So vigilant –

As if wary of (all) four neighbors

So dignified –

As though they were guests

So relenting –

Like ice which is about to melt

So artless –

As though they were of unworked wood

So expansive –

As though they were watersheds

So intermingled –

As though they were turbid streams

Who is able, (as) a turbid stream, to become still

                  and arrive by degrees at clarity?

Who is able, at peace, to become energetic

                  and arrive by degrees at lasting vitality?

Whoever preserves this path

Not longing for more than fullness

Only those not overfull

Can then stay obscure

                  and not begin to be finished



Attaining perfect emptiness

Remain patient & sincere

The myriad beings arise as one

Through this we observe the return

Of beings in numberless multitudes

Each coming home to its root

Return to the root means serenity

It may be called a return to a higher order

Return to higher order speaks of the enduring

To comprehend the enduring speaks of clarity

To not comprehend the enduring

Is to recklessly create suffering

To comprehend the enduring (is) tolerance

Tolerance becomes justice

Justice becomes sovereignty

Sovereignty becomes celestial

The celestial becomes the path

The path is then continuous

The death of self is nothing to fear



Great leaders’ subordinates know of their existence

Those next in order are loved and praised by them

Those next in order are feared by them

Those next in order are despised by them

If trust lacks basis here

There will be no trust here

So be careful – these are important words

Complete the task, follow through in the work

The hundred families all will declare

              “(It was) our natural course!”



(Where) the great path is abandoned

There appear benevolence & righteousness

(When) the learned & clever emerge

There appear great hypocrisies

(When) the six bonds of kinship are out of balance

There appear filial piety and parental affection

(When) countries & clans are in darkness & turmoil

There appear loyalty & public service


19      Cut out sanctimony, repudiate cleverness

The people will profit a hundred times over

Cut out benevolence, abandon righteousness

The people return to filial piety & parental affection

Cut out artfulness, abandon rewards

(Then) robbers and thieves have nothing to gain

These three may help to improve the culture

                  but (they) are not a foundation

So let there be purpose to build on:

Look to the ordinary & embrace original nature

Diminish self-interest & have fewer desires



Cut out the academics & avoid the anxieties

The (ready) yes, alongside the (obsequious) yea

What is the distance or nearness between them?

(Even) the good, next to the bad,

What is the difference or likeness between them?

(That) that which the others hold in awe

Will not permit less than awe –

What nonsense! There will never be an end to this, ever!

Everyone (else) is resplendent & festive

As if feasting on great sacrifices

As if in springtime & climbing up towers

I alone am unmoved here, one yet to give a sign

Like a newborn infant, one yet to smile

So worn & weary, as one with no home to come home to

Everyone (else) takes more than enough

While I alone seem forsaken

With only my simpleton’s mind!

So muddled & confused

The common folk are bright & sunny

I alone am in chaos & gloom

The common folk are alert & sharp

I alone am torpid & blunt

So placid – in this like the sea

So restless a wind – as if never to stop

Everyone else has purpose

While I alone am wayward, like a rustic

I alone am other than the others

Still enjoying mother’s meals



The bearing of true character

Is simply to follow a true path

If the way is regarded as an entity

It is only elusive, only vague

So vague & so elusive

(Yet) at its center there is shape

So elusive & so vague

(Yet) at its center there are beings

So arcane & so shadowy

(Yet) at its center there is seed

This seed is profoundly real

At its center there is truth

From the present back into antiquity

Its meaning does not fade

Through this is seen a common ancestry

How do we know that the common ancestry’s shape is thus?

By This



The yielding becomes whole

The bent becomes straight

The hollow becomes replenished

The worn becomes renewed

The diminished becomes endowed

The plentiful becomes doubtful

This is why wise ones embrace unity

Adopting nature as model

Without self-display

And thus clear

Without self-righteousness

And thus distinguished

Without self-assertion

And thus having merit

Without self-glorification

And thus enduring

It is only when there is no contending

That none in the world can contend against them

The ancient ones had reasons to claim

                  “The accommodating becomes whole”

Is this (just) empty talk now?

