Tao Te King
Lao Tse
Chinese (Wang Bi) - English by
Aalar Fex, 2006

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For Everybody


In a way, everything in existence--and even everything in non-existence--is owed some thanks for this translation. I think this is simply because all such things, existing when they did and not existing when they didn’t, shaped reality and thus this work. The sun has given me light and warmth, the moon comfort and inspiration, the trees shade, and so on with every thing and every non-thing. Nevertheless, I would like to extend a very special thanks to all my teachers in Tao and to the webmaster of http://home.pages.at/onkellotus/, without whose help this translation could not have reached its present state.


A way that can be spoken
Is not a lasting way.
A name that can be named
Is not a lasting name.

Without a name: the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
Having names: the mother of the ten thousand things.

Constantly without desire, thereby observe the mystery.
Constantly with desire, thereby observe the boundaries.

Those which these two are produced by
Are the same but named differently.

The abstraction of calling them the same
The abstraction upon abstraction—

The gateway to a host of mysteries.



Everyone in the world knows the being of beautiful to be beautiful.
Thus is ugliness completed.
Everyone knows the being of good to be good.
Thus is evil completed.

Being and non-being give birth to each other.
Difficulty and ease complete each other.
Long and short form each other.
High and low lean on each other.
Notes and music harmonize each other.
Forward and behind follow each other.

Therefore, the sages reside in the function of “non-action”
And practice the teaching of no words.
The ten-thousand things work in many senses and are not dismissed.

Create but do not possess.
Act but do not presume.
Achieve goals but do not dwell on them.
It’s only because one does not dwell on success

That success therefore does not leave.



Not to esteem the worthy
Causes the people not to contend.
Not to value goods that are hard to get
Causes the people not to do any stealing.
Not to see desirables
Causes the people’s minds not to be confused.

Therefore, the governance of the sages:
Empties their minds
Makes true their insides
Weakens their determinations
Strengthens their bones
Always causing the people not to know
Not to desire
Causing the clever men not to dare to act!

By doing without “doing”
There is necessarily nothing not managed.



The Tao washes away and drinks them, possibly never getting full.
An abyss… it seems to be the ancestor of the ten-thousand things

Blunting their sharpness
Loosening their tangles
Harmonizing their lights
Equating their dust

Deep… it seems as though possibly alive.
The child of I-don’t-know-who.

It shaped the foremost among the gods.



Heaven and Earth are not humane
For the ten-thousand things are taken to be straw dogs.
Sages are not humane
For the hundred clans are taken to be straw dogs.

The space between Heaven and Earth—
Its similarity to bellows and flutes?
Empty but not exhausted.
Use it and more and more is produced.

With too many words and ideas is distress.

This is not as good as staying in the middle.



The valley spirit un-dying
Is called the mystic female.
The opening of the mystic female
Is called the root of Heaven and Earth.
It endlessly, ceaselessly seems to exist.

Use it inattentively.



Heaven is long-lasting; the Earth is old.
Heaven and Earth are placed
By that which can last long and be old.
Because they do not live for themselves
Is the reason they can live long.

Therefore, the sages
Put their bodies behind
And yet their bodies go forward.
Are outside their bodies
And yet their bodies exist.
Do not consider this selflessness to be wrong

For it is the reason they can complete their “selves.”



The highest good is like unto water.
Water is good at benefiting the ten-thousand things
And does not contend.
It dwells in the places the masses of people detest—
For which reason a few compare [it] with the Tao.

Dwellings are perfected by the earth.
The heart is perfected by depth.
Giving is perfected by benevolence.
Speaking is perfected by sincerity.
Uprightness is perfected by governance.
Function is perfected by ability.
Change is perfected by time.

Only because one does not contend
Is the reason one is without reproach.



Grasping and filling—these are not as good as one’s own self.
Calculations and vigorousness—these cannot defend for long.
Gold and jewels that fill a hall—none can guard them.

The wealthy are high-ranking but arrogant.
Abandoning themselves is their downfall.

Achievement: Escape the body, withdraw [to]

The Way of Heaven.



Filling and operating Life, embracing the One
Can one be without departing [from it]?
Focusing ch’i, bringing about softness
Can one be like a newborn child?
Washing away divisions, mystically perceiving
Can one be flawless?
Loving the kingdom, governing the people
Can one do it without “doing” it?
The Heavenly Door opens, closes
Can one be receptive?
Brightening, purifying the four intelligences
Can one be without knowing?

Give birth to them. Rear them.

Giving birth [to them] but not possessing [them]
Acting [with them] but not presuming [them]
Excelling [with them] but not dominating [with them]—

This is called Mystic Virtue.



Thirty spokes joining together at one hub of a wheel:
Accepting its emptiness
There is the use of the cart.

Shaping clay in order to make a vessel:
Accepting its emptiness
There is the use of the vessel.

Chiseling doors and windows in order to make a room:
Accepting its emptiness
There is the use of the room.

Therefore, having them is considered as being beneficial.
Lacking them is considered as being useful.



The five colors make people’s eyes blind.
The five tones make people’s ears deaf.
The five flavors make people’s mouths lose [their tasting ability].
Hurrying, rushing, hunting, and chasing
Make people’s minds issue forth insanity.
Goods that are hard to get cause people’s doings to harm.

