Tao Te King
Lao Tse
Chinese - English by
Roderic & Amy M. Sorrell, 2003

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The Nature of the Tao: Existence and emptiness

The Tao can be explained, but this is not the real Tao.
Names can be given, but these are only a designation.

The origin of Heaven and Earth is called Emptiness.
The mother of all things is called Existence.

When we focus on Emptiness,
we become aware of the wonder of it all.
When we focus on Existence,
we become aware of the nature of all things.

These both emerge together, but have different names.
Both are called a Mystery. Mystery within Mystery.
The doorway to all wonders.



Everything is Relative: The nature of opposites

Everyone in the world is aware of beauty;
and so there exists ugliness.
Everyone is aware of skill;
and so there exists awkwardness.

Existence and Emptiness give rise to each other.
Hardship and ease succeed each other.
Lasting and brief define each other.
High and low are the measure of each other.
Sound and tone harmonize each other.
Before and after follow each other.
And so there is balance.

This is how wise people effortlessly attend to their affairs.
Teaching without words, everything gets done in its own time.

Spontaneously arising. Acting without expectation.
Deeds are done and not dwelt upon.
Since they are not dwelt upon, nothing is lost.



Peace: From restless desire to effortless peace

Not rewarding talent keeps us from rivalry.
Not valuing rare goods keeps us from thievery.
Not seeing desirable things keeps us from anxiety.

That is why the wise rule others
by opening their hearts and filling their bellies,
tempering their ambition and strengthening their bones.

In this state, the mind is at peace, and desire is at an end.
For this reason issues are not forced.
Actions are done effortlessly, and yet nothing is left undone.



Endless Abundance: The Tao as an infinite resource

The Way flows freely,
yet however much it is used it can never be used up.

Vast! It seems to be the ancestor of all things.
It smoothes out sharp edges and straightens out tangles;
softens the glare and settles the dust.

Deep! It appears to have existed forever.
I do not know whose child it is.
It seems to precede even the ancestor of God.



Straw Dogs: Impermanence. All things will pass

Heaven and Earth are not biased;
they treat everything like straw dogs.
Wise people are not biased;
they treat all people like straw dogs.

Is not the space between heaven and earth like a bellows?
It is hollow, yet never collapses.
The more we pump it, the more it produces.

Too much talk leaves us exhausted.
It’s not as good as staying within.



The Mystery Woman: The spirit of the world

The Valley Spirit never dies.
She is called the Mystery Woman.

The gate of the Mystery Woman is called
the Root of Heaven and Earth.

Effortlessly, she seems to have existed forever.



Eternal Life: The end of self concern

Heaven is eternal and Earth endures.
Heaven and Earth endure, because they exist for others.
Therefore, the universe persists.

That is why wise people put themselves last,
yet find themselves first.
They are detached from self-concern,
and yet are safe from harm.
Is this because they are unselfish,
and so can fulfill themselves?



The Good Life: Like water for Tao

The highest good is like water.
Water is capable of benefiting all things, because it does not struggle.
It is found in places avoided by most people,
and so it is close to the Tao.

The essence of conduct is its integrity.
The essence of the psyche is its sincerity.
The essence of giving is its benevolence.
The essence of speech is its truthfulness.
The essence of authority is in bringing order.
The essence of getting things done is in being competent.
The essence of taking action is in the timing.
Since there is no struggle there are no mistakes.



Excess: Greed and grasping, stress and strain

Holding our cup up to be refilled
is not as good as stopping.
If we are always sharpening our knives,
they won’t hold their edge for long.
If gold and jade fill our rooms,
it will be impossible for us to protect them.
To be arrogant about our wealth and status,
is to bring down disaster on ourselves.
When the good deed is done, withdraw.
This is the Way of Heaven.



Perfection: One with ourselves and one with the universe

In nourishing spirit and vitality and embracing unity,
can we prevent them from breaking up?
In focussing our breath and making it soft,
can we be like a baby?
In cleansing our mind and contemplating the mystery,
can we be flawless?
In loving our people and ruling our country,
can we not interfere?
When the Gate of Heaven opens and closes,
can we be receptive?
In understanding the four realms,
can we not use knowledge?

Bring forth and nourish.
Bring forth without possessing.
Encourage without creating dependency.
Strengthen without controlling.
This is called Profound Virtue.



Space: the Final Frontier: We need our space

Thirty spokes share one hub.
With the space they make, we can use the cart.

Clay is shaped to make a vessel.
With the empty space we can use the vessel.

Cut out doors and windows to make a room.
With the empty space we can use the room.

Having things is advantageous,
but it is the space within them that creates their use.



All about Sensation: The distraction of the five senses

The five colors blind the eye.
The five sounds deafen the ear.
The five flavors dull the palate.
Racing horses on the hunt make the heart go mad.
Seeking rare possessions obstructs one's progress.

This is why a wise person acts from the belly not the eye;
leaving one and taking the other.



Suffering: Surviving the ups and downs of life

Both favor and disgrace come as a shock.
Respect great suffering as part of life.