(When) wholeness is real then one has come home



Sparing are the speeches from nature

So the whirling winds do not last the morning

The storming rains do not last all day

What is it producing these?

Heaven and earth

(If) even heaven and earth are unable to persist

Then compare this (case) with humanity!

And so to attend to affairs of the path:

The path means an identity with the path

Character means an identity with character

Failure means an identity with failure

For those who identify with the path

The path, in turn, readily* accepts them

For those who identify with character

Character, in turn, readily accepts them

For those who identify with failure

Failure, in turn, readily accepts them

If truth has no basis here

There will be no truth here



Those who stand on tiptoe do not stand (firmly)

Those who stretch strides do not make progress

Those who display themselves are less than clear

Those who are self-righteous are less than distinguished

Those who assert themselves lack merit

Those who glorify themselves do not endure

To someone on the path here

These suggest excessive indulgence and irrelevant action

Things somehow wrong to have

So those who have the way do not linger



There was something in chaos (yet) complete

Before heaven & earth came to be

So silent, so remote

Standing alone without change

Acting everywhere and without limit

(It) may be regarded as mother to (all) under heaven

We do not know its name

A word for it speaks of a path

(If) pressed to develop its name speak of greatness

Greatness tells of journeying on

Journeying on tells of the far beyond

The far beyond tells of coming back

In this way the way is great

Heaven is great, earth is great

And sovereignty, too, is great

Between the horizons are four (kinds of) greatness

And sovereignty has its place as one among these

Humanity takes the earth as law

The earth takes heaven as law

Heaven takes the way as law

The way takes its own nature as law



The heavy serves as root to the light

Stillness serves as master to haste

And so it is that a noble one journeys all day

Without leaving the heavy supply wagon,

Although there are splendid vistas,

Calmly staying above it all

So how could the lord of a myriad chariots

Also conduct a frivolous life under heaven?

To be frivolous, would then be to lose the root

To be hasty would then be to lose the mastery



The able wanderer leaves no trail (or) trace

The able speaker is without fallacy (or) error

The able reckoner does not use counting devices

The best closure uses no barrier (or) bar

And yet is not easily opened

The best binding uses no cord (or) knot

And yet is not easily loosened

And so it is that wise ones

Are ever so skilled at making the most of others

That no person is forsaken

Are ever so skilled at making the most of situations

That no situation is wasted

This may be called “practical wisdom”

And so the able one is the less than able one’s teacher

The less than able one is the able one’s resource

To not value one’s teacher, to not care for one’s resource,

However “prudent” is greatly deluded

This may be called a “tactical mystery”



Know the masculine

(But) keep the feminine

Serve as a stream to the world

Serving as stream to the world

Consistent character will not depart

(But) return home again as the newborn child

Know the bright

(But) keep the dark

Serve as a model to the world

Serving as model to the world

Consistent character will not falter

(But) return home again as unlimited

Know the honored

(But) keep the humble

Serve as a valley to the world

Serving as valley to the world

Consistent character will then be enough

A return journey home to original nature

Original nature, cut up, is then made into artifacts

Wise ones, using such things,

Are then made into senior officials

And so the greatest governing does the least dividing



When taken by desire to take hold of nature

                  and reconstruct things

We notice that this (will) never reach closure

The world is a spirit vessel

Not suited to reconstruction at all

Those who interfere spoil things

Those who grab lose things

And so the beings sometimes go ahead, sometimes follow

Sometimes snort, sometimes puff

Sometimes are fit, sometimes are feeble

Sometimes oppress, sometimes are overthrown

This is why wise ones avoid the extremes

Avoid the superfluous

Avoid the extravagant



Those who use the way to help with human governance

Do not use arms (or) force on the world

Such efforts tend to recoil

(In) a place where an army has camped

Thorns and brambles grow now

A great army’s aftermath is sure to bring bad harvests

Those who are competent succeed and then stop

Not daring (or) thinking to take by force

Succeed but do not glorify

Succeed but with no aggression

Succeed but with no arrogance

Succeed even not having gained the end

Succeed but do not dominate

A being grown mighty will then grow frail

This may be called “off the path”

