Tao Te King
Frank J. MacHovec, 1962
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Within the pages of
this little book
lies the key to the
Mastery of Life
THE Tao Teh Ching, ”The book of Tao and how to attain it”, is at least 2.500 years old. As an ancient nature philosophy it is surely much older, having been passed down from one generation to another before the advent of writing.
Tao (pronounced Dow) is a word which defies literal translation into English. It has been translated as Nature, The Way, Ultimate Reality, Truth, God, Enlightenment, or The Absolute. None of these is adequate.
Teh (pronounced Duh) has also been variously translated: as Integrity, Virtue, Character, Honor, Reason, Best Conduct, Intelligence or True Wisdom. It is the highest human attainment; but again, it defies accurate translation.
Ching means ”book”.
Legend has it that the Tao Teh Ching was written by Laotse — which in Chinese would sound like Louis. Laots means ”worshipful master” or ”wise teacher”. When Laotse was ninety years old, so the legend goes, he left his work as Keeper of the Archives to go into the hills, there to await death. But the frontier guards would not let him pass until he had written down his wisdom for future generations. Thus, the Tao Teh Ching was written.
There is no known original manuscript of The Book of Tao in existence; all we have are copies of copies. It is composed of eighty-one sutras or ”strands of thought” in five thousand Chinese picture-words. Most translations list the sutras in strict numerical order despite the fact that, over the centuries, they appear to have become disarranged. The present version is devided into four parts, with sutras arranged according to content. The traditional sutra number is listed in brackets at the end of each.
The symbol of Tao is Yin-Yang. The basic circle of this symbol denotes the universality of its application. The black portion (Yin) and the white portion (Yang) allude to the nature of conflict, of differences, of paradox. In it is the interrelationship of male and female, the interplay of winter and summer, day and night, right and wrong, liberal and conservative, simple and difficult, etc. In the darkest Yin there is a spot of Yang; in the lightest Yang there is a trace of Yin.
The Book of Tao was never meant to be scholarly. It was spoken, perhaps chanted, before writing was known, in simple language so that everyone could, with thought, understand it. That is also the object of this translation.
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Note: For the collections technical demands, the chapters were rearranged to their common order. The four parts defined by the author, are the following:
PART I · TAO
SUTRAS ON THE NATURE OF TAO
Chapters: 1, 25, 4, 14, 32, 34, 41, 47, 56, 77, 51, 62, 73, 40
PART II · TEH
SUTRAS ON THE NATURE OF TEH
Chapters: 21, 8, 78, 23, 5, 54, 38, 81, 33, 44, 67, 55, 16, 27, 49, 12, 26, 10, 50, 50, 20, 70
PART III · YIN-YANG
SUTRAS ON THE NATURE OF PARADOX
Chapters: 35, 2, 9, 24, 29, 28, 43, 63, 42, 45, 64, 76, 13, 11, 48, 7, 52, 22, 37, 6
PART IV · TAO AND THE STATE
Taoist philosophy in leadership, education, government, and war
Chapters: 15, 53, 46, 71, 19 (*20), 17, 66, 3, 39, 58, 59, 65, 60, 36, 57, 72, 75, 61, 79, 80, 74, 31, 30, 69, 68
The Tao described in words is not the real Tao. Words cannot describe it. Nameless it is the source of creation; named it is the mother of all things.
To see Tao the observer must be motiveless. Those with selfish motives see only the surface, not the innermost depths. These two kinds of observers look alike but differ in the insight of their observations.
They look alike because they are both human; within humanity is the key to the door of creation.
Whenever the most beautiful is perceived, ugliness arises, the least beautiful. Whenever good is perceived, evil exists, its natural opposite.
Thus, perception involves opposites; reality and fantasy are opposing thoughts; difficult and simple oppose in degree; long and short oppose in distance; high and low oppose in height; shrill and deep oppose in tone; before and after oppose in sequence.
The truly wise accept this and they work diligently without allegiance to words. They teach by doing, not by saying; are genuinely helpful, not discriminating; are positive, not possessive; do not proclaim their accomplishments, and because they do not proclaim them, credit for them can never be taken away.
Leaders Work Humbly
Leaders should not seek power or status; people will not then crave power or status. If scarce good are not valued highly, people will have no need to steal them. If there is nothing available to arouse passion, people will remain content and satisfied.
The truly wise lead by instilling humility and open-mindedness, by providing for fair livelihoods, by discouraging personal ambition, and by helping people to be upright.
