Main | Other Chinese Web Sites

Chinese Cultural Studies:
Dao De Jing Tao Te Ching: Selections


[also known as the Laozi and the Classic of the Way and its Power]

The Dao De Jing, along with the Zhuangzi is one of the core texts of the Chinese way of thinking known as "Daoism". This word has a number of meanings. In these early texts Daosm is manifest as a sophisticated view of the world which mediates on the nature of the world. There is a common disapproval of the unnatural and artificial. Social convention is rejected in favour of the ecstatic and the immediate nature of experience. Later on Daoism alo cam to signify the large number of popular cults that exist in China (so-called "popular Daoism"). Although Daoism is often set in opposition to Confucianism, both ways of thinking interacted with each other. It should also be noted that although Ch'an Buddhism [or Zen Buddhism] is usually seen as a variant of Mahayana Buddhism, in many respects it draws on Daoist ideas.

There are many ways of translating the Dao De Jing. The selections here are drawn from an interpolation of various translations by Peter A. Merel ( based upon the translations of: Lin Yutang, Ch'u Ta-Kao, Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, Richard Wilhelm and Aleister Crowley.

1. Tao

The Tao that can be known is not Tao.
The substance of the World is only a name for Tao.
Tao is all that exists and may exist;

The World is only a map of what exists and may exist.
One experiences without Self to sense the World,
And experiences with Self to understand the World.
The two experiences are the same within Tao;
They are distinct only within the World.
Neither experience conveys Tao
Which is infinitely greater and more subtle than the World.

2. Qualities


When Beauty is recognised in the World
Ugliness has been learned;
When Good is recognised in the World
Evil has been learned.
In this way:
Alive and dead are abstracted from growth;
Difficult and easy are abstracted from progress;
Far and near are abstracted from position;
Strong and weak are abstracted from control;
Song and speech are abstracted from harmony;
After and before are abstracted from sequence.

The sage controls without authority,
And teaches without words;
He lets all things rise and fall,
Nurtures, but does not interfere,
Gives without demanding,
And is content.

4. Properties of Tao


Tao is a depthless vessel;
Used by the Self, it is not filled by the World;
It cannot be cut, knotted, dimmed or stilled;
Its depths are hidden, ubiquitous and eternal;
I don't know where it came from;
It came before Nature.

5. Nature


Nature is not kind;
It treats all things impartially.
The Sage is not kind,
And treats all people impartially.
Nature is like a bellows
Empty, yet supplying all needs,
The more it moves, the more it yields;
The sage draws upon Tao in the same way
And can not be exhausted.

7. Self


Nature is everlasting because it does not have a Self.
In this way the sage:
Serves his Self last and finds it served first;
Sees his body as accidental and finds it endures.
Because he does not serve his Self, he is content.

9. Hubris


Stretch a bow to its limit and it is soon broken;
Temper a blade to its sharpest and it is soon blunted;
Amass the greatest treasure and it is soon stolen;
Claim credit and honour and you will soon fall;
Retire once your purpose is acheived - this is the way of Nature.

10. Love


Embracing Tao, you become embraced.
Supple, breathing gently, you become reborn.
Clearing your vision, you become clear.
Nurturing your beloved, you become impartial.
Opening your heart, you become accepted.
Accepting the World, you embrace Tao.
Bearing and nurturing,
Creating but not owning,
Giving without demanding,
Controlling without authority,
This is love.

12. Distraction


Too much color blinds the eye
Too much tone deafens the ear
Too much taste dulls the palate
Too much play maddens the mind
Too much desire tears the heart.
The sage provides for the belly, not for the senses;
He lets go of sensation and accepts substance.

14. The Continuity of Tao


Looked at but cannot be seen - it is beyond form;
Listened to but cannot be heard - it is beyond sound;
Grasped at but cannot be touched - it is beyond reach;
These depthless things evade definition,
And blend into a single mystery.
In its rising there is no light,
In its falling there is no darkness,
A continuous thread beyond description,
Lining what can not exist,
Its form formless,
Its image nothing,
Its name mystery,
Meet it, it has no face,
Follow it, it has no back.
Understand the past, but attend the present;
In this way you know the continuity of Tao,
Which is its essence.

16. Transcending Nature


Empty the Self completely;
Embrace perfect peace.
The World will rise and move;
Watch it return to rest.
All the flourishing things
Will return to their source.
This return is peaceful;
It is the way of Nature,
An eternal decay and renewal.
Understanding this brings enlightenment,
Ignorance of this brings misery.
Who understands Nature's way becomes all-cherishing;
Being all-cherishing he becomes impartial;
Being impartial he becomes magnanimous;
Being magnanimous he becomes part of Nature;
Being part of Nature he becomes one with Tao;
Being one with Tao he becomes immortal:
Though his body will decay, Tao will not.

17. Rulers


The best rulers are scarcely known by their subjects;
The next best are loved and praised;
The next are feared;
The next despised:
They have no faith in their subjects,
So their subjects become unfaithful to them.
When the best rulers acheive their purpose
Their subjects claim the acheivement as their own.

19. Simplicity


If we could discard wisdom and sagacity
Then people would profit a hundredfold;
If we could discard duty and justice
Then loving relationships would form;
If we could discard artifice and profit
Then corruption and theft would disappear -
Yet such remedies treat only symptoms
And so they are inadequate.
People need personal remedies:
Reveal your naked Self,
Embrace your original nature,
Bind your self-interest,
Control your desire.

