Tao Te King
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Tao, the subtle reality of the universe cannot be described.
That which can be described in words is merely a conception of the mind.
Although names and descriptions have been applied to it, the subtle reality is beyond the description.
One may use the word "Nothingness" to describe the Origin of the universe, and "Beingness" to describe the Mother of the myriad things,
but Nothingness and Beingness are merely conceptions.
From the perspective of Nothingness,
one may perceive the expansion of the universe.
From the perspective of Beingness,
one may distinguish individual things.
Both are for the conceptual convenience of the mind.
Although different concepts can be applied,
Nothingness and Beingness and other conceptual activity of the mind all come from the same indescribable subtle Originalness.
The Way is the unfoldment of such subtle reality.
Having reached the subtlety of the universe,
one may see the ultimate subtlety,
the Gate of All Wonders.
As soon as the world regards something as beautiful,
ugliness simultaneously becomes apparent.
As soon as the world regards something as good,
evil simultaneously becomes apparent.
In exactly the same manner,
existence and nonexistence give birth to each other.
Difficult and easy define each other.
Long and short form each other.
High and low make each other distinguishable.
Silence and sound make each other conspicuous.
Front and back connect each other.
Realizing this, one does not separate one's being from the subtle essence of the universe.
One holds no preconceptions, and does things without insisting on personal conditions.
One guides people by living in accord with the essence of life.
One brings good things about, but has no intention of possessing them.
One performs work, but has no intention to acquire personal power.
When one's task is accomplished,
one lets go of it and seeks no reward or recognition.
Because one does not claim credit for oneself,
one does not do any damage to oneself.
When the superior are not exalted, envy will not be aroused.
Then there will be no rivalry or contention among people.
When wealth is not treasured, desire for possessions will not be stirred up.
Then people will not be tempted to rob one another.
By shutting that which is desirable out of sight, the heart will remain undisturbed.
Then there will be no confusion in the hearts of people.
The guidance of the Universal One of natural wholeness is therefore:
Empty your mind.
Enjoy good health.
Weaken your ambitions.
Strengthen your essence.
When people are free from cunning, desire, and artifice, everything will be well-ordered of its own accord.
The subtle Way of the universe appears to lack strength,
yet its power is inexhaustible.
Fathomless, it could be the origin of all things.
It has no sharpness,
yet it rounds off all sharp edges.
It has no form,
yet it unties all tangles.
It has no glare,
yet it merges all lights.
It harmonizes all things and unites them as one integral whole.
It seems so obscure,
yet it is the Ultimate Clarity.
Whose offspring it is can never be known.
It is that which existed before any divinity.
The subtle virtue of the universe is wholeness.
It regards all things as equal.
The virtue of the sage is wholeness.
He too regards all things as equal.
The universe may be compared to a bellows.
It is empty, yet it never fails to generate its products.
The more it moves, the more it brings forth.
Many words lead one nowhere.
Many pursuits in different directions bring only exhaustion.
Rather, embrace the subtle essence within.
The subtle essence of the universe is active.
It is like an unfailing fountain of life which flows forever in a vast and profound valley.
It is called the Primal Female and the Subtle Origin.
The Gate of the Subtle Origin becomes the root of the universe.
It subtly and gently generates without exhausting itself.
Heaven is everlasting and Earth is perpetual.
Because they live without holding onto any consciousness of self.
Therefore, they can endure forever.
One who does not separate his being from the nature of universal wholeness lives with the universal virtue of wholeness.
He, too, dissolves all consciousness of self and lives as the universe.
By putting himself behind others,
he finds himself foremost.
By not considering his own personal ends,
his personal life is accomplished.
He finds himself safe, secure and preserved.
Because he does not hold a narrow concept of self,
his true nature can fully merge with the one universal life.
One of universal nature is like water;
he benefits all things but does not contend with them.
He unprotestingly takes the lowest position;
thus, he is close to the universal truth.
One of universal virtue chooses to live in a suitable environment.
He attunes his mind to become profound.
He deals with others with kindness.
In his speech, he is sincere.
His rule brings about order.
His work is efficient.
His actions are opportune.
One of deep virtue does not contend with people;
thus, he is above reproach.
A bow that is stretched to its fullest capacity may certainly snap.
A sword that is tempered to its very sharpest may easily be broken.
A house that is full of jade and gold cannot remain secure for long.
One who proudly displays his wealth invites trouble.
Therefore, resign from a high position when your mission is complete.
This is the Universal Way of a life of deep virtue.
Can you always embrace Oneness without the slightest separation of body and mind?
Can you maintain undivided concentration until your vital force is as supple as a newborn baby's?
Can you clarify your inner vision to be flawless?
Can you love your people and serve your state with no self-exaltation?
As Life's Gate opens and closes in the performance of birth and death,
can you maintain the receptive, feminine principle when yin and yang are changing?
After achieving the crystal clear mind,
can you remain detached and innocent?
Give birth to and nourish all things without desiring to possess them.
Give of yourself, without expecting something in return.
Assist people, but do not attempt to control them.
This is how to realize the deep virtue of the universe.
Thirty spokes together make a wheel for a cart.
It is the empty space in the center which enables it to be used.
Mold clay into a vessel;
it is the emptiness within that creates the usefulness of the vessel.
Cut out doors and windows in a house;
it is the empty space inside that creates the usefulness of the house.
Thus, what we have may be something substantial,
but its usefulness lies in the unoccupied, empty space.
The substance of your body is enlivened by maintaining the part of you that is unoccupied.
The five basic colors can be made into countless combinations to perplex the eyes.
The five basic tones can be made into infinite compositions to bewilder the ears.
The five basic flavors can be made into numerous stimulations to confuse the tongue.
The pursuit of worldly pleasures can make the mind wild and uncontrollable.
The one who sees the deep nature of life would rather embrace the simple subtle essence of life.
Favor and disgrace are both causes of shock.
When one is favored, one is shocked.
When one is disgraced, one is also shocked.
That is because people forget the unadorned plainness of universal life.