Off the path is soon finished



Even the finest weapons are tools of ill omen

Things somehow wrong to hold

So those who have the way do not linger

A noble one, when home, honors the left

When working with weapons, honors the right

Weapons are tools of ill omen

They are not a noble one’s tools

Failing to gain satisfaction and still using them

Calm indifference is best adopted

Even in triumph there is no beauty

And those who are attracted to this

                  are in fact delighting in the slaughter of others

Now those who delight in the slaughter of others

Are then ill suited for use

                  in achieving any goal in the world at all

Therefore, (in) auspicious affairs the left side is honored

(In) adverse affairs the right side is honored

An army’s lieutenant commander stays to the left

The army’s commander in chief stays to the right

A description of the funeral rites held at the end

Where the slaughter of others amounts to a multitude

Have compassion & lament & weep for them

(When) the battle is won

                  consider the funeral rites being held here



The way is continuous, without description

The original nature may be ordinary

But none in the world is able to master it all

If leaders & sovereigns were able to grasp this

The myriad beings would then submit naturally

(As) heaven and earth join together

Thus to let fall the sweet dew

Nobody has commanded this,

                  yet the harmony is natural

Begin with rules & definitions appear

And still more definitions are already assumed

Now, more than ever, prepare to learn restraint

Learning restraint is apt to be useful in avoiding trouble

Imagine the place of the path in nature

To be like the streams and valleys

                  reaching for rivers and ocean*



To know others means intelligence

To know oneself means clarity

To overcome others is to have strength

To overcome oneself is to be powerful

To know satisfaction means wealth

(To be) energetic in movement means to have purpose

To not forget one’s own place means enduring

To die and yet not perish means longevity



How the great way (is a) flood!

It is apt to go (both) left & right

The myriad beings trust this for life,

                  yet there are no explanations

Work is done (and) followed through without distinctions & claims

The myriad beings are clothed & cared for

                  yet there is no assumption of leadership

Ever dispassionate, (it) invites a reputation for commonness

(But) the myriad beings return here,

                  and still there is no acting as master

Inviting a reputation for greatness

Because it never regards itself as great

So it is able to establish its greatness


Grasp the big picture

(All) under heaven make progress

Make progress while doing no harm

Security and peace abound

(For) music along with fine food

The passing stranger will linger

(But) the way, as expressed in words

How insipid! It has no flavor

Look at it – there is nothing to satisfy the sight

Listen for it – there is nothing to satisfy the hearing

Use it – it will never be exhausted



When wanting to contract a thing

First be sure to expand it

When wanting to weaken a thing

First be sure to empower it

When wanting to abolish a thing

First be sure to promote it

When wanting to despoil a thing

First be sure to endow it

This may be called “subtle discernment”

The adaptable & gentle overcome the firm & strong

Fish are not adapted out of the depths

The sharp instruments of the state

Are not for the purpose of showing to others



The way always takes no action

Yet nothing remains undone

If leaders & sovereigns were able to grasp this

The myriad beings would evolve by themselves

Evolve and then want to flourish

We can then temper this

                  with the original nature of namelessness

(With) the original nature of namelessness

Then these too would be without ambition

Being free of ambition is the way to stillness

Nature will then arrange itself



The highest virtue is not virtuous

This is how to hold virtue

The inferior virtue will not let go of virtue

This is why virtue is lacking

The highest virtue takes no action and has no motive to act

The inferior virtue acts on things and then has motives to act

The highest benevolence acts on things

                  but has no motive for action

The highest righteousness acts on things

                  and also has motives for action

The highest propriety acts on things

                  and when nobody responds to it

Then rolls up the sleeves and throws things

And so, lose the way and then comes virtue

Lose virtue and then comes benevolence

Lose benevolence and then comes righteousness

Lose righteousness and then comes propriety

Now propriety is (but) the sham of loyalty & trust

And the beginning of confusion

Being ahead in knowledge (is but) the flower of the way

And the beginning of delusion

This is why those who are most mature

Keep to the substance

(And) do not dwell on the sham

Keep to the fruitful

(And) do not dwell on the flower

And so dismiss That to choose This



These things, from the beginning, have grasped wholeness:

Heaven attained the whole, becoming resolved

Earth attained the whole, becoming steady

Spirit attained the whole, becoming subtle

The valley attained the whole, becoming replenished

The myriad beings attained the whole, coming to life

Leaders & sovereigns attained the whole

                  as the way to attend to (all) under heaven

These things found it

Heaven, with no way to resolution,

                  would threaten to split apart

Earth, with no way to steadiness,

                  would threaten to open up

Spirit, with no way to subtlety

                  would probably perish

The valleys, with no way to replenishment,

                  would likely dry up

The myriad beings, with no way to life,

                  would likely be extinguished

Leaders and sovereigns,

                  with no way to dignity & prominence

                  would likely be toppled

In this way dignity regards the common as root

Prominence regards the humble as basis

This is why leaders & sovereigns refer to themselves

                  as orphaned & friendless, without worth

Does this not regard the common as root?

Not so?

Just as obtaining tallies of chariots

                  will not be (real) chariots

Do not long to dazzle & jingle like jade

Clunk & clatter like rocks



Reversal is the movement of the way

Yielding is the method of the way

The myriad beings in nature arose out of being

Being arose out of nothing



Superior students, hearing of the way,

Are diligent and practice it

Average students, hearing of the way,

Sometimes attend & sometimes forget

Inferior students, hearing of the way,

Laugh greatly about it

Without the laughter there would be no grounds

                  to regard this as the way

And so the established proverbs hold that:

Brightness, to the way, is as good as darkness

Advance, to the way, is as good as retreat

Evenness, to the way, is as good as roughness

The summit of character is as good as a valley

The greatest whiteness is as good as soiled

Abundant character seems inadequate

Established character seems furtive

The evident truth seems spurious

The greatest square has no corner

The greatest capacity is last to be realized

The greatest note is the rarest sound

The greatest image has no form

The way is hidden & nameless

(But) because way is good at acceptance

                  (it is) also fulfilling



The way begets the one*

The one begets the two

The two beget the three

The three beget the myriad beings

The myriad beings carry the shadow and embrace the light

Blending (these) vital breaths to make harmony

People have their reasons to truly dislike being

“Orphaned & friendless, without worth”

Yet sovereign & duke take (these) as titles

Since beings may sometimes lose something, and yet benefit

May sometimes gain something, and yet be diminished

What someone else has taught

I too come to teach:

Those who are forceful & hostile

                  do not meet their (natural) ends

I will regard (this) as a premise of the teaching



Nature at its most yielding

Quickly overcomes nature at its most firm

Non-being enters (where) there is no gap

This is how we know (that) inaction

                  comes to have such advantages

The doctrine which has no words

The benefits of taking no action –

Few in the world attain these



Reputation compared to life, which is dearer?

Life compared to property, which is (worth) more?

Gain compared to loss, which is (more) distressing?

It is a given that extreme affection

Entails great cost

Much stored up entails heavy loss

To understand sufficiency is no disgrace

To understand restraint avoids limits –

(This is) the right way to live long



A great achievement (may) seem deficient

But its function is not impaired

A great fulfillment (may) seem empty

But its function is never exhausted

Great straightforwardness (might) seem compromised

Great artfulness (might) seem clumsy

Great eloquence (might) seem to stammer

Restlessness overcomes cold

Stillness overcomes heat

Clarity & stillness act as measures to the world



When the world holds to the way

Retired racehorses are useful for manure

When the world loses the way

War horses breed throughout the frontier

There is no vice greater than submitting to greed

No suffering greater than never knowing sufficiency

No error greater than the hunger for gain

So to know that sufficiency is in itself sufficient

Is a truly durable sufficiency



Without going out the door

Comprehend (all) under heaven

Without peering out the window

Observe the way of heaven

The farther beyond one goes

One’s comprehension is by that much diminished

This is why wise ones (might) not move about, but still know

(Might) not witness, but still describe

(Might) not act, but still accomplish



The pursuit of learning (means) increasing daily

The pursuit of the way (means) decreasing daily

Decreasing things and then subtracting

In order to arrive at not doing

(When) nothing is done, then nothing remains undone

To capture the world, always apply the least effort

As soon as one has to make effort

(One is) no longer adequate to the purpose

                  of capturing the world


Wise ones have no set mind

Regarding the hundred families’ minds as “mind”

