The Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu
English version by
Ellen Marie Chen (1989)
More English versions
Tao that can be spoken of,
Is not the Everlasting (ch'ang) Tao.
Name that can be named,
Is not the Everlasting (ch'ang) name.
Nameless (wu-ming), the origin (shih) of heaven and earth;
Named (yu-ming), the mother (mu) of ten thousand things.
Non-being (wu), to name (ming) the origin (shih) of heaven and earth;
Being (yu), to name (ming) the mother of ten thousand things.
Therefore, always (ch'ang) without desire (wu-yü),
In order to observe (kuan) the hidden mystery (miao);
Always (ch'ang) with desire (yu-yü),
In order to observe the manifestations (chiao).
Therefore, by the Everlasting (ch'ang) Non-Being (wu),
We desire (yü) to observe (kuan) its hidden mystery (miao);
By the Everlasting (ch'ang) Being (yu),
We desire (yü) to observe the manifestations (chiao).
These two issue from the same origin,
Though named differently.
Both are called the dark (hsüan).
Dark and even darker,
The door to all hidden mysteries (miao).
When all under heaven know beauty (mei) as beauty,
There is then ugliness (o);
When all know the good (shan) good,
There is then the not good (pu shan).
Therefore being and non-being give rise to each other,
The difficult and easy complement each other,
The long and short shape each other,
The high and low lean on each other,
Voices and instruments harmonize with one another,
The front and rear follow upon each other.
Therefore the sage manages affairs without action,
Carries out (hsing) teaching without speech (yen).
Ten thousand things arise and he does not initiate them,
They come to be and he claims no possession (yu) of them,
He works (wei) without holding on,
Accomplishes (ch'eng) without claiming merit.
Because he does not claim merit,
His merit does not go away.
Do not honor (shang) the worthy (hsien),
So that the people will not contend (cheng) with one another.
Do not value (kuei) hard-to-get goods,
So that the people will not turn robbers.
Do not show objects of desire (k'o yü),
So that the people's minds (hsin) are not disturbed.
Therefore, when the sage rules:
He empties the minds (hsin) of his people,
Fills their bellies,
Weakens their wills (chih),
And strengthens their bones.
Always he keeps his people in no-knowledge (wu-chih) and no-desire (wu-yü),
Such that he who knows dares not act.
Act by no-action (wu-wei),
Then, nothing is not in order.
Tao is a whirling emptiness (ch'ung),
Yet (erh) in use (yung) is inexhaustible (ying).
It seems to be the ancestor (tsung) of ten thousand beings.
It blunts the sharp,
Unties the entangled,
Harmonizes the bright,
Mixes the dust.
It seems perhaps to exist (ts'un).
I do not know whose child it is,
It is an image (hsiang) of what precedes God (Ti).
Heaven and earth are not humane (jen),
They treat the ten thousand beings as straw dogs (ch'u kou).
The sage is not humane (jen),
He treats the hundred families as straw dogs (ch'u kou).
Between heaven and earth,
How like a bellows (t'o yo) it is!
Empty and yet inexhaustible,
Moving and yet it pours out ever more.
By many words one's reckoning (shu) is exhausted.
It is better to abide by the center (shou chung).
The Valley Spirit (ku shen) is deathless,
It is called the Dark Mare (hsüan p'in).
The door of the Dark Mare,
Is called the root of heaven and earth.
Continuous (mien mien), it seems to exist (ts'un),
Yet in use (yung) it is inexhaustible.
Heaven and earth are long lasting (chiu).
The reason why heaven and earth are long lasting:
Because they do not live for self (pu tzu sheng).
Therefore they last long.
Thus the sage puts his body (shen) behind,
Yet his body is in front.
He regards his body as external,
Yet his body remains in existence (ts'un).
Is it not because he is selfless (wu szu),
That he can fulfill himself (ch'eng ch'i szu).
A person with superior goodness (shan) is like water,
Water is good in benefiting (li) all beings,
Without contending (cheng) with any.
Situated in places shunned (o) by many others,
Thereby it is near (chi) Tao.
(Such a person's) dwelling is the good earth,
(His/her) mind (hsin) is the good deep water (yuan),
(His/her) associates are good kind people (jen),
(His/her) speech shows good trust (hsin),
(His/her) governing is the good order,
(His/her) projects (shih) are carried out by good talents (neng),
(His/her) activities (tung) are good in timing.
Because he does not contend (pu cheng) with any,
He commits no wrong.
To hold and fill (a vessel) to the full (ying),
It had better not be done.
To temper and sharpen a sword,
Its edge could not be kept (pao) long.
To fill the hall with gold and jade,
There is no way to guard (shou) them.
To be rich, exalted, and proud,
This is to invite blame (chiu) upon oneself.
When work is done (sui), the person (sheng) retires,
Such is the Tao of heaven.
In bringing your spiritual (ying) and bodily (p'o) souls to embrace the One,
Can (neng) you never depart (li) from it?
In concentrating your breath to attain softness,
Can you be like an infant (ying erh)?
In cleansing your mirror (lan) of the dark (hsüan),
Can you make it spotless?
In opening and closing heaven's gate (t'ien men),
Can you be the female (tz'u)?
In being enlightened (ming) and comprehending all,
Can you do it without knowledge?
In loving the people and governing the state,
Can you practice non-action?
To give birth, to nurture,
To give birth yet not to claim possession (yu),
To act (wei) yet not to hold on to,
To grow (chang) yet not to lord over (tsai),
This is called the dark virtue (yüan te).