Why is it said:
“Both favor and disgrace come as a shock?”
When we get it, it is shocking, and when we lose it, it is shocking.
That is why it is said:
“Both favor and disgrace come as a shock.”

Why is it said:
“Respect great suffering as part of life?”
I experience suffering because I am alive.
If I were not alive what suffering could I experience?
That is why it is said:
“Respect great suffering as part of life.”

So it is that:
Those who value their own lives
can be trusted to care for the world,
and those who love their own lives
can be trusted to cherish the world.



Getting a Grip: Defining and perceiving the Tao

Looked for, it cannot be found, so we call it Exotic.
Listened for, it cannot be heard, so we call it Rare.
Reached for, it cannot be grasped, so we call it Infinitesimal.
Because these three are each incomprehensible
and cannot be fathomed, they blend as one.

Its top is not bright; its bottom is not dark.
Define it? It cannot be defined.
It returns back to nothingness.
It is called the invisible appearance,
the semblance of nothingness.
It is called Vague.

Face it and we cannot see where it begins.
Follow it and we cannot see where it ends.
Grasp this ancient Tao to get a handle on the present.
We can know this ancient source:
It is called The Sign of the Tao.



The Wisdom of the Ancients: Who were those guys

Long ago there were Ancient Ones
who were masters at practicing the Tao,
and who understood its subtle mysteries.

They were so profound we cannot really know them.
Since we cannot know them,
we can only describe them by their actions.

Prepared! like someone about to ford a river in winter.
Diplomatic! like someone respectful of their neighbors.
Courteous! like one who is a guest.
Expansive! like ice melting.
Natural! like uncarved wood.
Receptive! like a valley.
Blending! like swirling water.
What is muddy, when left still, will gradually become clear.
What is at rest, when moved, will gradually come to life.
Those who keep this Tao have no need for fulfillment.
Since they have no need for fulfillment,
they can remain unknown, and so be pure and complete.



Coming Home: Openness and tranquillity

Take openness to the limit.
Hold tranquillity in our center.

As all things arise together, so I watch them all return.
Though all things exist in abundant profusion,
each one returns to its roots.

Returning to our roots, we become tranquil.
Being tranquil, we recover our true nature.
Recovering our true nature, we become eternal.
Knowing the eternal, we have understanding.
Not to know the eternal, is to recklessly invite disaster.

Know that the eternal is tolerant.
Tolerant, and therefore, impartial.
Impartial, and therefore, complete.
Complete, and thus, sacred.
Sacred, and so the Tao.
Tao, and thus, everlasting.
In the midst of life we will come to no harm.



All Leaders Great and Small: Good and bad leaders

The best leader; people do not know he exists.
The next best; people are close to him and praise him.
The next best; people fear him.
The next best; people scorn him.

The untrustworthy have no trust.
We take our time and value our words.
We do good deeds and get things done.
Then people will say, “I did it all by myself.”



Living the Lie: Honesty and pretence

When the Great Way is abandoned,
we get benevolence and righteousness.

When wisdom and knowledge appear,
we get great deception.

When there is no harmony in the family,
we get family values and kindness.

When the homeland is in chaos and confusion,
we get loyal bureaucrats.



Trying Too Hard: Ease up and don’t worry

Give up wisdom. Discard knowledge.
Then people will benefit a hundred fold.
Give up benevolence. Discard justice.
Then people will return to brotherly love and kindness.
Give up scheming. Discard profit.
Then there will be no bandits and thieves.

These three sayings, as principles, are not enough.
Therefore we must add the following:
Be natural and embrace simplicity.
Reduce selfishness and have few desires.
Give up learning and don’t worry.



What Kind of Fool am I? Tao for dummies

Is there really that much difference
between “probably” and “maybe?”
And isn’t the difference between “good” and “bad” similar?
Making these distinctions can fill a person with fear;
fear that cannot be avoided.
The confusion! It is endless!

Most people are so happy-go-lucky,
as when celebrating the ox sacrifice;
or in Spring, when they climb the towers.
I alone am becalmed! Leaving no trace.
A dummy! Like a baby that has not yet learned to laugh.
Lost and forlorn! With no home to return to.
Everyone else has plenty. I alone seem to have been left out.
What kind of fool am I to have such a heart!

Ordinary people are so smart and clever.
I alone am dull and confused.
Ordinary people are so inquisitive.
I alone am sad and listless.
Indistinct, like the ocean.
Gazing without end.

Everyone else has what it takes.
I alone am a blockhead and an outcast.
My desires alone differ from those of others,
for I treasure the Mother as the source of my nourishment.



The Dreaming Tao: The power of dreams

To have great personal power requires only that one follow the Tao.
The Tao is only fleetingly apparent, and vaguely visible.
Vague and fleeting, at its heart is meaning.
Fleeting and vague, at its heart is substance.
Deep and dark, at its heart is life essence.
This life essence is fully real, and at its heart is truth.

From the present stretching back to antiquity
its name has not vanished.
Use this to experience the origin of all.
How do I know what the origin of all is like?
I use this.