If they knew this clearly, then what is meant by saying that favor and disgrace are both causes of shock?
Favor is no higher than disgrace.
What is meant by saying that the greatest trouble is the strong sense of individual self that people carry in all circumstances?
People are beset with great trouble because they define their lives so narrowly.
If they forsake their narrow sense of self and live wholly, then what can they call trouble?
Therefore, only one who dedicates himself to the wholeness of the world is fit to tend the world.
Only one who relinquishes the self can be entrusted with responsibility for the life of the world.
Look at it, but you cannot see it.
Because it is formless, you call it invisible.
Listen to it, but you cannot hear it.
Because it is soundless, you call it inaudible.
Grasp it, but it is beyond your reach.
Because it is subtle, you call it intangible.
These three are indescribable and imperceptible,
but in the mystical moment you see it, hear it and grasp it,
the Unseen, Unheard and Unreachable presents itself as the indefinable essence.
Confront it, and you do not see its face.
Follow it, and you do not see its back.
It does not appear bright when viewed at the zenith,
nor does it appear dark when viewed at the nadir.
There is nothing that can make this subtle essence of the universe distinct.
When you try to make it clear to yourself, it evasively reverts to Nothingness.
You may call it the Form of the Formless or the Image of the Imageless.
Yet the elusive, subtle essence remains nameless.
If you hope to meet it,
it has no part you can call front.
If you hope to follow it,
it has no place you can call behind.
Yet it can be observed in the constant regularity of the universe.
The constancy of the universe of antiquity is the constancy of the present time.
If one knows the Primal Beginning, one may thus know the truth of the universal subtle Way.
The ancient ones who knew how to live with the subtle essence of the universe were gentle and flexible, profound and indistinguishable.
They were too deep to be known, thus we can only describe their appearance.
They did not rush into anything,
as if fording an icy stream in early winter.
They were retiring and hesitant, not assertive,
as if they were shy of people.
They were reverent in demeanor to everyone,
as if meeting honored guests.
They did not insist on imposing their views on others or interfering in worldly affairs,
as if they were passing travelers.
They adapted themselves to a circumstance like melting ice.
Simple and genuine, they were like virgin timber.
Empty and receptive, they were like a huge cave.
Comprehensive and unprejudiced,
they were equally kind to all things;
like the water of a stream flowing down a mountain, they benefitted all things.
Who else could move constantly from the gross and heavy to the light and pure?
Who else could evolve steadily from the inert and stagnant to everlasting life?
Those who hold fast to the subtle essence of the universe do not desire to extend themselves in climax.
Because there is no climax to one's extension and expansion, life is continually renewing itself.
Attain the utmost unoccupiedness.
Maintain the utmost stillness,
and do not interfere with all the things that rush together in activity and grow luxuriantly.
Then you can see how living things flourish and renew themselves.
Yet, they all must return to the root again, each to its simple source.
Knowing to return to the root is to be refreshed.
This is called subtle revitalization.
To restore one's vitality is to constantly renew oneself.
To know constant renewal is to have achieved clarity.
If one does not know constant self renewal and thus acts foolishly,
disaster will soon occur.
Knowing constancy in renewing oneself,
one can extend the duration of one's life.
If one can deeply understand the extension of life's duration,
one is able to contain all things within oneself.
To be all-inclusive is to be impartial.
To be impartial is to realize the positive, creative virtues of Heaven.
To be Heavenly is to be one with the subtle essence of the universe.
To be one with the subtle essence of the universe is to enjoy everlasting life.
Such a one will be preserved, even after the dissolution of his physical body.
High beings of deep universal virtue work unassertively.
They help all people,
yet people are barely aware of their existence.
Leaders of great achievement earn the friendship and praise of people.
Leaders of great strength make people afraid.
People despise and defy a leader who is untrustworthy.
One cannot inspire confidence in people through words alone;
it must be accompanied by correct deeds.
When one of subtle virtue has accomplished his task, all the people will say:
"It is we ourselves who made it so."
When humankind strayed from the natural way of life,
relative social disciplines began to appear.
When intelligence and cleverness of mind are admired,
great hypocrisy is born.
When disharmony manifested in family relations,
children who respected their parents and parents who loved their children became rare examples.
When chaos prevailed in the country,
only a few loyal ministers were recognized.
Let all people return to their true nature.
Love, kindness, wisdom, family harmony, and loyalty should not be taught one by one,
separately from an honest life.
Then, once again, people will regain the natural virtue of wholeness.
The world will be naturally ordered.
There will be no one who singly and cunningly works for personal interest alone.
Abandon the separate concepts of holiness and unholiness.
Then all people will be benefitted a hundredfold.
Abandon the separate concepts of justice and humanism,
and all people will return to a natural state of harmony.
Abandon the cunning and cleverness of the mind,
and people will cease to rob and deceive one another.
These things are based on artifice and are thus inadequate to express the natural virtue of wholeness.
Hence, return to the true self to embrace only the one, unadorned nature.
Refine personal preference and desire.
End the endless search for segmented, intellectual knowledge,
and set your mind above worry and vexation.
In this way, one may restore one's unity with the perfection of one great universal life.
In high truth, is there any difference between yes and no?
Between good and evil, is there any absolute distinction?
Must one fear what everyone fears?
It is still too early for the subtle truth to dawn on those who are so self-assertive.
The people of the world run about excitedly as if they were going to miss the yearly, royal, sacrificial feast,
or as if they were going to be the last one to climb a high tower on a beautiful spring day.
I alone remain quiet and indifferent.
I anchor my being to that which existed before Heaven and Earth were formed.
I alone am innocent and unknowing, like a newborn babe.
Unoccupied by worldly cares, I move forward to nowhere.
The people of the world have more than enough.
I alone appear to have nothing.
The people of the world appear shrewd and wise.
I alone look foolish.
I like to be forgotten by the world and left alone.
Indeed, I have the mind of a single person!
Calm and self-contained, I am like the vast ocean.
Free and seemingly aimless, I am like a gentle wind.