Therefore, the sages
Act by the insides, not by the eyes.

Therefore, let go of that
And take up this.



Favor and disgrace seem like a surprise.
Value great suffering as you would [keeping] your own body.

What is the meaning of “Favor and disgrace seem like a surprise”?
Favor [eventually] declines.
Getting it is like a surprise.
Losing it is like a surprise.
This is the meaning of “Favor and disgrace seem like a surprise.”

What is the meaning of
“Value great suffering as you would [keeping] you own body”?
Our place, according to those who have great suffering,
Is our having a body.

When we lack bodies
What suffering do we have?

Therefore, value the “self” that’s considered as being the world
As though you are able to be entrusted with the world.
Love the “self” that’s considered as being the world
As though you are able to rely on the world.



Inspect it and you will not see it.
Its name is said to be “The Obscure.”
Listen for it and you will not hear it.
Its name is said to be “Becoming Silent.”
Roll it around in your hands and you will not obtain it.
Its name is said to be “The Subtle.”

Those who are not able to achieve these three ask—
This is the reason they are blended and handled as one:

At its ascending, not bright.
At its descending, not dark.
The measure of measure, it cannot be named.
Repeatedly returning to “no-thing-ness”
It is called “The Form of No-Form”
“The Shape of No-thing-ness.”

It is called
“The Indistinct”
“The Unclear”

Greet it and you will not see its face.
Follow it and you will not see its back.

Hold to the Tao of the Ancients
In order to tame the existence of present times.

One can know the ancient beginning.
It is called the “Tao Epoch.”



Those of old who were good at being warriors
Were subtly, wonderfully, mystically in communication
With profundities that can’t be fathomed.
Precisely because [the ancient warriors] can’t be fathomed
Is the reason one is forced to take them by appearances:

Cautious… as if in winter, crossing a stream
Strategizing… as if they feared their own four neighbors.
Dignified… they seemed forgiving.
Scattered… like ice floes about to break apart.
Honest… they seemed plain and simple.
Free from worries and petty ideas… they seemed [as open] as a valley.
[Apparently] acting without a plan… they seemed muddled.
Calm… they seemed like the ocean.
Like wind in the mountains… they seemed to be without stagnation.

Who can, in muddiness, use the gradual purification of stillness?
Who can, in serenity, use the gradual arising of movement?

They who hold to this Tao do not desire to overflow.
It’s only by not overflowing

That one can therefore be shielded
And newly made.



Bring about emptiness to the extreme.
Guard true stillness.
The ten-thousand things rise together.
I therefore observe their return:

Those ten-thousand plants—each plant—returns
Going back to its root.
Going back to the root is said to be stillness.
This is called returning to life.
Returning to life is called the Constant.
Understanding the Constant is called clarity.

Not understanding the Constant:
Reckless actions—misfortune.

Understanding the Constant, forgive.
Forgive, then be unbiased.
Be unbiased, then be whole.
Be whole, then be Heaven.
Be Heaven, then be Tao.
Be Tao, then be eternal.

Not having a body, there is no danger.



The highest superiors—
People below them [merely] know they have them.
The next highest—people below them love and praise them.
The next highest—people below them fear them.
The next highest—people below them insult them.

Where trust is insufficient
There is distrust.

So gentle, [the sage] values their words.
[And so when] their achievements are completed
And their work is successful
The hundred clans all proclaim
“We are naturally like this!”



When the great Tao is abandoned
There exists humaneness and righteousness.
When intelligence and wit go forth
There exists greatness and deception.
When the six familial relationships are not in harmony
There exists obedience and charity.
When kingdoms and households are in darkness and chaos
There exists loyalty and subjugation.



Get rid of sagacity, abandon wisdom:
The people benefit a hundred-fold.
Get rid of humanitarianism, abandon righteousness:
The people recover filial piety and motherly love.
Get rid of cleverness, abandon profit:
Robbers and thieves do not exist.

Those who [understand] these three things
Therefore take [mere] civility to be insufficient.

Therefore, this directive has a place it belongs to:

See the plain.
Embrace simplicity.
Diminish selfishness.
Desire little.



Get rid of erudition; do not fret.
The saying of “yes” or “indubitably”—
They are removed from each other by how much?
In what way?

The imparting of “good” or “evil”—
In what way do they seem to differ from each other?

But that which the people fear
Is not suited to be disrespected.

Wild indeed, those not yet centered!
The masses of people are boisterous and exuberant
As if enjoying the greatest sacrificial feast.
As if in Spring, climbing onto the lookouts.
I alone am tranquil and quiet indeed, not yet showing these signs—
Like an infant babying those who are not yet children.

Weary, weary, as if no place to belong to!
The masses of people all have surplus
And I alone seem to be missing something.

Mine is the heart of a fool, besides!

Turbid and chaotic indeed, the ordinary people, bright and eminent!
I alone am muddled and confused.
Ordinary people study, survey, and scrutinize.
I alone am bored and uninterested.
The masses of people all have instrumentality
But I alone am both ignorant and lowly.
I alone differ from people

And value the nourishing Mother.



The forming of exceeding virtue—
Only the Tao indeed manages [to do].
The functioning “substance” of the Tao is only indistinct, only vague.
So vague! So indistinct! Within it exists shape.
So indistinct! So vague! Within it exists the physical world.
So obscure! So profound! Within it exists essence.