Survival of the Flexible: Flexibility keeps us whole

Bend and be whole.
Twist and be straight.
Empty out and be filled.
Be used up and be renewed.
Have little and be satisfied.
Have much and be confused.

This is why a wise person embraces the One,
and becomes an example for the whole world.

If we do not show off, we will shine.
If we are not assertive, we will be recognized.
If we do not praise ourselves, we will gain merit.
If we are not reckless, we will endure.
If we do not compete, no one can compete with us.

The old saying goes: Bend and be whole.
Are these empty words?
These are perfect words, and we can rely on them.



Winners and Losers: In the win or in the loss

Nature speaks rarely.
A raging wind does not outlast the morning,
and a sudden shower does not outlast the day.

What causes this? It is Heaven and Earth.
Since even Heaven and Earth cannot last forever,
how could a person expect to?

Therefore, those who actions are in harmony with the Tao,
are one with the Tao.
Likewise the powerful are one with power,
and the losers are one with loss.

Those who identify with the Tao, the Tao so empowers.
Those who identify with power, the Tao so empowers.
Those who identify with loss, the Tao so empowers.
The untrustworthy have no trust.



The Big Shot: Pride comes before a fall

Those who stand on tiptoe are not steady.
Those who stand with legs astride cannot walk.
Those who hold a high opinion of themselves are not enlightened.
Those who admire themselves are not beautiful.
Those who think much of themselves are worthless.
Those who are conceited will not endure.

Those with the Tao call this self-indulgent and parasitical behavior.
These are loathsome things.
So those in the Tao will have nothing to do with them.



The Way of the Universe: The four great realms

There is a substance, utterly formless.
It existed before Heaven and Earth were born.
So silent! So vast!
It is solitary and unchanging, all pervasive and without end.
It could be considered the Mother of Heaven and Earth.
I do not know its name, but if I must find a word for it,
I will call it the Tao.
And if I must describe it, I will call it vast.
Being vast, it permeates everywhere.
Permeating everywhere, it is far reaching.
Reaching far, it returns.

The Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
Humankind is great.
These are the four great things in the Universe,
and Humankind is one of them.
Humankind follows the law of Earth.
Earth follows the law of Heaven.
Heaven follows the law of the Tao.
The Tao follows its own law.



Taking Care of Business: Personal responsibility

Just as the meaningful is the origin of the trivial,
so calmness is the master of agitation.
That is why the gentleman, all through the day’s journey,
does not leave his baggage unattended.

Though there may be exquisite scenery,
and places where swallows fly, he passes them by.
Only when he is safely in his inn and relaxing, is he free of concern.

How can we be master of a thousand chariots,
and treat ourselves with disrespect?
Those who act lightly lose their base.
Those who are impetuous, lose control.



Skillful Means: Teachers and students

Good walkers leave no trace.
Good speakers place no blame.
Those good with numbers need no calculator.
Those able to secure things have no need for lock or key,
yet no one can open it.
Those good at tying, need no rope for binding,
yet no one can undo it.

This is why wise people are always able to help others,
and no one is abandoned.
They are good at looking after things,
and nothing is wasted.
This is called twofold understanding.

Therefore, the skillful person
is the teacher of those who are less competent;
and those who are less competent
are the raw material of the skillful person.
Not to treasure one’s teacher, and not to treasure one’s resources, even if we are clever, will lead us far astray.
This is called the subtle essence of the mystery.



The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Seeing who we are

By knowing the masculine, and keeping in touch with the feminine, we are of use to the world.
By being of use in the world, we are true to our original nature,
and we return to the innocence of a child.

By seeing our clarity, and also acknowledging our obscurity,
we serve as a model in the world.
By serving as a model for the world, our integrity is unimpaired,
and we return to our limitless nature.

Even when receiving praise, we remember our faults,
and are receptive to the world.
By being receptive to the world, our true nature is perfected,
and we return to our natural state.

When wood is carved, it becomes a mere tool.
When wise people are called upon to serve,
they become the ones in charge.
Thus the best principle is not to carve things up.



Messing with the World: We don’t always get what we want

If we seek to seize the world and meddle with it:
I see this as unachievable.
This world is a sacred vessel.
We cannot meddle with it, nor can we control it.
Those who meddle with it, ruin it. Those who control it, lose it.
This is why wise people do not meddle with things,
and so do not ruin or lose them.

It is the nature of things either to lead the way, or follow after.
Either to breathe in through the nose, or blow out through the mouth.
They are either strong, or weak. They either make it, or fail.

This is why wise people do away with excess,
and do away with waste and extravagance.



Forcing the Issue: Force provokes retribution

Those who use the Tao to assist their ruler do not use military force;
for such actions are likely to provoke retribution.

Where the army has been, thorns and thistles will grow.
After a great battle there will follow years of famine.

The skillful are successful, yet do not presume to take things by force.
Successful, yet not boasting. Successful, yet not punishing.
Successful, yet not arrogant. Successful, yet not taking advantage.
Successful, yet not dominating.

Even what is strong, in time, becomes old.
It is said that this is not the Tao,
and all things not with the Tao, will meet an early end.