Thirty spokes share one hub to make a wheel.
Through its non-being (wu),
There is (yu) the use (yung) of the carriage.
Mold clay into a vessel (ch'i).
Through its non-being (wu),
There is (yu) the use (yung) of the vessel.
Cut out doors and windows to make a house.
Through its non-being (wu),
There is (yu) the use (yung) of the house.
Therefore in the being (yu-chih) of a thing,
There lies the benefit (li).
In the non-being (wu-chih) of a thing,
There lies its use (yun).
The five colors blind a person's eyes;
The five musical notes deafen a person's ears;
The five flavors ruin a person's taste buds.
Horse-racing, hunting and chasing,
Drive a person's mind (hsin) to madness.
Hinder a person's actions.
Therefore the sage is for the belly, not for the eyes.
Therefore he leaves this and chooses that.
Accept honors and disgraces as surprises,
Treasure great misfortunes as the body.
Why say: "Accept honors and disgraces as surprises"?
Honors elevate (shang),
Disgraces depress (hsia).
One receives them surprised,
Loses them surprised.
Thus: "Accept honors and disgraces as surprises."
Why say: "Treasure great misfortunes as the body"?
I have great misfortunes,
Because I have a body.
If I don't have a body,
What misfortunes do I have?
Therefore treasure the body as the world,
As if the body can be entrusted to the world.
Love the body as the world,
As if the body can be entrusted to the world.
What is looked at but not (pu) seen,
Is named the extremely dim (yi).
What is listened to but not heard,
Is named the extremely faint (hsi).
What is grabbed but not caught,
Is named the extremely small (wei).
These three cannot be comprehended,
Thus they blend into one.
As to the one, its coming up is not light,
Its going down is not darkness.
Again it reverts to nothing.
Therefore it is called the formless form,
The image (hsiang) of nothing.
Therefore it is said to be illusive and evasive (hu-huang).
Come toward it one does not see its head,
Follow behind it one does not see its rear.
Holding on to the Tao of old (ku chih tao),
So as to steer in the world of now (chin chih yu).
To be able to know the beginning of old,
It is to know the thread of Tao.
Those in the past who were good at practicing Tao,
Were subtle, mysterious, dark, penetrating (wei miao yüan t'ung),
Deep and unrecognizable.
Because they were unrecognizable,
I am forced to describe their appearance (yung).
Careful, like crossing a river in winter,
Hesitating, like fearing neighbors on four sides,
Reverent, like being guests,
Dissolving, like ice beginning to melt,
Thick, like uncarved wood,
Open, like a valley,
Chaotic (hun), like murky (cho) water.
What can stop the murkiness?
Quieting (ching) down, gradually it clarifies (ch'ing).
What can keep still for long?
Moving, gradually it stirs into life.
Those who keep this Tao,
Do not want to be filled to the full (ying).
Because they are not full,
They can renew (hsin) themselves before being worn out (pi).
Reach the pole of emptiness (hsü-chi),
Abide in genuine quietude (ching).
Ten thousand beings flourish together,
I am to contemplate (kuan) their return (fu).
Now things grow profusely,
Each again returns (kuei) to its root.
To return to the root is to attain quietude (ching),
It is called to recover life (ming).
To recover life is to attain the Everlasting (ch'ang),
To know the Everlasting (ch'ang) is to be illumined (ming).
Not knowing (chih) the Everlasting (ch'ang),
One commits evils wantonly.
Knowing the Everlasting one becomes all containing (yung).
To be all containing is to be public (kung).
To be public is to be kingly (wang).
To be kingly is to be like heaven.
To be like heaven is to be like Tao.
To be like Tao is to last long.
This is to lose the body without becoming exhausted (pu tai).
The best government, the people know it is just there.
The next best, they love and praise it.
The next, they fear it.
The next, they revile against it.
When you don't trust (hsin) [the people] enough,
Then they are untrustworthy (pu hsin).
Quiet, why value words (yen)?
Work is accomplished, things are done.
People all say that I am natural (tzu-jan).
On the decline of the great Tao,
There are humanity (jen) and righteousness (i).
When intelligence (hui) and knowledge (chih) appear,
There is great artificiality (wei).
When the six relations are not in harmony,
There are filial piety (hsiao) and parental love (tz'u).
When a nation is in darkness (hun) and disorder (lüan),
There are loyal ministers.
Eliminate sagacity (sheng), discard knowledge (chih),
People will be profited (li) a hundredfold.
Eliminate humanity (jen), discard righteousness (i),
People will again practice filial piety and parental love.
Abolish artistry (ch'iao), discard profit-seeking (li),
Robbers and thieves shall disappear.
These three pairs adorn (wen) what is deficient (pu tsu).
Therefore, let there be the advice:
Look to the undyed silk, hold on to the uncarved wood (p'u),
Reduce your sense of self (szu) and lessen your desires (yü).
Eliminate (chüeh) learning so as to have no worries,
Yes and no, how far apart are they?
Good and evil, how far apart are they?
What the sages (jen) fear,
I must not not fear.
I am the wilderness (huang) before the dawn (wei yang).
The multitude (chung jen) are busy and active,
Like partaking of the sacrificial feast,
Like ascending the platform in spring;
I alone (tu) am bland (p'o),
As if I have not yet emerged (chao) into form.
Like an infant who has not yet smiled (hai),
Lost, like one who has nowhere to return (wu so kuei).
The multitudes (chung jen) all have too much (yu yü);
I alone (tu) am deficient (i).
My mind (hsin) is that of a fool (yü),
Worldly people (su jen) are luminous (chao);
I alone (tu) am dark (hun).
