Das
Tao Te King
von
Lao Tse
Chinese (Wang Bi) - English by
Bradford Hatcher, 2005
http://www.hermetica.info/LaoziA.htm

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A more scholarly, bilingual version and updates may be found in pdf format at hermetica.info.

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1

A path fit to travel
Is not a general path
A name fit for calling
Is not a generic name
“Nothing” names the origin of heaven and earth
“Being” names the mother of the myriad beings
And so, always be dispassionate
In order to see the mysteries
Always be passionate
In order to see the objectives
These two mean the same (when) emerging
While diverging in significance
The sameness tells of their mystery
Mystery leading to greater mystery
(Is) the gateway to every mystery


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2

All under heaven know the beauty of things as beauty
So ugliness is already there
All know the good of things as the good
So the not-good is already there
And so being and nothingness beget each other
Difficult & easy complete each other
Lasting & brief define each other
High & low rely on each other
Tone & voice resonate with each other
Before & after follow each other
This is how wise ones abide without interfering with the work,
Practice without speaking their doctrine
A myriad beings emerge here, but without explanation
Are produced, but with no claims
Are developed, but with no expectations
Works are accomplished, but with no dwelling
Insofar as there is no dwelling
This means there is no departure


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3

Not exalting worthies
Keeps the people from rivalry
Not prizing goods which are hard to obtain
Keeps the people from acting like thieves
Not displaying the desirable
Keeps the peoples’ hearts from confusion
This is how wise ones approach government
Emptying the hearts
(And) filling the bellies
Weakening the ambitions
(And) strengthening the bones
Always keeping the people free of sophistication, free of desires
So that even the clever ones will not presume to meddle at all
(Where) action does not take action
There nothing is out of order


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4

The way (is) fluid, and yet in its practice
Somehow there is nothing in excess
So deep-
As if ancestor to the myriad beings
Blunt in its sharpness
Resolved in its tangles
Shaded in its glare
One with this world
So deep & clear
Seeming as though seeming to exist
We do not know whose child this is
(But) imagine it divinity’s ancestor


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5

Heaven & earth are not compassionate
Treating the myriad beings as straw dogs
Wise ones are not compassionate
Regarding the hundred families as straw dogs
The space between heaven & earth
How this is like bellows & flutes!
Empty, yet never exhausted
(When) moved then more is produced
Lots of words adds up to exhaustion,
(This is) never as good as holding the center


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6

The spirit of the valley does not die
It may be known as the mysterious feminine
The gateway of the mysterious feminine
May be known as the source of heaven and earth
Endless, continuous, seeming to exist
To practice this is not effort


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7

Heaven is eternal, earth endures
The reason why heaven & earth can continue and endure
is this:
That their lives are not their own
In this way (they) can go on living
This is why wise ones put themselves last
And yet (their) being advances
Exclude themselves
And yet (their) being persists
Is it not because they have no self-interest?
Thus (they) can fulfill their self-interests


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8

The highest good is like water
Water’s goodness benefits the myriad beings
And yet does not strive
Dwells in places which everyone else regards with contempt
And in this way is close to the way
In dwelling the good is place
In mind the good is depth
In relations the good is compassion
In speech the good is sincerity
In government the good is organization
In business the good is competence
In movement the good is timing
It is only when there is no contention
That there then is no resentment


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9

To maintain but then overdo something
Is not as good as one’s showing restraint
To rough out but then (over)hone something
Does not help hold (the edge) long
(When) coins and jade fill the hall
Nobody can defend this
(Being) wealthy & honored and then being proud
The natural consequence is one’s own misfortune
(When) the work succeeds a body retires
Keeping to heaven’s path


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10

(Are) shaping a soul & embracing union
Possible without separation?
(Are) concentrating the breath & attaining responsiveness
Possible (as a) newborn child?
(Are) cleansing & clearing the mystery’s vision
Possible without a stain?
(Are) caring for people & ruling a realm
Possible without interfering?
(Are) opening & closing the gates of heaven
Possible playing the woman?
(Are) clarifying & simplifying the four directions
Possible without knowledge?
Create things & care for them
Create but do not possess
Act but do not expect
Lead but do not rule
These may be called “mystical powers”


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11

Thirty spokes converge in one hub
Then depending upon what does not exist
is the vehicle’s usefulness
Mold clay in order to produce a vessel
Then depending upon what does not exist
is the vessel’s usefulness
Cut out doors and windows in order to make a dwelling
Then depending upon what does not exist
is the dwelling’s usefulness
Thus, the existence of something serves to make value
The lack of something serves to make utility


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12

The five colors will make the human eye blind
The five tones will make the human ear deaf
The five flavors will make the human palate jaded
Racing for speed and hunting for sport
Will make the human heart go mad
Goods which are hard to obtain
Will bring human progress obstruction
This is why wise ones
Regard the belly instead of regarding the sight
And so dismiss That to choose This