Its essence is exceedingly real—
Within it exists the evidence [for this].

From ancient times even unto the present day
Its name has not departed.
Thereby inspect the many beginnings.
How do I thereby know the form of the many beginnings?

With this.



Crookedness follows perfection.
Bending follows straightness.
Emptiness follows fullness.
Brokenness follows newness.
Lack follows gain.
Excess follows confusion.

Therefore, the sages embrace the One
Becoming examples for the world:

They do not show themselves, and so are radiant.
Do not affirm themselves, and so are made known.
Do not brag about themselves, and so have merit.
Do not throw their weight around, and so are leaders.

Precisely because they do not contend
Is the reason the world cannot contend with them.

That which is said of old:
“That which is crooked follows perfection”—
How can it be an empty saying?

Truly perfect and return to it.



Sparse speech is by nature.
Therefore, whirling winds do not last the morning.
Sudden rain does not last the day.
Who are they who do this? Heaven and Earth.
Even Heaven and Earth are not able to [make it] last—
And [what are] people
Compared to [them]?

Therefore, those who manage affairs with the Tao
Are together with the Tao.
Those who are virtuous are together with Virtue.
Those who err are together with error.

Those who are with the Tao—the Tao is likewise glad to gain them.
Those who are with Virtue—Virtue is likewise glad to gain them.
Those who are with error—
Error—alas!—is glad to gain them.

Where belief is insufficient
There exists disbelief.



Those on tiptoe do not stand.
Those who straddle do not walk.
Those who show themselves do not shine.
Those who affirm themselves are not made known.
Those who brag about themselves are without merit.
Those who throw their weight around are not leaders.

Those who are with the Tao also say:
“Surplus food, useless forms—
Nature perhaps detests them.”

Therefore, those who have the Tao do not reside [in such things].



There was a thing disordered but complete
Before Heaven and Earth were born.
Tranquil… empty… alone standing unchanging.
Swirling and not tiring.

It can be considered as being to the world a mother.
I do not know its name.
Forced to verbalize it, I call it “Tao.”
Forced to describe it, I call it “Great.”

Great, it is said to leave.
Leaving, it is said to be distant.
Distant, it is said to return.

Therefore, the Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
The Earth is great.
Humankind is also great.

In the middle realm, there are four greatnesses
And humankind then dwells in this Completeness:

Humankind is ruled by the Earth
The Earth is ruled by Heaven
Heaven is ruled by the Tao
The Tao is ruled by its own nature.



Heaviness acts as the foundation to lightness.
Stillness acts as a sovereign to restlessness.

Therefore, sovereign masters travel all day
And do not depart from [their] “light” heaviness:
Even though there are luxurious sights, comforts, and places—
They rightly rise above [such things].

How does the lord of ten thousand chariots endure
And yet consider himself to be unimportant in the world?

Frivolous laws lose [one’s] foundation.
Rash laws lose [one’s] sovereignty.



Good traveling is without tracks or footprints.
Good speech is without faulting or blaming.
Good counting does not use tallying methods.
Good closing is without bars or locks and cannot be opened.
Good binding is without ropes or restraints and cannot be unfastened.

Therefore, the sages
Are always good at helping people—
Consequently, they do not cast people aside.
Are always good at helping the physical world—
Consequently, they do not cast the physical world aside.
This is called “entering enlightenment.”

Therefore, those who are good
Are the teachers of those who are not good.
Those who are not good
Are the resources of those who are good.

Not valuing one’s teachers
Not loving one’s resources
Even though [one may be] intelligent
[One is nevertheless] greatly confused.

This is called an essential subtlety.



Know the masculine.
Keep to the feminine.
Become for the world a valley.
Being a valley for the world,
Constant virtue does not leave.
Return, go back to infanthood.

Know the white.
Keep to the black.
Become for the world an example.
Being an example for the world,
Constant virtue does not err.
Return, go back to non-extremity.

Know the glorious.
Keep to the humble.
Become for the world a waterway.
Being a waterway for the world,
Constant virtue indeed suffices.
Return, go back to simplicity.

Simplicity splits and then becomes instruments.
The sages use them and then become governmental leaders.

Thus, the Great System does not divide.



Should some desire to take the world and run it—
I see they cannot achieve [this].
The world is a spiritual device
Not able to be run, besides.
They who [try to] run it spoil it.
They who hold it in their hands lose it.

Nature might prevail, might comply
Might blow softly, might huff-and-puff
Might be forceful, might win
Might frustrate, might destroy

Therefore, the sage lets go of extremes.
Lets go of extravagance.
Lets go of loftiness.



Those rulers who use the Tao to assist mankind
Do not use soldiers to force the world.
Those doings can be paid back [to them].

The place of the army’s encampment—
Thorns and brambles grow there.
In the wake of the military
There indeed exists a famine-year.

The good have success and stop
Not daring thereby to grab for power.
[They] succeed but never boast.
Succeed but never strike down.
Succeed but never arrogantly.
Succeed but do not gain thereafter.
Succeed but never force.

A strong thing ruling over what is Old—
This is called “non-Tao.”

The non-Tao soon ends.