Worldly people are clear-sighted (ch'a);
I alone (tu) am dull (men),
I am calm like the sea,
Like the high winds I never stop (chih).
The multitudes (chung jen) all have their use (i);
I alone (tu) am untamable like lowly material.
I alone (tu) am different from others.
For I treasure feeding on the Mother (mu).
The features (yung) of the vast (k'ung) Te,
Follows entirely (wei) from Tao.
Tao as a thing,
Is entirely illusive (huang) and evasive (hu).
Evasive and illusive,
In it there is image (hsiang).
Illusive and evasive,
In it there is thinghood (wu).
Dark and dim,
In it there is life seed (ching).
Its life seed being very genuine (chen),
In it there is growth power (hsin).
As it is today, so it was in the days of old (ku),
Its name goes not away (ch'ü),
So that we may survey (yüeh) the origins of the many (chung fu).
How do I know that the origins of the many are such?
Because of this.
Bent, thus (tse) preserved whole,
Unjustly accused, thus exonerated (chih),
Hollow, thus filled (ying),
Battered (pi), thus renewed,
Scanty, thus receiving (te),
Much, thus perplexed.
Therefore the sage embraces the One (pao i).
He becomes the model (shih) of the world.
Not self-seeing, hence he is enlightened (ming).
Not self-justifying, hence he is outstanding.
Not showing off (fa) his deeds, hence he is meritorious.
Not boasting (ching) of himself, hence he leads (chang).
Because he is not contentious (pu cheng),
Hence no one under heaven can contend with him.
What the ancients say: "Bent, thus preserved whole,"
Are these empty words?
Be preserved whole and return (kuei).
Nature speaks (yen) little.
Hence a squall lasts not a whole morning,
A rainstorm continues not a whole day.
What causes (wei) these?
Heaven and earth.
Even [the actions of] heaven and earth do not last long,
How much less [the works] of humans?
Therefore one who follows Tao identifies with Tao,
One who follows te (nature) identifies with te (nature).
One who follows shih (loss) identifies with shih.
One who identifies with Tao is glad to be with Tao.
One who identifies with te is glad to be with te.
One who identifies with shih is glad to be with shih.
When you don't trust (hsin) (the people) enough,
Then they are untrustworthy (pu hsin).
One who tiptoes cannot stand.
One who straddles cannot walk.
One who sees himself is not enlightened (ming).
One who justifies himself is not outstanding.
One who shows off (fa) his deeds is not meritorious.
One who boasts (ching) of himself does not lead (chang).
These to a Taoist are called:
Excess nature (yü te) and superfluous actions (shui hsing),
Avoided (o) even by things.
Therefore the Taoist does not indulge (ch'u) in them.
There was something nebulous existing (yu wu hun ch'eng),
Born before heaven and earth.
Standing alone (tu), altering not (pu kai),
Moving cyclically without becoming exhausted (pu tai),
Which may be called the mother of all under heaven.
I know not its name,
I give its alias (tzu), Tao.
If forced to picture it,
I say it is "great" (ta).
To say it is "great" is to say it is "moving away" (shih),
To say it is "moving away" is to say it is "far away" (yüan),
To say it is "far away" is to say it is "returning" (fan).
Therefore Tao is great,
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
The king is also great.
In the realm there are four greats,
And the king is one of them.
Humans follow (fa) earth,
Earth follows heaven,
Heaven follows Tao,
Tao follows self-becoming (tzu-jan).
The heavy (chung) is root (ken) to the light (ch'ing);
The tranquil (ching) is master (chün) to the agitated (tsao).
Therefore the sage travels all day,
Without leaving (li) his baggage wagon (tzu chung).
Although he has glorious palaces (yung kuan),
He avoids its sumptuous apartments (yen-ch'u).
How could the Lord of ten thousand chariots,
Conduct himself lightly in the world?
One who acts lightly loses his foundation (pen);
One who is agitated loses his master (chün).
Good (shan) running leaves no tracks,
Good speech has no flaws,
Good counting uses no counters,
A good lock uses no bolts yet cannot be opened,
A good knot uses no rope yet cannot be untied.
Hence the sage is always good at saving people,
Therefore no one is rejected.
He is always good at saving things,
Therefore nothing is rejected.
This is called following the light (ming).
Therefore the good person,
Is the not-good (pu-shan) person's teacher.
The not-good (pu-shan) person,
Is the good person's capital.
One who does not honor (kuei) the teacher,
Or love (ai) the capital,
Is greatly confounded though knowledgeable (chih).
This is called the important mystery (miao).
To know (chih) the male,
But to abide (shou) by the female (tz'u),
Is to be the valley (ch'i) of the world.
Being the valley of the world,
And departing (li) not from the everlasting power (ch'ang te),
One again returns to the infant (ying erh).
To know (chih) the white (pe),
But to abide (shou) by the black (heh),
Is to be the model (shih) of the world.
Being the model of the world,
And deviating (t'eh) not from the everlasting power,
One again returns to the unlimited (wu-chi).
To know (chih) the illustrious (yung),
But to abide (shou) by the obscure (ju),
Is to be the valley (ku) of the world.
Being the valley of the world,
One's everlasting power (ch'ang te) being full,
One again returns to the uncarved wood (p'u).
The uncarved wood disperses to become vessels (ch'i),
To be used (yung) by the sage as officials.
Therefore a great institution does not mutilate (ko).
One who desires to take the world and act (wei) upon it,
I see that it cannot be done.