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13

Favor & disgrace are equally frightening
Exaltation and big trouble are the same as oneself
Why say that favor & disgrace are equally frightening
Favor sets up a downfall
To get it is the same as a warning
To lose it is the same as a warning
Which says that favor & disgrace are equally frightening
Why say that exaltation and big trouble
are the same as oneself?
This is the reason that we have big troubles:
Assuming that we are selves
As long as we are not selves
What troubles do we have?
And so, to respect & regard as oneself
the workings of the world
Is the same as deserving to inhabit the world
To love & regard as oneself
the workings of the world
Is the same as deserving to be steward to the world


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14

Looking for things not seen
Descriptions will tell of “the invisible”
Listening for things not heard
Descriptions will tell of “the inaudible”
Reaching for things not grasped
Descriptions will tell of “the intangible”
These three do not allow complete investigation
And so are confused and considered as one
What height is not bright
What depth is not dark
An unbroken continuity does not permit description -
A return home to non existence
And so this is called the form of the formless
The image of nothingness
It is called elusive & obscure
When it is met its head is not seen
When it is followed its end is not seen
To grasp the path of the ancients
Is the way to master present existence
The capacity to comprehend the ancient beginnings
May be called the clue* to the way


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15

The ancients who had skill at practicing the way
Were subtle & mysterious, profound & penetrating
A depth not easy to fathom
Inasmuch as they were not easy to fathom
It is thus an effort to construct their appearance
So ready-
As if fording a stream in winter
So vigilant-
As if wary of (all) four neighbors
So dignified-
As though they were guests
So relenting-
Like ice which is about to melt
So artless-
As though they were of unworked wood
So expansive-
As though they were watersheds
So intermingled-
As though they were turbid streams
Who is able, (as) a turbid stream, to become still
and arrive by degrees at clarity?
Who is able, at peace, to become energetic
and arrive by degrees at vitality?
Whoever preserves this path
Not longing for more than fullness
Only those not overfull
Can then stay obscure
and not begin to be finished


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16

Attaining perfect emptiness
Remain patient & sincere
The myriad beings arise as one
Through this we observe the return
Of beings in numberless multitudes
Each coming home to its root
Return to the root means serenity
It may be called a return to a higher order
Return to higher order speaks of the enduring
To comprehend the enduring speaks of clarity
To not comprehend the enduring
Is to recklessly create suffering
To comprehend the enduring (is) tolerance
Tolerance becomes justice
Justice becomes sovereignty
Sovereignty becomes celestial
The celestial becomes the path
The path is then continuous
The death of self is nothing to fear


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17

Great leaders’ subordinates know of their existence
Those next in order are loved and praised by them
Those next in order are feared by them
Those next in order are despised by them
If trust lacks basis here
There will be no trust here
So step back- there is value to words
Complete the task, follow through in the work
The hundred families all will declare
“(It was) our natural course!”


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18

(Where) the great path is abandoned
There appear benevolence & righteousness
(When) the learned & clever emerge
There appear great hypocrisies
(When) the six bonds of kinship are out of balance
There appear filial piety and parental affection
(When) countries & clans are in darkness & turmoil
There appear loyalty & public service


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19

Cut out sanctimony, repudiate cleverness
The people will profit a hundred times over
Cut out benevolence, abandon righteousness
The people return to filial piety & parental affection
Cut out artfulness, abandon rewards
(Then) robbers and thieves have nothing to gain
These three may help to improve the culture
but (they) are not a foundation
So let there be purpose to build on:
Look to the ordinary & embrace original nature
Diminish self-interest & have fewer desires


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20

Cut out the academics & avoid the anxieties
The (ready) yes, alongside the (obsequious) yea
What is the distance or nearness between them?
(Even) the good, next to the bad,
What is the difference or likeness between them?
(That) that which the others hold in awe
Will not permit less than awe -
What nonsense! There will never be an end to this, ever!
Everyone (else) is resplendent & festive
As if feasting on great sacrifices
As if in springtime & climbing up towers
I alone am unmoved here, one yet to give a sign
Like a newborn infant, one yet to smile
So worn & weary, as one with no home to come home to
Everyone (else) takes more than enough
While I alone seem forsaken
With only my simpleton’s mind!
So muddled & confused
The common folk are bright & sunny
I alone am in chaos & gloom
The common folk are alert & sharp
I alone am torpid & blunt
So placid- in this like the sea
So restless a wind- as if never to stop
Everyone else has purpose
While I alone am wayward, like a rustic
I alone am other than the others
Still enjoying mother’s meals