Everyone seems so clever and self-assured.
I alone appear unlearned and original,
insistent upon a different direction than other people pursue.
I alone value taking my sustenance from the Mother.
One of deep virtue cherishes the subtle essence of the universe.
The subtle essence of the universe is elusive and evasive.
Though it is elusive and evasive,
it unveils itself as images and forms.
Evasive and elusive,
it discloses itself as indefinable substance.
Shadowy and indistinct,
it reveals itself as impalpable subtle essence.
This essence is so subtle, and yet so real.
It is the subtle origin of the whole of creation and non-creation.
It existed prior to the beginning of time as the single deep and subtle reality of the universe.
It brings all into being.
The yielding are preserved whole.
The crooked become straight.
The empty become filled.
The depleted are renewed.
What has little will gain.
What has much will become confused.
Therefore, one with a whole mind holds fast to the one essence and thereby becomes an example to the rest of the world.
Because he does not flaunt his brightness,
he becomes enlightened.
Because he is not self-important,
he becomes illustrious.
Because he does not boast of his accomplishments,
he becomes successful.
Because he is not self-assertive,
he becomes supreme.
Because he does not strive for superiority,
there is no one in the world who can contend with his superiority.
Indeed, the ancient teaching that "the yielding are preserved whole" is no empty saying.
Truly, they are preserved whole in order to attain one universal life.
The utterance of the universal subtle law is too loud to be audible.
Look at this: a squall does not last the whole morning, nor does a torrential shower last the whole day.
What determines this?
Even Nature cannot make such violence last for long.
How long, then, can the violent actions of human beings last?
Hence, one who follows gentleness becomes one with universal truth.
One who follows wholeness becomes one with universal virtue.
One who separates himself from universal nature and from universal virtue becomes separate and lost.
When one is one with universal nature,
universal nature is one with him.
When one is one with universal virtue,
universal virtue is one with him.
When one deviates from universal nature,
deviation keeps him from universal nature.
If one does not know and believe that the subtle law manifests in his own life,
how can he have faith that it pervades the entire universe?
One who stands on tiptoe cannot stand firmly.
One who strides cannot walk far.
One who flaunts himself is not illumined.
One who insists that he is right is self-righteous.
One who boasts of his accomplishments undoes his merit.
One who takes pride in himself impedes his own growth.
These things are normally detested by people who nurture virtue and the truthfulness of life,
for they do not set their eyes and hearts upon anything that is equal to "the greed for excessive food which fosters morbid growth."
Thus, such things are not agreeable to them.
Before Heaven and Earth are born, there is something formless and complete in itself.
Impalpable and everlasting,
silent and undisturbed,
standing alone and unchanging,
it exercises itself gently,
and generates itself inexhaustively in all dimensions.
It may be regarded as the Mother of all things.
Far beyond humankind's relative conception,
it cannot be referred to by a specific name,
yet it may be identified as the subtle essence of the universe.
In the absence of an accurate word,
I shall call it "the Great."
Being great, it extends itself without limit.
Extending itself without limit, it is far-reaching.
Being far-reaching, it ultimately reverts to itself,
returning to its self-sufficient origin.
Indeed, it had never really left itself!
This indefinable subtle energy flow is truly the greatest of all.
Expressing its integral nature,
the universal subtle essence remains intangible, yielding, and uncontrollable:
the ultimate expression of the cosmos.
As an expression of its unceasing creativeness,
it manifests as the spaciousness of the sky.
As an expression of its receptiveness,
it manifests as the great massiveness of galaxies, stars, and planets.
As an expression of harmonious reintegration,
it manifests as human life.
Thus, in the natural flow of energy transformation, human life becomes one of the four great expressions of the subtle essence of the universe.
It is the way of universal subtle integration.
Humankind conforms to Earth.
Earth conforms to the sky.
The sky conforms to the Subtle Origin.
The Subtle Origin conforms to its own nature.
These are the four peaks of manifestation from the great transformation of one universal subtle energy.
Taking an individual human life as example,
the intangible body with its fluids and nervous system construct a field of intangible, but functioning mind and super consciousness.
Centeredness is the cure for impulsiveness.
Serenity is the master of restlessness.
Knowing this, one of universal nature is placid and never departs from the center of his own being.
Though he may move about all day,
he never loses his poise.
Though he may be surrounded by splendor and comfort,
he is always dispassionate and undistracted.
For one with great responsibility,
to conduct himself lightly is perilous.
In frivolity, one's root is lost.
In restlessness, one's self-mastery could go with the wind!
One who is good at running leaves no tracks.
One who is good at talking has no flaws in his speech.
One who is good at calculating makes no use of counting tools.
One who is good at shutting things makes no use of bolt and bar, yet no one can open what he has shut.
One who is good at tying makes no use of cords and knots, yet no one can untie what he has fastened.
One of natural, integral virtue is good at helping all people impartially.
Thus, no one is abandoned.
Because he is good at protecting and preserving all things,
nothing is ever thrown away.
This is called "embodying the light of the subtle truth."
Hence, the people on the Universal Integral Way are teachers of those off the Way.
However, if the student does not value the teacher,
and the teacher does not tend the student well,
though they both may be intelligent enough,
this leads only to further separation.
Know that you possess the strong masculine principle,
yet abide by the meek, feminine principle.
Thus, become the flowing stream of the world.
As the flowing stream of the world,
never swerve from your true nature.
In this way, you return to the originality of a newborn babe.
Know the bright, yet keep to the dark.
Never wavering from the subtle truth,
you will conform to the pattern of an integral being.
In this way, you return again to the infinite.
Know how to be honored and glorified,
yet maintain unadorned plainness.
Thus, become the abundant valley of the world.
As the abundant valley of the world,
you realize the sufficiency of the constant, subtle virtue of the integral universe.
In this way, you return to the original simplicity of an uncarved block of wood with undamaged potential.
An integral individual, by preserving the original qualities of his being,
maintains his supreme, integral nature.
When the uncarved block is shaped into various single tools and vessels,
its original qualities are destroyed.
