The Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu
English version by
David Hong Cheng, 2000
More English versions
Tao that can be described is not the universal and eternal Tao;
Name that can be named is not the universal and eternal name.
The beginning of Heaven and Earth is nameless;
The mother of everything is naming.
Be always objective, one discover the wonders;
Be always subjective, one only sees the manifestations.
Both emerge from the same source, but with different names.
Both are mysterious.
The mystery hidden inside of mysteries
Is the door to all wonders.
When the world knows what beauty is, then there is ugliness;
When the world knows what good is, then there is evil.
Being and Non-being produce each other,
Difficult and easy complement each other,
Long and short calibrate each other,
High and low contrast each other,
Music and noise harmonize each other, and
Front and back accompany each other.
Therefore the sage chooses to:
Manage affairs by taking no action;
Teach without words;
Allow all things to develop, but no to start;
Produce, but not to possess;
Care for, but not to master;
Complete work, but not to claim credit,
By not claiming credit, his credit will not be lost.
Do not ennoble achievers, so the people will not become contentious;
Do not value rare commodities, so the people will not be tempted to steal;
Do not display temptations, so the people's minds will not be disturbed.
Therefore, a wise ruler would:
Humble the people's minds;
Fill their stomachs;
Weaken their ambitions, and
Strengthen their bodies.
Always keep the people ignorant and devoid of desire,
Even the cunning ones dare not agitate.
Achieve the ideal of taking no action,
Then there will be no misgoverned state.
Tao is empty, yet forever inexhaustible.
It is so far-reaching, the source for everything.
Blunting sharpnesses, resolving conflicts, softening lights.
It thus harmonizes the dusty world.
So deep and profound,
It has forever existed.
I do not now whose child it is,
It has existed before the notion of god.
Heaven and earth are inhumane,
They treat all things like straw dogs;
The rule is inhumane,
He treats his people like straw dogs.
Between the heaven and earth, is it like a bellows?
It is empty yet inexhaustible; and
More agitations produce even more disturbances.
Much arguments are destined to end,
It is better to remain with the central core.
The valley spirit never dies,
It is the mysterious female.
The gate of the mysterious female,
Is the root of Heaven and Earth.
It exists forever in continuum,
And using it, it is inexhaustible.
Heaven is permanent and Earth everlasting.
The reason Heaven and Earth are permanent and everlasting is that
They do not exist for themselves.
Therefore they last forever.
Thus the sage:
Gets ahead by staying behind;
Survives by being selfless.
Is it no his being selfless that enables him to fulfill his wishes?
The ultimate good is like water.
Water benefits all things without competing with them.
It stays at places where all people disdain,
Therefore it is close to Tao.
A habitat is good because of its location;
A mind is good because of its profundity;
A friend is good because of his kindness;
A statement is good because of its credibility;
A government is good because of its excellent management;
A worker is good because of his productivity; and
A move is good because of its timeliness.
Only by being not contentious,
Will there be no ill will.
Holding a cup to fill it to brim,
It is better to stop in time.
Making a sword extremely sharp,
It is hard to keep its sharpness for long.
Filling up a hall with gold and jade;
It cannot be securely guarded.
He who becomes arrogant with wealth and power,
Sows the seeds of his own misfortune.
Retire once the work is successfully completed.
This is the way of heaven.
Command your body and soul to embrace the One,
Can there be no separation?
Concentrate your vital energy to achieve complete softness,
Can you be like an infant?
Cleanse your thoughts and purify your insight,
Can you be flawless?
In loving your people and governing your state,
Can you be without preconception?
In opening and closing the gate of Heaven,
Can you behave like a female?
In comprehending and penetrating the truth,
Can you be mindful of taking no action against Tao?
In producing and in nurturing lives, you are:
To produce, but not to possess;
To care for, but not to control;
To lead, but not to subjugate.
This is known as the profound virtue.
Thirty spokes are joined around the wheel's hub,
Its non-being makes the carriage useful.
Clay is molded to make a pot,
Its non-being provides the utility.
Doors and windows are cut to make a room,
Their utility is furnished by non-being.
Being only facilitates, non-being provides utility.
The five colours may blind one's eyes;
The five tones may deafen one's ears;
The five flavours may dull one's taste;
Racing and hunting may madden one's mind;
Rare commodities may prompt people's illicit activities.
The sage emphasizes the essentials of life, not the superficial temptations.\So he accepts this and rejects the other.
Exceptional favour or disgrace causes anxieties.
Treat calamities as treats to your body.