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21

The bearing of true character
Is simply to follow a true path
If the way is regarded as an entity
It is only elusive, only vague
So vague & so elusive
(Yet) at its center there is shape
So elusive & so vague
(Yet) at its center there are beings
So arcane & so shadowy
(Yet) at its center there is seed
This seed is profoundly real
At its center there is truth
From the present back into antiquity
Its meaning does not fade
Through this is seen a common ancestry
How do we know that the common ancestry’s shape is thus?
By This


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22

The yielding becomes whole
The bent becomes straight
The hollow becomes replenished
The worn becomes renewed
The diminished becomes endowed
The plentiful becomes doubtful
This is why wise ones embrace unity
Adopting nature as model
Without self-display
And thus clear
Without self-righteousness
And thus distinguished
Without self-assertion
And thus having merit
Without self-glorification
And thus enduring
It is only when there is no contending
That none in the world can contend against them
The ancient ones had reasons to claim
“The accommodating becomes whole”
Is this (just) empty talk now?
(When) wholeness is real then one has come home


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23

Sparing are the speeches from nature
So the whirling winds do not last morning
The storming rains do not last all day
What is it producing these?
Heaven and earth
(If) even heaven and earth are unable to persist
Then compare this (case) with humanity!
And so to attend to affairs of the path:
The path means an identity with the path
Character means an identity with character
Failure means an identity with failure
For those who identify with the path
The path, in turn, readily* accepts them
For those who identify with character
Character, in turn, readily accepts them
For those who identify with failure
Failure, in turn, readily accepts them
If truth has no basis here
There will be no truth here


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24

Those who stand on tiptoe do not stand (firmly)
Those who stretch strides do not make progress
Those who display themselves are less than clear
Those who are self-righteous are less than distinguished
Those who assert themselves lack merit
Those who glorify themselves do not endure
To someone on the path here
These suggest excessive indulgence and irrelevant action
Things somehow wrong to have
So those who have the way do not linger


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25

There was something in chaos (yet) complete
Before heaven & earth came to be
So silent, so remote
Standing alone without change
Acting everywhere and without limit
(It) may be regarded as mother to (all) under heaven
We do not know its name
A word for it speaks of a path
(If) pressed to develop its name speak of greatness
Greatness tells of journeying on
Journeying on tells of the far beyond
The far beyond tells of coming back
In this way the way is great
Heaven is great, earth is great
And sovereignty, too, is great
Between the horizons are four (kinds of) greatness
And sovereignty has its place as one among these
Humanity takes the earth as law
The earth takes heaven as law
Heaven takes the way as law
The way takes its own nature as law


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26

The heavy serves as root to the light
Stillness serves as master to haste
And so it is that a noble one journeys all day
Without leaving the heavy supply wagon,
Although there are splendid vistas,
Calmly staying above it all
So how could the lord of a myriad chariots
Also conduct a frivolous life under heaven?
To be frivolous, would then be to lose the root
To be hasty would then be to lose the mastery


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27

The able wanderer leaves no trail (or) trace
The able speaker is without fallacy (or) error
The able reckoner does not use counting devices
The best closure uses no barrier (or) bar
And yet is not easily opened
The best binding uses no cord (or) knot
And yet is not easily loosened
And so it is that wise ones
Are ever so skilled at making the most of others
That no person is forsaken
Are ever so skilled at making the most of situations
That no situation is wasted
This may be called “practical wisdom”
And so the able one is the less than able one’s teacher
The less than able one is the able one’s resource
To not value one’s teacher, to not care for one’s resource,
However “prudent” is greatly deluded
This may be called a “tactical mystery”


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28

Know the masculine
(But) keep the feminine
Serve as a stream to the world
Serving as stream to the world
Consistent character will not depart
(But) return home again as the newborn child
Know the bright
(But) keep the dark
Serve as a model to the world
Serving as model to the world
Consistent character will not falter
(But) return home again as unlimited
Know the honored
(But) keep the humble
Serve as a valley to the world
Serving as valley to the world
Consistent character will then be enough
A return journey home to original nature
Original nature, cut up, is then made into artifacts
Wise ones, using such things,
Are then made into senior officials
And so the greatest governing does the least dividing


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29

When taken by desire to take hold of nature
and reconstruct things
We notice that this (will) never reach closure
The world is a spirit vessel
Not suited to reconstruction at all
Those who interfere spoil things
Those who grab lose things
And so the beings sometimes go ahead, sometimes follow
Sometimes snort, sometimes puff
Sometimes are fit, sometimes are feeble
Sometimes hold up, sometimes break down
This is why wise ones avoid the extremes
Avoid the superfluous
Avoid the extravagant


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30

Those who use the way to help with human government
Do not use arms (or) force on the world
Such efforts tend to recoil
(In) a place where an army has camped
Thorns and brambles grow now
A great army’s aftermath is sure to bring bad harvests
Those who are competent succeed and then stop
Not daring (or) thinking to take by force
Succeed but do not glorify
Succeed but with no aggression
Succeed but with no arrogance
Succeed even not having gained the end
Succeed but do not dominate
A being grown mighty will then grow frail
This may be called “off the path”
Off the path is soon finished