This is called "the great Oneness that cannot be divided."
Those who want to conquer the world and make it conform to their own desires will never have success,
for the sovereignty of the world is a subtle thing.
He who tries to shape it spoils it.
He who tries to hold it loses it.
The things of the world are constantly changing.
There is a time for things to move ahead,
and a following time for things to retreat;
a time to withdraw internally,
and a following time to expand externally;
a time to grow luxuriantly,
and a following time to decay;
a time to rise up,
and a following time to sink down low.
Therefore, one who does not separate his being from the deep nature of the universe avoids all extremes, extravagance and excess.
One who assists a leader with the subtle truth of the universe advises him not to use the force of arms to try to conquer the world,
for such things will always rebound.
It is generally the nature of weapons to turn against their wielders.
Whenever armies touch the land,
they turn it into a wasteland.
Moreover, plague and death invariably follow in the wake of a great war.
Therefore, a leader should be allowed to effect only a right purpose and not rely on the force of arms once his goal has been achieved.
He effects his right purpose,
but does not take pride in it.
He effects his right purpose as a regrettable necessity.
He effects his right purpose,
but does not delight in violence,
for he knows that to be excessively strong is to hasten decay and that violence is against the integral nature of the universe.
Whoever goes against the nature of the universe will soon perish.
Weapons are instruments of killing and destruction,
which are contrary to the nature of life.
Thus, they are avoided by those who follow the subtle Way of the universe.
According to ancient social custom,
in times of peace a gentleman regards the left side, the soft hand, as the place of honor;
in times of war, the right side, the strong hand, is considered the place of honor.
Because weapons are inauspicious,
they are not the instruments of a gentleman.
Only when one has no other choice may one resort to using them, and, if their use is necessary, one must employ calmness and restraint,
for peace and quiet are the normal nature of universal life.
Even in victory there is no cause for excitement and rejoicing.
To rejoice over a victory is to delight in killing and destruction.
He who delights in killing and destruction cannot be expected to thrive for long in the world.
Therefore, on happy occasions the left side has precedence,
while on sad occasions, it is the right side.
When this rite was applied in the army, the lieutenant-commander stood at the left, while the commander-in-chief stood on the right.
This indicates that war is treated as the equivalent of a funeral service.
Because many people have been caused an unnatural death in war,
it is only right that the survivors should mourn them.
Even when a victory is won,
the occasion should be regarded as lamentable.
The universal subtle essence is unnameable and omnipresent.
Although it appears even in the plainest and most ordinary of things,
it is inferior to nothing.
It maintains itself as a model of indivisible integrity.
If people would embrace it as their own true nature,
everything would settle down in right order and peace of its own accord.
Harmonious relationship can be illustrated by the cycle of the seasons which produces rain and dew at exactly the right times.
People do not need to do anything to insure the harmony between Heaven and Earth.
All names were given for the purpose of distinction when the original simplicity was diversified.
When one departs from simplicity, the result is perplexity.
When one returns to simplicity, one is saved from destruction by confusion.
The universal subtle essence is to human beings what the great ocean is to the rivers and streams of the earth.
One who knows others is clever.
One who knows himself has insight.
One who overcomes others is forceful.
One who overcomes himself is truly strong.
One who knows he has enough is rich.
One who does not divert his mind from the realization of integral virtue is wisely willful.
One who preserves his natural integrity will endure.
One who embraces the subtle essence dies yet does not perish and thus enjoys true immortality.
The subtle essence of the universe is omnipresent.
It may go to the left or the right.
All things derive their life from it,
and it holds nothing back from them,
yet it takes possession of nothing.
It accomplishes its purpose,
but it claims no merit.
It clothes and feeds all,
but has no ambition to be master over anyone.
Thus it may be regarded as "the Small."
All things return to it, and it contains them,
yet it claims no authority over them.
Thus it may be recognized as "the Great."
The wise one who never attempts to be emotionally great and who accomplishes each small task with full devotion,
as if it were the greatest of tasks, is naturally recognized as great.
When the subtle Way of the universe is taught, people know where to go and what to learn,
because they know that they will not be harmed but will receive great peace.
The teacher of the universal Way is like one who gives real food to people.
He does not feed them colorful bait with the intention of catching them.
The subtle Way of the universe is flavorless, with nothing much to offer the mouth.
Neither does it offer much to be enjoyed by the eyes or entertain the ears, yet its usefulness is inexhaustible.
If you hope to expand, you should first contract.
If you hope to become strong, you should first weaken yourself.
If your ambition is to be exalted, humiliation will follow.
If you hold fast to something, it will surely be taken away from you.
This is the operation of the subtle law of the universe.
The law of the universe is subtle, but it can be known.
The soft and meek can overcome the hard and strong.
The strength of a country must not be displayed.
Just as fish cannot leave the deep,
one must never stray from one's true nature.
The subtle essence of the universe is always unoccupied,
yet it leaves nothing undone.
If the people of the world were wise enough to plant the root of their lives deep within the Subtle Origin,
then the worldly affairs of life would coherently follow their own natural course,
and harmony would abound of its own accord.
When confusion takes place in one's surroundings,
it can be dissolved with the power of undisturbable Simplicity.
When life is ruled by undisturbable Simplicity,
desire and passion naturally fall away and reveal people's true, original nature.
Then the peaceful order of the universe prevails and unity manifests again of its own accord.
One of subtle universal virtue is not conscious of being virtuous,
therefore, he is truly virtuous.
One of partial virtue attempts to live up to an external standard of virtue,
therefore, he is not truly virtuous.
One of whole virtue does not need to do anything in order to be virtuous,
because virtue is the very essence of one's true nature.
But, one of partial virtue believes that something must be done in order to prove that he is virtuous.
Thus, partial virtue becomes prevalent when people fail to follow their own true nature.
Benevolence becomes prevalent when people fail to be naturally kind.
Etiquette becomes prevalent when people fail to be righteous and considerate.
When people find no response with etiquette,
they roll up their sleeves and force others to respond to them.