The wise avoid evil and radical reform; thus the foolish do not obstruct them. They work serenely, with inner quiet.
Tao is a vast immeasurable void. It can be used to infinity; it is truly inexhaustible.
Like nature, it appears to be the origin of everything. In it, conflicts (sharp edges) are satisfied (rounded); differences (tangles) are resolved (united); observations (light) are clarified (tempered); disturbances (turmoil) are quieted (submerged).
It is like a deep, dark pool. I do not know its source. It is like a prelude to nature, a preface to God.
Nature is indifferent to life. It realizes everything is as a straw dog. The truly wise are also indifferent to life. They realize humanity is as a straw dog.
The universe is like a bellows: empty, yet quite full. As it proceeds, it produces.
Much talk, much exhaustion. Keep your thoughts within!
The concept of Yin is ever present. It is the Mystic Female from whom the heavens and earth originate.
Constantly, continuously, enduring always.
The heavens endure; the earth is very old. Why?
Because they do not exist for themselves, they therefore have long life.
The truly wise are content to be last; they are therefore first. They are indifferent to themselves; they are therefore self-confident.
Perhaps it is because they do not exist for themselves that they find complete fulfillment.
The highest motive is to be like water: water is essential to all life, yet it does not demand a fee or proclaim its importance. Rather, it flows humbly to the lowest level, and in so doing it is much like Tao.
In the home the truly wise love the humble earth, the foundation on which the home is built; in the heart they love what is genuine; in friendship they are compassionate; in words they are sincere; in government they foster peace and good will; in business they work with quiet efficiency.
Serenity is the goal of Tao; through it nothing is lost.
There is a danger in extremes: pull a bowstring too far and you wish you had let go before; hone a sword-edge too sharp and the edge will wear too soon; fill your house with gold and jade and you invite thieves; be proud and arrogant over good fortune and you prepare for your own downfall.
When you have reached your goal, be satisfied to go no further. This is the way of Tao.
Can you control your mind so that it never strays from the way of Tao?
Can you control your breathing so that it is soft and gentle like a new-born babe?
Can you purify yourself so that you are perfect? Can you love all the people, rule them, and remain unknown? And do so without interference?
Can you play the same role always?
Give birth; provide nourishment; do this without being possessive. Give help without obligation. Lead without dominating. This is the Mystic Virtue (Teh).
Thirty spokes unite at the hub but the ultimate use of the wheel depends on the part where nothing exists.
Clay is molded into a vessel but the ultimate use of the vessel depends upon the part where nothing exists.
Doors and windows are cut out of the walls of a house but the ultimate use of the house depends upon the parts where nothing exists.
So, there is advantage in using what can be seen, what exists. And there is also advantage in using what cannot be seen, what is non-existent.
The five colors blind the eye; the five notes deafen the ear; the five tastes dull the tongue. Reckless ambition will unbalance the mind; striving for earthly good produces unhealthy tension. Therefore the truly wise satisfy the inner self and ignore the external. They accept one and avoid the other.
It is said: ”Both good fortune and misfortune cause tension. The creative and the destructive exist equally in the mind.”
What is ment by ”Good fortune and misfortune cause tension”? Those with good fortune are tense anticipating their gift; those with misfortune are tense lamenting their loss.
What is ment by ”The creative and the destructive exist equally in the mind”? Tension exists because we have a mind, a self, with dual purposes. If we can be selfless, indifferent to the mind, how then can tension exist?
Thus, one who views the world as he views himself is best suited to govern the world; one who loves humanity as he loves himself can be entrusted with the world.
Looked for it cannot be seen; it is invisible. Listened for it cannot be heard; it is inaudible. Reached for it cannot be touched; it is intangible. These three are beyond analysis; these three are one.
It rises, like the sun, but does not illuminate; it sets, like the sun, but does not darken. Without beginning, without end, infinite, indefinable. It is the form of the formless; it is existence in non-existence; it is the greatest mystery. Meet it and it has no face; follow it and it has no back.
Hold close to the ancient Tao and be master of your present existence. Knowing the present you mirror the past. This is the clue to Tao.
The Tao of the Ancients
The ancient followers of Tao: so wise, so subtle, so profound, so deeply understanding that they were themselves misunderstood. They must therefore be described:
Cautious, like crossing a stream in mid-winter; observant, like moving in fear through hostile land; modest, retiring like ice beginning to melt; dignified, like an honored guest; genuine, like natural, untouched wood; receptive, like an inviting, open valley; friendly, like muddied water, freely mixing.