To those who are good we have good to extend

To those who are less than good we also have good to extend

To merit goodness

To those who are true we have truth to extend

To those who are less than true we also have truth to extend

To merit truth

Wise ones are in the world

Uniting, connecting, adopting the world

Merging with their hearts

The hundred families, as one, pay heed,

                   with their “hearkening” & “beholding”

The wise ones, as one, come to laugh like children*



Emerging in life (or) entering death

The companions of life will be three (in) ten*

The companions of death will be three (in) ten

And others whose lives & actions approach the domain of death

Will also be three (in) ten

Now why is this so?

Because these live life for its substance

Now hear of the one adept at sustaining life

Traveling the countryside, not meeting buffalo or tiger

Entering a battle, not carrying armor or weapons –

The buffalo finds no place to thrust its horns

The tiger finds no place to sink its claws

The weapon finds no place to admit its blade

Now why is this so?

Because in this one there is no place for death



The way gives things life

Character raises them

Existence shapes them

Conditions complete them

So it is that the myriad beings, without exception,

Ennoble the way and honor character

The way will be ennobled

Character will be honored

But nobody has to command this

                  as it always proceeds out of nature

In this way the way gives things life

Character raises them

Sustains them, brings them up

Shelters them, heals* them

Nurtures them, protects them

Creates but does not possess

Acts but does not expect

Leads but does not rule

These may be called “mystic powers”



The world had a beginning

Regarded as mother to the world

Having found this mother

Through this comprehend her children

Having comprehended her children

Return & attend to the mother

The death of self is nothing to fear

Close the passages

Secure the gates

(And) the rest of life is no trouble

Open the passages

Conclude the affairs

(And) the rest of life finds no salvation

To perceive in detail tells of clarity

To maintain flexibility tells of strength

Make use of what is illuminated

To return home again to the light

Do not abandon yourself to misfortune

This may be called “sustainable practice”



Let our resolve here be this: to be understanding

To travel upon the great way

(With) only distractions to fear

The great way is so very ordinary

And the people love the detours

The courts are so very well kept

The fields, so very weedy

The granaries, so very empty

The clothes, refined & elaborate

Sharp swords worn at the waist

A glut of drinking & feasting

Wealth & goods kept in heaps

This describes robbery & bombast

Surely not the way* at all



What is well established is not uprooted

What is well embraced is not taken away

Children & grandchildren, accordingly,

                  make offerings & sacrifice without fail

Cultivate this in the person

Its character grows true

Cultivate this in the family

Its character grows ample

Cultivate this in the community

Its character grows enduring

Cultivate this in the country

Its character grows bountiful

Cultivate this in the world

Its character grows universal

And so, use person to examine the person

With family, examine the family

With community, examine the community

With country, examine the country

With the world, examine the world

So how are we to know that the world

                  is really like this?

Through This



To embody virtue’s substance

Compares to the naked infant

Wasps & scorpions, vipers & serpents do not bite

Wild beasts do not seize

Birds of prey do not strike

The bones are flexible, the muscles are soft,

                  but the grip is sure

Not yet knowing the union of woman & man

But the penis is aroused

Essence is at its prime here!

Howling all day, but not getting hoarse

Harmony is at its prime here!