The Killing Fields: War is a last resort

Now, weapons are instruments of misfortune,
and despised by the whole world.
So those who are with the Tao will have nothing to do with them.

When a noble person is at home
he grants most importance to those at his left side.
But when he is at war
he grants most importance to those at his right side.

Weapons are instruments of misfortune.
They are not the instrument of the noble person.
Only when he has no choice will he use them.

It is best to be cool and calm. Victory is not beautiful.
But those who think it is beautiful, enjoy killing people.
Those who enjoy killing people
will not find what they want anywhere in the world.

In good times the place of honor is on the left.
In bad times the place of honor is on the right.
It is the second-in-command of the army who sits on the left,
and the first-in-command of the army who sits on the right.
This is to say;
these are the same positions they would take when at a funeral.

When a great number of people have been killed,
it is an occasion for sorrow and mourning.
When the battle is won, conduct a funeral for those slain.



Simplicity: The Tao cannot be controlled, only followed

The Tao shall be forever nameless.
Even though it may appear to be trivial,
it is the pristine state.
The world cannot control it.
If princes and kings hold to this, the whole world would cooperate.
Then Heaven and Earth would unite to pour forth sweet dew.
People, without being commanded, would act fairly to one other.

In order to exercise control over something, we name it,
but all we have is a name.
Knowing when to stop doing this, we avoid trouble.
For the Tao goes through the world like a valley stream
leading us to the rivers and ocean.



Immortality: Knowing ourselves

Those who know others are clever,
but those who know themselves are wise.

Those who conquer others have great strength,
but those who conquer themselves have the greater power.

Knowing when we have enough is prosperity.
With self discipline, we develop strength of character.

In not forgetting who we are, we live forever.
To die, yet not to perish, is to be immortal.



Nourishment: All life is cared for by the Tao

The Great Way is boundless! It flows in every direction.
All things depend upon it for life, and it does not fail them.
It works in our favor, yet claims no credit.

The Tao clothes and cares for all things, without being their master.
We can say it is small,
yet it is a refuge for all things,without controlling any thing.
We can say it is great,
but the Tao does not make a big thing of itself,
and so is able to achieve great things.



The Big Picture: The Tao is unlike the world of appearance

Observe the world as a vast unfolding appearance.
Events transpire harmlessly in great peace and serenity.

Music and enticing food may make those passing by stop.
But when the word “Tao” leaves our mouth,
it has no taste, and is without flavor.
Looked for, it cannot be found.
Listened for, it cannot be heard.
Yet when used, it is inexhaustible.



Reverse Psychology: Doing the opposite to get what we want

If we want to fold something up, we must first spread it out.
If we want to weaken something, we must first strengthen it.
If we want to get rid of something, we must first encourage it.
If we want to have something, we must first let it go.

This is called The Secret Wisdom:
That the soft and the weak shall overcome the hard and the strong.

As a fish should not be taken from its pool,
so a country’s resources should not be displayed.



The Catalyst: Accepting what is leads to peace

The Tao never does anything, yet there is nothing it leaves undone.
If our leaders could hold to this, everything would be transformed.

If transformation occurs and desires still arise,
I will cool them down with the nameless original simplicity.
If I cool them with the nameless original simplicity,
they will be free of desires.

If they are free of desires there will be tranquillity,
and all will be right with the world.



True or False? What happens when we lose the Tao

Those who are most worthy don’t make an issue of their worth;
this is why they are worthy.
Those who are least worthy never let go of their self-importance;
this is why they are not worthy.
Great character is natural and not contrived.
Lesser character may look natural, but it is an act.

When true kindness is performed,
it is done without thought of the result.
When true justice is applied,
it is done with deliberation.
If we are considerate in our actions, and yet no agreement is reached,
then preparations are made for conflict and confrontation.

So it is, that when the Tao is lost, righteousness remains.
After righteousness is lost, kindness remains.
After kindness is lost, justice remains.
After justice is lost, polite behavior remains.
Those who rely on polite behavior inspire superficial loyalties,
and this is the beginning of disorder.

Until we become familiar with it,
our knowledge of the Tao is superficial.
This is the beginning of ignorance.
At our best we focus on the substantial,
and are not taken in by what is flimsy.
At our best we deal with what is deep rather than superficial.
So we leave the one and take the other.



Getting our Act Together: Wholeness is tranquil

Long ago these things became whole:
Heaven became whole, and was clear.
Earth became whole, and was peaceful.
The gods became whole, and had vitality.
The valley became whole, and was plentiful.
All things became whole, and came to life.
Princes and Kings became whole,
and acted righteously towards the world.

Because of this it is said:
If Heaven were not clear,
there would be fear of it splitting asunder.
If Earth were not peaceful,
there would be fear of it being laid to waste.
If the gods had no vitality,
there would be fear of them giving up.
If the valley were not plentiful,
there would be fear of it being exhausted.
If all things did not take birth,
there would be fear of them becoming extinct.
If Princes and Kings did not act righteously,
there would be fear of them stumbling and falling.
What is noble is rooted in what is humble.
What is high is founded upon that which is low.
This is why Princes and Kings identify themselves with
the orphan, the lonely, and the destitute.
This is taking the humble as our root, is it not?