Who can make sense of a world like cloudy water? Left alone and still, it becomes clear. Should this stillness be maintained? Moving hastily will surely cloud it again. How then can one move and not become clouded? Accept Tao and achieve without being selfish; being unselfish one endures the world’s wear, and needs no change of pace.
Achieve the highest goal by being passive; hold close to a state of perfect serenity.
Everything comes into existence, but observe, returns to its source. Thus, vegetation flourishes and grows, but returns to the soil whence it came.
Returning to the source is serenity; it is to realize one’s destiny. To realize one’s destiny is to know the Eternal Constant. To know the Eternal Constant is to be enlightened. To be ignorant of this is blindness that begets evil.
Whoever knows the Eternal Constant is open?minded. Being open?minded is to be impartial, being impartial is to be above nations and laws, being above nations and laws is to be in accord with nature, being in accord with nature is to be in accord with Tao; being in accord with Tao is to be eternal. Although your body dies and decays you live forever.
The Best Leader
As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate.
If you have no faith people will have no faith in you, and you must resort to oaths.
When the best leader’s work is done the people say: ”We did it ourselves!”
When Tao is lost, words like ”humanity” and ”justice” become official doctrines. Then ”knowledge” and ”wisdom” become official goals. With all this great hypocrisy comes.
When family life is no longer harmonious, obedient children and devoted parents are praised; when a nation has corruption and inefficiency, there is official praise for ”loyal citizens”.
Wherever there is Tao there is peace and balance. When Tao is lost, divisiveness and differences emerge and grow.
On Real Education
Do away with learning, the same with wisdom; the people will gain a hundredfold. Do away with ”humanity” and the same with”justice”; the people will rediscover love and duty. Do away with expensive arts, the same with profits; there will be no thieves, no robbers. These three things involve the external world; they are therefore of no real value.
The people need what is more dependable. Reveal, then, your natural, inner self. Realize your original nature; control selfishness; subdue desires.* The first paragraph of chapter 20 was put here by the author.
Do away with formal learning and you will not be annoyed by its multitude of details. How much difference between yea and nay? How much difference between good and evil? It is true that what man fear you must also fear, but how very remote the actual occurence.*
The great mass of people are content as if at the sacrificial feast or at the spring carnival. I alone am serene, quiet, passive, like a newborn babe unable yet to smile.
I am alone, like one who is homeless.
Others seem to have abundance while I seem to live in contemplation. Perhaps I am the fool, so obscure, so vague. The masses seem bright and informed; I alone seem dull and uninformed. The masses are clever and smug; I alone am simple and unassuming. Alone, as if adrift on the lonely sea.
And others seem to have useful purpose; I alone seem impractical and awkward. I am alone, different. I choose to be sustained by nature.* The first paragraph of this chapter was put to the with * marked place in chapter 19.
The Teh follows Tao.
Tao is like a dream: invisible; intangible; obscure. It is invisible yet there is form to it. It is intangible yet there is a feel to it. It is obscure yet there is method to it. The method is true and so there are signs of it.
From ancient times until now the signs have never ceased by which we can see the beginning. How can I know the nature of the beginning? By these signs!
Be humble; you will remain yourself. Be flexible, bend, and you will be straight. Be ever receptiveand you will be satisfied. Become tired and weary and you will be renewed. Have little, you will have enough; to have abundance is to be troubled.
Thus, the truly wise seek Unity, they embrace oneness, and become examples for all the world. Not revealing themselves, they shine; not self-righteous, they are distinguished; not self-centered, they are famous; not seeking glory, they are leaders.
Because they are not quarrelsome no one quarrels with them.
Thus it is as the ancients said: ”To yield is to retain Unity.” The truly wise have Unity, and the world respects them.
Nature is sparing in its talk. Unusually high winds seldom last the whole morning; unusually heavy rains seldom last the whole day. And where do these things originate? Within nature. And if nature so spares its talk, how much more, then, should you?
Whoever follows Tao becomes as Tao. Whoever follows Teh becomes as Teh. Whoever abandons Tao or Teh will be abandoned by Tao and Teh.
Whoever seeks Tao is welcomed to Tao. Whoever seeks Teh is welcomed to Teh. Whoever seeks abandonment is welcomed by abandonment.
Whoever stands on tiptoe is unsteady; whoever walks with long strides cannot long keep up the pace; whoever makes a show of himself cannot shine; whoever is self?righteous cannot gain the respect of the people; whoever is self?centered cannot become loved by others; whoever seeks glory cannot become a true leader.