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31

Even the finest weapons are tools of ill omen
Things somehow wrong to hold
So those who have the way do not linger
A noble one, when home, honors the left
When working with weapons, honors the right
Weapons are tools of ill omen
They are not a noble one’s tools
Failing to gain satisfaction and still using them
Calm indifference is best adopted
Even in triumph there is no beauty
And those who are attracted to this
are in fact delighting in the slaughter of others
Now those who delight in the slaughter of others
Are then ill suited for use
in achieving any goal in the world at all
(In) auspicious affairs the left side is honored
(In) adverse affairs the right side is honored
An army’s lieutenant commander stays to the left
The army’s commander in chief stays to the right
A description of the funeral rites held at the end
Where the slaughter of others amounts to a multitude
Have compassion & lament & weep for them
(When) the battle is won
consider the funeral rites being held here


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32

The way is continuous, without description
The original nature may be ordinary
But none in the world presumes to master it all
If leaders & sovereigns were able to grasp this
The myriad beings would then submit naturally
(As) heaven and earth join together
Thus to let fall the sweet dew
Nobody has commanded this,
yet the harmony is natural
Begin with rules & definitions appear
And still more definitions are already assumed
Now, more than ever, prepare to learn restraint
Learning restraint is apt to be useful in avoiding trouble
Imagine the place of the path in nature
To be like the streams and valleys
reaching for rivers and ocean


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33

To know others means intelligence
To know oneself means clarity
To overcome others is to have strength
To overcome oneself is to be powerful
To know satisfaction means wealth
(To be) energetic in movement means to have purpose
To not forget one’s own place means enduring
To die and yet not perish means longevity


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34

How the great way (is a) flood!
It is apt to go (both) left & right
The myriad beings trust this for life,
yet there are no explanations
The work is completed, in spite of distinctions & claims
The myriad beings are clothed & cared for
yet there is no assumption of leadership
Ever dispassionate, (it) invites a reputation for commonness
(But) the myriad beings return here,
and still there is no acting as master
Inviting a reputation for greatness
Because it never regards itself as great
So it is able to establish its greatness


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35

Grasp the big picture
(All) under heaven make progress
Make progress while doing no harm
Security and peace abound
(For) music along with fine food
The passing stranger will linger
(But) the way, as expressed in words
How insipid! It has no flavor
Look at it, there is nothing to satisfy the sight
Listen for it, there is nothing to satisfy the hearing
(But) use it, is not about to be used up


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36

When desiring to contract a thing
First be sure to expand it
When desiring to weaken a thing
First be sure to empower it
When desiring to abolish a thing
First be sure to promote it
When desiring to despoil a thing
First be sure to endow it
This may be called “subtle discernment”
The adaptable & gentle overcome the firm & strong
Fish should not be removed from the depths
The sharpest instruments of the state
Should not be for showing to others


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37

The way always takes no action
Yet nothing remains undone
If leaders & sovereigns were able to grasp this
The myriad beings would evolve by themselves
Evolve and then want to flourish
We can then temper this
with the original nature of namelessness
(With) the original nature of namelessness
Then these too would be without ambition
Being free of ambition is the way to stillness
Nature will then arrange itself


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38

The highest virtue is not virtuous
This is how to hold virtue
The inferior virtue will not let go of virtue
This is why virtue is lacking
The highest virtue takes no action and has no motive to act
The inferior virtue acts on things and then has motives to act
The highest benevolence acts on things
but has no motive for action
The highest righteousness acts on things
and also has motives for action
The highest propriety acts on things
and when nobody responds to it
Then rolls up the sleeves and throws things
And so, lose the way and then comes virtue
Lose virtue and then comes benevolence
Lose benevolence and then comes righteousness
Lose righteousness and then comes propriety
Now propriety is (but) the sham of loyalty & trust
And the beginning of confusion
Being ahead in knowledge (is but) the flower of the way
And the beginning of delusion
This is why those who are most mature
Keep to the substance
(And) do not dwell on the sham
Keep to the fruitful
(And) do not dwell on the flower
And so dismiss That to choose This


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39

These things, from the beginning, have grasped wholeness:
Heaven attained the whole, becoming resolved
Earth attained the whole, becoming steady
Spirit attained the whole, becoming subtle
The valley attained the whole, becoming replenished
The myriad beings attained the whole, coming to life
Leaders & sovereigns attained the whole
as the way to attend to (all) under heaven
These things found it
Heaven, with no way to resolution,
would threaten to split apart
Earth, with no way to steadiness,
would threaten to open up
Spirit, with no way to subtlety
would probably perish
The valleys, with no way to replenishment,
would likely dry up
The myriad beings, with no way to life,
would likely be extinguished
Leaders and sovereigns,
with no way to dignity & prominence
would likely be toppled
In this way dignity regards the common as root
Prominence regards the humble as basis
This is why leaders & sovereigns refer to themselves
as orphaned & friendless, without worth
Does this not regard the common as root?
Not so?
Just as obtaining tallies of chariots
will not be (real) chariots
Do not long to dazzle & jingle like jade
Clunk & clatter like rocks