Those who delight in the military are instruments of ill fortune—
Nature perhaps detests them.
Therefore, those who possess the Tao do not dwell [with them].
Sovereign masters, [while at] home, necessarily value the left.
Using the military necessarily values the right.

Those who are warlike are instruments of ill fortune
Not the instruments of the sovereign master.
[When the situation is] already disharmonious
And [they have to] use them
[They do so] calmly, without relish, [thus] becoming superior.
[They] “win” but do not delight [in it].

And those who delight in it
Indeed enjoy killing people.

Those who enjoy killing people
Are necessarily unable to obtain their ambitions in the world.

Fortunate affairs honor the left.
Unfortunate affairs honor the right.
The subordinate general occupies the left.
The commanding general occupies the right.
It is said they use funerary rites to commemorate them.

A multitude of people [have been] killed—
Therefore mourn, lament, and weep for them.

[After] overcoming [them] in war
Use funerary rites to commemorate them.



The Tao is always without renown.
Although it is “simple” and “small”
The world is altogether unable to subjugate it.

Lords and kings, if they could maintain it—
The ten-thousand things would submit themselves.
Heaven and Earth with each other would combine
Thereby raining down sweet dew.

No humans command them, and they are naturally equitable.

At the beginning establishment, there existed names.
Names also since then existed.
One should also know [when] to stop [naming].
Knowing [when] to stop, one can thereby be in no danger.

The living presence of the Tao in the world
Is like unto valley streams
Going into larger rivers
And the sea.



Those who understand people are wise.
Those who understand themselves are luminous.
Those who triumph over people have forcefulness.
Those who triumph over themselves have strength.
Those who know sufficiency are rich.
Those who work vigorously have determination.

That which does not lose its place lasts long.
That which dies but does not perish lives long.



The great Tao is a flood!
It can [go] left and right.

The ten-thousand things rely upon it for their livelihood
And it does not refuse them.
It achieves and accomplishes but has no prestige.

It clothes and rears the ten-thousand things
But does not act as lord [over them].
Always without desire, it can then be named “With the Lowly.”

The ten-thousand things return there
And it does not act as lord [over them].
It can be named “Being Great.”

Because it at no time takes itself to be great
Is the reason it can achieve its greatness.



Hold the Great Shape in your hands.
The world departs.
Departs and does not harm—
Peaceful and leveled to the extreme.

[For] music and dumplings
Do the passing travelers stop.
But the going forth of the Tao is insipid to the mouth
From its being without flavor.

Inspecting it is not sufficient to see it.
Listening for it is not sufficient to hear it.

Using it is not sufficient to exhaust it.



Should one wish to condense it, one must certainly expand it.
Should one wish to weaken it, one must certainly strengthen it.
Should one wish to abolish it, one must certainly boost it.
Should one wish to receive it, one must certainly give it.

This is called “subtle illumination.”
The flexible and weak overcome the firm and strong.

Fish are not able to escape from the deeps—
The beneficial tools of the state
Are not able, therefore, to be shown to people.



The Tao is always not “doing”
And yet nothing is not done.

Lords and kings, if they could maintain it—
The ten-thousand things would transform themselves.
Transformed, [should] they yet desire to “act”
I would cool them with the simplicity of the Nameless.

The simplicity of the Nameless
A man would also not desire.

[By] not desiring [and] by means of stillness
The world shall stabilize itself.



High virtue is not a virtue; therefore, it exists as virtue.
Low virtue does not lose virtue; therefore, it is not [yet high] virtue.

High virtue is uncontrived
And is not done by means of [conscious] doing.
Low virtue is [also] uncontrived
But it occurs by means of [conscious] doing.

High benevolence contrives these
But is not done by means of [conscious] doing.
High righteousness [then] contrives that [i.e., high benevolence]
And it occurs by means of [conscious] doing.
High etiquette [then] contrives that [i.e., high righteousness]
And [when people] do not consider it to be a “must”
[It] then grabs [them by] the arms and casts them out.

Lose Tao, and afterwards comes virtue.
Lose virtue, and afterwards comes benevolence.
Lose benevolence, and afterwards comes righteousness.
Lose righteousness, and afterwards comes etiquette.

Those who [act only by] etiquette
Are the thin shell of loyalty and sincerity and the leaders of chaos.
Those who are prescient
Are flowers of the Tao but also the initiators of folly.

Therefore, great people
Live in the thick and do not dwell in the thin.
Live in the real and do not dwell in the flowers.

This is the reason they let go of those
And receive these.



Those which of old obtained the One:

Heaven obtained the One and thus clarity.
Earth obtained the One and thus repose.
Spirits obtained the One and thus animation.
Waterways obtained the One and thus fullness.
The ten-thousand things obtained the One and thus livelihood.
Lords and kings obtained the One and thus became dedicated to the world.

This conveys it:

Heaven, without means of clarity, would fearfully split open.
Earth, without means of repose, would fearfully be terminated.
Spirits, without means of animation, would fearfully come to an end.
Waterways, without means of fullness, would fearfully be used up.
The ten-thousand things, without means of livelihood, would fearfully die
Lords and kings, without means of dedication, would fearfully stumble and

This is the reason nobility therefore takes lowliness as the root.
The high therefore takes the low as the foundation.