According to the Tao these attitudes are exessive, unnecessary. Even in earthly matters they are to be avoided. Therefore the follower of Tao avoids them.
There is something mysterious, without beginning, without end, that existed before the heavens and earth. Unmoving; infinite; standing alone; never changing. It is everywhere and it is inexhaustible. It is the mother of all.
I do not know its name. If I must name it I call it Tao and I hail it as supreme.
Supreme means never?ending; never?ending means far-reaching; and far-reaching means returning. Thus Tao is supreme, the heavens are supreme, earth is supreme, and man is supreme. There are four supremes in the universe; man is one of them.
Man is subject to the laws of the earth, the earth is subject to the laws of the universe, the universe is subject to the laws of Tao, and Tao is subject to the laws of its own Nature.
Heaviness (sincerity) is the root of lightness (frivolity). And serenity far surpasses hastiness.
The truly wise can travel all day yet never put down their baggage. Though there be appealing distractions they remain serene, passive, undisturbed.
How can a leader of ten thousand chariots make his role obscure, insignificant?
To be light is to lose the root of lightness; to be hasty is to lose self-mastery.
A good traveler has no need to leave tracks; a good speaker leaves no grounds for rebuttal; a good trader needs no scales, no computer; a good door needs no latch to remain shut; a good fastener needs no rope to perfect its bond.
The truly wise are helpful to people. No one is rejected. The truly wise are helpful to everything. Nothing is rejected. They are a friend to the friendless, a hope to the hopeless. This is double enlightenment.
Therefore the good teach the bad; the bad are lessons for the good. Whoever dislikes such a teacher, who dislikes such a lesson, may appear learned but is misguided. This is the subtlety of true wisdom.
He who knows the mystic male (Yang) yet retains the mystic female (Yin) is as a great canyon welcoming the whole world. He has Teh and is innocent as a child.
Whoever is aware of the white (Yang) yet retains the black (Yin) is as a standard for all the world. He has Teh and has returned to the Absolute. Whoever is aware of fame and glory yet retains humility and obscurity is as a valley that can hold the earth. He has Teh and has returned to Unity.
Divide the Unity; the parts become as tools. In the hands of the truly wise they become the means to an end, but never ends in themselves.
Those who seek to conquer the world and shape it as they see fit never succeed. The world is a sacred vessel and cannot be improved. Whoever tries to alter it, spoils it; whoever tries to direct it, misleads it. So, some things advance, others lag; some proceed in silence, others make sound; some are strong, others weak; some are forward, others retiring. Therefore the truly wise avoid extremes, extravagance, and foolish pride.
Tao in War
Whoever advises a ruler according to Tao opposes conquest by war. Policies of war tend to rebound. Where the armies march, brambles grow. Whenever a great army is formed, hunger and evil follow. So, a wise general achieves his goal and stops; he does not battle beyond victory; he wins, but does not boast of it; he wins, but does not celebrate it; he wins, but does not revel in the spoils; he wins, for it is his duty to win; he wins, but not from love of violence. Things reach their peak, then decline. Violence opposes Tao. Whoever opposes Tao dies early.
War Is Evil
Weapons are tools of destruction avoided by followers of Tao. The citizen favors the creative in time of peace; the citizen favors the destructive in time of war.
Weapons are the tools of destruction not used by people of dignity, but when their use cannot be avoided, the best policy is calm restaint.
There is no beauty in victory. Whoever calls it so delights in slaughter. Whoever delights in slaughter is not fit to rule.
Tao is absolute, nameless. A piece of wood, uncarved, natural, cannot be used by anyone. The leaders who can be as genuine and natural as this gain the respect of the people.
The heavens and the earth join and gentle rains fall, beyond anyone’s command, to everyone equally.
When civilization grew, names began. With names, one should know where to stop. Whoever knows this has security.
In the world Tao is like rain that falls into the rivers and thence to the open sea.
One who knows others is wise; one who knows himself is wisest. One who conquers others is strong; one who conquers himself is strongest.
To be content is to be wealthy; to be dedicated is to be strong; to be genuine is to endure; to die and be remembered is to have immortality.
The great Tao is everywhere, on all sides. Everything derives from it; nothing is rejected by it.
Through Tao everything exists yet it does not take possession. It provides for erverything yet it does not lay claim.
Without motive it seems small. Being the source of everything it is great. Because it never claims greatness, its greatness shines brightly.
