Asia Online (TAO)
Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu
by Ned Ludd
More English versions
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The names that can be given are not the eternal names.
The Nameless is the origin of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of all things.
Therefore, without intentions, I see the Subtle Essence.
And with intentions, I see the Manifest Forms.
These two are the same, though each has many names.
Both may be called the Mystery.
Empty yourself of everything; be still and at peace.
In all things' coming to being, I see their return.
They grow and flourish, and then return to their source.
This is called Quietness, a return to one's destiny.
This is the eternal law; to know it is enlightenment.
Knowing this law, you are tolerant.
Being tolerant, you are impartial.
Being impartial, you are universal.
Being universal, you are at one with nature.
At one with nature, you are in accord with Tao.
In accord with Tao, you are eternal.
The best leaders are barely known.
The next best are loved and praised.
The next are feared; the last are despised.
It is by not believing people that you turn them into liars.
With work and sparse words, all things happen by themselves.
When the great Tao was lost, there arose kindness and justice.
When knowledge and cleverness appeared, there arose great hypocrisy.
When the family is not at peace, we hear of "dutiful children".
When a nation falls to chaos and rebellion, we hear of "loyal ministers".
Abandon wisdom, discard knowledge, and everyone will be better off.
Abandon kindness, discard justice, and let all return to love.
Abandon cleverness, discard profit, and robbers will disappear.
All these are frills; better to adorn yourself with:
Abandon learning, and grief ends.
How much difference between yes and no?
How much difference between good and evil?
Why must I fear what others fear?
The multitude is merry, as if on a holiday, or watching a parade.
I alone am inert, like an infant not yet a child.
Drifting, belonging nowhere.
Others have more than they need; I alone seem to have lost all.
I am a fool, yes, and confused.
Others are clear and bright; I am dull and dark.
Others are clever and assured; I am blunt and obscure,
Patient as the sea, drifting like the waves.
Everyone is busy, I alone am aimless and uncouth.
I am different; I take nourishment only from my mother.
All powers flow from Tao, elusive and intangible.
Intangible and elusive, yet in it are all images.
Elusive and intangible, yet in it are all things.
Dark and dim, yet in it is the essence.
The essence is real, and therein lies reality.
>From the beginning until now, the named of Tao have never ceased.
Through it, we see all the origins.
How do I know all the origins?
To remain whole, be twisted.
Become bent, and be straightened.
Become hollow, and be filled.
Wear out, and be renewed.
Possess little, and have much.
Have much, and be confused.
So the sage identifies opposites as one,
And becomes a model for the world.
Shining forth with no display;
eminent by never asserting;
honored by never taking credit;
enduring by never boasting.
If you never quarrel, no one will ever quarrel with you.
Thus the ancients said:
To remain whole, be twisted.
Nature rarely talks in words.
High winds do not last all morning.
Heavy rain does not last all day.
These are nature's words.
If even nature cannot make them last,
How much less can man?
Following Tao, you are identified with Tao.
Following power, you are identified with power.
Abandoning Tao, you are identified with loss.
Identify with Tao, and Tao welcomes you.
Identify with power, and power welcomes you.
Identify with loss, and loss welcomes you.
If you don't trust enough, you won't be trusted.
Standing on tiptoe is not standing firm.
The longest strides will not carry you fastest.
To show off is not to shine.
These are all like too much food or excess baggage.
Before the beginning there was something formless, yet complete;
Silent and empty.
Independent, unchanging, pervasive, unfailing.
Mother of all things.
If forced to name it, I would call it Great.
Being great, it flows far away.
Flowing far away, it returns.
Man follows earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows Tao.
The weighty is the source of the light.
Stillness is the master of activity.
Truly, men of property travel all day, yet never leave their burdens.
Even with magnificent scenery, they sit quietly and aloof.
How can a ruler become less of a burden?
Through lightness, the source is lost.
Through activity, mastery is lost.
A good traveler leaves no trail.
A good speaker leaves no argument.
A good planner needs no sketch.
A good door needs no latch.
A good binding needs no rope.
Thus the sage is good at helping, so no one is rejected;
Good at saving, so nothing is wasted.
This is called Stealing the Light.
Good is the model for bad, but bad is the origin of good.
Know the male but keep to the female, and become the valley of the world.