The world (t'ien hsia) is a spirit vessel (shen ch'i),
Which cannot be acted (wei) upon.
One who acts (wei) on it fails,
One who holds on to it loses (shih).
Therefore things either move forward or follow behind;
They blow hot or blow cold;
They are strong (ch'iang) or weak;
They get on or they get off.
Therefore the sage gets rid of over-doing,
Gets rid of extravagances,
Gets rid of excesses.
One who assists the ruler with Tao,
Does not overpower (ch'iang) the world by military conquests.
Such affairs have a way of returning (huan):
Where armies are stationed,
Briars and thorns grow,
After great campaigns,
Bad years are sure to follow.
The good person is resolute (kuo) only,
But dares not (kan) take the path of the strong (ch'iang).
Be resolute (kuo) yet do not boast (ching),
Be resolute yet do not show off (fa),
Be resolute yet do not be haughty,
Be resolute because you have no choice,
Be resolute yet do not overpower (ch'iang).
When things are full grown, they age.
This is called not following Tao.
Not following Tao they perish early.
Military weapons are implements (ch'i) of ill omen,
Avoided (o) even by natural creatures (wu).
Hence the Taoist does not indulge (ch'u) in them.
The princely person (chün-tzu) in dwelling honors the left,
In military campaigns honors the right.
Hence military weapons are not implements of a princely person.
Military weapons, being implements of ill omen,
Are to be employed only in dire necessity.
Better to regard them with lack of interest.
Do not admire (mei) them.
If one admires (mei) them,
One would be rejoicing in the killing of people.
But whoever rejoices in the killing of people,
Will not be successful (chih) in the world.
Therefore in joyful affairs the left is honored,
In mournful affairs the right is honored.
The Second-in-Command takes the place of the left,
The Commander-in-Chief takes the place of the right,
Meaning that this is his place in the funeral rite.
When many people have been killed,
Wail them with sorrow and lamentations.
When victorious in battle,
Mark the occasion with the rite (li) of funeral.
Tao everlasting (ch'ang) is the nameless uncarved wood (p'u).
Nothing under heaven can subjugate it (mo neng ch'en).
If kings and barons can abide by (shou) it,
All creatures will arrive as guests (pin) to a banquet.
Heaven and earth unite,
To send down the sweet rain.
Without being commanded by the people (mo chih ling),
It falls evenly (chün) by itself.
At the beginning of institution names come to be.
Once there are names,
One must know when to stop (chih chih).
One who knows when to stop does not become exhausted (pu tai).
Tao in the world is like
Valley streams flowing into rivers and seas.
One who knows (chih) others is knowledgeable (chih);
One who knows (chih) the self is enlightened (ming).
One who overcomes others has physical might;
One who overcomes the self (tzu sheng) is strong (ch'iang).
One who knows contentment (chih tsu) is rich;
One who acts strongly (ch'iang) has will power (chih).
One who does not lose where one belongs lasts long;
One who dies without perishing (wang) has longevity.
The great Tao floods over,
To the left, to the right.
Ten thousand beings live by it,
And it does not reject them.
Work is accomplished (ch'eng), yet it has no name.
It clothes and nourishes ten thousand beings,
But does not lord over them.
Always without desire,
It may be named the small;
Ten thousand beings return (kuei) to it,
Yet it does not lord over them,
It may be named the great.
Because it never considers itself great,
Therefore it can accomplish (ch'eng) its greatness.
Hold aloft the Great Image (hsiang),
The whole world will go to it.
Going to it, they will meet with no harm,
Only safety, peace, and contentment (an p'ing t'ai).
When music and dainty dishes are offered,
The passers-by stop.
Tao, when it is uttered by the mouth,
Is so bland it has no flavor.
When looked at, it is not enough to be seen.
When listened to, it is not enough to be heard,
When used (yung), it is inexhaustible.
What is to be reduced,
Must first be expanded.
What is to be weakened,
Must first be made strong (ch'iang).
What is to be abolished,
Must first be established.
What is to be taken away,
Must first be given.
This is called the subtle illumination (wei ming).
The soft and weak overcome the hard and strong.
Fish must not leave the stream.
Sharp weapons (ch'i) of a state,
Must not be displayed.
Tao everlasting (ch'ang) does not act (wu wei),
And yet nothing is not done (erh wu pu wei).
If kings and barons can abide by (shou) it,
The ten thousand things will transform by themselves (tzu hua).
If in transforming desire (yü) is aroused,
I shall suppress it by the nameless uncarved wood (p'u).
With the nameless uncarved wood,
There shall be no desire (wu yü).
Without desire there is thus quietude (ching).
The world shall be self-ordered (tzu ting).
A person of high te is not te,
Therefore such a person has te;
A person of low te does not lose (shih) te,
Therefore such a person has no te.
A person of high te does not act (wei),
For such a person has no cause for action;
A person of low te acts,
For such a person has cause for action.
A person of high jen (humanity) acts,
Yet such a person has no cause for action;
A person of high i (righteousness) acts,
For such a person has cause for action.
A person of high li (propriety) acts,
Yet finding no response,
Proceeds to bare the arms and throw a rope.
Therefore when Tao is lost (shih), then there is te.
When te is lost, then there is jen (humanity).
When jen is lost, then there is i (righteousness).
When i is lost, then there is li (propriety).
As to li, it is the thin edge of loyalty and faithfullness,
And the beginning of disorder;
As to foreknowledge (ch'ien shih), it is the flowering of Tao,
And the beginning of stupidity (yü).