The world will follow, without fear of evil, serene, peaceful, secure, one who follows the great symbol of Yin-Yang.
Music and good food will stop the passing stranger, but Tao, offered by the spoken word, seems unappealing, tasteless.
Looked for, it cannot be seen; listend for, it cannot be heard; applied, it cannot be exhausted.
That which is to contract is first expanded; that which is to weaken is first strengthened; that which is to be felled is first reinforced. This is subtle enlightenment.
Being gentle overcomes strength. As fish should not leave the deep, so the sharp weapons of the state should always be hidden from view.
Tao never acts directly; it activates erverything. If rulers would do likewise the world would improve if itself.
But when improving, motives show. These should be restrained by motiveless Yin. Motiveless Yin is free of all desire, and being free of desire is to be serene. Being serene, the world is at peace.
Whoever has Teh never boasts of it and so truly possesses it. Whoever has Teh and boasts of it no longer possesses it. Possessing Teh is to be serene; with little effort much is done and motives diminish. Losing Teh is to be hasty; with great effort much is wasted and motives increase.
Possessing Teh is to act out of love without ulterior motive; losing Teh is to act self?righteous with an ulterior motive.
Whe a person of high station directs but sees no following of that direction, he shows his hand and forces direction.
When Tao is lost ”compassion” becomes doctrine; when compassion is lost ”justice” becomes doctrine; when justice is lost ritual becomes doctrine; ritual is the slow loss of loyalty, the beginning of unprincipled confusion.
Foreknowledge is Tao blossoming; it is also the flower of folly. The truly wise seek the center, not the surface; take the fruit, leaving the flower. Accept one and reject the other.
Lead with a Deep Unity
From past ages there has been Unity: the heavens achieved it and became clear, the earth achieved it and became firm, the valleys achieved it and became fertile, the spirit achieved it and became inspired, all things achieved it and became existent, leaders achieved it and became good rulers.
Without clarity the heavens would be tempestuous, without firmness the earth would tremble, without fertility the valleys would dry up, without inspiration the spirit would be lost, without existence all things would vanish, rulers would falter and fail.
The good leaders are humble. The high are founded on the low just as a chariot is made up of many small parts.
Better to rumble like rocks (have depth) than to jingle lightly like jewels (be flighty).
Tao is an endless circle, ever returning; serenity is its ultimate function; everything rises from existence; existence rises from non-existence.
Whenever the truly wise hear of Tao they strive earnestly to use it. Whenever the mediocre hear of Tao they are aware, yet unaware of it. Whenever the stupid hear of Tao they laugh aloud at it. If it were not laughed at it would not be Tao.
Therefore it is said of Tao: enlightenment seems dullness; progress seems regression; the true path seems misleading.
The highest character seems recessive like a valley; the purest virtue seems tarnished; the most adequate seems somehow insufficient; the most firm seems frail; the most fundamental seems changeable.
Great space has no corners; great ability takes time to mature; great music is soft and mellow; great form is shapeless, contourless.
Tao is hidden; it is nameless; yet it stimulates; it brings fulfillment.
Out of Tao comes Unity; out of Unity comes two; from two comes three; from three all things come.
The shade of Yin is on the back of erverything; the light of Yang is on the face of everything. From their blending together balance exists in the world.
To feel unworthy, to be alone, orphaned, is greatly feared and disliked, yet statesmen claim these feelings. Loss sometimes benefits; benefits can be a loss.
Others have taught this too: the violent meet violent ends. This is a good teaching.
The softest will penetrate the hardest; the non?existent will penetrate the existent.
By this I know the value of being passive. This is teaching without words; achievement without direct action. In all the world few know this.
To have the world know of you or to know yourself, which is more important? Money or your mind, which is more valuable? Profit or loss, which is the greater evil? Overdoing leads to waste; great fortunes invite theft. Being content prevents harmful extremes. Knowing where to stop prevents danger. To know this is to endure.
The most perfect seems imperfect, but it endures with constancy. The greatest fullness seems empty, but it cannot be exhausted. The most straight seems twisted; the most skilled seems clumsy; the most eloquent seems awkward. Movement overcomes coldness; stillness overcomes heat. The serene and passive are guides for all.
When the world follows Tao, racehorses work on farms. When the world forsakes Tao, cavalry horses practice in parks.
The greatest curse is being discontent. It is the greatest misery. The greatest sin is selfish striving. Being content with contentment is to be always satisfied.
One can know the world without leaving the house. One can see Tao without looking out the window. The more you study the less you know. Thus the truly wise know without traveling, perceive without seeing, achive without doing.
