Das
Tao Te King
von
Lao Tse
Chinese - English by
Keith H. Seddon
http://www.btinternet.com/~k.h.s/ttc.htm

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1

The Tao that can be put in words is not the ever-abiding Tao;
The name that can be named is not the ever-abiding name.
The Nameless gives rise to Heaven and Earth.
The Named is the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.¹

Therefore:
It is always so that without desires you can behold its mystery;
Always so that having desires you can behold its manifestations.
These two² are one and the same, and differ only in name.
This being so is profound, mysterious, and dark:
The threshold to all secrets.
1. i.e. all things in existence.
2. i.e. the Nameless and the Named.

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2

When all beneath Heaven¹ know beauty as beauty
There is ugliness.
When all know good as good
There is evil.

Thus being and non-being arise together;
Easy and difficult rely upon each other;
Long and short are dependent upon each other;
High and low contrast with each other;
Music and voice harmonise together.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Sage acts by doing nothing and teaches without speaking.
The Ten Thousand Things arise, but he doesn’t cause them to come.
They come into being, yet he claims no possession over them.
He works for their benefit, yet requires no gratitude.
He accomplishes his tasks, yet claims no merit.
Because he claims no merit, his merit does not leave him.
1. ‘Beneath Heaven’ refers to the phenomenal world of everyday experience.

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3

Do not exalt the gifted, and the people will not be jealous.
Do not prize rare treasures, and the people will not steal them.
Do not display desirable things, and the hearts of the people will not be distracted.

Therefore the wise ruler:
Empties their hearts and fills their bellies;
Weakens their ambitions and strengthens their bones.
He keeps the people without knowledge and free from desire
So that those who know dare not act.
He acts without acting and everything is kept in order.


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4

The Tao is like an empty vessel, yet may be drawn from without ever needing to be filled.¹
In its unfathomable depths arise the Ten Thousand Things.
It blunts sharp edges,
Unties all tangles;
It softens the glare
And blends with the dust.¹
Hidden in the depths, perhaps it just seems to exist.
Its origin is a mystery to me.
It seems to be older than Heaven.
1. Waley (1977, 146) observes, ‘Dust is the Taoist symbol for the noise and fuss of everyday life.’ The Tao exists everywhere – even in ch’en, dust.

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5

Heaven and Earth are not benevolent;
They regard the Ten Thousand Things as straw dogs.¹
The Sage is not benevolent;
He regards the Hundred Families² as straw dogs.

The space between Heaven and Earth is like a bellows:
It is empty, yet not exhausted;
The more it is used, the more it produces.

Many words exhaust themselves.
It is better to watch over what is within.³
1. Straw dogs were made to be sacrificial offerings at religious ceremonies. Afterwards, having served their purpose, they would be thrown away and trampled under foot in the street or burned as fuel. (See Ch’en Ku-ying 1977, 70, P. J. Lin 1977, 12, Wilhelm 1985, 65, Welch 1966, 42, and Wieger 1988, 88.)
2. i.e. all people.
3. presumably, the Tao. But the ‘empty centre’ may well be alluding to the bellows simile already introduced; if this is so, the ‘empty centre’ of the bellows should be likened to the space between Heaven and Earth. This space is where mankind dwells, and this line may be an exhortation discouraging people from presuming too much, or taking on tasks beyond their capacity. This interpretation at least accords with the general philosophy of the Tao Te Ching. Cf. Welch (1966, 44–5) for an illuminating analysis of this chapter.

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6

The Spirit of the Valley never dies.
It is called the Mysterious Female.¹
The gate of the Mysterious Female is the source of Heaven and Earth.
Ever-abiding, always existing,
It can be used, but never exhausted.
1. presumably, the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things (which is the Tao itself). This chapter is obscure. Lau (1963, xxxviii–ix) suggests it echoes a primitive creation myth.

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7

Heaven is eternal and Earth everlasting.
They are eternal and everlasting because they do not exist for themselves,
And thus they last forever.
This is why the Sage puts himself last, yet stays out ahead;
He forgets himself and is thus preserved.
Is this not because being selfless, he will thereby be fulfilled?


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8

The superior man is like water.
Water benefits the Ten Thousand Things, but does not compete with them.
It stays in the places which people despise,
And thus is close to Tao.

For his dwelling he chooses good ground;
he has a mind that loves the profound;
is benevolent when dealing with others;
is sincere when he speaks;
preserves order when ruling;
shows competence in business;
and takes action at the proper time.

Because he does not compete, he is beyond reproach.


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9

Rather than fill the cup to the brim, it is better to stop in time.
The finely honed blade will soon lose its sharpness.
Fill the hall with gold and jade, and no one can guard it.

Those who take pride in their wealth and honours, attract their own downfall.
To stop when the task is finished is the Way of Heaven.


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10

Can you embrace the oneness of everything with body and soul
Without being distracted?
When concentrating your breath to bring about softness,
Can you be like a baby?
Can you clean your profound mirror and make it free from blemish?¹
Can you love the people and rule the country
Yet be without knowledge?
When the gates of Heaven open and close²
Can you keep to the role of the female?³
When your intelligence has penetrated to the four corners
Can you refrain from acting?

To produce things and nourish them;
To bring them forth without possessing them;
To benefit them without reward,
And lead without imposing,
Is called profound Virtue.
1. this may allude to a meditation technique. The ‘profound mirror’ is a simile for the mind; making it ‘free from blemish’ is to avoid making emotional responses to the events and circumstances of the everyday world.
2. perhaps, simply, ‘when things happen’.
3. i.e. remain passive and refrain from acting.

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11

Thirty spokes are fixed to the hub;
It is the hole in the hub which makes the wheel useful.