As a valley, you have all your original powers, becoming like a baby.
Know the light but stay in the dark, and become a model for the world.
As a model, you have eternal power, returning to the beginning.
Know honor but stay humble, and become valley of the universe.
As valley of the universe, you are like uncarved wood.
When the wood is cut up, it becomes tools.
The sage uses the uncarved wood, and becomes a perfect tool.
Truly, the greatest carver does the least cutting.
How would you improve the universe?
I see no way to finish the task.
The universe is a holy vessel, and should not be tampered with.
If you alter it, you will hurt it; if you hold it, you will lose it.
Sometimes ahead, and sometimes behind;
sometimes hot, and sometimes cold;
sometimes strong, sometimes weak;
sometimes building up, sometimes breaking down;
thus the sage avoids extremes, excess and indulgence.
A ruler in accord with Tao would oppose all conquest by force of arms.
Force brings counterforce.
Where armies are, thorns and brambles grow.
Lean years follow great wars.
A victory is just one outcome; so never take advantage of your victories.
Anything that grows strong, ends up growing feeble.
Needless force is in opposition to Tao.
Those who oppose Tao, perish young.
Fine weapons are instruments of misfortune; all creatures fear them.
In peace we favor creation; at war we favor destruction.
Weapons are tools of misfortune, not the tools of the wise.
The sage uses them only as the very last, with calm restraint.
Victory is no cause for rejoicing; victory comes from killing.
If you enjoy killing, you can never be fulfilled.
When victorious, celebrate as if at a funeral.
Tao is forever undefined.
Like uncarved wood, it seems insignificant; yet no one can command it.
If rulers could abide with it, they would rule everything.
The universe would unify and rain the dew of peace,
beyond anyone's command, evenly on all.
When the uncarved wood is cut up, the parts need names.
One must know when to stop cutting.
All things flow to Tao, like rivers flowing to the sea.
To understand others, is knowledge;
to understand yourself, is enlightenment.
To overcome others requires force;
to overcome yourself requires strength.
To be contented is to be rich.
To be restless is to be always aspiring.
But only what stays, endures.
To die yet remain, is to be eternal.
The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things survive with it, and nothing is denied.
Tao produces everything yet possesses nothing;
covers all, but controls none.
Being aimless, you may consider Tao small.
Being the home of all things, you may consider it great.
By using the best model, you can work without mistakes.
By offering the best meals, you can attract the wayfarer.
Tao is mild to the taste.
It cannot be seen.
It cannot be heard.
It cannot be used up.
That which shrinks must first expand.
That which fails must first be strong.
That which is cast down must first be raised up.
In order to receive, you first must give.
This is called Subtle Light.
Gentleness overcomes strength:
Like fish stay underwater,
weapons should stay invisible.
Tao never does, yet through it everything is done.
If rulers would do likewise, all changes would occur by themself.
When change causes craving, return to the state of uncarved wood.
If there are no longer any pieces, then nothing is lacking.
All is correct.
A good person is not aware of goodness.
A good person does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.
A kind person does things, and leaves nothing undone.
A just person does things, and leaves much to be done.
A dogmatic person does things, and nothing happens;
so he pushes people around.
Thus, after Tao is lost there arises goodness.
After goodness is lost there arises kindness.
After kindness is lost there arises justice.
After justice is lost there arises ritual.
Ritual is a thin shell; it is the beginning of chaos.
The sage stands on the solid, not on the thin;
Dwells in the fruit, not in the flower.
Since the very beginning, things became whole.
The sky became whole and clear.
The earth became whole and firm.
Spirits became whole and powerful.
Valleys became whole and were filled.
Creatures became whole and flourished.
That which made them all, is also whole.
Without wholeness, the sky shatters, the earth quakes,
spirits wither, valleys crack, and all things perish.
Gather all the parts of a wagon, and you still do not have a wagon.
Rather than being like jangling jade, be like solid rock.
Tao only moves by returning;
only acts by yielding.
All things come from being;
being comes from not-being.
When the wise hear Tao, they strain to follow it.
When most hear Tao, they halfway believe it.
When the foolish hear Tao, they laugh out loud.
If the foolish don't laugh, it is not Tao.
As the proverbs say:
The way to the light often looks dark.
The road ahead often means backtracking.
The smoothest path often seems rough.