So it is, when we seek praise, we do not receive real praise.
And it is for this reason,
that we do not desire the rarest jade, or necklaces of garnet.



Going Home: The Tao is realized by yielding to it

Returning is the movement of the Tao.
By yielding we realize the Tao.

All things are born of Existence.
Existence is born of Emptiness.



All the Scholars: Poking fun at the Tao

When the best scholars hear of the Tao,
they practice it with diligence.
When the middling scholars hear of the Tao,
they seem to get it, and then seem to lose it.
When the worst scholars hear of the Tao,
they make fun of it.
If they didn’t laugh at it, it wouldn’t be the Tao.

The sayings go:
The light of the Tao appears dark.
Progress in the Tao looks like retreat.
The smooth Tao appears tangled.
The highest truth seems incomplete.
The greatest purity seems defiled.
Vast goodness appears to be inadequate.
Proven integrity looks furtive.
The simplest truth seems fickle.
An infinite square has no corners.
Those with the greatest ability mature slowly.
The perfect note is rarely heard.
The great world of appearance has no shape.
The Tao is hidden and has no name,
and yet by it we are forgiven and fulfilled.



The Harmony of Yin and Yang: Evolving from the Tao

The Tao gives birth to the One.
The One gives birth to the Two.
The Two gives birth to the Three.
The Three gives birth to the Ten Thousand Things.
The Ten Thousand Things are supported by Yin,
and embraced by Yang.
These energies blending in harmony.

This is what all people dread: to be widowed,
to be orphaned, and to go hungry.
Yet royalty identify themselves with these people.

What declines then increases, and what increases then declines.

I teach what everyone else teaches:
Those who rule by force will surely die.
I will take this as the root of my teaching.



Subtlety: The power of the soft and the small

The softest thing in the world,
can leap over the hardest thing in the world.

What has no existence can enter where there are no spaces.
This is how I know that not-doing is of benefit.

To teach without words, and to help without interfering.
In all the world, this is attained by few people.



Your Money or Your Life: Too much of a good thing

Fame or life; which is closer to our heart?
Life or possessions; which is more important?
Gain or loss; which is more harmful?

Excessive passions are very costly.
Those who hoard greatly will lose much.

By knowing when we have had enough, we avoid disgrace.
Those who know when to stop will come to no harm,
and will long continue.



Almost Perfect: Perfection ain’t what it’s cracked up to be

Absolute perfection appears to be lacking something,
and yet its use is not impaired.
Great abundance seems empty,
and yet it is inexhaustible.

True directness seems crooked.
True skill appears awkward.
Accomplished debate sounds inarticulate.

Movement overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Clarity and tranquillity make everything right in the world.



Dissatisfaction: Being at peace

When Tao rules in the world, work-horses manure the fields.
When Tao does not rule in the world,
war-horses are bred outside the city.

There is no greater disaster than not
knowing when we have had enough.
There is no greater fault than the desire for gain.
Therefore those who know when enough is enough,
always have enough.



Seclusion: The further we go the less we know

Without going out our door we can know the whole world.
Without peering out our window we can see the Tao of Heaven.
The further we go the less we know.

This is why wise ones:
Do not have to go anywhere to know everything.
Do not have to see something to understand it.
Do not have to do anything to achieve everything.



Spontaneous Action: Unlearning is the way of the Tao

In the act of learning there are daily increases.
In enacting the Tao there are daily decreases.
Decrease, and decrease again until we reach
the not-doing of effortless spontaneous action.
In not-doing, nothing is left undone.

In dealing with worldly affairs, resist getting caught up in them.
If we do get entangled, we will not be as effective.



Love: Goodness and honesty

The wise ones are not concerned with themselves,
and so are able to embrace others’ concerns.

To those who are good, I am good.
To those who are not good, I am also good.
Our essential nature is good.
To those who are honest, I am honest.
To those who are not honest, I am also honest.
Our essential nature is honest.

When wise people appear in the world they are at peace.
When they act in the world they are wholehearted.
All people focus their eyes and ears on them.
For to the wise they are all their children.



Death: The way of death

When life leaves, death enters in.

The avenues of life are thirteen,
and the avenues of death are thirteen.
And for those who are alive and moving towards the place of death, there are also thirteen avenues.

Why is this so?
It is because they use up their energies on the luxuries of life.

One hears of those who are good at staying alive.
When living in the hills they encounter no rhinoceros or tigers.
When going into battle they wear no armor nor carry any weapons.
The rhinoceros has nowhere to thrust its horn.
The tiger has nowhere to strike with its claws.
Weapons have nowhere to insert their blades.
Why is this so?
It is because they have no place in them for death.



At Play in the Fields of the Tao: What we are made of

Tao gives us life. The life force nourishes us.
Matter gives us our form. Environment completes us.

This is why there is nothing that does not
venerate the Tao and honor the life force.
Venerating the Tao and honoring the life force isn’t demanded:
it arises naturally and spontaneously in everything.