Clay can be shaped into a vessel;
But it is the space inside which gives it its usefulness.

Doors and windows are cut out to make a room;
The room is useful only because of the holes.

Therefore, gain from what does exist,
And make use of what doesn’t exist.


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12

The five colours blind the eyes;¹
The five notes deafen the ears;²
The five tastes spoil the palate;³
Riding and hunting madden the mind;
Rare treasure will distract one from the path.

Therefore the Sage provides for his inner needs, and not for his eyes.
Thus he rejects one and chooses the other.
1. The five primary colours are: red, yellow, green or blue, black and white.
2. The five notes of the Chinese pentatonic scale are: C, D, E, G and A.
3. The five tastes are: sweet, sour, bitter, acrid, and salty.

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13

Favour and disgrace equally cause apprehension.
Fortune and misfortune have their origin in our own bodies.

What is meant by saying that favour and disgrace equally cause apprehension?
Favour is for inferior people:
Being favoured leads to the apprehension of losing favour,
And losing it leads to the fear of greater misfortune.
This means that favour and disgrace equally cause apprehension.

What is meant by saying that fortune and misfortune have their origin in our own bodies?
Having a body, I am liable to misfortune;
If I had no body, what misfortune could I suffer?

Therefore, he who values the world as much as his own body
Is fit to rule the empire.
And he who loves the world as much as his own body
May be entrusted to care for all beneath Heaven.


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14

Looked for, it cannot be seen:
it is not visible.
Listened for, it cannot be heard:
it makes no sound.
Grasped at, it cannot be held:
it is not tangible.
These three¹ are beyond scrutiny.
But they are blended in the One.

On top it is not bright;
Underneath it is not dark.
It is unceasing and cannot be named;
It returns to nothingness.
It is called the formless form
And the imageless image.
That is why it is called obscure and indistinct.

Go to meet it, and you will find no beginning.
Follow after it, and you will find no end.
Hold to the ancient Tao
In order to manage events in the present.

Knowing the ancient beginning
Is called holding to Tao’s thread.²
1. i.e. the three qualities of being invisible, soundless, and intangible.
2. or following the principle/system/tradition of Tao.

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15

In ancient times masters of the Tao were possessed of a subtle mystery and a penetrating perception;
Too profound to be understood.
Because they were too profound to be understood,
All we can do is describe their outward appearance:
Cautious, like one crossing a river in winter;
Hesitant, like one who fears his neighbours;
Reserved, like one who is a guest;
Yielding, like ice that is melting;
Simple, like an uncarved block;
Open, like a wide valley;
Obscure, like muddy water.

Who can make muddy water clear by keeping still?
Who can, from rest, gradually stir to life?¹
Those who hold fast to the Tao
Have no desire to be filled.
Having no desire to be filled
They can endure all wear yet never need to be renewed.
1. These two lines may allude to a meditation technique (cf. LaFarge 1994, 357).

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16

Become completely empty.
Hold firm to stillness.
The Ten Thousand Things come to life, then return whence they came:
They increase and flourish, but each returns to its source.
Returning to the source is stillness; it is what is destined.
What is destined is unchanging.
To know what is unchanging is to have insight;
Being ignorant of what is unchanging leads to misfortune.

He who knows what is unchanging will be impartial.
He who is impartial will act justly.
He who acts justly is like a good ruler.
He who is a good ruler is in accord with Heaven.
He who is in accord with Heaven is in accord with the Tao.
He who is in accord with the Tao is everlasting;
And to the end of his days, he will meet with no danger.


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17

The best rulers are those whom the people hardly know exist.
Next come rulers whom the people love and praise.
After that come rulers whom the people fear.
And the worst rulers are those whom the people despise.

The ruler who does not trust the people will not be trusted by the people.

The best ruler stays in the background, and his voice is rarely heard.
When he accomplishes his tasks, and things go well,
The people declare: It was we who did it by ourselves.


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18

When Tao is abandoned,
Benevolence and morality arise.
When wisdom and knowledge arise,
Hypocrisy flourishes.

When there is discord in the family,¹
Filial piety and parental affection arise.
When the country is in darkness and turmoil,
Loyal ministers appear.
1. Strictly, ‘when the six family relationships are not in harmony’. These are the relationships of father and son, elder brother and younger brother, and husband and wife. (This conception of family relationships is clearly sexist, leaving out of account mothers, daughters and sisters.)

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19

Give up sagacity and abandon knowledge,
And the people will benefit a hundredfold.
Give up benevolence and abandon morality,
And the people will return to natural affection.
Give up scheming and abandon gain,
And robbers and thieves will disappear.

These words in themselves are inadequate.
Therefore let the following be appended:
Exhibit plainness,
Embrace the simple,
Reduce self-interest,
Curb desire.


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20

Abandon learning and put an end to sorrow.¹
What is the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’?
What is the difference between good and evil?
Should I fear what others fear
There would be no end to my fear.
The people are happy, as if enjoying the sacrificial feast,
Or at springtime climbing the terrace in the park.
But I alone am unmoved, showing no sentiment,
Like a baby who has yet to learn how to smile.
I am alone and have no home to go to.

Others have more than they need,
Whilst I have nothing.
Mine is the mind of a fool,
Completely muddled!
Others see things so clear cut,
Whilst I am confused.
They see so many differences,
Whilst I see no distinctions.
I am as one adrift on the sea;
I am like a restless wind with no direction.

The people all have a purpose,
Whilst I am aimless and depressed.
I alone am different from the others;
I value seeking nourishment from the Mother.²
1. This line probably belongs at the end of the previous chapter.
2. i.e. the Tao.