Thus a great person, abiding in the thick,
Does not dwell in the thin;
Abiding in the kernel,
Does not dwell in the flower.
Therefore such a person leaves that and takes this.
Those of old that attain the One:
Heaven attains the One thus is clear,
Earth attains the One thus is peaceful,
Spirits attain the One thus are efficacious,
Valleys attain the One thus are replenished,
Ten thousand beings attain the One thus come to be,
Princes and barons attain the One thus are exalted in the world.
All because they attain the One.
Heaven, without that which renders it clear, might crack,
Earth, without that which renders it peaceful, might explode,
Spirits, without that which makes them efficacious, might cease,
Valleys, without that which replenishes them, might become empty,
Ten thousand beings, without that which sustains them in existence, might become extinct,
Barons and kings, without that which exalts them to high positions, might be toppled.
Therefore the exalted is rooted in the humble,
The high has the low for foundation.
Therefore barons and kings call themselves orphaned, widowed and unworthy.
Is this not taking the humble for one's root?
Is it not?
Therefore the most famous has no fame.
Do not tinkle like jade,
Or chime like stones!
Returning (fan) is the movement (tung) of Tao.
Weak (jo) is the functioning (yung) of Tao.
Ten thousand things under heaven are born of being (yu).
Being is born of non-being (wu).
When a superior person (shan shih) hears Tao,
He diligently practices it.
When a middling person (chung shih) hears Tao,
He hears it, he doesn't hear it.
When the inferior person (hsia shih) hears Tao, he roars.
If Tao were not laughed at,
It would not be Tao.
Therefore, established sayings (chien yen) have it this way:
"The illuminating (ming) Tao appears (jo) dark,
The advancing Tao appears retreating,
The level Tao appears knotty (lei).
High (shan) te appears like a valley,
Great whiteness (po) appears spotted (ju),
Expansive te appears insufficient,
Well-established te appears weak,
The genuine in substance appears hollow.
Great (ta) square has no corners,
Great vessel (ch'i) is late in completion,
Great voice (yin) has hardly (hsi) any sound,
Great image is formless,
Tao is hidden and without name."
Yet it is Tao alone,
That is good in lending help and fulfilling all.
Tao gives birth to one,
One gives birth to two,
Two gives birth to three,
Three gives birth to ten thousand beings.
Ten thousand beings carry yin on their backs and embrace yang in their front,
Blending these two vital breaths (ch'i) to attain harmony (ho).
What people hate most,
Are to be orphaned, widowed and unworthy.
Yet kings and dukes call themselves by these.
Thus things are either decreased so as to be increased,
Or increased (i) so as to be decreased (sun).
What others teach,
I also teach:
"The strong and violent (ch'iang liang) do not die a natural death."
This I shall hold as the father (fu) of my teaching.
The softest (chih jou) in the world,
Gallops (ch'ih ch'eng) in the hardest (chih chien) in the world.
That which is not penetrates that which has no crevice (wu yu ju wu chien).
I thereby know the benefit of no-action (wu-wei).
The teaching without words,
The benefit of no-action,
Hardly anything in the world can compare with them.
Your name and your body (shen), which is dearer?
Your body and material goods, which is more abundant?
Gain and loss, which is illness?
Therefore in excessive love one necessarily goes to great expenses,
In hoarding much one necessarily loses heavily.
Knowing contentment (chih tsu) one does not suffer disgrace,
Knowing when to stop one does not become exhausted (tai).
This way one may last long.
Great perfection appears lacking (ch'üeh),
Its use is unending.
Great fullness appears empty,
Its use is inexhaustible.
Great straightness appears bent,
Great ingenuity (ch'iao) appears crude,
Great eloquence (pien) appears inarticulate.
When agitation (tsao) wins (sheng), the cold arrives,
When tranquillity (ching) wins (sheng), the hot arrives.
Clear and tranquil the world is in the right mode (cheng).
When the world practices Tao,
Fast horses are used for their dung.
When the world does not practice Tao,
War horses give birth at the borders.
Among offenses (tsui), none is greater than having what is desirable.
Among calamities (huo), none is greater than not knowing contentment.
Among blames (chiu), none is greater than the desire for gain.
Therefore the contentment that comes from knowing contentment
Is a long lasting contentment.
Without stepping (ts'u) out the door,
Know (chih) the world.
Without looking out the window,
See (chien) the Tao of Heaven.
The farther one comes out,
The less one knows.
Therefore the sage knows (chih) without travelling,
Names (ming) things without seeing (chien) them,
Accomplishes (cheng) without work (wei).
To pursue (wei) learning one increases daily.
To pursue (wei) Tao one decreases daily.
To decrease and again to decrease,
Until one arrives at not doing (wu-wei).
Not doing (wu-wei) and yet nothing is not done.
Always take the empire when there are no businesses.
If there are businesses,
It is not worthwhile to take the empire.
The sage has no set mind (ch'ang hsin),
He takes the mind of the people as his mind.
The good (shan) I am good to them,
The not good I am also good to them.
This is the goodness of nature (te).
The trustworthy (hsin) I trust them,
The not trustworthy I also trust them.
This is the trust of nature (te).
The sage in the world,
Mixes (hun) the minds (hsin) of all.
The people lift up their eyes and ears,
The sage treats them all like children.
From coming out to life to going back to death:
Those companions (t'u) of life,
They are one-third (shih-yu-san);
Those companions of death,
They are one-third;
Those living but moving toward the place of death,
They are also one-third.
Because of the intense (hou) life-producing activity.