So the Tao gives us life, and the life force nourishes us.
By them we are encouraged, nurtured, shaped,
ripened, provided for, and protected.

To give life without being possessive, to act without exploiting,
and to encourage without dominating, is called:
“having a profound spirit.”



Source: If we understand the origin, we see the outcome

The world has a source which is the mother of the world.
When we know the mother, we will understand her children.
In understanding her children we will regain the protection of the mother, and until our death we will suffer no harm.

If we cease our idle chatter and close the door,
then we will have an easy life.
If we’re engaged in endless chatter, and crave many things,
then we will have a difficult life.

Noticing the subtle signs is to have understanding.
Keeping our sensitivity is to have strength.
By developing our clarity, we find wisdom.
If we don’t bring trouble into our lives,
we are able to practice equanimity.



Boasting: Straying from the Tao

If I know anything at all it is that I will walk the Way of the Tao;
and straying from it will be my only fear.
The Great Way is completely safe, but most people prefer side paths.

The royal court is extremely wasteful,
yet the fields are completely overgrown.
The storehouse is quite empty,
yet their clothing is rich and bright.
They carry sharp swords
and gorge themselves on food and drink.
They have more money and possessions
than they know what to do with.

These people are called swaggering bandits.
This is not the Tao!



Empathy: It takes a village

What is well established will not be uprooted.
What is well embraced will not be renounced.
Then generation after generation will offer thanks without cease.

Cultivate this in self and our spirit will be real.
Cultivate this in family and its spirit will be overflowing.
Cultivate this in our village and its spirit will endure.
Cultivate this in our nations and their spirits will be plentiful.
Cultivate this in our world and its spirit will be universal.

It takes a person to understand a person.
It takes a family to understand a family.
It takes a village to understand a village.
It takes a nation to understand a nation.
It takes a world to understand a world.
How do I know the nature of all things under Heaven?
It is because I use this method.



Baby Power: Spontaneity

Those who possess the mysterious inner power
are like the red bottomed baby
whom poisonous insects do not sting,
whom savage beasts do not seize,
whom birds of prey do not attack.
Their bones are weak, and their muscles soft,
but their grasp is firm.

Sex has not been experienced, yet they get sexually excited,
and are full of vital energy.
They can cry all day without getting hoarse,
because the vital energy is in perfect balance.
Having perfect balance is equanimity.
To have equanimity is to know the light.

To thrive in life is fortunate.
Those who use their mind to direct their energy are strong.
What flourishes must fade, and this is not the Tao,
for all things not with the Tao will meet with an early end.



Non-Attainment: Only entertainment

Those who know, don’t speak about it.
Those who speak about it, don’t know.
Cease the idle chatter. Close the doors.
Blunt what is sharp. Untie the knots.
Blend with the light. Be at one with the dusty world.
This is called Profound Unity.

We cannot attain this and think of it as something personal to us.
Nor can we attain this and think of it as something apart from us.
We cannot attain this and think we have gained anything.
Nor can we attain this and think we have lost anything.
We cannot attain this and think of it as valuable.
Nor can we attain this and think of it as worthless.

This is why the Tao is honored throughout the world.



Leave Well Enough Alone: Doing nothing

Use justice to rule the country.
Use surprise to deploy the army.
Use non-interference to deal with the world.

How do I know the nature of things?
I use these truths:
When there are many taboos and restrictions in the world,
people are poorer for it.
When people have many weapons,
the country will fall into chaos.
When people use tricks and deceit,
strange things happen.
When laws and regulations become the most important thing,
there will be more thieves and bandits around.

So wise people say:
I do nothing and people transform by themselves.
I am tranquil and people do right by themselves.
I do not meddle and people enrich themselves.
I want for nothing and people simplify their lives.



Great Expectations: No rules, no regulations

When government is restrained, people are pure and simple.
When government is meddlesome, people are found wanting.

Disaster arises from good fortune.
Good fortune hides within disaster.
Who can say how things will turn out in the end?
Life is just not fair.

Normal becomes abnormal. Good becomes evil.
People are as confused as the day is long.
This is why wise people
are straight with us, but do not put us down.
Are honest but not hurtful.
Are direct but not reckless.
Are bright but not flashy.



Exercising Restraint: Developing personal power

When governing people and serving Heaven
there is nothing like restraint.
Being restrained means being prepared.
Being prepared means the continuous
accumulation of personal power.

When we are constantly accumulating personal power
there is nothing we cannot do.
When there is nothing we cannot do,
then we will know no limits.
If we have no limitations, we can rule a country.
If we rule our country like a mother, we will last a long time.
It is said: Planting deep roots, makes for a strong trunk.
This is the Way of Long Life of Lasting Awareness.



Exorcising Demons: Rendering evil influences harmless

Ruling a large country is like cooking small fish.

When we use the Tao to deal with the world,
demons have no spiritual power.
It is not that demons have no spiritual power,
but that they have no effect on people.

Their spiritual power will do no harm,
just as the wise one does no harm.
When both of them are not causing harm,
their powers are restored in a harmonious union.