Therefore, the lords and kings called themselves
“Orphaned,” “bereft,” and “unfortunate.”
Isn’t this “taking lowliness as the root” considered wrong?
Not at all!
The utmost honor is not renowned.

Do not desire jade-like stones as if [they were truly] jade.

Jade beads are like rocks.



“Return” is the motion of the Tao.
“Weakening” is the function of the Tao.
The world and the ten-thousand things were born to existence.
Existence was born to non-existence.



High scholars hear of the Tao attentively and practice it.
Middling scholars hear of the Tao—
They seem to keep it [sometimes], seem to lose it [at other times].
Low scholars hear of the Tao—
They greatly deride it.

Not deriding is not sufficient to be the Tao.
This is the reason that [among the] established sayings there are these:

“The clear Tao seems obscure.”
“Making progress in the Tao seems like going backwards.”
“The smooth Tao seems flawed.”
“Superior virtue seems like a hollow.”
“Great purity seems like dishonor.”
“Extensive virtue seems insufficient.”
“Building virtue seems like whiling away without purpose.”
“True qualities seem to change.”

“A great region is without corners.”
“A great instrument is completed toward the end.”
“Great sound is rarely made known.”
“Great shape is without form.”

The Tao is hidden.

But only the Tao is good at pardoning and completing.



The Tao gives birth to One
One gives birth to Two
Two gives birth to Three
The three give birth to the ten-thousand things.

The ten-thousand things take refuge in yin but harbor yang
Infusing ch’i in order to act in harmony.

That which is detested among people:
Only [being] orphaned, bereft, unfortunate.
Yet kings are indifferent to being [thus] called.
Therefore, beings might decry them
And yet [they are] profited.
Might profit them and yet [they are] decried.

That which is taught among people—
I also teach it:
Those who are swelling with violence
Do not conquer their death.

I will therefore take [these] teachings as [my] father.



The softest [things] in the world
[Are like] swift, galloping horses
[To] the hardest [things] in the world.

Non-existence enters no-space.
We therefore know
That the occurrence of non-action is advantageous.

The teaching of no-words
The advantages of non-action—

The world rarely matches them.



Fame and the body: which is dear?
The body and money: which is more?
Gaining and losing: which is a fault?

This is indeed the reason that excessive love
Most certainly exacts a great price.
[After] much hoarding is certainly substantial loss.

Knowing sufficiency, no dishonor.
Knowing to stop, no danger.

[One is] able thereby to last eternally.



Great completion seems incomplete.
Its use is not worn-out.
Great fullness seems empty.
Its use is not exhausted.

Great straightness seems bent.
Great skill seems clumsy.
Great argumentation seems slow of speech.

Stillness overcomes restlessness.
Coldness overcomes heat.

Clear and still, become for the world what is correct.



[When] the world has the Tao
[It] retires trotting horses to fertilize the soil.
[When] the world lacks the Tao
War horses are bred in the suburbs.

Of misfortunes, there is none greater than not knowing sufficiency.
Of faults, there is none greater than desiring gain.

This is the reason that to know the sufficiency of sufficiency
Is a lasting sufficiency indeed.



Without going out the door, know the world.
Without peaking out the windows, see the Celestial Tao.

The more distant one’s going-out
The less one’s knowledge is.

Therefore, the sages
Do not travel, and yet know
Do not see, and yet clearly understand
Do not “do,” and yet complete [their work].



Take learning to be daily increase.
Take Tao to be daily decrease.

Decrease upon decrease—
Thereby arrive at non-action.

Non-action and not “doing”:
Take the world always by non-administration.
Until this [happens], there exists administration.

[This is] not sufficient to take the world.



The sages are without fixed minds.
Therefore, the hundred clans’ mind
Do [the sages] take to be [their own] mind.

Those who are good, I am good to them.
Those who are not good, I am also good to them.
[This is] virtue [as] goodness.

Those who are sincere, I am sincere to them.
Those who are not sincere, I am also sincere to them.
[This is] virtue [as] sincerity.

The sages living in the world thereupon take everything in
Acting in the world, merging their minds.
The hundred clans—each one—pays attention with its ears and eyes.

The sages all treat them as children.



Produced by birth, entering into death:

The disciples of life are three out of ten.
The disciples of death are three out of ten.
The lives of people
That move them toward a death on the earth:
[Of these] are there also three out of ten.

Because of their living the thickness of life.

But hear of those [one in ten] who are good at negotiating life:
Traveling by land, they do not encounter the cruel or the fierce.
Entering into an army, they are not covered with armor or weapons.
The cruel have no place to thrust their spear-tips
The fierce have no place to use their claws
Soldiers find no place to receive their blades.

Because of their having no death on the earth.



The Tao gives birth to them
Virtue rears them
Nature forms them
Conditions complete them.

Therefore, of the ten-thousand things
There are none that do not honor the Tao
And value Virtue.
The honoring of the Tao
The valuing of Virtue:
Man does not command them [to do so]
And they are always genuinely themselves
Because the Tao gives birth to them
And Virtue raises them

Leads them, nourishes them
Erects them, poisons them
Supports them, destroys them.

Giving birth but not possessing
Acting but not presuming
Leading but not oppressively ruling—

This is called “Mystic Virtue.”



The world had a beginning.
It’s regarded as being a mother to the world.