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21

In all that he does, a man of great Virtue follows Tao and Tao alone.
Tao is invisible and intangible.
It is invisible and intangible, yet within is form.
It is intangible and invisible, yet within is substance.
It is dim and obscure, yet within is essence.
This essence is perfectly genuine, and from it faith emerges.

From ancient times until now, its name has not been forgotten,
Since it is perceived in the source of all things.
How do I know that this is the true nature of things?
Through Tao.


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22

That which yields will be preserved.
That which bends will be straight.
That which is empty will be filled.
That which wears out will be renewed.
He who has little will gain more.
He who has much will be perplexed.

Therefore the Sage embraces the oneness of the Tao,
And sets an example to everyone.
He does not make a great show, therefore he shines out.
He does not try to justify himself, and so he is distinguished.
He does not boast, so receives merit.
He is not arrogant, and so endures.
Because he does not compete, no one under Heaven can compete with him.

When the ancients said, ‘Yield and be preserved,’ was that an empty saying?
Attain completeness, and all things will come to you.


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23

To speak little is natural.
A high wind will not last all morning,
And a sudden downpour will not last all day.
And why is this?
Heaven and Earth have made it so.
If Heaven and Earth cannot make things which last forever,
How much less is it possible for man?

Therefore those who follow the Tao will be at one with the Tao.
Those who exercise Virtue will be at one with Virtue.
Those who lose them will be at one with their loss.

At one with the Tao, Tao welcomes you.
At one with Virtue, Virtue welcomes you.
At one with your loss, loss welcomes you.

Those who do not trust others
Will not themselves be trusted.


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24

Those who stand on tiptoe are not steady.
Those who stride out ahead will soon fall behind.

Those who make a big show are far from enlightenment.
Those who think they can never be wrong are not respected.
Those who justify themselves have no merit.
Those who boast will not last long.

To followers of the Tao, such actions are excessive, like eating too much.
They are disliked by all things,
And therefore followers of the Tao do not seek refuge in them.


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25

There is something formless yet complete
Which existed before Heaven and Earth.
Silent and fathomless,
Alone and unchanging;
Inexhaustible and pervading everywhere,
It may be thought of as the Mother of all under Heaven.
I do not know its name; I shall call it Tao.
If pressed for a description, I would call it Great.

Being great is to go ever-onward.
Going ever-onward is to reach everywhere.
Reaching everywhere is to return.

Therefore Tao is great;
Heaven is great;
Earth is great;
The King is also great.
The universe contains four great things,
And one of them is the King.
Man follows Earth;
Earth follows Heaven;
Heaven follows Tao;
And Tao follows what is naturally so.


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26

Seriousness is the basis of levity.
Stillness is the master of restlessness.

Therefore the sage, travelling all day,
Does not lose sight of his baggage-wagon.
Though there are magnificent sights to be seen, he remains calm and detached.

Why would it be that the ruler of ten thousand chariots would act lightly in public?
To be light-hearted is to lose one’s foundation.
To be restless is to lose control.


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27

A good traveller leaves no tracks.
A good speaker cannot be refuted.
A good reckoner needs no abacus.
A good door needs neither lock nor bolt;
Yet it cannot be opened.
A good binding needs neither rope nor knots;
Yet it cannot be untied.

Therefore the Sage excels in taking care of everyone,
And no one is forgotten.
He excels in finding a use for everything,
Hence nothing is rejected.
This is called practising enlightenment.

Therefore the good man is the teacher of the bad;
And the bad man is the material upon which the good man works.
He who does not value the teacher
And cherish the subject-matter,
Regardless of his learning, has gone astray.
This is called the ultimate mystery.


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28

He who knows the masculine and keeps to the feminine
Will be the river of the world.¹
Being the river of the world
He will never be separated from eternal Virtue,²
Becoming once again a little child.

He who knows the white and keeps to the black
Will be an example for the whole world.
Being an example for the whole world
He will never stray from eternal Virtue,
And he will return to the infinite.

He who knows honour and keeps to the humble
Will be the valley of the world.
Being the valley of the world
He will be content with eternal Virtue,
And become like an uncarved block.³

When the block is carved, it is made into useful things.
And when the Sage makes use of them, he becomes the ruler.
It is the best carver who does the least cutting.
1. i.e. as all moisture flows to the main river, so all the people will come to the Sage to be enlightened.
2. i.e. he will be in accord with the Tao, in accord with the way things are naturally meant to be.
3. i.e. the most simple of things, uninfluenced by conscious actions.

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29

Would it be possible to take charge of the world and make it better than it is?
I do not believe that such a thing is possible.

Since the world is sacred
No improvements can be made.
If you try to change it, you will spoil it.
If you try to grasp it, you will lose it.

So, there are times
for forging ahead, and for staying behind;
for keeping silent, and for speaking aloud.
Some are strong, while others are weak;
Some rejoice, while others lament.

This is why the Sage avoids excess, extremes, and extravagance.


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30

He who advises the ruler in the Way of Tao
Advises against the use of military force to conquer the world.
Adopting force will invite resistance.
Where armies camp, brambles and thorns grow.
Years of bad harvests come after a great war.

A good ruler does what is needed, then stops,
Never daring to conquer the world.
So do what is needed without bragging.
Do what is needed without boasting.
Do what is needed without being arrogant.
Do what is needed, but only when there is no other way.
Do what is needed without using violence.
Use of violence is followed by defeat.

Such action is contrary to Tao,
And what is contrary to Tao soon comes to an early end.


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31

Fine weapons are the instruments of evil, hateful to all.
So those with Tao spurn them.
Men of peace favour the left;
Men of war favour the right.