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40

Reversal is the movement of the way
Yielding is the method of the way
The myriad beings in nature arose out of being
Being arose out of nothing


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41

Superior students, hearing of the way,
Are diligent and practice it
Average students, hearing of the way,
Sometimes attend & sometimes forget
Inferior students, hearing of the way,
Laugh greatly about it
Without the laughter there would be no grounds
to regard this as the way
And so the established proverbs hold that:
Brightness, to the way, is as good as darkness
Advance, to the way, is as good as retreat
Evenness, to the way, is as good as roughness
The summit of character is as good as a valley
The greatest whiteness is as good as soiled
Abundant character seems inadequate
Established character seems furtive
The evident truth seems spurious
The greatest square has no corner
The greatest capacity is last to be realized
The greatest note is the rarest sound
The greatest image has no form
The way is hidden & nameless
(But) because way is good at acceptance
(it is) also fulfilling


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42

The way begets the one
The one begets the two
The two beget the three
The three beget the myriad beings
The myriad beings carry the shadow and embrace the light
Mixing the breaths with harmonious action
People have their reasons to truly dislike being
“Orphaned & friendless, without worth”
Yet sovereign & duke take (these) as titles
Since beings may sometimes lose something, and yet benefit
May sometimes gain something, and yet be diminished
What someone else has taught
I too come to teach:
Those who are forceful & hostile
do not meet their (natural) ends
I will regard (this) as a premise of the teaching


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43

Nature at its most yielding
Quickly overcomes nature at its most firm
Non-being enters (where) there is no gap
This is how we know (that) inaction
comes to have such advantages
The doctrine which has no words
The benefits of taking no action -
Few in the world attain these


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44

Reputation compared to life, which is dearer?
Life compared to property, which is (worth) more?
Gain compared to loss, which is (more) distressing?
It is a given that extreme affection
Entails great cost
Much stored up entails heavy loss
To understand sufficiency is no disgrace
To understand restraint avoids limits -
(This is) the right way to live long


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45

A great achievement (may) seem deficient
But its function is not impaired
A great fulfillment (may) seem empty
But its function is not diminished
Great straightforwardness (might) seem compromised
Great artfulness (might) seem clumsy
Great eloquence (might) seem to stammer
Restlessness overcomes cold
Stillness overcomes heat
Clarity & stillness act as measures to the world


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46

When the world holds to the way
Retired racehorses are useful for manure
When the world loses the way
War horses breed throughout the frontier
There is no vice greater than submitting to greed
No suffering greater than never knowing sufficiency
No error greater than the hunger for gain
So to know that sufficiency is in itself sufficient
Is a truly durable sufficiency


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47

Without going out the door
Comprehend (all) under heaven
Without peering out the window
Observe the way of heaven
The farther beyond one goes
One’s comprehension is by that much diminished
This is why wise ones (might) not move about, but still know
(Might) not witness, but still describe
(Might) not act, but still accomplish


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48

The pursuit of learning (means) increasing daily
The pursuit of the way (means) decreasing daily
Decreasing things and then subtracting
In order to arrive at not doing
(When) nothing is done, then nothing remains undone
To capture the world, always apply the least effort
As soon as one has to make effort
(One is) no longer adequate to the purpose
of capturing the world


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49

Wise ones have no set mind
Regarding the hundred families’ minds as “mind”
To those who are good we have good to extend
To those who are less than good we also have good to extend
To merit goodness
To those who are true we have truth to extend
To those who are less than true we also have truth to extend
To merit truth
Wise ones are in the world
Uniting, connecting, adopting the world
Merging with their hearts
The hundred families, as one, pay heed,
with their “hearkening” & “beholding”
The wise ones, as one, come to laugh like children


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50

Emerging in life (or) entering death
The companions of life will be three (in) ten
The companions of death will be three (in) ten
And others whose lives & actions approach the domain of death
Will also be three (in) ten
Now why is this so?
Because these live life for its substance
Now hear of the one adept at sustaining life
Traveling the countryside, not meeting buffalo or tiger
Entering a battle, not carrying armor or weapons -
The buffalo finds no place to thrust its horns
The tiger finds no place to sink its claws
The weapon finds no place to admit its blade
Now why is this so?
Because in this one there is no place for death