Having attained its mother
Thereby know its offspring.
Having known its offspring
Return, hold to its mother.

Not having a body, there is no danger.

Stop the exchange
Close the openings
Throughout, the body does not strive.

Open the exchange
Abet the affairs
Throughout, the body is not helped.

Seeing the lowly is called illumination.
Maintaining flexibility is called strength.

Use the light.
Return, go back to the illumination.
Not losing the body is a disaster.

Indeed, be practicing always.



Making myself pure, having understanding
I travel on the great Tao.
It gives only this fear:
The great Tao is exceedingly level
But people are pleased with byways.

The imperial court taxes to the extreme.
The fields are altogether overgrown with weeds.
The granaries are completely empty.

Clothed in elegant silk
Girded with sharp swords
Glutted with food and drink
Having a surplus of property and money—

This is called robbing and boasting [about it].

Besides, it’s not the Tao!



That which is well established is not rooted up.
That which is well embraced does not slip away.
Children and grandchildren, using honorary rites
Offer sacrifices unceasingly.

Cultivate it in the body—it’s virtue shall be Genuineness.
Cultivate it in the family—it’s virtue shall be [Having] Surplus.
Cultivate it in the village—it’s virtue shall be Endurance.
Cultivate it in the nation—it’s virtue shall be Abundance.
Cultivate it in the world—it’s virtue shall be Universality.

By means of the body, watch the body.
By means of the family, watch the family.
By means of the village, watch the village.
By means of the nation, watch the nation.
By means of the world, watch the world.

By what means do I know the world aright?

By this.



Containing the substantiality of virtue
Is comparable to [being like] a bare child:
Poisonous insects do not sting [you].
Savage beasts do not seize [you].
Snatching birds do not take [you].

[The child’s] bones are tender
Its muscles are soft.
But its grip is firm.

It does not yet know the union of female and male
And yet it’s completely made:
The utmost of vitality indeed!

Throughout the day crying and not becoming hoarse:
The utmost of harmony indeed!

Knowing harmony is called the Constant.
Knowing the Constant is called clarity.
Promoting life is said to be auspicious.
The mind ordering ch’i is said to be violent.

A strong thing ruling over what is Old—
This is called “non-Tao.”

The non-Tao soon ends.



Those who know do not speak.
Those who speak do not know.

Blunt the sharpness
Untie the knots
Harmonize the lights
Equate the dust—
This is called “Mystic Similitude.”

It is not able to be obtained, yet it is near.
It is not able to be obtained, and it is distant.
It is not able to be obtained, yet it benefits.
It is not able to be obtained, yet it harms.
It is not able to be obtained, yet it is valuable.
It is not able to be obtained, yet it is worthless.

Therefore, [it] become[s] for the world what is precious.



By uprightness, govern the kingdom.
By rarely using soldiers
[And] by means of non-administration
Take the world.

By what means do I know this to be so?
By this:

The world greatly shuns and avoids [the poor]
And the people [remain] completely impoverished.
The people greatly sharpen weapons
[And] the kingdom and households grow dark.
The people [become] excessively crafty and clever
[And] strange things start [to happen].
Laws and directives are increasingly promulgated
[And thus] more robbers and thieves exist.

Therefore do the sages say:
“I do not administer, and the people change themselves.
I am pleased with stillness, and the people correct themselves.
I do not [meddle in their] affairs, and the people grow rich by themselves.
I do not desire, and the people simplify themselves.”



[When] the government is toned down and uninterested
The people are honest and unsophisticated.
[When] the government is scrutinizing and clinical:
The people lack and run short.

Misfortune still depends on that which is of good fortune.
Good fortune still conceals that which is of misfortune.
Who knows the final end [of this]?

[Even] this is not correct.

Correctness reverts to being strange.
Goodness reverts to being evil.
Peoples’ bewilderment—
Its days certainly have lasted a long time.

Therefore, the sages
Square but do not cut.
Inspect but do not stab.

Are straightforward but not unrestrained.

Luminous but not dazzling.



[In] governing the people and serving Heaven
There is nothing like thriftiness.

Only thriftiness is rightly called “yielding beforehand.”
Yielding beforehand
Entails [one’s] arrival at a hard-won accumulation of virtue.

[With this] hard-won accumulation of virtue
[There is] necessarily nothing not overcome.
[When] nothing is not overcome
[There is] necessarily no one who knows your limits.
[When] there are none who know your limits
[You] can therefore have a kingdom.

[When you] have the mother of the kingdom
[You] can thereby endure for a long time.

This is called “deeply rooted”
“A solid foundation.”

The way of long life and lasting vision.



Governing a great kingdom is like quick-frying small delicacies.

[When] using the Tao to manage the world
Its demons are powerless.
[It’s] not [exactly] that its demons are powerless
[But that] their powers do not harm people.

Not [only is it] that their powers do not harm people
[But] the sages also do not harm people.

Both do not reciprocate harm.

This is the reason [their] virtues mix and thereupon return.



That kingdom that is great
Is modest and flowing:
The intersection of the world.
The female of the world.

The female, always by means of gentleness, overcomes the male.
Therefore, [being] gentle is being modest.

The great kingdom, by means of modesty [toward] the small kingdom
Receives the small kingdom.
The small kingdom, by means of modesty [toward] the great kingdom
Receives the great kingdom.