Weapons are the tools of misfortune;
They are not the choice of the wise man,
Who uses them only when there is no other way;
And even then, he acts with calm restraint,
And victory is no occasion for rejoicing.

To rejoice in victory is to delight in killing.
Those who enjoy slaughter cannot find fulfilment in the world.

Auspicious occasions honour the left-hand place;
Inauspicious occasions honour the right-hand place.¹
The second-in-command stands on the left,
Whilst the commander-in-chief stands on the right,
Arranged as they would be at rites of mourning.
When so many have been slaughtered,
Let us mourn with tears of sorrow,
And treat victory like a funeral.
1. The left-hand side is considered the honourable side, and the right-hand side is considered the less honour­able. (See Maurer 1986, 93)

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32

Tao is eternally nameless.
Although, as an uncarved block,¹ it is small,
None under Heaven can subjugate it.
If kings and lords could take possession of it,
Of their own accord the Ten Thousand Things would pay them homage.
Heaven and Earth would come together,
And sweet rain fall.
Peace and order would spread among the people
Without its being decreed.

When the block is cut, the parts need names.
Are there not already enough names?
One should know when to stop.
Knowing when to stop, one avoids all danger.

Tao in the world is like a river flowing to the sea.
1. i.e. as a very simple, undifferentiated thing.

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33

He who knows others is wise;
He who knows himself is enlightened.
Conquering others requires force;
Conquering oneself requires strength.

He who is content is rich.
To act with perseverance requires will-power.
He who stays where he is, endures.
To die but not be forgotten is to enjoy long life.


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34

The great Tao flows everywhere,
Going to the left and to the right.
The Ten Thousand Things depend upon it for life;
It denies itself to none of them,
Accomplishing its task
But claiming no credit.

It clothes and feeds the Ten Thousand Things,
Yet does not claim to be their master.
Forever without desire, it may be called small.

The Ten Thousand Things return to it,
Yet it does not claim possession over them:
Thus it may be called great.

Because it never strives for greatness,
It thereby accomplishes greatness.


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35

To he who holds the great image,
The whole world will come.
They will come and meet with no harm,
Finding safety, tranquillity and comfort.

Music and food will induce the passer-by to stop,
But when the Tao is spoken of in words, it seems bland and tasteless.
Looked for, it cannot be seen.
Listened for, it cannot be heard.
Use it, and it can never be exhausted.


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36

Whatever shrinks
Must first have expanded.
Whatever becomes weak
Must first have been strong.
That which is to be destroyed
Must first have flourished.
In order to receive,
One must first give.

This is called seeing the nature of things.
The soft overcomes the hard, and the weak overcomes the strong.

As fish cannot be taken from the water,
So a ruler should not reveal to the people his means of government.


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37

The Tao never acts,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If the ruler were able to hold to it,
The Ten Thousand Things would take shape of their own accord.

If in taking shape desire should arise,
He would quell it by means of the nameless simplicity.
With the nameless simplicity
There will be no desires.
Being free from desire, tranquillity is attained,
And everything beneath Heaven will be at peace.


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38

The truly good man is unaware of his goodness,
And thus is good.
The foolish man sets himself to be good,
And so is not good.

The truly good man takes no action,
Yet all things are accomplished.
The foolish man is forever taking action,
And much is left undone.

The truly benevolent man acts without striving to satisfy personal ends;
Yet the seeker of morality acts with an ulterior motive.
And when the follower of rules takes action and no one responds,
He rolls up his shirt-sleeves to impose order by force.

Therefore, when Tao is lost, goodness remains.
When goodness is lost, benevolence remains.
When benevolence is lost, morality remains.
When morality is lost, rules remain.
Merely following rules¹ is a pretence of trust and loyalty, and is the beginning of confusion.
To seek knowledge of the future is to hold to a false Tao, and is the beginning of folly.

Therefore the superior man holds to the real
And ignores mere appearances;
Takes the fruit and rejects the flower;
Accepts the first and discards the second.
1. i.e. adhering to Confucian Rites.

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39

These are the things of ancient times which obtained the One:¹
Heaven obtained the One and became clear;
Earth obtained the One and became stable;
The Gods obtained the One and became divine;
The Valleys obtained the One and became full;
The Ten Thousand Things obtained the One and were made alive;
Kings and lords obtained the One and ruled the empire.
Did they not all become as they are by obtaining the One?

Without clarity,
Heaven would soon shatter.
Without stability,
the Earth would soon split.
Without being divine,
the Gods would soon dissolve.
Without being full,
the Valleys would soon be exhausted.
Without life,
the Ten Thousand Things would soon
perish.
Without kings and lords,
the empire would soon fall.

Therefore the noble has its root in the humble.
The high has its foundation in the low.
This is why kings and lords call themselves orphaned, lonely, and without sustenance.
Thus they regard the humble as their root.

Those who are most praiseworthy
Do not need praise.
They prefer neither to be rare, like jade,
Nor common, like stone.
1. i.e. the Tao.

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40

The motion of Tao is to return.
The Way of Tao is to yield.

The Ten Thousand Things have their source in being;
Being arises from non-being.


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41

When the superior man hears of the Tao, he practises it diligently.
When the average man hears about the Tao, he follows it only intermittently.
When the foolish man hears of the Tao, he bursts out laughing.
But for this laughter Tao would not be Tao.

Hence, the ancients have said:
The lightest path seems to be dark;
Going forward seems like going back;
The easy way seems to be hard;
The highest Virtue seems empty;
That which is pure seems sullied;
Ample Virtue appears inadequate;
Strength to be had from Virtue seems lacking;
Virtue itself appears unreal.