The scholar needs to know more and more each day. The follower of Tao needs to know less and less each day. By lessening knowledge one reaches serenity. With serenity everything can be done. The world is won by those who leave it alone. When one feels compelled to dominate, the world is already beyond reach.
The truly wise areselfless; people’s needs are their needs.
The good are treated with goodness; the bad are also treated with goodness; this is the goodness of Teh.
The faithful are treated with faith; the faithless are also treated with faith; this is the faith of Teh.
The truly wise are peacefully and impartially. In their eyes people share a common heritage. The truly wise accept all people as their own family.
Life leaves and death enters. Three and ten parts accompany life; three and ten parts accompany death; three and ten parts move toward death. Why? The wear of the drive to live.
It is said that whoever realizes this is not attacked by the wild buffalo or tiger and is not vulnerable on the field of battle. The buffalo’s horns find no place to gore; the tiger’s claws no place to tear; the soldier’s waepons no place to pierce. Why? Because death is not yet within reach.
--- Alternate version:
Three parts in ten accompany life; three parts in ten accompany death; three parts in ten move toward death. Why? Living tips the balance toward dying.
It is said that whoever realizes this is not attacked by the wild buffalo or tiger and is not vulnerable on the field of battle. The buffalo’s horns find no place to gore; the tiger’s claws no place to tear; the soldier’s waepons no place to pierce. Why? Because death is not yet within reach.
Tao causes all things to exist; Teh sustains them. Reality gives them form; fate finishes them. Thus all things honor Tao and respect Teh of their own accord.
So, Tao causes all things to exist and Teh sustains them. It fosters growth, develops them, harbors them, provides shelter. It nourishes them, gives protection.
Everything exists through Tao and nothing is rejected; everything is produced through Tao but Tao is not possessive; Tao is superior but never interferes.
The beginning of the universe may be considered its mother. Knowing the mother the sons can be known; kowing the sons we can keep close to the mother. Thus life finds security within itself.
Eyes closed, mouth shut, life is without trouble. Eyes open, busily conversant, life is without hope.
Whoever sees the most minute sees clearest. Whoever cherishes the weak has the most strength. Whoever uses enlightenment has bright vision. Thus, no harm is done. This is following Tao.
The Main Path of Tao
Let me walk along the main path of Tao and avoid by-paths of worthless knowledge. I would not leave this main path, so easily followed, but many people prefer the by-paths.
The palaces are well kept while fields go untilled and the granaries are empty. To wear elegant clothes, to carry a fine sword, to gorge with food and drink, to have wealth and riches, all this invites plunder. Is this not departing from Tao?
Whatever is firmly planted is not easily uprooted; whatever is firmly grasped is not easily loosened. Thus, generation follows generation, continuing endlessly.
Accept Tao in yourself and Teh is yours; accept Tao in the family and Teh is abundant; accept Tao in the village and Teh multiplies; accept Tao in the nation and Teh flourishes; accept Tao in the world and Teh is universal.
Therefore one can measure by Teh: by your Teh gauge the family; by the family’s Teh gauge the village; by the village’s Teh gauge the nation; by the nation’s Teh gauge the world. How do I know this is so? By seeing it so!
Whoever has Teh is like a child; poisonous insects will not bite; wild animals will not attack; predatory birds will not strike.
Bones soft and muscles weak but gripping strongly; unconcerned about sexual relations yet with vigor at its peak; crying out all day long but not hoarse. This involves perfect harmony. Knowing harmony is to approach the eternal. Knowing the eternal is to be enlightened.
To become excitable leads to confusion; to freely vent emotions is to be aggressive. Things reach their prime and then decline. To be impatient is to oppose Tao; whatever opposes Tao dies young.
Whoever knows does not speak; whoever speaks does not know. So, stop the senses. Close their doors. Ignore their riddles. Subdue their light. Be one with humble dust. This is the mystic unity.
It is beyond love and hate, beyond profit and loss, beyond honor and dishonor. Thus, it is the most valuable treasure in all the world.
Be Lawful, Not Full of Laws
Rule by what is right. Wage war by clever strategy. Win the world by being passive. How do I know? By this: more restritions mean weaker people; more weapons mean a troubled state; more cunning means many surprises; more laws mean violators. Therefore be passive and the people will be peaceful; be serene and the people will be pricipled; be reserved and the people will be wealthy; be selfless and the people will be simple and serene.