What is meant by “exceptional favour or disgrace causes anxieties”?
Exceptional favour is granted to someone of low status:
Whoever receives it is anxious about what is expected of him;
Whoever loses it is anxious about the accompanying disgrace.
This explains “exceptional favour or disgrace cause anxieties”.
What is meant by “treat calamities as threats to your body”?
The reason I encounter calamities is that I have e a body.
If I no longer have a body, what calamity do I have?
He who values the world as his self merits the confidence of the world;
He who loves the world as his self deserves the trust of the world.
Looking at without seeing it, it is invisible;
Listening to without hearing it, it is inaudible;
Holding onto without finding it, it is intangible;
These three need no further inquiry, they are thus merged into the One:
It is not bright above, nor dark below,
Boundless beyond description, and reverting back to nothingness.
It is a shape without form, an image without substance, and
A blurred ambiguity.
Facing it, one sees no head, and following it, one sees no back.
Holding fast the Tao of old,
For the understanding of current discoveries,
One may learn the beginning of Creation.
This is called the principle of Tao.
A good practitioner of Tao of old is:
A man of subtlety with deep insight,
But it is too profound to understand
Simply because he cannot be understood, one has to describe him as follow:
Cautious, like one crossing a frozen stream in winter;
Hesitant, like one fearing his surrounding neighbours;
Reserved, like a polite guest;
Supple, like ice about to melt;
Honest, like a piece of of virgin wood;
Open-minded, like a valley; and
Confused, like muddy water.
Who can get rid of the muddiness?
It gradually clears though stillness.
Who can revitalize it after long stillness?
It gradually returns to life through activities.
A practitioner of Tao has no desire for filling to brim.
Just because of no filling to the brim,
He will not be worn out but be renewed.
Attain the utmost emptiness of mind,
Maintain the utmost stillness.
While all things are simultaneously developing,
I can observe their cycles.
Though everything is flourishing, each will return to its root,
Returning to the root means stillness, and
Stillness marks the cycle of life.
The cycle of life is an eternal truth,
Knowing the truth is called enlightenment,
Not knowing the truth and acting blindly results in disaster.
Knowing the truth enhances forbearance,
Forbearance leads to objectivity,
Objectivity becomes the universal rule,
The universal rule is in accord with Nature, and
Nature is in harmony with Tao.
Tao is everlasting, and
Prevails over one's lifetime.
The best ruler, the people only know of his existence;
The next best, the people praise and want to be near him;
The next, the people fear him;
The last, the people despise him.
If there is not enough faith,
There will be no faith.
The best ruler is so relaxed, he hardly talks.
When he successfully completes his work,
People all say that for us, it is only natural.
When the great Tao declines,
Then humanity and justice arise.
When knowledge and cleverness appear,
The great hypocrisy follows.
When the six family relationships are in disharmony,
Then filial piety and parental love strengthen.
When a state is in disorderly crisis,
The loyal ministers stand out.
Reject sageness and abandon knowledge,
The people will benefit a hundredfold.
Reject humanity and abandon justice,
The people will return to filial piety and parental love.
Reject cleverness and abandon profit,
Robbers and thieves will disappear.
These three are insufficient to form a doctrine.
Let there be something for the people to commit to:
Be plain and simple, and
Curtail selfishness and desires.
Abandon learning, then you will have no worldly concerns.
What difference is there between yes and no? Good and evil?
What people dread, must I also dread?
How confusing! And there is no end to it yet!
The people are merry, like feasting at grand Sacrifices,
Or ascending a ceremonial tower in the Spring.
Uninvolved like an infant yet to giggle;
So weary, like a homeless person!
All the people have enough to spare, I alone seem to be left out;
So unconcerned, as if I have a mind of an ignorant man.
Common folks are clear-minded, I alone seem to be mindless!
Common folks are seriously engaged, I alone seem to be wandering:
Drifting like the vast sea; and
Aimless, like the long wind.
All the people are purposeful, I alone and stubborn and out of step.
I alone differ from others, but do value being sustained by the Mother.
Creation of everything in the universe follows only Tao.
The material universe created by Tao seems unclear and blurred:
So blurred and so unclear, yet in it there are images;
So unclear and so blurred, yet in it there are things;
So dim and so invisible, yet in it there is essence.
The essence is very real, and in it there is evidence.
From the beginning until now, the naming has never stopped.
So the beginning of many things may be understood.
How do I know the many situations at the beginning?