Some are modest in order to receive.
Some are modest and are received.

The great kingdom does not inordinately desire
To annex livestock and people.
The small kingdom does not inordinately desire
To come into the service of people.

[So that] they both get what each one desires
That which is the great [kingdom] should become modest.



That which the Tao is:
A deep obscurity among the ten-thousand things.

The treasure of kind people.
The sanctuary of unkind people.

Flattering speech can be used to buy and sell honor.
Flattering deeds can be used to increase [the position of] people.

The unkind among people—
Why abandon them to Existence?

Therefore, [when] establishing the emperor
And placing the three high officials
Even though there are salutations [made]
And [so many] jade-wares [that it takes]
An advancing team of four horses [to present them]

[Even this is] not as good as sitting down
And offering this Tao.

Those from of old who considered this Tao to be valuable—
Why [did they do so]?

[Is it] not said:
“The seeking thereby attain;
The guilty are thereby delivered from evil”?

Therefore, [it] become[s] to the world what is precious.



Do [things] without “doing” [them].
Work without working.
Taste without tasting.
[Make] the great small
[And] the many few.

Respond to adversity with [this] virtue.

Seek the difficult through the easy.
Manage the great through the minute.

Difficult matters in the world must be done through the easy ones.
Great matters must be done through the minute ones.
Thus, the sages at no time do great [things].
This is the reason they can achieve the great [things].

Those who make frivolous promises are certainly bereft of sincerity.
Too much ease most certainly [results in] too much difficulty.
Therefore do the sages
[Treat things] as though they [were] difficult

And so they are, throughout [their lives], without difficulties!



The stabilized is easy to grasp.
The not-yet-begun is easy to plan for.
The brittle is easy to break.
The tiny is easy to scatter.

Act upon it while it does not yet exist.
Govern it while it is not yet chaotic.

The tree [as thick as] joined arms embraced
Comes into existence at an insignificant height.
The platform of nine stories is built by piling up dirt.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a [single] step.

Those who contrive, ruin them.
Those who grasp, lose them.

Therefore, the sages
Do not contrive and therefore do not ruin.
Do not grasp and therefore do not lose.

The undertakings of the people:
[They see] matters frequently [through] to near-completion
But ruin them [toward the end].
Act with care in the end just as in the beginning
[And you] will not ruin the matter.

Therefore, the sages
Desire not to desire
And do not value goods that are hard to get.
Learning “un-learning”
They return to the place the masses of people have [all] passed by.
Therefore, they assist the true natures of the ten-thousand things

And do not dare to contrive.



Those of old who were good at governing [with] the Tao
Did not thereby enlighten the people.
[That] would thereby cheat them.

The difficulty of people to govern
Is because of their excessive cleverness.
Therefore, to use cleverness to govern the kingdom
Is [to be] a thief to the kingdom.
Not to use cleverness to govern the kingdom
Is [to be] a blessing to the kingdom.

Those who understand these both
Also examine the System.
Always understanding and examining the System
Is called Mystic Virtue.

Mystic Virtue is mysterious!
It grants counter-intuitive things!

Then [you] are truly indeed
The utmost and greatest comfort [to your people].



Those who are [in] the position where the large rivers [meet] the sea
Can thereby become the king of the hundred mountain streams.
Because they are skilled at humbling themselves
Is the reason they can become the king of the hundred mountain streams.

Therefore, the sages
Wishing to be above people
Must [do so] by means of speaking humbly to them.
Wishing to be first [among] people
Must [do so] by means of [placing] themselves behind them.

Therefore, the sages
Are placed on top, and the people are not burdened.
Placed in front, and the people are not harmed.

Therefore, the world is glad to push [them] forward
And does not get tired [of them].

Because they do not contend
Is the reason no one in the world
Is able to contend with them.



Everyone in the world calls my Tao “great”
As if nothing resembled it.
Precisely because it is great
Is the reason it seems that nothing resembles it.

Supposing it resembled [something]—
Long-standing indeed its pettiness would be [for] man!

I have three treasures.
Keep and protect them.
The first is called “motherly love”
The second is called “meagerness”
The third is called “not daring to be foremost in the world.”

Motherly love is the reason I can be brave.
Meagerness is the reason I can be expansive.
Not daring to be foremost in the world
Is the reason I can achieve magnanimous leadership.

To desist today from motherly love and so also bravery
From meagerness and so also expansiveness
From being behind and so also being in front—

Is Death indeed.

Those fighting by means of motherly love
Are necessarily victorious
Because [their] defense is completely solid.
Heaven will help them
With motherly love
Protect them.



Those who are skilled at being warriors are not warlike.
Those who are skilled at fighting are not angry.
Those who are skilled at overcoming enemies do not engage [them].
Those who are skilled at managing people act humbly toward them.

This is called the virtue of non-contention.
This is called the power of managing people.
This is called merging with Heaven, the Oldest of Old.



[About] using soldiers, there exists a saying:
“We dare not act as lords but rather as guests.
[We] do not dare to advance an inch but rather retreat a foot.”

This is called
Prevailing without prevailing
Repelling without an arm
Throwing [them] out without resisting [them]
Holding [them] without a fight.

There is no misfortune greater than trivializing an enemy.
[If we] trivialize an enemy, how many funerals [will be] our “reward”?