To Govern Be Gentle
Govern passively, the people are happy. Govern precisely, the people are restless. Happiness arises from unhappiness; unhappiness lies beneath happiness. Who knows what is best? When the state is self?righteous, self?righteousness becomes strategy and good becomes evil. Man has long been misguided. The truly wise are: square (sharp-cornered) but nut cutting; angled (wedge-like) but not interfering; straight (pointed) but not domineering; bright (enlightened) but not binding.
With Tao You Are Supreme
In ruling men be reserved. To be reserved is to conform to Tao; to conform to Tao is to achieve Teh; with Teh anything is possible; because anything is possible, no one knows your supremacy; because no one knows your supremacy, a nation can be ruled well; because this is a Mother Principle it long endures; therefore you are as deeply rooted and as immortal as it is.
Do But Never Overdo
Rule a great state as you cook a small fish: do not overdo it!
Rule with Tao and evil departs. Evil will still have power, but it will not harm the people. Then not only does evil cease to do harm, the ruler also ceases to do harm, and therefore both possess Teh.
The Tao of Statecraft
A great nation is one to which the streams descend. It is the meeting place, the female of the world. Quiet, passive, overcoming the male ba humble submission.
A great nation lowers itself to the smaller and thus wins the smaller nation; a smaller nation lowers itself beneath the greater and thus wins the greater nation. So, some lower themselves to win others; some are already low, and therefore win others.
A great nation wants more people; a small nation wants more room. When both are dedicated to these ends, the greater nation should humbly yield.
Tao is at the source of everything: treasure for the good; refuge for the bad. Fine words can be sold; fine deeds can be but a show. Why, then, refuge the bad?
Therefore, at the crowning of the emperor or at the appointment of the three ministers, rather than present gifts of jade and hourses, present the gift of Tao.
Why did the ancients value Tao so? Did they not say the seeker shall find it; the sinner shall find it and be forgiven? So is it the treasure of the world.
Achieve serenity. Work passively. Taste the flavorless. Large or small, many or few, exchange love for hatred.
Undertake the difficult while it is still simple; undertake the great while it is still minor. The problems in the world must be solved while they are easy; the great while they are minor. The truly wise find greatness by undertaking nothing great.
A promise lightly made is often difficult to keep. Whoever makes light of things encounters many problems. The truly wise know that things are difficult and therefore meet with no difficulties.
What is not moving is easily held. What has not happened is easily planned. What is brittle is easily broken. What is tiny is easily dispersed. Deal with a problem before it arises; exercise control before confusion exists.
A tree with an arm-girth of trunk grows from a tiny spout; a nine-stoied terrace arises from a heap of dirt; a thousand-mile journey begins with the first step.
Action spoils; reaching loses. The truly wise are not active. Thus they do not spoil things. Do not reach so do not lose. Things are often spoiled very close to completion.
Be as careful at completion as you were at the beginning.
Thus the truly wise want the unwanted and do not prize what is rare. Study what is unstudied and preserve what is lost. Assist in the course of nature but never interfere in it.
Simplicity an Ancient Standard
The ancient followers of Tao did not use it to increase knowledge, but rather to preserve simplicity. People are difficult to govern when there is too much knowledge. Whoever rules a country by furthering knowledge is that nation’s curse. Whoever rules a country by furthering simplicity is that nation’s blessing. To know these two principles is to know the ancient standard. To know the ancient standard is to possess Teh of a certainty. Teh is deep and vast as infinity. It returns us to primal peace.
To Lead Appear to Follow
Why do rivers and seas have dominion over lowlands? Because the one lowers itself to the other. To be elevated by the people, speak like their inferior. To lead the people, walk behind them. Thus the truly wise are above, but people do not feel their weight. They walk in front, but people do not feel blocked. The whole world respects and never grows tired of such leadership. Because the truly wise are not aggressive, no one is aggressive toward them.
The world says: ”Tao is great but seems so foolish!” It seems foolish because it is great. If it did not seem so foolish it would have long since lost its value.
I have three treasures. Guard them and keep them safe! The first is love without which nothing is possible. The second is moderation which is to know the Mystic Balance. The third is humility, to know that you have come from nothing and that you return to nothing. Without these there is no hope.
Love conquers all. There is no defense against it. Tao arms with love those it would protect.
Victory in Tao
The most skilled soldier is not aggressive; the most proficient fighter never loses control; the most victorious commander does not bicker; the most efficient leader is humble before all. This is the virtue of serenity. This is the mastery of life. This is matching Teh to Tao.