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51

The way gives things life
Character raises them
Existence shapes them
Conditions complete them
So it is that the myriad beings, without exception,
Ennoble the way and honor character
The way will be ennobled
Character will be honored
But nobody has to command this
as it always proceeds out of nature
In this way the way gives things life
Character raises them
Sustains them, brings them up
Shelters them, heals them
Nurtures them, protects them
Creates but does not possess
Acts but does not expect
Leads but does not rule
These may be called “mystic powers”


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52

The world had a beginning
Regarded as mother to the world
Having found this mother
Through this comprehend her children
Having comprehended her children
Return & attend to the mother
The death of self is nothing to fear
Close the passages
Secure the gates
(And) the rest of life is no trouble
Open the passages
Conclude the affairs
(And) the rest of life finds no salvation
To perceive in detail tells of clarity
To maintain flexibility tells of strength
Make use of what is illuminated
To return home again to the light
Do not abandon yourself to misfortune
This may be called “sustainable practice”


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53

Let our resolve here be this: to be understanding
To travel upon the great way
(With) only distractions to fear
The great way is so very ordinary
And the people love the detours
The courts are so very well kept
The fields, so very weedy
The granaries, so very empty
The clothes, refined & elaborate
Sharp swords worn at the waist
A glut of drinking & feasting
Wealth & goods kept in heaps
This describes robbery & bombast
Surely not the way at all


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54

What is well established is not uprooted
What is well embraced is not taken away
Children & grandchildren, accordingly,
make offerings & sacrifice without fail
Cultivate this in the person
Its character grows true
Cultivate this in the family
Its character grows ample
Cultivate this in the community
Its character grows enduring
Cultivate this in the country
Its character grows bountiful
Cultivate this in the world
Its character grows universal
And so, use person to examine the person
With family, examine the family
With community, examine the community
With country, examine the country
With the world, examine the world
So how are we to know that the world
is really like this?
Through This


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55

To embody virtue’s substance
Compares to the naked infant
Wasps & scorpions, vipers & serpents do not bite
Wild beasts do not seize
Birds of prey do not strike
The bones are flexible, the muscles are soft,
but the grip is sure
Not yet knowing the union of woman & man
But the penis is aroused
Essence is at its prime here!
Howling all day, but not getting hoarse
Harmony is at its prime here!
To comprehend harmony speaks of the continuous
To comprehend the continuous speaks of clarity
The enrichment of life may be called a “happy omen”
The mind directing the breath may be called a “power”
(But) beings grown mighty will then grow frail
This may be called “off the path”
Off the path is soon finished


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56

To know does not mean to speak
To speak does not mean to know
Close the passages
Secure the gates
Blunt the sharpness
Resolve the tangles
Shade the glare
Be one with the world
This may be called “mystic union”
Such as may not be gained by affection
May not be gained by detachment
May not be gained by favor
May not be gained by suffering
May not be gained by esteem
May not be gained by humility
And so becomes precious to (all) under heaven


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57

Use principle to govern a country
Use tricks to wage a war
Use the least effort to capture the world
By what means do we know that things are really like this?
By This
There are more taboos & restrictions in the world
But the people grow more impoverished
The people have more productive implements
(But) countries & clans grow more disturbed
(As) others get more clever & artful
Bizarre things happen more often
The more that matters of law are proclaimed
The more robbers & looters there will be
And so the wise ones will claim:
We do nothing
And humanity evolves on its own
We favor stillness
And humanity governs itself
We do not make an effort
And humanity enriches itself
We have no ambition
And humanity simplifies itself


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58

(Where) their government is muted & dull
Its people are honest & sincere
(Where) their government is efficient & exacting
Its people are partial & wanting
Ah, suffering! That happiness has such things to rely on!
Ah, happiness! That suffering has such places to lurk!
Who comprehends their outcomes?
Are there no rules?
The rules go back to behaving strangely
The good return to acting ominously
Humankind has held its delusions
For such an entrenched length of days
This is why wise ones
Are direct but not divisive
Exacting but not hurtful
To the point but not tactless
Bright but not dazzling


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59

(In) governing people (or) serving heaven
There is nothing quite like economy
Only one who is thrifty
May be deemed ahead of the task
To be ahead of the task suggests there is
a great reserve of character
Given a great reserve of character
then nothing is impossible
When nothing is impossible
then nobody knows things to be limited
Nobody knowing things to be limited
is fit to claim the realm
(Now) claiming the realm’s mother
is fitness to endure a long time
This describes deep roots & solid foundations
The path of long life & enduring vision


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60

Ruling a great country is like cooking a little fish
This is how the way manages (all) under heaven
(Whether) the ghosts lack spirit
Or the ghosts do not lack spirit
(Whether) the spirits avoid harming people
Or the spirits do not avoid harming people
Wise ones still avoid harming people
Now as neither of these haunts the other
So virtue interacts & comes back home to them