To yield is to be preserved whole,
To be bent is to become straight,
To be low is to be filled,
To be worn is to be renewed,
To have little is to gain,
To have too much is to be confused.
Thus the sage embraces the One,
And becomes a model for the world. He does not:
Insist on his own views, thus he has a clear view;
Justify himself, thus he sees the truth;
Boast of his achievements, thus he is given credit;
Become arrogant, thus grows in stature.
Simply because he is not contentious,
No one in the world can contend against him.
Is the ancient saying to yield is to be preserved whole, empty words?
It is truly perfect and should be preserved.
Nature utters few words.
Violent winds seldom last for a whole morning,
Pouring rains rarely persist for a full day.
Who is responsible? Heaven and Earth.
Even Heaven and Earth do not persist for long, how should human beings?
Therefore the practitioner of Tao knows that:
He who follows Tao identifies with the follower of Tao;
He who is virtuous identifies with the person of virtue;
He who lost faith identifies with the faithless.
He who is identified with Tao, the follower of Tao is also happy to be with him;
He who is virtuous, the person of virtue is also happy to be with him;
He who is faithless, the faithless person is also happy to be with him.
He who has not enough faith in others commands no faith from others.
He who stands on tiptoe to be tall is unstable;
He who straddles to be fast is slow.
He who insists on his own views has no clear view;
He who justifies his own errors sees no truth.
He who boasts of his own achievements harms his credibility;
He who is arrogant experiences no growth in wisdom.
From the point of view of Tao,
They are like spoiled food and acts of nuisance which all detest.
Therefore followers of Tao avoid them.
There was a chaotic formation of matter,
Before the existence of Heaven and Earth.
It was so noiseless, so shapeless, all alone and unchanging,
It is moving around endlessly.
It can be the mother of Heaven and Earth.
I do not know its name, but call it Tao.
If I must I name it Great Reality.
Being great means receding,
Receding means going faraway and
Being faraway is followed by returning to the origin.
Tao is great, Heaven is great, Earth is great and Humanity is also great.
There are four great realities in the universe, and
Humanity is one of them.
Humanity follows the Earth;
Heaven, Tao and
Heavy objects provide footing for the lighter ones,
Calm disposition exerts control over restlessness.
The wise ruler travels all day without leaving his heavy supplies.
Even at the magnificent sights, he remain relaxed and unperturbed.
Why than the lord of ten thousand chariots appear light-headed in public?
Being light-headed reflects the loss of footing,
Being restless signifies the loss of control.
An excellent walker leaves no track;
An excellent speech contains no flaw;
An excellent reckoner uses no counter;
A well-shut door uses no mechanism, yet none can open it;
A well-tied know uses no rope, yet none can untie it.
The sage always excels in saving people, thus there is no useless people.
The sage always excels in saving things, thus there is no abandoned thing.
This is called the innate enlightenment.
It follows that:
A superior person if the teacher of the lesser person, and
The lesser person provides lessons for the superior person.
The person who does not value his teacher, nor care about the lessons,
Is deeply confused despite the person's intelligence.
This is an important subtlety.
He who knows the male, yet keeps to the female,
Is like the ravine of the world.
Being the ravine of the world,
He never departs from the eternal virtue, and
Returns to the state of harmony with Nature as in infancy.
He who knows the white, yet keeps to the black,
Is the model for the world.
Being the model for the world,
He never deviates from the eternal virtue, and
Returns to the state of selflessness as in primordial times.
He who knows glory, but keeps to humility,
Is like the valley of the world.
Being the valley of the world, he is sufficient in the eternal virtue, and
Returns to the sate of natural goodness like virgin blocks.
When the blocks are dispersed and found useful as tools,
The wise ruler employs them to govern and lead.
Therefore the great leader does not destroy Nature.
Whoever intends to conquer the empire through willful actions,
I foresee that he will not succeed.
The empire is a complex organism, no willful action should be taken.
He who so acts fails.
He who so exerts control loses it.
For, of all creatures:
some lead, some follow;
some sigh, some complain;
some are strong, some are weak;
some suffer setbacks, some are already fallen.
Thus a wise ruler avoids extremes, extravagance, and excesses.
He who assists a ruler through Tao,
Disavows dominating the world by military force.
The effects of using force are immediate:
Wherever the army is stationed, briars and thorns will grow.
(After a big war, years of famine will surely follow.)
The best leader cares only about an accommodation, and
Dares not to gain dominance by force.
An accommodation reached without conceit, brag, or arrogance; but on account of no better alternative and
reluctance of using force.