Balance of Power: Large and small countries

A large country, like a river estuary,
is the gathering place of the world:
It is the womb of the world.
The female principle uses gentleness
to overcome the male aggression.
Gentleness is low key.

So when a large country defers to a small country,
it gains influence in the small country.
And when a small country defers to a large country,
it gains influence in the large country.
So either accept a subordinate position and gain influence
or assume a subordinate position and gain influence.

A large country cannot ignore its wish to nurture
and nourish many people at the same time;
just as a small country cannot ignore its wish
to join in with other people.
Thus they both get what they want;
and so it is fitting for the larger country to act with humility.



Every Breath We Take: A grand display or a sincere gesture?

The Tao is the shelter and the refuge of all things.
It is the treasure of the good and the protector of the bad.

People get respect by being polite,
and correct behavior increases their status.
Why expect those we may not approve of to abandon such practices?

When the Son of Heaven is crowned
and the three chief ministers are appointed,
even though we present them with handfuls of jade amulets
and seals carried before a team of four horses,
it is not as good as kneeling down
and making this Tao our presentation.

Why did the ancient ones so value this Tao?
Did they not say:
The seeker finds, and the guilty are forgiven?
Therefore it is the most valued thing in the world.



In Easy Stages: How to handle a difficult task

Act without putting on an act.
Do things without getting entangled in them.
Taste that which has no flavor.

Whether big or small, many or few,
respond to hatred with understanding.

Take on the difficult by doing what is easy.
Take on the big by doing what is small.
In the world, difficult tasks should be done in easy stages.
In the world, big affairs should be broken down into their details.

That is why to the very end, wise people make no big deal of things; and that is how big things get done.
Promises lightly made are hardly trusted.
The easier it looks the more difficult it probably is.
This is why wise people treat everything as difficult,
and so in the end, nothing is difficult for them.



Getting Things Done: Beginning and ending things

What is at rest is easy to grasp.
What has not yet happened is easy to plan for.
What is fragile is easily broken.
What is minute is easily scattered.

Act before it happens.
Exert control before it gets out of hand.
A tree that takes both arms to embrace starts off as a tiny shoot.
A nine story terrace starts with a basket of earth.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Those who force things to happen are defeated by them.
Those who cling to things lose them.
This is why wise people do not force issues and are not defeated.
They do not cling and they do not lose.
When people are engaged in enterprises;
it is always when they have nearly succeeded that they fail.
If we are as careful at the end as we were at the beginning,
then we will not fail in our ventures.
This is why wise people want not to want,
and do not value rare and expensive goods.
They learn what is not studied
and return to what others have ignored.
They assist all things in realizing their true nature,
yet they do not presume to interfere with them.



I Am Not a Crook: Being too clever for our own good

In olden times those who practiced the Tao
did not enlighten the people, but left them simple.
People are difficult to govern when they are too clever.

Those who use cleverness and cunning to govern a country
are the thieves of the country.
Those who do not use cleverness to govern a country
are the blessed of the country.

Knowing these two things shows us the method people use.
To always know what method is being used
is called Profound Understanding.
Profound Understanding is deep and far reaching;
it helps all things return to the Tao
and realize The Great Acceptance.



Unpretentious: Taking the low ground

The reason why rivers and oceans are kings of the one hundred valleys
is because they are good at taking the low ground.
Thus they can be the kings of a hundred valleys.

This is why:
If wise people want to be above others,
they must speak from a position below them.
If they want to be in front of others,
they must place themselves behind them.

This is why :
When wise people are in a high position, people are not burdened,
and when they lead them, people come to no harm.

This is why :
The whole world happily supports them and will never despise them.
Since they do not oppose anyone no one can oppose them.



The Three Treasures: Compassion, moderation and humility

Everyone in the world says my Tao is the greatest
and that it is unique.
It resembles nothing else.
It is great, because there is nothing like it.
If there were anything like it,
it would have become insignificant long ago.

I have three treasures that I always keep and protect:
The first I call compassion.
The second I call moderation.
The third I call humility.
With compassion we can be brave.
With moderation we can be generous.
With humility we can develop our talents.

Now if we abandon compassion and think we can be brave,
If we abandon moderation and think we can be generous,
If we abandon following and think we can be first,
then we will surely die.
If with compassion we engage in battle, we will win,
and our defenses will be secure.
When Heaven comes to our rescue,
it is with a protective circle of compassion.



The Warrior: The best ways to handle conflict

The best warrior is not war-like.
The best fighter is not angry.
The best at defeating the enemy do not engage them.
The best at handling people are low key.

This is called the virtue of non-aggression.
This is called being able to get people to give their best.
This is called uniting with the most ancient
and highest principle of Heaven.



The Way of Peace: A good defense is the best offense

Those who use weapons say:
I do not try to take the offensive but would rather take the defensive.
I do not try, to advance an inch but would rather retreat a foot.

This is called: making no moves, not spoiling for a fight;
challenging no opponent, nor wielding any weapon.
There is no greater disaster than taking the enemy lightly.
If I take the enemy lightly I am close to losing my treasures.

When opposing armies are evenly matched,
the one that feels pity will gain the victory.