When people stray from the subtle way of universal nature,
they can no longer perceive their own true nature.
Thus, they emphasize relative virtue.
When natural virtue is lost,
society depends on the doctrine of humanism.
When humanity becomes corrupted,
social and religious teachings appear and become powerful forces.
When social and religious teachings become corrupted,
what is left behind is the empty shell of superficial ceremonies and artificial etiquette.
When etiquette is emphasized,
it is because people lack the simple qualities of fairness and kindness.
This is the starting point of people of confusion.
All of these man-made, partial virtues are merely superficial flowers, a false nature.
When people begin to move away from their own true nature,
it is the beginning of hypocrisy.
Therefore, one who integrates his own individual being with the deep nature of the universe sets his heart upon the root of reality rather than the husk, and upon the nourishment of the fruit rather than the fleeting beauty of the flowers.
Truly, he cherishes what is deep within rather than what is shallow without.
Knowing this, he knows what to accept and what to reject.
Since ancient times there have been those who have attained the subtle essence of the universe and thus become what they are.
Heaven attained the subtle essence of the universe and became clear.
Earth attained the subtle essence of the universe and became stable.
Divine spirits attained the subtle essence of the universe and became powerful.
The Valley of the Universe attained the subtle essence of the universe and became productive.
The myriad things attained the subtle essence of the universe and became prosperous.
The sages attained the subtle essence of the universe and became wise.
All became what they are by attaining the subtle essence of the universe and hence their true nature.
Extinction happens to one who violates his true nature.
Without being pure, Heaven would cease to be.
Without being stable, Earth would burst into bits.
Without maintaining their potency, spirits would disperse.
Without being productive, the vast Valley of the Universe would become exhausted.
Without being reproductive, the myriad things would perish.
Without fortifying themselves with integral virtue, sages would stumble and fall.
Greatness is rooted in plainness,
just as the low forms the foundation of the high.
Realizing this, the ancient sovereigns were content to style themselves as desolate, unworthy, and needy.
Therefore, one who does not separate his being from the nature of the universe follows the Integral Way.
He has no wish to sound like jingling jade pendants in order to court a good name,
nor like the rumbling of a stone rolling from a cliff in order to create a bad name.
Each one should work on one's own subtle spiritual integration with the subtle essence of the universe.
Returning to itself is how the subtle Way of the universe exercises itself.
Being gentle and yielding is how the subtle Way of the universe employs itself.
All things of the world come from the Manifest.
The Manifest comes from the unmanifest, subtle essence of the universe.
When people of the highest awareness hear the subtle Way of the universe,
they cultivate themselves diligently in order to live in accord with it.
When mediocre people hear the subtle Way of the universe,
they are unimpressed.
When people who are low hear the subtle Way of the universe,
they break into loud laughter.
If it were not laughed at,
it would not be the subtle Way of the universe.
Thus there is a traditional saying that he who understands the subtle Way of the universe seems dull of comprehension.
He who approaches the subtle Way of the universe seems to move away from it.
He who moves on the smooth path of the universe seems to go up and down as if traveling a rough road.
The deeply virtuous are like an empty, receptive valley.
The innocent appear to be sullied.
The abundant appear to be deficient.
The perfect appear to be defective.
The honest appear to be corrupt.
Hence, great space has no corners.
Great talent ripens late.
Great eloquence is silent.
Great form is shapeless.
The subtle essence of the universe is hidden and indefinable, yet its benefit is always subtly bestowed.
The universal subtle essence gave birth to One.
One gave birth to Two.
Two gave birth to Three.
Three gave birth to the Myriad Things.
All lives have their backs to the yin and embrace the yang.
There is nothing more loathed by people than to be orphaned, desolate, and hapless.
Yet the wise ancient kings, princes, and barons used such titles to refer to themselves.
A thing is sometimes benefitted by being humbled,
and diminished by being expanded.
What the ancients have taught, I also shall teach:
"A man of force and violence will come to a violent end."
Whoever said this can be my teacher and father.
The softest of all things can overcome the hardest of all things.
Only the insubstantial can penetrate the spaceless.
Thus, we know the benefit of non-interference and the teaching of the subtle Way of the universe that does not rely on words.
Few people under Heaven can attain it.
As for your fame and your life, which matters more?
As for your life and your wealth, which is more precious?
As for gain or loss, which is more damaging?
He who is most endeared to something must pay dearest for it.
He who has hoarded much will suffer great loss.
He who knows when enough is enough saves himself from humiliation.
He who knows when to stop protects himself from peril.
To know this is to be long enduring.
The great perfection seems imperfect, yet its usefulness is unfailing.
The great fullness appears to be void, yet its usefulness is boundless.
The great accomplishment seems unfinished.
The ultimate straightness appears crooked.
Profound skillfulness appears clumsy.
Fluent eloquence seems mute.
Movement overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Maintain clarity and purity,
and be a model of deep virtue for all people.
When the people of the world live in accord with the subtle Way of the universe,
horses are used for agricultural purposes.
When the people of the world do not live in accord with the subtle Way of the universe,
then horses, even pregnant mares, are driven into the battlefield and bred there.
There is no greater calamity for a nation, or for an individual,
than not finding contentment with one's own sufficiency.
There is no greater mistake for a nation, or for an individual,
than to be covetous.
Hence, when one is content within one's own nature, one will always have enough.
Without going out of your door, you can know the ways of the world.
Without looking through your window, you can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
Thus, one of deep virtue knows without going,
sees without looking,
and accomplishes without doing.
Learning builds daily accumulation,
but the practice of the Way of spiritual integration with the subtle essence of the universe builds daily simplification.
Simplify and simplify, until all contamination from relative, contradictory thinking is eliminated.
Then one does nothing, yet nothing is left undone.
One who wins the world does so by not meddling with it.
One who meddles with the world loses it.
One with wholeness of virtue has an unconditioned mind.
He regards the mind of all being as his own mind.
He is kind to the kind.
He is also kind to the unkind,
for the subtle nature of the universe is kind.