To comprehend harmony speaks of the continuous

To comprehend the continuous speaks of clarity

The enrichment of life may be called a “happy omen*”

The mind directing the breath may be called a “power*”

(But) beings grown mighty will then grow frail

This may be called “off the path”

Off the path is soon finished



To know does not mean to speak

To speak does not mean to know*

Close the passages

Secure the gates

Blunt the sharpness

Resolve the tangles

Shade the glare

Be one with the world

This may be called “mystic union*”

Such as may not be gained by affection

May not be gained by detachment

May not be gained by favor

May not be gained by suffering

May not be gained by esteem

May not be gained by humility

And so becomes precious to (all) under heaven



Use principle to govern a country

Use tricks to wage a war

Use the least effort to capture the world

By what means do we know that things are really like this?

By This*

There are more taboos & restrictions in the world

But the people grow more impoverished

The people have more productive implements

(But) countries & clans grow more disturbed

(As) others get more clever & artful

Bizarre things happen more often

The more that matters of law are proclaimed

The more robbers & looters there will be

And so the wise ones will claim:

We do nothing

And humanity evolves on its own

We favor stillness

And humanity governs itself

We do not make an effort

And humanity enriches itself

We have no ambition

And humanity simplifies itself


58      (Where) their government is muted & dull

Its people are honest & sincere

(Where) their government is efficient & exacting

Its people are partial & wanting

Ah, suffering! That happiness has such things to rely on!

Ah, happiness! That suffering has such places to lurk!

Who comprehends their outcomes?

Are there no rules?

The rules go back to behaving strangely

The good return to acting ominously

Humankind has held its delusions

For such an entrenched length of days

This is why wise ones

Are direct but not divisive

Exacting but not hurtful

To the point but not tactless

Bright but not dazzling


(In) governing people (or) serving heaven

There is nothing quite like economy

Only one who is thrifty

May be deemed ahead of the task*

To be ahead of the task suggests there is

                  a great reserve of character

Given a great reserve of character

                  then nothing is impossible

When nothing is impossible

                  then nobody knows things to be limited

Nobody knowing things to be limited

                  is fit to claim the realm

(Now) claiming the realm’s mother

                  is fitness to endure a long time

This describes deep roots & solid foundations

The path of long life & enduring vision



Ruling a great country is like cooking a little fish

This is how the way manages (all) under heaven

(Whether) the ghosts lack spirit

Or the ghosts do not lack spirit

(Whether) the spirits avoid harming people

Or the spirits do not avoid harming people*

Wise ones still avoid harming people

Now as neither of these haunts the other

So virtue interacts & comes back home to them



The great realm is the one which flows beneath

A confluence to (all) under heaven

A woman to (all) under heaven

The feminine, ever through stillness, overcomes the male

Through stillness & playing submissive

And so a great realm, by submitting to a small realm,

Will then appropriate the small realm

A small realm, by submitting to a great realm,

Will then appropriate the great realm

And so the one submits, intending to appropriate

The other submits and gets taken in

(Where) the great realm has no greater ambition

                       than uniting & caring for others

(And) the small realm has no greater ambition

                       than joining & serving others

Then both of these each gets what it wants

(And) the great one should act to submit



The way is a sanctum to the myriad beings

A good person’s treasure

A less than good person’s place of refuge

Elegant speeches may be useful at market

Noble deeds may be useful for promoting someone

(But if) another has less ability

Why waste what they are?

So (when) enthroning the heir to heaven

(Or) installing the three high nobles

Though there be big jade platters in tribute

Drawn by teams of four horses

This is not as good as sitting still (and) offering this path

What purpose had the ancient ones in honoring this way?

Was it not claimed:

“To seek is to find

To claim error is to be forgiven”?