Everything decays after its prime,
This (using force) would be counter to Tao.
Whoever acts counter to Tao leads to his early demise.
Weapons are tools of bad omen, everyone dislikes them,
Thus the follower of Tao keeps away from them.
A statesman normally honours his left;
But in war, he honours his right.
Weapons are tools of bad omen, and of no use to a statesman.
If forced to use them, it is best for him to be calm and restrained.
Glorify not the victory of war.
One who does, must be happy to kill!
He who is happy to kill must not succeed in the world.
Auspicious occasions honour the left,
Evil occasions honour the right.
When the deputy general stays on the left,
While the full general stays on the right,
Declare that a funeral ceremony is taking place.
Since so many people are slaughtered,
Let us weep with deep sorrow and grief, and
Treat a victory celebration as a funeral ceremony.
Tao is eternal and nameless.
Even though its singular building block is tiny,
None in the world can master over it.
If kings and barons keep faith in it,
All things spontaneously follow order.
When Heaven and Earth joined to make sweet dew,
It is evenly spread without the people's command.
Initiating regulations produces names.
Since names already proliferate, one must also know when to stop.
Knowing when to stop can avoid over regulation.
Tao to the world is like streams in valleys to the rivers and sea.
He who understands others is intelligent;
He who knows himself is wise.
He who wins over others is persuasive;
He who conquers himself is strong.
He who feels contented is rich;
He who acts forcefully is determined.
He who does not lose his center endures;
He who dies but is not forgotten enjoys long life.
How the great Tao flows everywhere!
All things depend on it for life and it never turns away from them;
It completes the work successfully without seeking recognition;
It protects and nurtures all things without becoming their master.
Always devoid of desire may be an insignificant accomplishment;
All things follow it without becoming their master has to be a great accomplishment.
Just because it has no desire to be great,
It can achieve greatness.
Whoever has a firm hold on the big form,
The entire world will follow him.
They will experience no harm,
But security, peace and comfort.
Having food and music,
Even passers-by stop.
Talking about Tao is tasteless and plain.
And it is:
Invisible by looking;
Inaudible by listening and
Inexhaustible by using.
In order to contract it, first allow it to expand.
In order to weaken it, first allow it to strengthen;
In order to eliminate it, first allow it to grow;
In order to take away from it, first allow it to receive.
These are called common sense which includes:
The soft and weak overcome the hard and strong;
A fish should not leave deep water;
State's sharp weapons should not be shown to others.
Tao forever takes no action but nothing is left undone.
If barons and kings were able to keep faith in it,
All things will transform spontaneously on their own.
Should selfish desires arise anew,
I shall counter them with natural goodness yet unnamed.
What the unnamed natural goodness brings,
Is but the riddance of selfish desires.
Riddance of selfish desires will bring forth tranquility,
Then peace would naturally prevail in the world.
The people of high virtue show no appearance of virtue, they are thus virtuous;
The people of low virtue lose no appearance of virtue, they are thus not virtuous.
The people of high virtue take no action, but with no ulterior motive;
The people of low virtue take actions and with ulterior motive.
The people of high humanity take actions, but with no ulterior motive.
The people of high justice take actions and with ulterior motives.
The people of high propriety take actions, upon receiving no response, they extend their arms to fight.
When Tao is lost, one is left with virtue;
When virtue is lost, one is left with humanity;
When humanity is lost, one is left with justice;
When justice is lost, one is left with propriety.
But propriety requires only superficial loyalty and trust, and is the cause for discords and violence.
These so-called prophecies represent the superficial Tao, and is the beginning of ignorance.
Therefore a person of substance:
Prefers depth to shallowness, and
Chooses substance over appearance.
And he takes this and discards the other.
Whichever has been endowed with the One:
Heaven becomes clear;
Earth becomes calm;
Spiritual beings become divine;
Valleys become full;
All things are striving;
Barons and kings are leaders of the world.
All these are due to the One. Otherwise:
Heaven would not be clear, and may disintegrate;
Earth would not be calm, and may quake;
Spiritual beings would not be divine, and may disappear;
Valleys would not be full, and may dry up;
All things would not be thriving, and may perish;
Barons and kings would not be noble and high, and may topple.
Humility is the basis for nobleness; and
Lowness the foundation for highness.
That is why barons and kings call themselves orphans, widowers and destitute beings.
Does it not prove humility being the basis for nobleness? Is it not?
Strive for too many honours ends up with no honour.
Do not wish to be a shining jade, just be an ordinary rock.