[When] opposing armies clash with each
Those who mourn are in fact the winners.



My words are very easy to understand.
Very easy to practice.
There are none in the world who can understand [them].
None who can practice [them].

Words have an ancestor.
Affairs have a sovereign.

Precisely because one does not understand [this]
Is the reason one does not understand me.

Those who understand me are rare.
Those who follow me are prized.

Therefore, the sages
Are covered in coarse cloth
[But carry in their] bosoms a jewel.



Knowing “no-knowing” is best.
Not to know [this] “knowing” is a fault.
Only those who take faults to be faults
Are therefore without fault.
The sages are without fault
For they take faults to be faults.

Only those who take faults to be faults
Are therefore without fault.



The people do not fear might
That imitates the Great Might to the extreme.

Do not disrespect their dwelling places.
Do not hate their homelands.

It is only because one does not hate
That one is therefore not hated.

Therefore, the sages
Know themselves but do not display themselves.
Are kind to themselves but do not prize themselves.

Thus, leave that and take up this.



The fearless in daring are necessarily killed.
The fearless in not-daring necessarily survive.
Those who are of these two [types]:
Some are benefited.
Some are harmed.

That which is detested by Heaven—who knows the reason?

The Tao of Heaven does not struggle but is good at winning.
Does not speak but is good at responding.
Is not summoned but returns of itself.
Is simple like this but is good at planning.

Heaven’s net is immensely vast.


But nothing slips through.



People do not fear death
[But] how can [one possibly] endure
[If one] uses death to frighten them?

Suppose the people are made ever to fear death
And that those who act out of the ordinary
I seize, detain, and kill.

Who would dare [to do this]?
Frequently, there those chief executioners who are killed.
Those who take the place of the chief executioners are [also] killed.

This is called usurping the Master Carpenter.
[Among] those who usurp the Master Carpenter

There are few who do not cut their hands.



The people’s starving
Is because of their superior’s consumption of too many taxes.
Thus the starvation.

The people’s difficulty to govern
Is because of their superior’s possessive governing.
Thus the difficulty to govern.

The people’s reckless deaths
Are because of their seeking the thickness of life.
Thus the reckless deaths.

Only those who do not use life to contrive
Are indeed skilled at valuing life.



[At] a man’s birth, he is flexible and weak.
[At] his death, he is firm and strong.
[At] the birth of trees and grasses, they are flexible and light.
[At] their death, they are dried out and withered.

Therefore, those who are firm and strong are followers of death.
Those who are flexible and weak are disciples of life.

The strong army is necessarily destroyed.
The strong tree necessarily snaps.

The strong and large occupy the inferior position.
The flexible and weak occupy the superior position.



The Way of Heaven—its similarity to stretching a bow?
That which is high—[it] pulls it down.
That which is low—[it] lifts it up.
That which has excess—[it] reduces it.
That which is lacking—[it] adds to it.

The Way of Heaven
Takes away [where] there is excess
And adds to [where there is] lack.

The way of people
Necessarily different
Takes away [where there is] lack
In order to offer to [that which] has excess.

Who can have surplus by means of offering [it] to the world?
Only those who have the Tao.

Therefore, the sages
Act but do not presume
Achieve goals but do not dwell [on them].

They do not desire to be seen as praiseworthy or despicable.



There is nothing in the world as flexible and weak as water.
And [among] those things that work at the firm and the strong
There is nothing that can surpass it [in this]
For it is without means [for the hard and strong] to alter it.

The victory of the weak over the strong
The victory of the flexible over the firm
There are none in the world who do not know [of these].
None who cannot practice [them].

Therefore do the sages say:
“Accepting the filth of the kingdom—
This is called taking charge of the gods of soil and the gods of grain.
To accept the banes of the kingdom—
This is to become the ruler of the world.”

Correct sayings seem contradictory.



[After] pacifying great hatred
Surely there exists remaining resentment.
How can [this] be considered good?

Therefore, the sages keep the left side [of an] agreement
And do not demand [the right side] from people.
Having virtue, [one] manages an agreement.
Lacking virtue, [one] manages to deprive.

The Heavenly Tao is not personal.
[It] always give[s] kindly to people.



The small kingdom [with] few people:

Causes them to have the equipment of ten noblemen but not to use it.
Causes the people to give weight to death and not to move far away.
Though having boats and carriages, they’ve no place to ride them.
Though having armor and weapons, they’ve no place to exhibit them.
Causes the people to return to knotting rope and using it.

Sweetens their meals
Beautifies their clothes
Pacifies their abodes
Gladdens [them in] their customs.

The neighboring kingdoms see each other in the distance
Hearing the sounds of each other’s chickens and dogs.
The people arrive at old age [and eventually] die
Without going to or coming from each other.



Sincere speech is not pleasing.
Pleasing speech is not sincere.
Those who are good do not argue.
Those who argue are not good.

Those who understand are not broadly learned.
Those who are broadly learned do not understand.

The sages do not accumulate.
Already, by means of doing for people
They have more and more for themselves.
Already, by means of giving to people
They have more and more—too much—for themselves.

The Way of Heaven is to benefit and not to harm.
The Way of sages is to do but not to struggle.

This translation or excerpts from it may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes.
© Aalar Fex, 2006
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