25. Four Infinities.


Before the World exists
There is mystery:
Silent, depthless,
Alone, unchanging,
Ubiquitous and ever moving,
The mother of the World.
I do not know its name, so I call it Tao;
I do not know its limit, so I call it infinite.
Being infinite, it flows away forever
Flowing away forever, it returns to the Self.
The Self follows the way of the World;
The World follows the way of Nature;
Nature follows the way of Tao;
Tao is the way.
Tao is infinite,
Therefore Nature is infinite,
Therefore the World is infinite,
Therefore the Self is infinite.
There are four infinities,
And the Self is one of them.

28. Being the Female


Knowing the male, being the female,
Being the course through which flows the World,
One embraces unfailing Love
And is again as a newborn.
Knowing the light, being the dark,
Being the World,
One becomes unerring Love
And returns to Tao.
Knowing honour, being humble,
Being the valley of the World,
Love suffices,
And one is as unshaped wood.

When wood is shaped it becomes tools.
Used by the sage, tools become powerful;
So a good carpenter wastes little.

29. Blindness


Those who wish to change the World
According with their desire
Cannot succeed.

The World is shaped by Tao;
It cannot be shaped by Self.
If one tries to shape it, one damages it;
If one tries to possess it, one loses it.
Sometimes things flourish,
And sometimes they do not.
Sometimes life is hard
And sometimes it is easy.
Sometimes people are strong
And sometimes they are weak.
Sometimes you get where you are going
And sometimes you fall by the way.
The sage is not extreme, extravagant, or complacent.

33. Virtue


Who understands the World is learned;
Who understands the Self is enlightened.
Who conquers the World has strength;
Who conquers the Self has love.
Who is contented has riches;
Who is determined has purpose.
Who maintains his home will long endure
Who maintains his influence will live long after death.

34. Tao Favours No One


Infinite Tao flows everywhere, creating and destroying,
Implementing all the World, attending to the tiniest details,
Claiming nothing in return.
It nurtures all things,
Though it does not control them;
It has no intention,
So it seems inconsequential.
It is the substance of all things;
Though it does not control them;
It has no exception,
So it seems all-important.
Because it favours no finite thing,
It is infinite.

38. Religion


The loving do not act.
The kind act without self-interest;
The just act to serve self-interest;
The religious act to reproduce self-interest.
For when Tao is lost, there is love;
When love is lost, there is kindness;
When kindness is lost, there is justice;
And when justice is lost, there is religion.
Well established hierarchies are not easily uprooted;
Closely held beliefs are not easily released;
So religion enthralls generation after generation.

Religion is the end of love and honesty,
The beginning of confusion;
Faith is a colourful hope or fear,
The origin of folly.
The sage goes by knowledge, not by hope;
He dwells in the fruit, not the flower;
He accepts the former, and rejects the latter.

43. Overcoming the Impossible


The soft overcomes the hard;
The formless penetrates the impenetrable;
Therefore I value taking no action.
Teaching without words,
Work without action,
Are understood by no one.

50. Life and Death


Death enters life as man enters woman.
The limits of man:
Thirty years of growth;
Thirty years of decay;
Thirty years inbetween;
So death and life reproduce themselves.

He who would prolong his life
Will not meet tigers or rhinoceri in the wilds,
Nor soldiers in battle
So the rhinoceros finds no place in him for its horn,
The tiger no place for its claw,
The soldier no place for a weapon;
So death finds no place to enter his life.

51. Love


Tao bears us,
Love nurtures us,
Nature shapes us,
Circumstance completes us.
We worship Tao and honour love;
For worship of Tao and honour of love
Are performed by being alive.
Tao bears us,
Love nurtures, develops, cares for,
Shelters, comforts, and makes a home for us.
Making without controlling,
Giving without demanding,
Guiding without interfering,
Helping without profiting,
This is love.

60. Emotions


Because the sage follows Tao his emotions do no harm;
It is not that they lose their power
But that they do not hurt others;
Because they do not hurt others
He does not hurt others:
Because his emotions do no harm,
All his relations with people are loving.

62. Sin


Tao is the source of all things,
The treasure of the saint,
And the refuge of the sinner.
Fine words win honour
And fine actions win respect,
But if a man sins, do not abandon him;
And if a man gains power, do not bribe him;
Just be calm and show accordance with Tao.
Why is Tao the treasure of the saint?
Because it absolves all sin.
Why is Tao the refuge of the sinner?
Because it is easily found when sought.
It is the most valuable gift.

63. Confront Difficulty


Practise no-action;
Attend to do-nothing;
Taste the flavorless,
Examine the small,
Multiply the few,
Return love for hate.

Deal with difficulty while it is yet easy;
Deal with the great while it is yet small;

The difficult develops naturally from the easy
And the great from the small;
So the sage, by dealing with the small
Acheives the great.
He who finds it easy to promise finds it hard to deliver;
He who takes things lightly makes things hard;
The sage confronts difficulty, and so has none.

78. Accept Responsibility


Nothing in the World is as yielding as water;
Nor can anything better overcome the hardened.
Just as the yielding overcomes the hardened,
The weak may overcome the strong;
Yet they do not.
The sage says:
"Who accepts responsibility for his people rules the country;
Who accepts responsibility for the World rules the World",
But his words are not understood.