Tao moves in cycles.
Tao uses the soft and weak to reveal the truth.
All things in the world are born from being, and
Being (the named) is born from non-being (the unnamed).
When Tao is heard by a man of high intellect,
He practices it with diligence.
When Tao is heard by a man of average intellect,
He follows it half-heartedly.
When Tao is heard by a man of no intellect,
He will have a hearty laugh at it.
And it would not be Tao without being laughed at.
Thus there is the accepted saying:
The bright way appears dark; the progressive way, regressive; and the smooth way, uneven.
The high virtue appears hollow; the purest white, tinted; the far-reaching virtue, inadequate; the firm virtue,
lax; and the real quality, wanting.
The greatest square appears cornerless; the great talent, the last to be recognized; the great music, devoid of
appealing sound; and the great image, formless.
Tao is hidden and nameless,
Yet only Tao is capable of helping all to succeed in life.
Tao created the One;
The One produced the Two;
The two produced the Three;
And the Three produced all things.
All things carry the Yin (female) and embrace the Yang (male),
Harmony is achieved through interaction of these prime energies.
People hate to be orphans, widowers, or being destitute,
Yet kings and barons call themselves by these terms.
One my gain by losing first, and
One my lose by gaining first.
What people teach I can also teach.
“A violent person would not die a natural death,”
Shall be my first lesson.
The softest thing in the world is galloping inside of the hardest;
The invisible substance is entering media having no space.
I therefore learn the benefits of taking no action.
Lessons without words and the value of taking no action,
There are few rivals in the world.
Fame or life, which is more precious?
Life or wealth, which is more important?
Gain or loss, which is more harmful?
An obsession for possession is doomed to be costly;
An excessive hoarding for profits is sure to incur heavy losses.
He who is contented loses no honour;
He who knows when to stop encounters no danger;
He can thus long endure.
A perfect tool appears defective, but, it shows no impairment in operation.
A great abundance appears empty, but, it is inexhaustible in consumption.
A truly straight edge appears crooked,
A great cleverness appears clumsy,
A great orator appears tight tongued.
Vigorous exercise overcomes cold;
Calm quietude overcomes heat.
Clear heads and calm minds can right the world.
When Tao prevails in the world,
Horses walk in the field to fertilize.
When Tao is missing in the world,
Military horses give births in the suburbs.
No guilt is greater than insatiable desires;
No misfortune is greater than mindless discontent;
No sin is greater than uncontrollable greed.
He who knows the contentment of being contented,
Will always be contented.
Without stepping out of the door,
He knows what the world is like.
Without looking out of the window,
He understands the way of Heaven.
The farther he travels,
The less he learns.
So the Sage:
Knows without traveling;
Understands situations without seeing, and
Succeeds without taking action.
Pursuing learning, one needs to learn more every day.
Practicing Tao, one needs to do less every day.
Less and even less, one reaches a state of taking no action.
Taking no action but nothing is left undone.
Taking over an empire must always be a nonevent.
If eventful, it is unworthy of taking over the empire.
A wise ruler has no preconceived ideas,
He adopts the people's ideas as his own.
I treat good people with goodness,
I treat bad people also with goodness.
This is the virtue of goodness.
I deal with honest people with honesty,
I deal with dishonest people also with honesty.
This is the virtue of honesty.
For the benefit of the world, the wise ruler harmonizes all ideas.
(The people pay attention to him through ears and eyes,)
And he treats them all like his children.
From birth to death,
Three out of ten follow the path of life;
Three out of ten follow the path of death; also
Three out of ten who follow the path of life may move into path of death.
Why is that? Because they over strive in their lives.
I heard that he who excels in self-preservation:
Meets no tiger or rhinoceros while walking on land;
Escapes harm while fighting in wars.
And he encounters:
No rhinoceros butting its horn against him;
No tiger exerting its claws against him;
No soldier thrusting his knife against him.
Why is this so?
Because he is not on the path of death.
Tao creates all things,
Virtue nurtures them.
Matter gives them forms, and
Environment allows them to succeed.
Thus all things honour Tao and value Virtue.
Tao being honoured and Virtue being valued,
They always occurred naturally without being dictated by anyone.
Tao creates all thing.
Virtue nurtures them:
They grow and develop;
Bear fruits and mature; and
Are cared for and protected.
To create, but not to possess;
To care for, but not to control;
To lead, but not to subjugate.
This is called the profound virtue.
The world had its beginning,
Which is known as the mother of the world.
Once the mother is known, her sons may be understood.