I have heard that one who knows how to nourish life,
On land meets no tigers or wild buffaloes,
In battle needs to wear no armors or weapons,
A wild buffalo has nowhere to butt its horns,
A tiger has nowhere to sink its claws,
A weapon has nowhere to enter its blade.
Because such a one has no place of death.
Tao gives birth,
Te rears (hsü),
Things (wu) shape,
Circumstances (shih) complete.
Therefore the ten thousand things,
None do not respect Tao and treasure te.
Tao is respected,
Te is treasured,
Not by decree (ming),
But by spontaneity (tzu-jan).
Therefore Tao gives birth,
Te keeps, grows, nurtures, matures, ripens, covers and buries.
To give birth without possession,
To act (wei) without holding on to,
To grow (chang) without lording over,
This is called the dark te.
The world (t'ien hsia) has an origin (shih),
Which is the world's (t'ien hsia) mother (mu).
Having reached the mother,
(We) know her child.
Having known the child,
Return and abide by its mother.
(In this way) one loses the body without becoming exhausted.
Stop the apertures (tui),
Close the doors,
(In this way) one's whole life (shen) is without toil (ch'in).
Open the apertures,
Going about the affairs,
(In this way) one's whole life (shen) cannot be saved.
To see the small is called illumination (ming).
To abide by the soft is called strength.
Use the bright light (kuang),
But return to the dim light (ming),
Do not expose your life (shen) to perils,
Such is to follow (hsi) the everlasting (ch'ang).
If I have a little (chieh-jan) knowledge (chih),
To walk the great path (Tao),
I shall fear this:
The great path (Tao) is very flat and easy,
Yet others (jen) are fond of bypaths.
The courts are very neat,
The fields are very weedy,
The granaries are very empty.
Wearing embroidered clothes,
Carrying sharp swords,
Being surfeited with foods and drinks.
To accumulate wealth and treasures in excess,
This is called robbery and crime.
This is not to follow Tao.
One who is well established is not uprooted,
One who embraces firmly cannot be separated from,
Thus sons and grandsons shall perform sacrifices without interruptions.
In cultivating this in one's person,
The person's te becomes genuine;
In cultivating this in the family,
The family's te has more to spare (yü);
In cultivating this in the village,
The village's te grows strong;
In cultivating this in the state,
The state's te becomes abundant;
In cultivating this in the world (t'ien hsia),
The world's te becomes universal.
Therefore observe (kuan) the person by the person,
Observe the family by the family,
Observe the village by the village,
Observe the state by the state,
Observe the world by the world.
How do I know such is the case in the world?
One who contains te in fullness,
Is to be compared to an infant.
Wasps, scorpions, and snakes do not bite it,
Fierce beasts do not attack it,
Birds of prey do not pounce upon it.
Its bones weak, its sinews tender,
But its grip is firm;
Knowing not the union of the female and male animals,
Yet its organ stirs.
Such is the perfection of its life-force (ching).
Crying all day, yet it does not get hoarse.
Such is the Perfection of its harmony (ho).
To know harmony is to know the everlasting (ch'ang);
To know the everlasting is to be illumined (ming).
To help life along is to bring ill portend;
To use mind (hsin) to direct the life breath (ch'i) is called the strong (ch'iang).
When things are full-grown they become old,
It is called not following the Way (Tao).
Not following the Way one dies early.
One who knows does not speak,
One who speaks does not know.
Stop the apertures,
Close the door;
Blunt the sharp,
Untie the entangled;
Harmonize the bright,
Make identical the dust.
This is called the mystical identity (hsüan t'ung).
Therefore with this person you cannot get intimate (ch'in),
Cannot get distant,
Therefore such person is the exalted of the world.
Govern a state by (i) the normal (cheng);
Conduct warfare as (i) the abnormal (ch'i);
Take the empire when (i) there is no business.
How do I know such should be the case?
By the following:
In an empire with many prohibitions,
People are often poor;
When people have many sharp weapons,
The state is in great darkness (tzu hun);
When persons abound in ingenuity (ch'iao),
Abnormal (ch'i) objects multiply (tzu ch'i);
When laws are abundantly promulgated (tzu chang),
There are many thieves and brigands.
Therefore the sage says:
I do not act (wei),
Hence the people transform by themselves (tzu-hua);
I love tranquillity (ching),
Hence the people are normal by themselves (tzu-cheng);
I have no business,
Hence the people grow rich by themselves;
I have no desire,
Hence the people are like the uncarved wood by themselves (tzu-p'u).
When the government (cheng) is dull,
Its people are wholesome;
When the government is efficient (ch'a),
Its people are deficient (ch'üeh).
Calamities (huo) are what blessings depend on,
In blessings are latent calamities (huo).
Who knows where is the turning point (chi)?
Because there is no longer the normal (cheng),
The normal reverts and appears as the strange (ch'i),
The good reverts and appears as the uncanny.
Rulers (jen) have lost their way,
For a long stretch of days.
Therefore the sage is square but not cutting (ko),
Sharp but not injurious,
Straight but not overreaching,
Bright (kuang) but not dazzling.
In governing people and serving heaven,
Nothing is better than being sparing (se).
Is called early adherence [to Tao].
Is called being heavy with accumulated te (chung chi te).
To be heavy with accumulated te,
Then [such a person is] all overcoming.
Being all overcoming,
Then there is no knowing the limit (chi).
Not knowing the limit,
One may rule a state.
Having the mother of a state,
It may last long.
This is called being deeply rooted and firmly founded,
The way to long life and enduring vision (chiu shih).