The greatest goodness appears empty.
The greatest power appears inadequate.
The greatest strength appears frail.
The greatest square has no corners.
The greatest music has the faintest notes.
The greatest model has no shape.
From Tao came the one.
>From one came heaven and earth.
>From heaven and earth came all things.
All things carry light in front and dark in back.
Some things even gain by losing and lose by gaining.
But truly, if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.
43. The softest thing in the world can overcome the hardest.
The shapeless can penetrate the seamless.
Thus I know the value of not acting.
Few understand the wordless teaching of non-action.
Fame or self: Which matters more?
Self or wealth: Which is more precious?
Gain or loss: Which is more harmful?
The more that things are desired, the more they will cost.
The more that things are kept, the more they will be missed.
If you are content with yourself, no one can deprive you.
Know when to stop, and you will never run into danger.
Perfection seems flawed, but it remains useful.
The greatest vessel seems empty, but it is inexhaustible.
Movement overcomes cold; stillness overcomes agitation.
Stillness creates order in the universe.
When we live with Tao, the horses till the fields.
When we live without Tao, the horses line the battlefields.
There is no greater sin than desire,
no greater curse than discontent,
no greater disaster than greed.
Know the satisfaction of simply being content.
Without leaving your door, you can know the whole world.
Without looking out the window, you can see the way of nature.
The more you seek it, the less you know about it.
The sage knows without seeking,
sees without looking,
accomplishes without doing.
The student of knowledge acquires day by day.
The student of Tao loses day by day.
Less and less, until nothing is done.
Do nothing, and everything is done.
The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.
The sage has no mind of his own.
All minds are the sage's mind.
I approve the good, and I approve the bad.
I believe the truthful, and I believe the liar.
The sage's mind is a harmonious whole.
Between birth and death:
A third die naturally,
a third die non-naturally,
and a third die speeding to death, striving after life.
Truly, if you take care of yourself,
you will never be eaten by tigers or wolves.
Why? Because inside you there is no room for death.
All things are born from Tao.
They are reared by power.
Matter forms them.
Environment shapes them.
Therefore all things worship Tao and exalt power.
Worshiping Tao and exalting power are not required, only natural.
Tao bears them, power rears them;
developed and cared for,
sheltered and comforted,
grown and protected.
It produces all but possesses none;
provides everything and takes nothing;
guides all and interferes with none.
Tao is the mother of the universe.
Know the mother, and you know her children.
Know the children, but keep to the mother,
and you will never die.
Close the mouth, guard your senses; and your strength never fails.
Open the mouth, meddle with affairs; and entanglements never cease.
Seeing the small is insight; holding to weakness is strength.
Use the light, return to insight; this is learning to be eternal.
With even just a scrap of sense, I can walk the Great Way.
The great way is easy to travel on; but we all love to get sidetracked.
We keep elegant palaces and desolate farms;
Our storehouses are meager while fashions abound.
Our swords are sharp, but our senses are dull.
We all have more than we need; who have we taken it from?
What Tao plants, cannot be plucked.
What Tao clasps, cannot slip away.
By its power, each generation buries its dead.
By its power you become genuine.
Powerful people seem like infants:
Their bones are weak, but their grip is firm.
They are like innocent babies,
getting so turned on, because they have so much power.
They can yell all day long and never lose their voice,
because they have inner harmony.
Harmony is eternal. A raging mind is discordant.
Those who know do not speak;
those who speak do not know.
This is all, merged in one.
Win by not acting.
The more prohibitions, the poorer we become.
The sharper the weapons,
the more troubled the nation.
The more clever we are, the stranger things become.
The more laws, the more crooks.
When the nation is ruled with a light hand,
The people are simple.
When the nation is ruled harshly,
The people are cunning.
The sage is sharp but not cutting,
pointed but not piercing,
straightforward but not unrestrained,
bright but not glittery.
A ruler in accord with Tao would give up everything.
Giving up everything means returning to the source.
Returning to the source is like sending out deep firm roots.
Rule a great nation like you would fry a small fish.
Rule with Tao and evil will have no power.
It is not that evil is not powerful;
it is that its power can no longer be used to harm people.
Then evil will not interfere; as the sage does not interfere.
When opposites no longer harm each other, both are in accord with Tao.
A great nation is low, like a river delta,
where all the waters gather.