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61

The great realm is the one which flows beneath
A confluence to (all) under heaven
A woman to (all) under heaven
The feminine, ever through stillness, overcomes the male
Through stillness & playing submissive
And so a great realm, by submitting to a small realm,
Will then appropriate the small realm
A small realm, by submitting to a great realm,
Will then appropriate the great realm
And so the one submits, intending to appropriate
The other submits and gets taken in
(Where) the great realm has no greater ambition
than uniting & caring for others
(And) the small realm has no greater ambition
than joining & serving others
Then both of these each gets what it wants
(And) the great one should act to submit


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62

The way is a sanctum to the myriad beings
A good person’s treasure
A less than good person’s place of refuge
Elegant speeches may be useful at market
Noble deeds may be useful for promoting someone
(But if) another has less ability
Why waste what they are?
So (when) enthroning the heir to heaven
(Or) installing the three high nobles
Though there be big jade platters in tribute
Drawn by teams of four horses
This is not as good as sitting still (and) offering this path
What purpose had the ancient ones in honoring this way?
Was it not claimed:
“To seek is to find
To claim error is to be forgiven”?
So (this) becomes precious to (all) under heaven


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63

Act without acting
Work without working
Savor without tasting
Greatness is ordinary, much is little
Repay ill will with virtue
Plan for the complicated while it is simple
Develop the great while it is small
The difficult tasks under heaven
Always begin in simplicity
The greatest tasks under heaven
Always begin as minutiae
This is why wise ones never assume greatness
And so can achieve such greatness
Those who lightly promise will surely be less trusted
Much ease is surely much difficulty
This is why wise ones look for things to get complicated
And so in the end have no complications at all


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64

What is secure is easy to hold
What has yet to begin is easy to plan for
What is thin is easy to break up
What is minute is easy to scatter
Attend to things before they come to be
Arrange things before they entangle
A tree which fills the joined embrace
Has grown from a slender shoot
A tower which reaches nine stories
Begins as a basket of earth
A journey of a thousand li
Begins from beneath the feet
Those who interfere spoil things
Those who grab lose things
This is why wise ones do not interfere and so do not spoil
Do not grab and so do not lose
People in their pursuits & affairs
(are) ever on the verge of achieving and still ruin things
Take care at the end as well as at the beginning
And then there will be no ruined affairs
This is why wise ones desire to have no desires
Do not prize goods which are hard to obtain
Learn to unlearn
And return to what everyone else has passed by
Thus helping the myriad beings to realize themselves
While not presuming to interfere


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65

Those ancients skilled at practicing the way
Did not try to enlighten the people
(But) would have tried to simplify them
The difficulties of governing the people
Are due to their great cleverness
And so to use cleverness in governing a realm
Is an injury to the realm
To avoid using cleverness in governing a realm
Is a favor to the realm
Those who comprehend both of these
Also examine for patterns
Always to know to look for patterns
May be called a mystic power
A mystic power so deep & so far reaching
(As) to help creation to turn itself around
Natural succession then reaches perfect harmony


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66

What is the reason why the rivers and ocean
can serve as sovereign to the hundred valleys?
Because they are so well below them
In this way (they) can act as sovereign
to the hundred valleys
Applying this, in desiring to rise above the people,
Always in expression be subordinate to them
In desiring to go ahead of the people
Always regard yourself as behind them
This is how wise ones remain above
And yet the people are not burdened
Remain ahead
And yet the people are not obstructed
So it is that (all) under heaven readily come forward
and never weary
Because such as these will never contend
So none under heaven can contend against them


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67

Everyone in the world admits our way is great
(And) resembles no likeness
It is insofar as it is great
That it resembles no likeness
Had it a likeness
Surely after so long
It might have diminished a little
Here I have three treasures
Take and keep them safe:
The first, call compassion
The second, call economy
The third, call never presuming to act as the world’s leader
Compassion confers a capacity for courage
Economy confers a capacity for breadth
Never presuming to act as the world’s leader
confers a capacity to develop enduring talents
To right away set aside compassion
in order to be more courageous
To set aside economy in order to be more expansive
To set aside following in order to be more advanced
Is truly deadly
Now compassion used in combat means triumph
Used in defense means security
Those whom heaven would redeem
With compassion it protects them


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68

The student skilled at action is not aggressive
The one skilled at combat is not angry
The one at besting opponents does not participate
The one skilled at employing others behaves as their subordinate
This may be styled the “virtue of not contending”
It may be styled “applying another’s power”
It may be styled “siding with heaven,”
The consummation of antiquity


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69

Military strategists have a saying:
“I will not dare to act as host,
But rather, act as guest,
Will not presume to advance an inch,
But rather, retreat a foot”
This may be called “to move without movement,
To roll up sleeves without baring arms,
To depose without a fight
To capture without force”
There is no danger greater than underestimating a foe
Underestimate a foe will risk losing what we value
And so when opposing forces meet each other
The one sympathetic will truly succeed