Easy to Understand: Understanding and applying the Tao

My words are very easy to understand,
and very easy to apply.
Yet no one in the world can understand them,
and no one can apply them.

My words are from an ancient source,
my deeds are from a noble authority.
It is because people don’t understand this,
that they don’t understand me.

Those who understand me are rare,
those who follow me, are precious.
This is why, while wise people may wear coarse woolen cloth,
they carry precious jade in their hearts.



Self-Knowledge: Knowing when we don’t know

To know that we don’t know is best.
Not to know that we don’t know is a flaw.

Therefore wise people are not flawed
because they know their flaws to be flaws.

Since they know their flaws to be flaws they are flawless.



Oppression: Pushed beyond our limits, nothing to lose

People who live fearlessly, gain the greatest personal power.
Do not take advantage of others, and do not despise their lives.
If we do not despise them, they will not despise us.

Therefore wise people know themselves
without having to assert themselves.
They love themselves without being vain.
For this reason they reject that and choose this.



The Net of Heaven: Both life and death require courage

It takes courage and daring to kill,
and it takes courage and restraint to live.
There is the possibility of benefit or harm in each of these.

As for those things that Heaven detests
who knows the reason why?
Even for wise people this is a difficult question to answer.

The Way of Heaven is not to fight, yet successfully win.
Is not to speak, yet skillfully respond.
Is not to summon, yet all come willingly.
Is calm, yet plans are accomplished.
The net of Heaven is vast.
And though its mesh is wide, nothing is lost.



The Executioner’s Song: The death penalty

If people did not fear death;
Then what would be the use of threatening them with death?

In fact people do fear death; and they do act strangely,
But I would not, because of this,
presume to seize, imprison, and execute them.

Yet there is always someone willing
to be the executioner and do the killing.
But to take the place of the Executioner and kill is called:
“taking the place of the Master Carpenter at woodworking.”

And of those who presume to take the place of the Master Carpenter,
there are very few who do not hurt their hands.



Death and Taxes: Government interference

People go hungry because their leaders tax them too heavily.
This is why they are hungry.

People are difficult to govern because their leaders interfere.
This is why people are difficult to govern.

People take death lightly
when their leaders demand too much of their lives.
This is why people take death lightly.

Those who do not interfere in the lives of others
are those who value life.



Hard and Soft: The signs of life and the signs of death

While people are alive their bodies are supple and soft.
When they die they become hard and rigid.

While grasses and trees are alive they are supple and pliant.
When they die they become withered and dried out.

Therefore the hard and rigid are the signs of death,
while the supple and soft are the signs of life.
If the army is inflexible it will be wiped out.
If the tree is brittle it will snap.

The hard and rigid are of lesser value.
The supple and soft are superior.



Fairness: The proper distribution of resources

The Way of Heaven is like drawing a bow;
the high end is bent down, and the low end is raised up.
Where there is excess, it is decreased;
and where there is lack, it is filled.
The Way of Heaven is to reduce excess and fill what is lacking.

The way of Humankind is not like this;
it takes from those who have too little
and gives it to those who have too much.
Who can take their surplus and offer it to the world?
Only those who have the Tao.

This is why wise people are not attached to their actions,
do good deeds without dwelling on them,
and have no wish to boast of their talents.



Water Power: Taking responsibility for our actions

In all the world there is nothing as soft and yielding as water.
But for overcoming the hard and rigid, nothing can beat it,
because it cannot be changed into something else.

Supple overcomes the unbending,
flexible overcomes the unyielding.
In the whole world there is no one who does not know this,
yet there is no one who can apply it.

This is why wise people say:
Those who take responsibility for their country’s disgraces
are called Lords of Earth and Grain.
Those who take responsibility for a country’s misfortunes
are kings of the world.
Straight talk sounds contradictory.



Righting Wrongs: Putting things right

If, when righting a great wrong,
some resentment will always remain,
how can one do the right thing?

It is for this reason that wise people keep their side of the bargain,
while making no demands on others.
The righteous fulfill their obligations,
while the wicked insist on collecting their due.

To follow the Way of Heaven is not to play favorites
and always to side with the good.



Shangri La: A perfect world

There is a small country with few people,
and though they have hundreds of tools and utensils,
they do not use them.

Because they play it safe, people do not travel far away.
Although they have boats and chariots, no one rides them.
Although they have armor and weapons, no one parades them.
People return to knotting ropes to keep account of things.

Their government is excellent,
their food is sweet,
their clothing is beautiful,
their homes are peaceful,
and their festivals are joyful.

Neighboring countries may overlook one another
and hear the sounds of each others’ chickens and dogs;
and yet they will reach old age and death
without ever having visited one other.



Straight Talk: Truth and beauty

True words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not true.
Good people do not argue; those who argue are not good.
Those who know are not learned;
those who are learned do not know.

Wise people do not hoard.
Because they work for others, they have more for themselves.
Because they give to others, they get more for themselves.

The Way of Heaven is to help, and not to harm.
The wise person acts in this way, and does not cause contention.

© Roderic Sorrell & Amy Max Sorrell, 2003
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