It is mother of the world.
The female overcomes the male with stillness,
Becomes the foundation by being still.
Thus a great nation should always place itself below a small one.
Tao is the storehouse of all things.
It is a treasure to the good, and a refuge for the bad.
Thus, for a gift: Offer Tao.
Why did the ancients revere it?
Because it is there for all.
Tao makes the big small, and the many, few.
The difficult always starts out easy;
the great always starts out trivial.
The sage sees everything as difficult, and lives totally at ease.
What remains quiet, is easy to hold.
Adapt to things as they happen.
The tallest tree begins as a tiny sprout,
the highest monument, as a clod of dirt,
the longest journey, with a first step.
Failure often happens on the verge of success;
truly heed the end no less than the beginning.
The ancients did not teach the Tao, because the people were too clever.
Clever rulers cheat the country.
Simple rulers bless the country.
It is secret power that brings all things back to the origin.
All in grand harmony.
The sea is the ruler of the rivers,
Because it lies below them.
Thus a ruler should always:
Speak like a subordinate, and lead by following after.
The ruler stands above, and no one feels the weight.
All the world says: Tao seems so unworthy.
If it did not seem unworthy, it would have perished long ago.
I have three treasures, which I protect and preserve:
The first is tender love.
The second is never too much.
The third is Never be first in the world.
Through love, you have no fear.
Through never-too-much, you always have enough.
Through never-be-first, you remain perfectly useful.
Love is victorious in attack, and invulnerable in defense.
Nature arms with love those it would not see destroyed.
A perfect warrior is not warlike.
A perfect fighter shows no wrath.
A perfect winner is not aggressive.
A perfect leader is humble.
This is the power of not-contending,
Using the strength of others.
It is called Matching Nature.
A proverb from the military: Better to defend than attack.
Better to withdraw a foot than advance an inch.
Thus, march without advancing,
counterattack without weapons,
subdue without battlelines.
To the victor goes the mourning.
Tao is easy to understand and even easier to practice.
Yet no one knows it, and no one practices it.
Words have an origin, like actions have an origin.
It is because you do not know the origin that you do not know Tao.
Since few people know it, Tao is very rare.
To know when you don't know, is the best you can do.
To pretend to know, when you don't, is misery.
See misery as misery, and be free of it.
When the dreadful is no longer feared,
then dreadful things will appear everywhere.
Thus the sage does not confine, and does not oppress.
By never being force-fed, no one gets fed up.
Be brave and passionate, and you will Kill or Be Killed.
Be brave and calm, and you will Always Preserve Life.
Who knows what nature hates?
Nature's net is vast; though its meshes are wide, nothing slips through.
If people no longer fear death,
they can no longer be threatened with death.
There is one great executioner.
Trying to do the work of the great executioner
is like trying to do the cutting of a master carver:
You may end up just cutting your self.
People are starving because rulers take too much tax-grain.
Things become difficult when rulers try to do too many things.
People value life so little because rulers value living so much.
Having little to live on, one knows to not value life too much.
When you are born, you are gentle and weak;
when you die, you are stiff and hard.
When plants are growing they are soft and supple.
After they die they become brittle and dry.
Thus stiff and hard are close to death;
and soft and gentle are close to life.
A tree that does not bend, breaks.
The soft and weak overcomes the hard and strong.
Nature's way is like bending a great bow:
The top comes down, and the bottom comes up.
Length is shortened, and width is expanded.
Nature's way is to take from the too-much, and give to the not-enough.
Man's way is usually the opposite.
Who has enough to offer the world?
There is nothing more soft and yielding than water,
Yet nothing is better for overcoming the hard and strong.
It has no equal.
Thus those who take blame, honor the nation.
Those who accept disaster, save the nation.
Patching up differences always leaves some differences behind.
What can one do?
Always keep your half of the bargain, and never exact your due.
A powerful person tries to patch up.
A weak person tries to assign blame.
Truly, nature is never partial, but always good.
Let there be a small nation, with few people;
with many tools, and none being used.
Let the people value death, and not travel far.
Let them count on their fingers,
and live in neighborhoods overlooking each other.
And let all things grow in peace.
Truth is not beautiful; beauty is not true.
The sage does not hoard: The more that is given, the more gets received.
Move like water; rest like a mirror; respond like an echo.