He is faithful to the faithful.
He is also faithful to the unfaithful,
for the integral virtue of the universe is undeceiving.
In the midst of the world,
he dissolves all minds into harmonious Oneness.
All people strain their eyes and ears for excitement.
One of deep virtue brings all people back to their childlike-heartedness.
That one's physical life will begin with birth and end in death seems a surety.
Also, in an individual life, the special opportunities of life and death are very much equal.
When there is an opportunity for death,
there is an opportunity for life also.
When there is an unusual opportunity for life,
it pulls one's life closer to death.
Aside from such opportunities,
there is the personal effort to maintain normalcy.
This is much more reliable than the special opportunities which place one's life on the verge of life and death.
People of awareness value normalcy and forsake seeking special opportunities which hold the promise of increasing the strength of living.
Such things are eventually only ways to speed up one's life.
One who can enjoy his natural life is content with the life of simple normalcy.
As I was told, one who knows how to tend his life with simple normalcy,
does not meet wild animals on the road or know the touch of weapons during war.
The mighty horns of the rhinoceros,
the powerful claws of the tiger,
the sharp blades of weapons,
find nowhere to pierce him.
Why is this so?
Because his mind holds no uncanny thoughts he gives death no opportunity.
The natural essence of the universe gives life to all things.
Virtue nurses them.
Matter shapes them.
The natural environment brings them to maturity.
Therefore, all things without exception revere the subtle essence and honor virtue.
Though the subtle essence deserves reverence,
it does not demand it.
And though virtue ought to be honored,
it, too, does not demand it.
Thus, it is the subtle essence that gives life to all things, and with its virtue nurses them, grows them, fosters them, shelters them, comforts them, nourishes them and embraces them.
It does all this, yet it claims no possession,
expects no gratitude, and desires no lordship.
This is called the subtle virtue of the universe.
All of creation has a common beginning.
This common beginning is the Mysterious Mother of all.
If we know the Mother, we may know her offspring.
Know the offspring, yet stay with the Mother,
and the essence of your life will never be exhausted, even though your body be dissolved.
Block the openings, shut the doors,
and to the end of your days, you will not be worn out.
Unblock the openings, multiply your activities,
and to the end of your days, you will be beyond remedy.
Thus it is said:
To perceive the subtle is to have true vision.
To be soft is to be truly strong.
Use the outer light, but return to the inner.
In this way, you will restore your integral virtue,
and be preserved from all harm.
If I had even the tiniest grain of insight,
I should live in accordance with the subtle Way of the universe;
my only fear would be to stray from it.
The Integral Way of the universe is very smooth and straight, yet people's minds prefer devious bypaths.
The courts are polished and decorated,
while the fields are untilled,
and the granaries are empty.
People wear fine clothes to adorn their external appearance.
They carry sharp swords at their sides and worship might rather than righteousness.
They know only to make merry by indulging in food and drink.
They crave to possess more riches than they could ever use.
This is the committing of robbery and is not the Universal Integral Way of natural life.
What is well planted cannot be pulled up.
What is closely embraced cannot slip away.
The wise establish virtue firmly within themselves, and are honored for generations ever after.
Apply natural, integral virtue to your own character,
and it will be genuine.
Apply natural, integral virtue to the family,
and it will abound.
Apply natural, integral virtue to the state,
and it will flourish abundantly.
Apply natural, integral virtue to the world,
and it will be pervasive.
Understand other people's lives by means of your own life.
Understand other people's families by means of your own family.
Understand other societies by means of your own society.
Understand other countries by means of your own country.
How can you know what is right for the world?
By knowing what is right for your own life.
One who is steeped in natural virtue is akin to a newborn babe.
Wasps and poisonous serpents do not sting it.
Fierce beasts do not seize it.
Birds of prey do not maul it.
Its bones are tender, its muscles soft, yet its grip is firm.
It has not known the union of male and female, yet its male member will stir naturally.
This is because its vitality is perfectly whole.
It can howl and scream all day long without becoming hoarse.
This is because it embodies perfect harmony.
To know harmony is to know natural virtue.
To recognize the natural virtue of the universe is to have insight.
To overprotect one's life is to invite danger.
To follow the fantasy of the mind is to drain away one's life energy.
To hasten growth is to hasten decay.
All of this is against the Way of natural virtue.
Whatever is against the Universal Way of life soon ceases to be.
One who knows does not speak.
One who speaks does not know.
The one who knows is the one whose doors are shut, whose openings are blocked, whose sharpness is blunted, and whose glare is softened.
He is one with the subtle truth of the universe.
Thus you cannot get close to such a person by your love to do so,
nor can you keep away from him by your desire to do so.
You cannot bestow benefit on him,
nor can you do him harm,
because he holds the subtle essence of the universe.
When serving the public, use upright means.
When commanding troops in war, employ the principle of surprise.
To win the world, do nothing to interfere with it.
Because the more prohibitions and inhibitions that are imposed on people,
the more difficult their lives become.
The more destructive weapons a nation or its people possess,
the poorer the people of that country become,
and the greater is the chaos that occurs in the world.
The more clever and crafty people become,
the more often strange things happen.
The more laws and ordinances there are,
the more criminals and dissidents will arise.
Therefore, the ancient sages of natural virtue said:
"I do nothing, and people's contention dissolves by itself.
I enjoy serenity, and people rectify themselves.
I make no effort, and people enrich themselves.
I have no desire, and people return to simplicity."
When the government does not interfere, the people are simple and happy.
When the government does interfere, the people are tense and cunning.
Disaster is what blessing perches on.
Blessing is where disaster abides.
Who can say what the ultimate end of all possibilities will be?
Appropriate means soon become unfitting.
Good means soon turn to evil.
Long indeed have the people been perplexed by the endless, topsy-turvy movement of life.
Therefore, one of subtle virtue dissolves and eliminates the vicious cycle of duality.
He may have sharp corners, but he does not jab.
He may extend himself, but not at the expense of others.
He may shine, but he does not dazzle.