Once the sons are understood, still keep to the mother.
Then you will avoid mistakes all your life.
Close your apertures, shut your doors,
You will live a life without toil;
Open your apertures, meddle in distractions,
You will live a life beyond salvation.
Capable of seeing details is called clear vision;
Capable of yielding is called strength.
Using the innate light, recover your clear vision.
Then you will not be exposed to hidden danger.
This is called following the nature.
Grant me the subtle wisdom, that
I will follow the broad way and be fearful of straying away.
The broad way is flat, yet people still indulge in shortcuts.
The palace is quite splendid, but
The fields are quite desolate, and
The granaries quite empty.
(The rulers are)
Wearing beautiful clothes,
Carrying sharp swords,
Bored of feasts, and
Accumulating excessive wealth and treasures.
These are chieftains of robbers, and
No behaving according to Tao!
A person who excels in building does not uproot;
A person who excels in embracing does not deviate;
And their descendants do not interrupt ancestral worship.\
Cultivate it in an individual, his virtue is genuine;
Cultivate it in a family, its virtue overflows;
Cultivate it in a community, its virtues multiply;
Cultivate it in a state, its virtue is abundant;
Cultivate it in the world, its virtue is universal.
Therefore, evaluate the virtue of:
An individual on the basis of the individual;
A family on the basis of the family;
A community o the basis of the community;
A state on the basis of the state;
The world on the basis of the world.
How do I know the situation of the world? By this.
The abundant virtue of a person,
May be compared to that of an infant:
Poisonous insects do not sting him,
Wild beats do not grab him,
Birds of prey do not claw him.
Though he has weak bones and soft sinews, his grip is firm.
Despite his ignorance of union of male and female, his organ is often erect.
This demonstrates his highest essence.
He cries all day without becoming hoarse.
This shows his utmost harmony with Nature.
To know the harmony with Nature is to know the truth;
To know the truth is enlightenment.
Over indulging in life produces ill consequences,
Ceding control of vital energy to emotion leads to violence.
Everything decays after its prime.
These (over indulging, ceding control to emotion) would be counter to Tao,
Whoever acts counter to Tao spells his early demise.
He who knows the truth does not brag,
He who brags does not know the truth.
Closing the apertures, Shutting the doors,
Blunting the sharpness, Resolving inner conflicts,
Softening brightness, and
Harmonizing with the dusty world,
He is then in profound harmony with Tao.
Thus he is no longer:
Affected by being close to, or
Bothered by being distant from others;
Touched by gains, or
Influenced by losses
Tempted by nobleness, or
Shamed by lowliness.
Therefore he is respected by the world.
Govern a state by fair rules.
Conduct military operations by surprise strategies.
Take over an empire as a nonevent.
How do I know these should be so?
The more prohibitions proliferate, the poorer the people;
The more sharp weapons people possess, the more chaotic the state;
The more cunning people become, the more abnormal the society;
The more laws promulgate, the more robbers and thieves appear.
Thus a wise ruler says:
I take no action, the people are naturally peaceful;
I love tranquility, the people naturally become orderly;
I plan no wasteful event, the people naturally grow prosperous;
I entertain no desire, the people naturally remain simple and honest.
When a ruler is tolerant and understanding,
The people will be loyal and obedient;
When a ruler is intolerant and overbearing,
The people will be resentful and resistant.
There are misfortunes wherein clues of blessings lie;
There are blessings wherein seeds of misfortunes hide.
Who would know the final outcome?
There is no rule to go by!
Normalcy reverts to chaos;
Good reverts to evil.
People have puzzled over these for a long time!
Therefore a wise ruler is:
Square but not cutting,
Sharp but not piercing,
Straight but not stretching and
Illustrious but not dazzling.
Governing the people or interacting with Nature,
Nothing is more important than being frugal.
Only being frugal can one be prepared for the future.
Early preparation emphasizes heavy conservation of resources.
Emphasizing conservation assures no obstacles in the future.
No future obstacle, then the prospect knows no limit.
Knowing of no limit, a state is well prepared.
Govern the state with this principle,
It will long endure.
Governing a large state is like cooking a small fish.
Let Tao prevail in the world,
Even the spiritual beings lose their divine appeal.
Not only they lose their appeal,
Their appeal harms no people.
Not only their appeal harms no people,
Neither the ruler harms people.
Since both inflict no harm,
Then all the benefits accrue jointly to the people.
A big state is like the downstream of a river, where the world converges, and which functions as the female
of the world.