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70

My words are very easy to understand
Very easy to practice
(But) nobody in the world can understand
Nobody can practice
Expressions presume a lineage
Endeavors presume a master
Insofar as these are unknown
So it is that we are not known
Those who know me are few
Accordingly I am valued
This is why wise ones wear common cloth
Concealing jade in the heart


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71

To know without knowledge is best
To not understand knowledge is affliction
Now (it is) because afflictions afflict
That there is a way to avoid affliction
Wise ones avoid disease
Because they are made ill by illness
This is the way to avoid the disease


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72

(When) the people do not heed the imposing
Then great impositions come to pass
Do not constrict the places where they live
Do not overtax their means of living
Only when there is no oppressing
Will there then be no oppression
This is how wise ones know themselves
Without displaying themselves
Love themselves
Without venerating themselves
And so dismiss That to choose This


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73

Courage atop presumption suggests dying
Courage in avoiding presumption suggests survival
(Yet) either of these may be sometimes beneficial,
other times harmful
That which heaven holds in contempt -
Who knows as to the reasons?
This is why wise ones watch for things to get complicated
Heaven’s way does not compete, yet skillfully overcomes
Does not speak, yet skillfully replies
Does not summon, yet naturally attracts
Is above all of this, yet skillfully arranges
Heaven’s net is vast & encompassing
Loosely meshed, and yet nothing escapes


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74

(If) the people do not fear death
Then why use death to intimidate them?
Suppose it were so that the people always feared death
And still they behaved perversely
(When) we seized, detained and executed them
Who would be bold?
There will always be a master executioner to do the killing
Now to take the place of the master executioner
& do the killing
May be likened to taking the place of the master carpenter
in hewing
Now (of) those who take the place of the master carpenter
in hewing
Few indeed will not harm their own hands!


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75

The hunger of the people
Is from their superiors eating up so much of their tax grain
This is behind the hunger
The difficulties in governing the people
Are due to their superiors having to take action
This is behind the difficulties in government
The people come to take death lightly
Because they pursue life’s riches
This is behind their taking death lightly
Only when one does not think life a performance
Will there be skill in valuing life


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76

People, while they live, are adaptable & soft
When they are dead, are hard & stiff
The myriad beings, the plants and the trees,
while they live, are supple & delicate
When they are dead, are weathered & tough
And so the hard & inflexible are companions to death
The adaptable & soft are companions to life
This is why the unbending military will not,
in due course, be triumphant
The rigid tree is then struck down
The strong & great belong underneath
The adaptable & soft belong above


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77

Heaven has its path
Compare it to the drawing of a bow
What is high comes to be lowered
What is lowly comes to be raised
What has abundance will be diminished
What is incomplete will be added to
Heaven’s way decreases where there is surplus
And adds to what is insufficient
Humanity’s path is normally not like this,
Decreasing what is not enough
in order to give to what is excessive
Who can claim an abundance
in order to offer to nature?
Only those who keep the way
This is why wise ones develop but do not expect
Accomplish works but do not linger
They have no ambition to show merit


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78

(In all) the world there is nothing
as adaptable & soft as water
Yet of that which attacks the hard & inflexible
Nothing can surpass it
Because there is no way easier than this
The gentle finally overcomes the firm
The adaptable finally overcomes the persistent
There is no one under heaven
who cannot comprehend (this)
(But) no one can practice (it)
So it is that wise ones maintain:
To accept the country’s soil
May in truth be called mastering the altars of place & grain
To accept the realm’s misfortunes
Is in truth to serve as sovereign to the world
Straightforward words may seem turned around


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79

(When) reconciling a great grievance
There will surely be lingering resentments
(And) how can this be regarded as good?
This is why wise ones will post the greater bond
And will not press upon others
To have character is to look after obligations
To lack character is to look for entitlements
Heaven’s way has no favorites
But usually sides with the right person


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80

Shrink the domain, spread out the people
Let there be tens & hundreds of people with specialties
But unemployed
Let the people feel the weight of death
And not wander far
Though there be boats & wagons
No place to ride them
Though there be armor & weapons
No reason to show them
Let the people return to knotting cords
And counting on these
(To) sweetening their own food
Embroidering their own clothing
Secure in their own homes
Rejoicing in their own customs
Neighboring realms overlook one another
The sounds of each other’s roosters and dogs are heard
(Yet) the people grow old & die
Without goings & comings between them


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True words are not embellished
Embellished words are not truthful
To be right is not to be argumentative
To be argumentative is not to be right
To be knowing is not to be sophisticated
To be sophisticated is not to be knowing
Wise ones do not accumulate
Though intending to act on behalf of another
The more they themselves have gained
Though intending to give to another
The more they themselves are increased
Heaven’s way is to benefit, but without doing harm
The wise ones’ way is to work, but without competition


© Bradford Hatcher, 2005
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