In managing people and serving Heaven, there is nothing better than sparing unnecessary activities and expense.
To be thrifty means to return to the simple essence of life.
To return to the simple essence of life is to nourish subtle virtue.
To nourish subtle virtue is to be able to overcome any difficulty.
Being able to overcome difficulties,
one can break through all limitations.
One's limitlessness is derived from whole and boundless virtue.
The source of such virtue can support one to serve a nation.
Then one's benevolence can be enduring.
This is the way to firmly plant and deeply root oneself in the subtle path of universal integration.
This is the achievement of the Way of immortality.
Managing a big country is like cooking small fish.
The more you stir them, the less their shape can be maintained.
When one applies the subtle Way of the universe to the world,
all high spirits unite and harmonize their potencies.
Thus, they do not harm people.
All the world's leaders know to merge with the great Oneness,
thus all people are preserved from harm.
When the subtle Way of the universe is all pervading,
there is no longer any distinction between subject and object,
between spiritual and material,
between holy and unholy.
All energies merge into harmonious Oneness.
A great country is like the lower regions of a river: a place where all the streams of the world unite.
She is the mother of the world.
The peaceful and feminine always overpowers the masculine.
Being peaceable, one takes the lower position.
Hence, if a great country can lower itself to greet a small country,
it will win the friendship and trust of the small country.
If a small country can lower itself to greet a great country,
it will win the friendship and support of the great country.
One wins by taking the lower position,
while the other wins by remaining low.
Thus, if each is to find its proper place,
the one that is great must place itself low and offer help.
The subtle essence of the universe supports all things.
It is a treasure to virtuous people,
yet it is a refuge for unvirtuous people too.
Good words will find their market.
Good deeds may be presented as a gift to another.
Though a person has strayed from the right path,
the all-encompassing subtle essence of the universe will never abandon him.
Hence, at the enthronement of an emperor,
or the appointment of the three highest ministers of the empire,
rather than present them with discs of jade and teams of fine horses,
show them the priceless subtle Way of the universe.
Why did the ancients esteem the subtle Way of the universe?
Didn't they say that a seeker will find nothing,
but that he can be free from all transgression?
That is why it is such a treasure to the world.
Do that which is not done by doing.
Make that which is not made by making.
Taste that which cannot be distinguished by taste.
Hold the same regard for the few and the many.
Requite the unkind with kindness.
Thus, one of subtle virtue desires what is not connected with desire,
sets no value on the rare goods of the world,
learns what is not learned through learning,
and induces people to return to that which they have overlooked.
Tackle difficulties when they are easy.
Accomplish great things when they are small.
Handle what is going to be rough when it is still smooth.
Control what has not yet formed its force.
Deal with a dangerous situation while it is safe.
Manage what is hard while it is soft.
Eliminate what is vicious before it becomes destructive.
This is called "attending to great things at small beginnings."
A tree so big it can fill the span of a man's arms grows from a tiny sprout.
A terrace nine stories high rises from a shovelful of earth.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Thus, one of integral virtue never sets about grandiose things,
yet he is able to achieve great things.
Lightly made promises inspire little confidence.
Making light of things at the beginning,
one will meet with failure in the end.
Being prepared for hardship, one will not be overcome by it.
In handling their affairs, people often ruin them just as they are on the verge of success.
With heedfulness in the beginning and all the way through to the end,
nothing is ruined.
In ancient times, those who were well-versed in the practice of the subtle Way of the universe did not lead people to disintegrate their minds through intellectual development for the sake of partial achievement.
Instead, they dissolved all contradictory concepts and images in order to maintain the natural state of simplicity.
Why are people so hard to manage?
Because they have become complicated.
He who leads others with a conditioned and complicated mind is the source of calamity.
He who leads others with simplicity is the source of blessing.
To know these two principles is to possess a rule and measure, the symbol of the ancient wise one.
To keep the rule and measure constantly in your mind,
is to spontaneously manifest integral virtue.
Deep and far-reaching is the subtle truth of integrity.
It leads all things to return from worldly divergence to one great and universal life.
How does the sea become the queen of all rivers and streams?
By lying lower than they do!
Hence, it is the queen of all rivers and streams.
One who humbles himself, therefore, can serve all people.
By putting himself last, he comes to be their leader.
Thus, when one of subtle virtue is set above people,
they do not feel that he is their burden.
And, when he stands in front of people,
they do not feel that he is an obstruction to them.
Therefore, the world follows one of subtle virtue joyfully,
and never tires of doing so.
He does not compete with anyone,
thus he is above all competition.
The world may say that the subtle Way of the universe which I describe is great,
but that it has little bearing on worldly life.
Truly, it is just that it is not definable, like the small ways of the world, thus it is indeed great.
There are three treasures which I embrace and follow closely:
the first is to be kind;
the second is to be simple;
the third is to not put one's own importance first in the world.
Because kindness and compassion can produce courage,
simplicity can thus be broadened to contain the world.
By not putting your own importance first in worldly affairs,
you will not impede the natural growth of all things.
If a person endeavors to be brave without first being kind,
great purposed, without first simplifying his life,
an authority, without first denying himself,
he cannot evolve freely from strife, and is only courting destruction.
Kindness can help to win a war.
Kindness can help to defend a fortification.
Kindness will invite the corresponding energy of kindness from Heaven through all the divine beings who support and protect.
A good warrior is never violent.
A good fighter is never offensive.
A great victor defeats his opponent, but not by challenging him.
A great commander is humble.
This is called the power of non-contention.
This is also called making use of the effort of others.
To follow this is to follow the pattern of the subtle law of the universe.
The strategist who has achieved excellence says: dare not to be the host, but rather be the guest.
Dare not to be the restless aggressor, but rather be the calm defender.
Dare not advance an inch, but rather retreat a foot.
March forward where there is no obstacle.
Stretch out your arm only where there is no confrontation.
Charge an opponent where there is no resistance.
Hold a weapon that is invisible.
There is no greater mistake than to underestimate the power of an opponent.