The female always overcomes the male through stillness.
Stillness means lying low.
When a big state places itself below a small state,
It gains the trust of the small state;
When a small state places itself below a big state,
It gains the confidence of the big state.
Sometimes a state lies low in order to gain,
Sometimes a state lying low results in gain.
A big state wishes only to dominate and lead,
A small state desires only to join and follow.
Now that each of the two gets what is wants,
It would still be better for the big state to lie low.
Tao holds secrets of all things.
It is the treasure for good people, and
The protector for bad people.
Fine talks can earn one respect,
Good deeds can elevate one's status.
Then for those who have behaved badly, why abandon them?
When crowning a king or installing three ministers,
In spite of their beautiful jade offerings preceded by fast horses,
It would be better to offer them Tao.
What made the ancients value Tao?
Did they not believe that:
You would get what you seek and be forgiven of your sins?
Therefore, it is valued by the world.
Take no willful action,
Diffuse contentious even to nonevent,
Transform the tasteless tasteful.
Big or small, numerous or few,
Repay enmities with virtue.
Anticipate difficulties while it is still easy,
Prepare for being big while it is still small.
Difficult problems in the world must have grown from what used to be easy,
Great events in the world must have started from what used to be small.\
So the sage does not aim to be great,
Thus he can achieve greatness.
Light promises often result in loss of credibility,
Easy encounters often are followed by difficulties.
So even the sage anticipates difficulty,
Thus he encounters no difficulty.
In an orderly state, it is easy to maintain status quo;
Before the appearance of trouble, it is easy to diffuse it.
What is fragile is easy to break;
What is small is easy to scatter.
Prevent problems before they become problems;
Establish rules of order before there is disorder.
A tree of huge proportions is grown from a tiny sapling;
A nine story tower is built from the ground up;
A journey of a thousand li begins under the feet (with the first step).
He who takes willful actions fails;
He who exerts willful control loses it.
So a wise ruler:
Takes no willful action, thus suffers no failure;
Exerts no willful control, thus suffers no loss of it.
People often fail at the sight of success,
Be deft and cautious at the end as at the beginning,
Then there will be no failure.
So a wise ruler:
Desires no selfish desire,
Values no rare commodity,
Learns to unlearn, and
Repairs wrongs done to the multitude.
He thus fosters the natural state of all things, and
He dares no interfere with it.
Ancient rulers who were good at practicing Tao,
Did not aim to enlighten the people, but to keep them ignorant.
The difficulty in governing the people is due to their excessive knowledge.
He who governs a state through knowledge is the robber of the state;
He who governs a state not through knowledge is the blessing of the state.
He who knows these two alternatives also values the model of Tao.
Always valuing the model of Tao constitutes a profound virtue.
The virtue is so profound and so far-reaching,
Until the model becomes contrary to the reality!
Only then the great harmony would prevail.
Why the large river or sea is able to be the king of hundred valley streams?
Because it lies well below them.
Therefore it becomes their king.
It follow that: He who governs the people must declare that he is to serve them;
He who lead the people must place himself behind them.
So a wise ruler:
Stays above, the people feel no burden;
Leads ahead, the people feel no threat.
Thus the world is not tired of happily supporting him.
Since he contends against no one,
Therefore no one in the world can contend against him.
The entire world says that my Tao is great, but
It resembles not what is expected.
Just because of its greatness, it resembles to what is expected.
Otherwise, it would have become insignificant long ago.
I have three treasures, keep and treasure them:
The first is to love,
The second is to conserve, and
The third is dare not be the first in the world.
Be able to conserve, then you can be courageous.
Be able to conserve, then you can be generous.
Dare not to be the first in the world, then you can be the leader.
To abandon love and be courageous,
To abandon conservation and be generous,
To abandon no be the first in the world and rush ahead.
This is fatal!
Because of love, you will be victorious in battle, and invincible in Defense!
When Heaven is about to save you, it protects you with love.
A good statesman does not rely on his military strength;
A good fighter does not lose his temper;
A good winner does not argue with his adversary;
A good employer of talents places himself below them.
This is the virtue of no contention;
This is the strength of managing talents;
This is the adaptation to Heaven,
The ultimate standard of old.
The military strategist says:
I dare not be an aggressor, but a defender;
I dare not advance an inch, but to retreat a foot.
This implies that we:
March without formation;
Raise no arms;
Face enemies undetected; and
Hold hidden weapons.
There is no greater danger than underestimating the enemy,
Underestimating the enemy nearly destroys my treasures.