The greatest space has no corners;
The greatest talent develops slowly;
The loudest sound cannot be heard;
The greatest form has no shape.

Tao is hidden and without a name;
Yet it is Tao which nourishes all things and brings everything to completion.


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42

Tao gives birth to one;
One gives birth to two;
Two gives birth to three;¹
And three gives birth to the Ten Thousand Things.

The Ten Thousand Things carry yin and embrace yang;
And by blending these vital forces, they achieve harmony.

The people hate being orphaned, lonely, and without sustenance,
Even though this is how kings and lords describe themselves.

One may gain by losing
And lose by gaining.

I teach what others have taught:
‘Those who are violent do not die a natural death.’
I shall make this the basis of my teaching.
1. Perhaps ‘two’ is ‘non-being’, and ‘three’, ‘being’, or ‘two’, ‘yin’, and ‘three’, ‘yang’. But see also Wilhelm (1985, 21 and 73) who suggests that ‘one’ is the unity in which all opposites are ‘intermingled’, and which generates ‘two’ ‘as antithesis (the opposites of light and dark, male and female … ). From these pairs of opposites the phenomenal world is born as the Three’. (p. 21) However we understand the numbers, this part of the chapter points to the multiplicity of things having their source in the undifferentiated Tao.

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43

Under Heaven, it is the softest things which overcome the hardest things.
That which has no substance can penetrate where there is no room.
Thus I know the benefit of non-action.

Few in the world understand the advantage of
Teaching without words and accomplishing without action.


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44

Fame or self: which is the most dear?
Self or wealth: which has most value?
Gain or loss: which is worse?

Attachment to things results in wasteful expense.
The more that is hoarded, the heavier the loss.
Know contentment and thus never be disappointed;
Know when to stop and thus avoid all danger.
This is the way to last forever.


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45

Great accomplishment seems inadequate,
But its usefulness will last forever.
Great fullness seems empty,
But using it cannot exhaust it.

Great straightness seems crooked.
Great skill seems awkward.
Great surplus seems deficient.
Great eloquence seems to stammer.

Movement overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Being calm and tranquil one can become ruler of the world.


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46

When Tao is present in the world
Racehorses are taken off to work in the fields.
When Tao is absent from the world
War-horses are bred in the countryside.

There is no crime greater than having desires.
No disaster is greater than not being content with one’s lot.
The worst misfortune is to be greedy.
He who is content with what he has
Has enough.


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47

Without going out of doors
One can know the whole world.
Without looking through the window
One can see the Way of Heaven.
The further one goes,
The less one knows.

Thus the Sage knows without going out;
Understands without looking;
And accomplishes without acting.


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48

In pursuit of knowledge, something new is learned every day.
In pursuit of the Tao, something is abandoned every day.

Do less and less
Until non-action is achieved.
Do nothing, and nothing remains undone.

All things can be accomplished by not acting.
The empire can never be governed by taking action.


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49

The Sage has no mind of his own;
He makes the mind of the people his mind.

Treat well those who are good;
Treat well those who are not good.
Thus everyone will become good.
Trust those who are sincere;
Trust those who are not sincere.
Thus everyone will become sincere.

When dealing with the world, the Sage blends his mind harmoniously with the mind of the people.
The people all watch him and listen to his words.
He accepts them all as his children.


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50

Between being born and dying
Three out of ten are companions of life;
Three out of ten are companions of death.
And three out of ten in their lives progress from activity to death;
Why is this?
Because they strive too intensely after life.¹

It is well known that those who know how to live properly can go out
Without fear of meeting rhinoceros or tiger.
Caught in the fray, weapons cannot harm them.
The rhinoceros cannot gore them with its horn;
The tiger cannot maul them with its claws;
And weapons can find no place to pierce.
Why is this?
For them there is no such thing as death.
1. All translators find these lines particularly hard to interpret. ‘Three out of ten’ presumably means ‘one third’ (see Lau 1963, 57). Henricks notes (1990, 122) that these lines can be taken to mean ‘roughly speaking, one-third of humanity seems to be born to … live a long time no matter what they do; another third seems born fated to … die young no matter what they do; and, finally, another third can live long or die young depending on how they live, but they hasten their journey to death with their anxiety to hold on to life’. (Henricks, reluctantly, favours a different interpretation, based on his own, different, preferred translation of this chapter. His reasons for preferring his different translation are quite involved and technical, and cannot be gone into here. See Henricks 1990, 123.)

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51

Tao gives rise to all things;
Virtue nourishes them;
Environment shapes them;
Circumstances complete them.
Therefore the Ten Thousand Things
Respect Tao and honour Virtue.
No one commands that
Tao be respected and Virtue honoured.
Doing so comes spontaneously.

So it is that all things arise from Tao;
They are nourished by Virtue,
Grown and nurtured,
Given shelter and comfort,
Matured and protected.
Tao produces them but does not possess them;
Accomplishes without taking credit;
Guides without interfering.
This is called mystical Virtue.


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52

All things under Heaven have the same source;
This may be called the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.
Knowing the mother,
One may know the children.
Knowing the children,
One may keep to the mother,
And to the end of one’s days, never meet with danger.

Whosoever closes the mouth
And shuts the doors¹
Will be free from trouble throughout his life.
But whosoever opens the mouth
And adds to his affairs,
To the end of his days, will be beyond hope.

To see the small is to be enlightened.
To keep to the weak is to be strong.
Use the light of your intellect,
But return to enlightenment,
And thus avoid misfortune.
This is called practising the constant.
1. of the senses.

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53

Having just a little intelligence
I would keep to the main road,¹
My only fear that I might stray from it.
It is easy to keep to the main road,
But the people prefer the by-ways.