To underestimate the power of an opponent may cost a man his life.
Therefore, when opposing troops meet in battle,
it is the side with the greatest caution that wins.
My words are very easy to understand and easy to practice,
yet the world can neither understand nor practice them.
My words have only one source: the subtle truth of the universe.
My deeds have only one master: the natural virtue of the universe.
The people of the world have no knowledge of this.
Thus, they have no knowledge of me.
The fewer the persons that know me,
the nobler are they that follow me.
Therefore, the one of whole virtue wears coarse clothes superficially,
but holds a precious treasure within.
He who regards his intellectual knowledge as ignorance has deep insight.
He who overrates his intellectual achievement as definite truth is deeply sick.
Only when one is sick of this sickness can one cease to be sick.
One who returns his mind to the simplicity of the subtle truth is not sick.
He knows to break through conceptual knowledge in order to directly reach the subtle truth of the universe.
This is the foundation of his health!
When people lack a sense of pure spiritual piety toward natural life,
then awful things happen in their life.
Therefore, respect where you dwell.
Love your life and livelihood.
Because you do not disparage your life and livelihood, you will never become tired of life.
Thus, one of natural whole virtue respects his own life, but is not egotistical.
He loves his life, but does not exalt himself.
He holds a sense of spiritual serenity for all things, and disparages nothing.
Hence, he does what is right and gives up what is not right.
He who is brave in daring will meet an unnatural death.
He who is brave in gentleness will be preserved.
Of these two kinds of bravery, one is beneficial, while the other proves harmful.
The subtle truth of the universe does not support those who are brave in daring,
yet there are still many people who do not understand such apparent truth.
So, even the one who integrates his being with the subtle essence of the universe,
dares not make light of the subtle law of life.
The subtle Way of the universe gave birth to a world of peace and order.
It responds to the order and harmony of all beings and things without needing to talk to them.
Without your summoning it, it comes to you.
Without scheming, its plan is perfect.
Vast is the subtle energy network of the universe.
Sparsely meshed it is, yet nothing can slip through it!
If people are not afraid to die, what is the use of threatening them with the punishment of death?
On the other hand,
if people value their lives, and if outlaws are seized and killed or are killed by what they are doing,
who would dare risk a life of peace for the sake of an insecure future?
Yet it is always true that one who takes charge of killing is killed in turn.
To become the executioner of artificial righteousness is like the inexperienced lad who would brandish a sharp axe of a master carpenter.
He can seldom escape cutting himself.
Why are people starving and leading a difficult life?
Is it not because their rulers consume too much tax grain?
Is that why they are starving and leading a difficult life?
Why are people hard to manage?
Is it not because those above them create distress with their oppressive interference?
Is that why they are hard to manage?
Why do people make light of death?
Is it not because those above them demand too much for themselves and value only their own personal power and glory?
Is that why they take death so lightly?
One who is a guardian of people and does nothing for his own life knows how to value all lives well.
When a person is alive, he is soft and supple.
When a person dies, he becomes hard and rigid.
When a plant is alive, it is pliant and tender.
When a plant is dead, it becomes dry and brittle.
Hence, the hard and rigid are companions of the dead.
The soft and supple are companions of the living.
Therefore, a mighty army is ready to be vanquished.
A tree that is dry is ready for the ax.
The mighty and the great will be laid low.
The soft and the gentle will outlive them all!
The subtle Way of the universe: is it not expressed in the stretching of a bow?
The high it presses down.
The low it lifts up.
The excessive it takes from.
The deficient it gives to.
It is the nature of this subtle truth to take from what is excessive and give to what is deficient.
The way of man, however, is otherwise.
It takes from those in need to give to those who already have more than enough.
Only one of whole virtue always has something to give to others.
Therefore, one of whole virtue does things, but does not keep them for himself;
accomplishes his tasks, but does not cling to them.
He has no desire to trade his virtue for people's worship.
Nothing in the world is softer or more yielding than water.
But, for wearing down the hard and strong,
there is nothing like it.
That yielding overcomes the strong and softness overcomes the hard is something that is known by all,
but is practiced by few.
An ancient developed one said:
"He who can take the troubles of the people of the world is qualified to rule the world.
He who can tend to calamities for the sake of all beings is the right person to be the sovereign of the world."
Indeed, truth seems paradoxical!
Even after settling a great dispute, some resentment is likely to remain.
Can this be considered a true settlement?
Only by cultivating the virtue of wholeness and by returning injury with kindness can there be true harmony.
Therefore, one of deep virtue always gives without expecting gratitude.
One whose virtue is deep treats the world as if he were the debtor,
holding the left side of the tally.
He willingly repays the world through serving his fellow man.
One who is partially virtuous treats the world as if he were the creditor,
holding the right side of the tally.
He thinks the world owes him something and should repay him.
Although the subtle Way of the universe holds no favoritism or partiality,
it always supports those who are naturally virtuous.
Let there be small communities with few inhabitants.
The supply of vessels may be more than enough,
yet no one would use them.
The inhabitants would love living there so dearly that they would never wish to move to another place.
They may have every kind of vehicle,
but they would not bother to ride them.
They may have powerful weapons,
but they would not resort to using them.
They would return to a simple system of cords and knots to record their simple events,
as was done in ancient times.
They would be content with plain food,
pleased with simple clothing,
satisfied with rustic but cozy homes,
and would cling to their natural way of life.
The neighboring country would be so close at hand that one could hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking along the boundaries.
But, to the end of their days, people would rarely trespass the territory of another's life.
True words are not necessarily beautiful.
Beautiful words are not necessarily truthful.
One who is achieved does not argue,
and one who argues is not achieved.
One who knows the deepest truth does not need segmented information.
One who knows vast amounts of information may not know the truth.
One of deep virtue is not occupied with amassing material goods,
yet the more he lives for others, the richer his life becomes.
The more he gives, the more his life abounds.
The subtle Way of the universe is beneficial, not harmful.
The integral nature of a person is to extend one's virtue unconditionally and to contend with no one.