So (this) becomes precious to (all) under heaven



Act without acting

Work without working

Savor without tasting

Greatness is ordinary, much is little

Repay ill will with virtue

Plan for the complicated while it is simple

Develop the great while it is small

The difficult tasks under heaven

Always begin in simplicity

The greatest tasks under heaven

Always begin as minutiae

This is why wise ones never assume greatness

And so can achieve such greatness

Those who lightly promise will surely be less trusted

Much ease is surely much difficulty

This is why wise ones look for things to get complicated

And so in the end have no complications at all



What is secure is easy to hold

What has yet to begin is easy to plan for

What is thin is easy to break up

What is minute is easy to scatter

Attend to things before they come to be

Arrange things before they entangle

A tree which fills the joined embrace

Has grown from a slender shoot

A tower which reaches nine stories

Begins as a basket of earth

A journey of a thousand li*

Begins from beneath the feet

Those who interfere spoil things

Those who grab lose things

This is why wise ones do not interfere and so do not spoil

Do not grab and so do not lose

People in their pursuits & affairs

                  (are) ever on the verge of achieving and still ruin things

Take care at the end as well as at the beginning

And then there will be no ruined affairs

This is why wise ones desire to have no desires

Do not prize goods which are hard to obtain

Learn to unlearn

And return to what everyone else has passed by

Thus helping the myriad beings to realize themselves

While not presuming to interfere



Those ancients skilled at practicing the way

Did not try to enlighten the people

(But) would have tried to simplify them

The difficulties of governing the people

Are due to their great cleverness

And so to use cleverness in governing a realm

Is an injury to the realm

To avoid using cleverness in governing a realm

Is a favor to the realm

Those who comprehend both of these

Also examine for patterns

Always to know to look for patterns

May be called a mystic power

A mystic power so deep & so far reaching

(As) to help creation to turn itself around

Natural succession then reaches perfect harmony



What is the reason why the rivers and ocean

                  can serve as sovereign to the hundred valleys?

Because they are so well below them

In this way (they) can act as sovereign

                  to the hundred valleys

Applying this, in desiring to rise above the people,

Always in expression be subordinate to them

In desiring to go ahead of the people

Always regard yourself as behind them

This is how wise ones remain above

And yet the people are not burdened

Remain ahead

And yet the people are not obstructed

So it is that (all) under heaven readily come forward

                  and never weary

Because such as these will never contend

So none under heaven can contend against them



Everyone in the world admits our way is great

(And) resembles no likeness

It is insofar as it is great

That it resembles no likeness

Had it a likeness

Surely after so long

It might have diminished a little*

Here I have three treasures

Take and keep them safe:

The first, call compassion

The second, call economy

The third, call never presuming to act as the world’s leader

Compassion confers a capacity for courage

Economy confers a capacity for breadth

Never presuming to act as the world’s leader

                  confers a capacity to develop enduring talents

To right away set aside compassion

                  in order to be more courageous

To set aside economy in order to be more expansive

To set aside following in order to be more advanced

Is truly deadly

Now compassion used in combat means triumph

Used in defense means security

Those whom heaven would redeem

With compassion it protects them



The student skilled at action is not aggressive

The one skilled at combat is not angry

The one at besting opponents does not participate

The one skilled at employing others behaves as their subordinate

This may be styled the “virtue of not contending”

 It may be styled “applying another’s power”

It may be styled “siding with heaven,”

The consummation of antiquity



Military strategists have a saying:

“I will not dare to act as host,

But rather, act as guest,

Will not presume to advance an inch,*

But rather, retreat a foot*”

This may be called “to move without movement,

To roll up sleeves without baring arms,

To depose without a fight

To capture without force”

There is no danger greater than underestimating a foe

Underestimate a foe will risk losing what we value*

And so when opposing forces equal each other

The one sympathetic will truly succeed



My words are very easy to understand

Very easy to practice

(But) nobody in the world can understand

Nobody can practice

Expressions presume a lineage

Endeavors presume a master

Insofar as these are unknown

So it is that we are not known

Those who know me are few

Accordingly I am valued

This is why wise ones wear common cloth

Concealing jade in the heart



To know without knowledge is best

To not understand knowledge is affliction*

Now (it is) because afflictions afflict

That there is a way to avoid affliction

Wise ones avoid disease

Because they are made ill by illness

This is the way to avoid the disease



(When) the people do not heed the imposing

Then great impositions come to pass

Do not crowd their dwelling places

Do not overtax their means of living

Only when there is no oppressing

Will there then be no oppression

This is how wise ones know themselves

Without displaying themselves

Love themselves

Without venerating themselves

And so dismiss That to choose This



Courage atop presumption suggests dying

Courage in avoiding presumption suggests survival

(Yet) either of these may be sometimes beneficial,

                  other times harmful

That which heaven holds in contempt –

Who knows as to the reasons?