When the court is maintained in lavish splendour,
The fields are full of weeds
And the granaries are empty.
Some wear extravagant clothes
And carry sharp swords.
They consume food and drink to excess
And accumulate more wealth and possessions than they can find use for.
This is called robbery and extravagance,
And is contrary to Tao.
1. i.e. follow Tao.

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54

What is well-planted cannot be uprooted;
What is grasped tightly cannot slip away;
Just as ancestral sacrifices will never be suspended.

Cultivate Tao in yourself
And Virtue will be real.
Cultivate it in the family
And Virtue will be plentiful.
Cultivate it in the community
And Virtue will increase.
Cultivate it in the state
And Virtue will flourish.
Cultivate it in the world
And Virtue will be universal.

Hence, judge a person as a person,
A family as a family,
A community as a community,
A state as a state,
The world as a world.

How do I know the world is like this?
Through observation.


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55

He who possesses Virtue in abundance is like a newly born infant.
Poisonous insects will not sting him;
Wild beasts will not seize him;
Birds of prey will not attack him.
His bones are soft, his muscles weak, but his grasp is strong.
He has not experienced the union of male and female,
And yet is fully virile:
His essence is complete.
He can cry all day without getting hoarse.
This is harmony at its height.

Knowing harmony is to know what is eternal.
Knowing what is eternal is to be enlightened.

It is inauspicious to try to improve on life,
And harmful to regulate breathing by conscious control.
To strive for too much results in exhaustion.
These actions are contrary to Tao.
And what is contrary to Tao soon comes to an early end.


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56

He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.
He closes the mouth
And shuts the doors;¹
Blunts sharp edges,
Unties all tangles;
Softens the glare,
And blends with the dust.
This is called mystical union.

He who can attain this state²
Is not concerned with being liked or disliked,
Benefited or harmed,
Exalted or despised.
Thus he is valued by the world.
1. of the senses.
2. of being like a Sage.

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57

Rule the state with integrity.
Wage war¹ with cunning strategy;
But win the empire through non-action.
How do I know this?
By this:

The more rules and regulations there are,
the more poor the people become.
The more sharp weapons there are,
the more troubled the state becomes.
The more clever the people become,
the more cunning will their actions become.
The more that law and order is promoted,
the more thieves and robbers there will be.

Therefore the Sage says:
I do not act and the people transform themselves.
I love tranquillity and the people rectifythemselves.
I do nothing and the people prosper by themselves.
I have no desires and the people become like an uncarved block, returning to simplicity by themselves.
1. presumably, ‘Only when there is no other way.’ (31b)

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58

When the government is unobtrusive,
The people are content and honest.
When the government is severe and exacting,
The people are restless and cunning.

Good fortune has its roots in misfortune,
And misfortune lurks beneath good fortune.
Who knows the limits of this?
Is anything as it appears to be?
What is normal becomes abnormal,
And what is auspicious becomes ominous.
This being so has perplexed people for a long time.

Therefore the Sage is pointed like a square, but does not pierce.
He is sharp like a knife, but does not cut.¹
He is straight like a stick, but does not extend himself.
He is bright like light, but does not dazzle.
1. The Sage is intellectually penetrating, but he does not show up other people’s muddledness.

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59

When ruling the people and serving Heaven,
There is nothing better than restraint.
In being restrained, one may follow Tao from the beginning.
Following Tao from the beginning is to accumulate great Virtue.
Accumulating great Virtue there is nothing which cannot be overcome.
When there is nothing that cannot be overcome, there are no limits.
Knowing no limits, one can rule the state.
Possessing the Mother¹ of the state,one will long endure.

This is called having deep roots and a firm stalk,
And is the way to long life and lasting vision.
1. ‘Mother’ here may mean ‘Tao’. (See Chan 1969, 164, n. 97)

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60

Ruling a large country is like cooking a small fish.¹

When the empire is ruled in accord with Tao,
The evil spirits will lose their power.
Not that the evil spirits will lose their powersentirely,
But they will not do any harm to anyone.
Not only do the evil spirits do no harm,
Neither does the Sage.
Since neither these two powers² do any harm to the people,
Virtue is accumulated as they unite in their effect.³
1. i.e. the fish is spoilt if the cook disturbs it or is too hasty. (See Wang Pi’s commentary (in P. J. Lin 1977, 122.) Lau points out (1963, 76) that a small fish is spoilt simply by handling it.
2. i.e. the Sage, and the evil spirits.
3. See Wang Pi’s commentary in P. J. Lin 1977, 112–13.

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61

A large state is like low-lying land where the flowing waters meet:¹
The female of the world.

It is the stillness of the feminine which overcomes the masculine.
Keeping still is to keep to the lower position.

Therefore the large state can conquer the small state by giving way to the small state.
And the small state can conquer the large state by submitting to the large state.

Thus, in order to conquer one must yield,
And those who conquer do so by yielding.
Since the large state wishes to take in more people,
And the small state wishes to serve the people,
Both have their wishes met.
It is right for a large state to yield.
1. i.e. the centre to which all things tend to gravitate.

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62

The Ten Thousand Things have their source in the Tao.
It is the treasure of the good man, and the refuge of the bad.
Fine words can purchase honour.
Good deeds can earn respect.
Even if a man is bad, that is no reason to abandon him.

Therefore when the Son of Heaven¹ is crowned and the three ministers installed,
Rather than offering gifts of jade discs and a team of four horses,
It is better to remain seated and offer the Tao.