When to armies of equal strength go to battle,
The aggrieved side wins.
My teachings are very easy to understand and very easy to practice.
But the world cannot understand them, nor practice them.
Principles in my teachings, and
Philosophy governing my undertakings.
Simply because of ignorance, people do not understand me.
Those who do are few, those who practice my teachings are rare.
Thus the sage is clothed in rags but hides a precious jade inside.
Knowing what you do not know is the best,
Pretending to know what you do not know is a disease.
Only be treating the disease as a disease,
Can one be free from it.
The sage is free from the disease
Because he treats the disease as a disease,
Therefore he is free from it.
When the people are no longer afraid of the power of authority,
Then the awesome power of authority descends with a vengeance.
Do not disturb the people in their habitats,
Do not choke off their means of livelihood.
Only by not being oppressive, will people feel not oppressed.
Therefore a wise ruler:
Knows his authority, but does not show of his power,
Values self-respect, but does not exalt his position.
Thus he chooses this and rejects the other.
To be brave in daring results in a killing;
To be brave in not daring results in life.
Of the two, one is beneficial, the other harmful.
Whatever Heaven disfavours,
Who knows the reason?
(Thus even the sage considers this a difficult question.)
The way of heaven is good at:
Winning without striving;
Responding without announcing;
Forthcoming without prompting; and
Planing without haste.
The net of Heaven is extremely vast,
It is coarse but not leaking.
When the people are not afraid to die
Why then threaten them with death?
Even if they normally are fearful of death,
For worst offenders, we may seize and kill them.
But who dares to execute?
There is always an expert executioner who kills.
Substituting for an expert executioner,
Is like hacking wood in place of a master carpenter.
Whoever substitutes for the master carpenter,
He seldom escapes injury of his own hand.
The people are hungry, because
Their ruler consumes too much of their tax grains.
That is why they are hungry.
The people become difficult to govern, because
Their ruler takes willful actions,
That is why they are difficult to govern.
The people take death lightly, because
Their ruler demands too much for his luxurious life.
That is why they take death lightly.
Only he who does not overvalue his own life excels in valuing life.
A human body is weak and pliable at birth, and is stiff and hard at death.
Grass and trees are tender and soft at birth, and are dry and brittle at death.
The hard and strong belong to the company of death;
The soft and weak belong to the company of life.
It follows then:
A strong army is destined to be destroyed;
A hard wood tree is doomed to be broken.
The hard and strong are in an inferior position,
The soft and weak are in a superior position.
Is Heaven's way like aiming an extended bow?
If aiming too high, lower it;
If aiming too high, raise it.
The surplus is reduced and the needy supplemented.
The way of Heaven is to reduce the surplus so as to supplement the needy.
The way of Mankind is just the opposite:
It takes away from the needy so as to enrich the surplus.
Who would offer their surpluses to the world?
Only followers of Tao.
So the sage it to:
Care for but not to master;
Complete the work without claiming credit; and
Avoid recognition of his achievements.
Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water.
Yet there is nothing better for conquering the hard and strong, and there is no substitute for it.
That the weak overcomes the strong and
The soft overcomes the hard,
Is understood by the entire world,
But non can practice it.
So the sage says:
One who suffers disgrace for the state is qualified to be its leader.
One who caries the burden of the state's misfortune is fit to be its king.
The words of truth sound contrarian.
Deep grievances can be ameliorated, but residual ones remain.
How can this situation be improved?
The sage holds the left half of the debt instrument, and never abuses the debtor.
A person of virtue just keeps the left portion; but
A person of no virtue abuses the debtor.
The way of Heaven is neutral,
But it always sides with the virtuous person.
There exists a small state with a few people.
Plenty of useful tools are not being used.
Valuing life, the people do not migrate faraway.
Though there are boats and carriages, no one rides in them.
Let the people return to the time of tying knots on ropes for reckoning.
Enjoy their food,
Beautify their clothing,
Live in peace at home, and
Be happy with their heritage.
The people in neighbouring states are within sight of each other,
The crowing of cocks and barking of dogs are heard from each other,
Yet the people die of old age without visiting with each other.
Credible words are not artful:
Artful words are not credible.
An objective person does not argue;
A person who argues is not objective.
He who knows the truth may not be erudite;
He who is erudite may not know the truth.
The sage does not hoard for himself,
The more he benefits others the happier he becomes,
The more he gives away to others the wealthier he feels.
The way of Heaven; benefits all, harms none.
The way of the sage: be helpful to all, contentious against none.