Governing a great state,
Is like cooking small fish.
If you rule the world by Tao,
The ghosts (kuei) will lose their spiritual (shen) power.
Not that the ghosts lose their spiritual power,
But their spiritual power will not harm the people.
Not that their spiritual power will not harm the people,
But neither does the sage harm the people.
Since both are harmless,
Te flows back and forth [without impediment].
A large state is down stream (hsia liu).
Where the rivers under heaven (t'ien hsia) converge,
Is the female (p'in) under heaven.
The female always wins the male (mou) by stillness (ching),
By stillness it is low-lying (hsia).
Therefore, by being low-lying (hsia) to a small state,
A large state acquires (ch'ü) a small state.
By lowering (hsia) itself to a large state,
A small state acquires a large state.
The one acquires by being low-lying (hsia),
The other acquires by lowering (hsia).
A large state without overstepping its boundary (pu kuo),
Wishes to keep others under its wings.
A small state without overstepping its boundary (pu kuo),
Wishes to offer service to others.
Now both are granted their proper wishes,
It is fitting that a large state takes the low (hsia) place.
To all beings Tao is the hidden secret (ao):
To the good persons it is their treasure (pao),
To the not good it is that by which they are preserved (pao).
Beautiful speech can go to the market.
Respectable conduct can be bestowed on others.
Those who are not good,
Why discard them?
Therefore on crowning the Son of Heaven,
On appointing the Three Ducal Ministers (kung),
Although there are tributes of jade,
Preceding teams of four horses,
It is better to kneel (tso) and present this Tao.
Why did the ancients honor this Tao?
One does not say that they did it for the purpose of gain,
Rather they wish to be free from offenses (tsui).
Therefore they were the honored under heaven.
Do (wei) when there is nothing to do (wu-wei),
Manage affairs (shih) when there are none to manage,
Know (chih) by not knowing.
Regard the great as small, the much as little.
Repay injury (yüan) with te.
Plan the difficult while it is easy.
Accomplish (wei) the great when it is small.
Difficult affairs of the world,
Must be done while they are easy.
Great affairs of the world,
Must be done while they are small.
The sage never does anything great,
Therefore he can accomplish the great.
He who makes promises lightly seldom keeps his words.
He who takes much to be easy finds much to be difficult.
Therefore even the sage takes things to be difficult,
So that in the end they are not difficult.
What is at equilibrium is easy (i) to maintain;
What has not emerged is easy (i) to plan (mou);
What is fragile is easy (i) to dissolve;
What is minute is easy (i) to disperse.
Act (wei) when there is yet nothing to do.
Govern (chih) when there is yet no disorder (luan).
A tree whose trunk is of a man's embrace,
Begins from something extremely tiny.
A tower of nine stories high,
Is built from a heap of earth.
A trip of a thousand miles,
Begins right at one's feet.
He who acts (wei) fails,
He who holds on to loses.
Therefore the sage does not act (wei) so he does not fail,
He does not hold on to, so he does not lose.
The people in launching their projects,
Often fail when these are near completion.
Had they been as careful at the end as at the beginning,
There would have been no failures.
Therefore the sage desires not to desire,
He does not treasure hard-to-get goods;
Learns not to learn,
He recovers the transgressions (kuo) of many.
In assisting the self-becoming (tzu-jan) of all beings,
He dares not act (wei).
Those in the past who were good at practicing Tao,
Did not want to enlighten (ming) the people,
But to keep them in ignorance (yü).
People are hard to rule,
Because they know (chih) too much.
Therefore, to rule a nation by knowledge,
Is to be the nation's thief.
Not to rule a nation by knowledge,
Is to be the nation's blessing.
To know these two is to know heaven's rule (chi shih).
Always knowing heaven's rule,
Is called the dark (hsüan) te.
The dark te clarifies (ch'ing) and is far away (yüan).
It reverts (fan) with things.
Then there arrives the great harmony.
Rivers and seas can be kings of the hundred valleys,
Because they are good at flowing downwards (hsia).
Therefore they can be kings of the hundred valleys.
Thus if you desire to be above the people,
Your words must reach down (hsia) to them.
If you desire to lead the people,
Your person (shen, body) must be behind them.
Thus the sage is above,
Yet the people do not feel his weight.
He stays in front,
Yet the people do not suffer any harm.
Thus all gladly praise him untiringly (pu yen).
Because he does not contend with any,
Therefore no one under heaven can contend with him.
All under heaven say that my Tao is great,
That it seems useless (pu hsiao).
Because it is great,
Therefore it seems useless.
If it were useful,
It would have long been small.
I have three treasures (pao),
To hold and to keep:
The first is motherly love (tz'u),
The second is frugality (chien),
The third is daring not be at the world's front.
With motherly love one can be courageous,
With frugality one can be wide reaching,
Daring not be at the world's front,
One can grow to a full vessel (ch'i).
Now to discard motherly love, yet to be courageous,
To discard frugality, yet to be wide reaching,
To discard staying behind, yet to be at the front,
One with motherly love is victorious in battle,
Invulnerable in defense.
When Heaven wills to save a people,
It guards them with motherly love.
A good captain does not exhibit his martial prowess.
A good warrior does not get himself angry.
A good conqueror of enemies does not instigate a combat.
A good employer of people puts himself below them.
This is called the power (te) of non-contention.
This is called using the strength of others.
This is called perfection (chi) in matching the heaven of old.
In engaging in warfare it is said:
I dare not be the host but be the guest,
I dare not advance an inch but retreat a foot.