Why did the ancients value the Tao so highly?
Did they not say, ‘By means of the Tao,
Those who seek it shall find it, and the guilty shall be forgiven’?
This is why it is so valued by the world.
1. i.e. the Emperor.

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63

Act by not acting.
Work without effort.
Savour the tasteless.
See much in the few and greatness in the small.
Reward injury with kindness.

Plan the difficult while it is still easy.
Accomplish greatness in small things.

Under Heaven, difficult things consist of easy things.
Under Heaven, great actions consist of small deeds.
The Sage never attempts anything great,
And thus accomplishes greatness.

He who takes his promises lightly will not be trusted.
He who thinks everything is easy will meet many difficulties.
This is why the Sage regards everything as difficult,
And therefore never meets with any difficulties.


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64

Things which keep still are easy to hold.
Events yet to happen are easy to plan.
Things that are fragile are easy to break.
Things that are small are easy to lose.

Deal with things before they happen.
Put things in order before chaos sets in.

A tree as big as a man’s embrace grows from a tiny shoot;
A nine-storey terrace begins as a mound of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.

Those who take action, fail.
Those who grasp for things, lose them.
Therefore the Sage takes no action, yet never fails;
He grasps for nothing, yet never loses.

In managing their affairs people often fail at the point of success.
So attend carefully to the end as much as to the beginning,
And there will be no failure.

Therefore the Sage desires to be free from desire.
He does not prize rare treasures.
He learns to unlearn his learning,
And he brings the people back to what they have lost.¹
Thus he furthers the natural completion of the Ten Thousand Things,
And refrains from acting.
1. i.e., the Tao

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65

In ancient times, those who excelled in the pursuit of Tao did not seek to enlighten people, but to keep them in their natural state of ignorance.
The reason for this is that when people have too much knowledge they are difficult to govern.

Therefore, those who rule by increasing knowledge, do so to the detriment of the state;
And those who rule by decreasing knowledge, do so to the benefit of the state.
Knowing these two things is to follow the ancient standard.
To follow the ancient standard is called mystical Virtue.
Mystical Virtue is deep and far reaching.
By its practise, all things return to their original natural state
Of complete harmony.


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66

Rivers and seas become the kings of the hundred streams
Because they keep to the lower position.
Thus they become their kings.

Therefore the Sage, wishing to rule over the people,
Must use humble words before them;
And wishing to lead the people,
He must keep himself behind them.

Thus the Sage rules over the people, and they do not feel oppressed;
He leads the people, and they do not feel obstructed.

Therefore all beneath Heaven support him and do not tire of him.
Because he does not compete, no one can compete with him.


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67

All under Heaven say that my Tao is great and resembles nothing.¹
Because it is great, it resembles nothing.
If it did resemble anything, it would a long time ago have become small.

There are three treasures which I keep and value.
The first is compassion;
The second is frugality;
And the third is not daring to be ahead of others.
Being compassionate, one can be courageous.
Being frugal, one can be generous.
Not daring to be ahead of others, one can lead the world.

But nowadays, there are those who abandon compassion, yet wish to be courageous;
They reject frugality, yet wish to be generous;
They forsake not daring to be ahead of others, yet wish to lead the world.
Their downfall is certain.

Being compassionate, one will win in attack and be strong in defence.
By giving compassion, Heaven provides and protects.²
1. i.e. the Tao cannot be compared to or likened to any of the things normally experienced.
2. This line is ambiguous between ‘Heaven is compassionate in providing and protecting’ and ‘The way that Heaven provides and protects is by making men compassionate’. (See Feng and English, 1973, and Lau, 1963, for the latter interpretation, and Chan, 1969, and Ch’u, 1985, for the former.)

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68

He who makes a good soldier is not violent.
He who makes a good fighter is not angry.
He who makes a good conqueror does not compete.¹
He who is skilful in making the best use of people, places himself under them.

This is called the Virtue of not competing.
This is called making use of people.
This is called matching the sublimity of Heaven.²
1. i.e. he overcomes his enemies without the need to fight them.
2. i.e. accomplishing things, like Heaven, without striving.

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69

The strategists have a saying:
‘I dare not take the offensive, but would rather take the defensive.¹
‘I dare not advance an inch, but would rather retreat a foot.’

This is called marching without moving,
Rolling up one’s sleeve without showing one’s arm,
Defeating an enemy without confrontation,
Being armed without weapons.

No misfortune is greater than underestimating an enemy.
Underestimating my enemy almost makes me lose my treasures.²

Therefore, when two sides takes arms against each other,
It is the side with the most reluctance which wins.
1. Strictly, ‘I dare not be the host, but would rather be the guest.’ That is, the host, being at home, must take the initiative, and is in this sense active whereas the guest takes the passive role.
2. Wang Pi says that these three treasures are those mentioned in Chapter 67. Underestimating one’s enemy, one runs the risk of resorting to force; doing this is to ‘lose the treasures’. (See P. J. Lin 1977, 127)

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70

Even though my words are easy to understand and easy to put into practice,
No one in the world really knows them or lives by them.

My words have their origin, and my actions receive their impetus, in the source of all things.
If this is not understood, then I am not understood.

Because so few understand my words, they are prized so highly.
Therefore, the Sage appears wearing coarse clothing, concealing the true treasure in his heart.


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71

To know that you do not know, this is best.
Not to know, whilst thinking that one does know, this is to be flawed.
Recognising this defect as a defect
Is the way to be free of the defect.
The Sage is not flawed
Because he recognises the flaw as a flaw.
Therefore he is flawless.¹
1. I follow Henricks (1990, 168) who remarks, ‘Although ping [in this chapter] does mean “disease” … here it is best translated, I feel, as “flaw” (or “fault” or “defect”).’