This is why wise ones watch for things to get complicated

Heaven’s way does not compete, yet skillfully overcomes

Does not speak, yet skillfully replies

Does not summon, yet naturally attracts

Is above all of this, yet skillfully arranges*

Heaven’s net is vast & encompassing

Loosely meshed, and yet nothing escapes


(If) the people never fear death

Then why use death to intimidate them?

Suppose it were so that the people always feared death

And still they behaved perversely

(When) we seized, detained and executed them

Who would be bold?

There will always be a master executioner to do the killing

Now to take the place of the master executioner

                  & do the killing

May be likened to taking the place of the master carpenter

                  in hewing

Now (of) those who take the place of the master carpenter

                  in hewing

Few indeed will not harm their own hands!



The hunger of the people

Is from their superiors eating up so much of their tax grain

This is behind the hunger

The difficulties in governing the people

Are due to their superiors having to take action

This is behind the difficulties in government

The people come to take death lightly

Because they pursue life’s riches

This is behind their taking death lightly

Only when one does not think life a performance

Will there be skill in valuing life


People, while they live, are adaptable & soft

When they are dead, are hard & stiff

The myriad beings, the plants and the trees,

                  while they live, are supple & delicate

When they are dead, are weathered & tough

And so the hard & inflexible are companions to death

The adaptable & soft are companions to life

This is why the unbending military will not,

                  in due course, be triumphant

The rigid tree is then struck down

The strong & great belong underneath

The adaptable & soft belong above



Heaven has its path

Compare it to the drawing of a bow

What is high comes to be lowered

What is lowly comes to be raised

What has abundance will be diminished

What is incomplete will be added to

Heaven’s way decreases where there is surplus

And adds to what is insufficient

Humanity’s path is normally not like this,

Decreasing what is not enough

                  in order to give to what is excessive

Who can claim an abundance

                  in order to offer to nature?

Only those who keep the way

This is why wise ones develop but do not expect

Accomplish works but do not linger

They have no ambition to show merit



(In all) the world there is nothing

                  as adaptable & soft as water

Yet of that which attacks the hard & inflexible

Nothing can surpass it

Because there is no way easier than this

The gentle finally overcomes the firm

The adaptable finally overcomes the persistent

There is no one under heaven

                  who cannot comprehend (this)

(But) no one can practice (it)

So it is that wise ones maintain:

To accept the country’s soil*

May in truth be called mastering the altars of place & grain

To accept the realm’s misfortunes

Is in truth to be deemed sovereign to the world

Straightforward words may seem turned around



(When) reconciling a great grievance

There will surely be lingering resentments

(And) how can this be regarded as good?

This is why wise ones will post the greater* bond

And will not press upon others

To have character is to look after obligations

To lack character is to look for entitlements

Heaven’s way has no favorites

But usually* sides with the right person


Shrink the domain, spread out the people

Let there be tens & hundreds of people with specialties

But unemployed

Let the people feel the weight of death

And not wander far

Though there be boats & wagons

No place to ride them

Though there be armor & weapons

No reason to show them

Let the people return to knotting cords

And counting on these

(To) sweetening their own food

Embroidering their own clothing

Secure in their own homes

Rejoicing in their own customs

Neighboring realms overlook one another

The sounds of each other’s roosters and dogs are heard

(Yet) the people grow old & die

Without goings & comings between them



True words are not embellished

Embellished words are not truthful

To be right is not to be argumentative

To be argumentative is not to be right

To be knowing is not to be sophisticated

To be sophisticated is not to be knowing

Wise ones do not accumulate

Though intending to act on behalf of another

              The more they themselves have gained

Though intending to give to another

              The more they themselves are increased

Heaven’s way is to benefit, but without doing harm

The wise ones’ way is to work, but without competition