This is called to march without advancing,
To roll up one's sleeves without baring one's arms,
To throw a rope without an enemy,
To carry without a weapon.
Of all calamities (huo),
None is greater than underestimating one's enemy.
In underestimating my enemy,
I risk losing my treasure (pao).
Therefore when opposing armies are engaged in battle,
The sorrowful party will win.
My words (yen) are very easy to understand (i-chih),
Very easy to put into practice (i-hsing).
But no one under heaven can understand (chih) them,
No one can put them into practice.
Words (yen) have their ruler (chün);
Events (shih) have their progenitor (tsung).
Because people do not understand (chih) this,
Therefore they do not understand me.
Those who understand me are rare,
Those who follow (tsê) my teaching are (preciously) few (kuei).
Therefore the sage wears hair-cloth,
While carrying jade in his breast.
From knowing to not knowing (chih, pu chih),
This is superior.
From not knowing to knowing (pu chih, chih),
This is sickness.
It is by being sick of sickness,
That one is not sick.
The sage is not sick.
Because he is sick of sickness,
Therefore he is not sick.
When the people fear no power,
Then great power has indeed arrived.
Do not disturb them in their dwellings,
Do not weary them in their living.
It is because you do not weary (pu yen) them,
That they are not wearied of you.
Therefore the sage knows himself (tzu chih),
But does not see himself (tzu chien).
He loves himself (tzu ai),
But does not exalt himself (tzu kuei).
Therefore he leaves that and takes this.
One who is courageous out of daring (kan) is killed.
One who is courageous out of not daring lives.
Of these two, this is beneficial while that is harmful.
What heaven hates, who knows the reason?
Therefore even the sage takes it to be difficult.
The way of heaven:
Without contending (cheng), it is yet good at winning,
Without speaking, it is yet good in responding,
Without being beckoned, it yet comes of its own accord,
Unhurried, it is yet good at planning (mou).
The net of heaven is vast,
Widely spaced, yet missing nothing.
The people do not fear death,
Why threaten them with death?
Suppose the people always fear death,
One who does strange things (ch'i),
I shall seize and kill,
Then who dares [to do strange things]?
Killing is carried out by the executioner.
To replace the executioner and kill,
Is like chopping wood in place of the master carpenter.
To chop wood in place of the master carpenter,
Rarely one does not hurt one's own hand.
People are hungry.
Because their rulers levy too much grain tax,
Therefore they are hungry.
People are hard to rule.
Because their rulers rule by action (wei),
Therefore they are hard to rule.
People take death lightly.
Because they are in thick pursuit of life,
Therefore they take death lightly.
One who has nothing to pursue in life,
Is wiser than one who values life.
At birth a person is soft (jou) and yielding (jo),
At death hard (chien) and unyielding (ch'iang).
All beings, grass and trees, when alive, are soft and bending,
When dead they are dry and brittle.
Therefore the hard and unyielding are companions of death,
The soft and yielding are companions of life.
Hence an unyielding army (ping) is destroyed (mieh).
An unyielding tree breaks (che).
The unyielding and great takes its place below,
The soft and yielding takes its place above.
The way of heaven,
Is it not like stretching a bow?
What is high up is pressed down,
What is low down is lifted up;
What has surplus (yu yü) is reduced,
What is deficient (pu tsu) is supplemented.
The way of heaven,
It reduces those who have surpluses,
To supplement those who are deficient.
The human way is just not so.
It reduces those who are deficient,
To offer those who have surpluses.
Who can offer his surpluses to the world?
Only a person of Tao.
Therefore the sage works (wei) without holding on to,
Accomplishes without claiming credit.
Is it not because he does not want to show off his merits?
Nothing under heaven
Is softer (jou) and weaker (jo) than water,
Yet nothing can compare with it
In attacking the hard (chien) and strong (ch'iang).
Nothing can change (i) place with it.
That the weak overcomes the strong,
And the soft overcomes the hard,
No one under heaven does not know (chih),
Though none can put it into practice.
Therefore a sage said:
"One who receives the filth of a state,
Is called the Master of the Altar of the Soil and Grain;
One who shoulders the evils of a state,
Becomes the king under heaven."
Straightforward words (yen) appear to be their reverse.
In reconciling a great injury (yüan),
There is sure to have some injury left.
How can this be good?
Therefore the sage holds the left tally,
He does not blame others.
One who has te is in charge of the tally,
One who has no te is in charge of the tax law.
The Tao of heaven has no partiality (ch'in),
It is always with the good people.
A small state with few people.
Let the implements (ch'ih) for ten and hundred men be unused,
Let the people fear death such that they do not move far away.
Although there are boats and carriages,
There are no places to ride them to.
Although there are weapons and armours,
There are no occasions to display them.
Let the people again tie ropes and use them (as memory aids).
Let them enjoy their food,
Consider their clothing beautiful,
Be contented with their dwellings,
And happy with their customs.
The neighbouring states overlooking one another,
The dogs' barkings and cocks' crowings are heard from other states,
Yet till they are old and dying the people do not visit one another.
Truthful (hsin) words (yen) are not beautiful,
Beautiful (mei) words are not truthful.
The good (shan) does not distinguish,
One who distinguishes (pien) is not good.
One who knows (chih) does not accumulate knowledge,
One who accumulates knowledge (po) does not know.
The sage does not hoard.
Having worked (wei) for his fellow beings,
The more he possesses.
Having donated himself to his fellow beings,
The more abundant he becomes.
The way of heaven,
It benefits (li), but does not harm.
The way of the sage,
He works (wei), but does not contend.