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72

Unless the people stand in awe of the authority over them,
A greater authority will soon take over.¹

Let them manage their own domestic affairs for themselves;
Let them work according to their own dispositions.
If you do not oppress them, they will not be oppressed.²

Therefore, the Sage knows himself
But does not reveal himself.
He respects himself
Without being arrogant.
Thus he discards one and chooses the other.
1. or The people may not stand in awe of their ruler’s authority; But an authority greater than this [Heaven or Tao] will bring them to an end they deserve.
2. i.e. if the people are not oppressed, and are left to conduct their affairs for themselves, they will not resist or resent the authority of the state.

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73

He who is courageous in taking action is soon killed.
He who is courageous in remaining passive keeps his life.
Of the two kinds of courage, one is harmful and the other is advantageous.
Who knows why Heaven disapproves of one kind?
Even the Sage is unsure how to answer this.

The Way of Heaven accomplishes without competing;
Without declaring its will it receives a response;
Without summoning, things come to it of their own accord;
It accomplishes slowly, with well-laid plans.

The net of Heaven is vast,
And though its mesh is very wide,
Nothing can slip through.


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74

If the people are not afraid to die,
How can you threaten them with death?

If the people are kept in constant fear of death,
And if it were possible to arrest and put to death the law-breakers,
Who would dare do this?¹

It is the master executioner² who does the killing.
To assume the role of the master executioner and do the killing for oneself
Is like carving wood for oneself
Instead of leaving it to the master carpenter.
Those who carve wood for themselves
Instead of leaving it to the master carpenter
Rarely escape without cutting their own hands.
1. There is an ambiguity here between ‘Who would dare break the law?’ and ‘Who would dare put to death the law-breakers?’ In the light of 74c, the latter interpretation seems to make more sense.
2. i.e. Heaven.

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75

If the people go hungry
It is because the rulers take too much in taxes.
This is why they go hungry.

If the people prove difficult to rule
It is because the rulers interfere too much.¹
This is why they prove difficult to rule.

If the people take death too lightly
It is because they are engrossed in seeking life’s pleasures.
This is why the people take death too lightly.

It is only by ceasing to seek after life’s pleasures that one will find life pleasurable.
1. i.e. they are trying to do too many things, and are not following the Taoist way of non-action.

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76

When living, a man is supple and soft;
But dead, he is hard and stiff.
The myriad creatures, including grass and trees, when living, are pliant and frail;
But dead, they are withered and dry.

Therefore the hard and the stiff are disciples of death,
Whilst the supple and the soft are disciples of life.

An inflexible army cannot win.
A tree that cannot bend will break.

The hard and inflexible take the lower position.
The soft and weak take the higher position.¹
1. i.e. hard and inflexible is inferior to soft and weak.

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77

The Way of Heaven is like the drawing of a bow.
What is high is brought lower, and what is low is brought higher.¹
What is too long is shortened;
What is too short is lengthened.²

The Way of Heaven is to take away from what is excessive
And to replenish what is deficient.
But the Way of Man is different:
It takes away from those who have little,
And gives to those who already have plenty.
Who is able to offer the world whatever he has in excess?
Only the man of Tao.

Therefore the Sage works without claiming reward,
Accomplishes without taking credit.
He has no desire to display his excellence.
1. i.e. when the string of a bow is drawn back, the top of the bow, as it bends, is pulled down (to some extent) and the bottom of the bow is pulled up. This simile is meant to illustrate the way Heaven makes things equal, and evens things out.
2. The simile is continued by referring to the string of the bow. If it is too long it must be shortened, and vice versa.

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78

Under Heaven, nothing is softer and weaker than water.
Yet nothing is better for attacking the hard and the strong.
There is no better substitute.

All under Heaven know that the weak overcomes the strong
And the soft overcomes the hard.
Yet there are none who practise this.

Therefore the Sage says:
He who takes upon himself the disgrace of the country
Is fit to be lord of the land.
He who takes upon himself the misfortunes of the country
Is fit to be king of the empire.

True words seem paradoxical.


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79

When a bad grudge is settled,
Some enmity is bound to remain.
How can this be considered acceptable?

Therefore the Sage keeps to his side of the contract
But does not hold the other party to their promise.
He who has Virtue will honour the contract,
Whilst he who is without Virtue expects others to meet their obligations.
It is the Way of Heaven to be impartial;
It stays always with the good man.


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80

The smaller the country, the fewer the people.¹
Even though they have machines which can do the work of ten, or a hundred men, they are never used.
The people take death seriously, so do not travel far.²
Even though they have boats and carriages, no one rides in them.
Even though they have armour and weapons, no one displays them.

Let the people return to knotting cords.³
Let them find their plain food sweet,
their simple clothes fine,
their modest dwellings secure;
And they would be happy with their lifestyle.

Although the two peoples of the neighbouring countries are so close
That they can see each other, and hear each other’s cocks crowing and dogs barking,
They will leave each other alone and grow old and die
Without ever having visited each other.
1. In this chapter, Lao Tzu describes an ideal society.
2. i.e. the more one travels, the more one risks accident and injury. Besides, in an ideal society, affairs would be conducted in such a way that need for travel becomes redundant.
3. historically, a practice prior to, and more simple than, writing.

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81

True words are not beautiful;
Beautiful words are not true.
Those who are good do not argue;
Those who argue are not good.
Those who are wise are not learned;
Those who are learned are not wise.

The Sage does not store up possessions.
The more he helps others, the more he fulfils himself.
The more he gives to others, the more he has for himself.

The Way of Heaven is to benefit others whilst harming no one.
The Way of the Sage is to accomplish without striving.


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