Ancient military strategists said: ”I would rather be invaded than be the invader; I would rather retreat one foot than advance one inch.”
This means not marching in formation; not appering prepared, with sleeves up; not charging in frontal assault; not arming with elaborate weapons.
There is no more fateful catastrophe than to understimate the enemy. To underestimate the enemy is to run the risk of losing treasures. Thus, when evenly matched armies battle, the passive, recessive one is the victor.
My teachings are easily understood and are readily put into practice yet everyone does not understand them, everyone does not practice them.
Words have specific meanings; actions have specific causes. Not being specific, people do not understand me. Being misunderstood, I understand. Understanding, true knowledge is mine. In this way, the truly wise wear common clothes and carry their jewels in their hearts.
To know what you do not know is best. He who thinks he knows what he does not know is sick in mind.
One who sees this for what it is is not sick in mind.
The followers of Tao are not sick in mind because they know this.
Lead Humbly But Surely
When the people do not fear absolute rule, greater fear will yet descend on them.
Do not give them cramped quarters; do not make sacrifice of their children. If you do not dislike them you will not be disliked yourself. The truly wise know themselves but do not flaunt themselves. The truly wise love themselves but do not take pride in themselves. Therefore, they reject the one and accept the other.
One of courage, with audacity, will kill. One of courage, but gentle, spares life. From these two kinds of courage arise harm and benefit. Even if Tao dislikes certain people, who can say why? The truly wise regard this as a most difficult question. Tao does not content but it surely wins. It does not speak but it surely responds. It does not command but things come of themselves. It is empty yet contains the Master Plan. The net of Tao is all-encompassing, its meshes are wide, yet nothing is lost.
If the people do not fear death, why threaten them with it? If the people do fear death, and if the unlawful be killed, who would dare to execute them? Only the Supreme Executioner kills. To take his place is to set an unskilled man to wield the hatchet of a master carpenter: he rarely escapes chopping off his own hand!
Rule Without Interfering
The people starve when rulers impose heavy taxes. That is why people starve.
The people are rebellious when rulers meddle in their affairs. That is why people are rebellious.
The people do not fear death when they fight for a better life. That is why they do not fear death.
Those who do not interfere with life receive genuine value from it.
When living, man is supple and yielding; when dead, man is hard and stiff. When living, all animals and plants are soft and pliant; when dead, they are withered and brittle. Thus being inflexible and unyielding is part of dying; being flexible and yielding is part of living.
Thus, a headstrong legion will lose in war just as an unyielding tree will snap under the axe. The place of the strong is below; the place of the gentle is above.
Is not Tao like a drawn bow? The highest part is lowered, the lowest part is raised, overall length is shortened, overall depth is lengthened.
So Tao lowers the highest and raises the lowest. But the Tao of man increases the high and decreases the low.
Who can take from the high and give to the low? Only the true follower of Tao. Thus, the truly wise act but are not possessive, archieve but claim no credit because they have no desire for vain glory.
Nothing in the world is weaker or more yielding than water; yet nothing is its equal in wearing away the hard and strong. There is nothing quite like it.
Thus, the weak can overpower the strong; the flexible can overcome the rigid. The whole world can perceive this, but does not put it into practice.
And so the truly wise say: whoever bears the shame of a nation is fit to lead the nation; whoever bears the sins of the world is fit to lead the world.
Straight words (truth) can seem crooked (paradoxial).
Settling a great dispute leaves some hatred behind. Can this be good?
Therefore the truly wise defend the weak and do not seek vengeance.
The man with Teh fosters reconciliation; the man without Teh fosters raction. And so it is truly said: ”While Tao is impartial, it permeates good men.”
The Ideal State
The ideal state is small with few people. It has abundance of goods, beyond possible use; understanding death, the people do not emigrate; though they have vessels and vehicles, they do not travel far in them; though they have armor and weapons, they have no need to display them.
Let them use knotted ropes for simple reckoning; be satisfied with their food; be attractive in their clothing; be comfortable in their homes; be happy with their customs. Though from other states dog’s bark and cock’s crow can clearly be heard, the people never leave the ideal state.
Words of truth are not high?sounding; high?sounding words are not truth. One who has Teh does not argue; so one who argues does not have Teh. The truly wise do not know many things; one who knows many things is not truly wise.
The truly wise do not selfishly crave. They live for other people and thereby grow richer. They give freely of themselves and thereby have great abundance.
The great Tao endows but does so unconditionally. The Tao of the wise accomplishes but does so unselfishly.