The Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu
English version by
Cheng Lin, 1949
More English versions
The truth that may be told is not the everlasting Truth.
The name given to a thing is not the everlasting Name.
Nothingness is used to denote the state that existed before the birth of heaven and earth.
Reality is used to denote the state where the multitude of things begins to have a separate existence.
when the mind rests in the state of Nothingness, the enigma can be understood;
when the mind rests in the state of Reality, the bounds can be reached.
These two states, though bearing different names, have a common origin.
Both are mysterious and metaphysical.
They are the most mysterious, and form the gateway to all mysteries.
As soon as the world regards some thing as beautiful, forthwith also appears ugliness.
As soon as the world regards some deed as good, forthwith also appears evil.
Thus we have the alternation of existence and non-existence;
the succession of the difficult and the easy;
the comparison of the long and the short;
the contrast between the high and the low;
the variation of pitch notes;
the order of precedence and sequence.
The Sage is ever free from artifice, and practises the precept of silence.
He dose things without the desire for control.
He lives without the thought of private ownership.
He gives without the wish for return.
He achieves without claiming credit for himself.
Because he does not claim credit for himself, he is always given credit.
When talents are not esteemed, men will not strive to excel one another.
When wealth is not treasured, men will not attempt to rob one another.
When the objects of sensual satisfaction disappear, men's minds are free from distraction and confusion.
Wherefore the Sage, as regards government, wishes only that it will enable men to be humble at heart, well-fed in body, free from sensuous desires, and strong in physique.
When the people are free of cunning, desires, and artifice, there must be good order.
Truth may appear hollow, but its usefulness is inexhaustible.
It is so profound that it comprehends all things.
It is so vague that its very existence may seem doubtful.
I do not know its origin, but I believe that its existence preceded that of the gods.
The universe is a-moral, and it regards all things as mere straw-dogs.
The Sage is a-moral, and he regards all men as mere straw-dogs.
The whole universe may be compared to a bellows.
It is hollow, but not empty.
It is moving and renewing without cease.
The more volubly one talks, the quicker will come his exhaustion.
It is best to abide by the old traditions.
The spirit of life is immortal and may be compared to the mysterious productive power which forms the base of the universe.
It is imperceptible, and its usefulness is inexhaustible.
Heaven is everlasting, and earth is perpetual.
Their endurance is due to the fact that they exist without the consciousness of self, because of which they endure for ever.
Likewise, the Sage is most highly esteemed because he regards himself as the least important.
His life is long preserved because he has no thought about his personal security.
He is able to realize his complete self because he is always selfless.
The way of a good man is like that of water which benefits all things without contention.
He is content to keep that which is discarded by the multitude.
Hence he is close to Truth.
He adapts himself to any environment;
he attunes his mind to what is profound;
he associates himself with the virtuous;
his words inspire confidence;
his rule brings about order;
he administers affairs with ability;
his actions are opportune.
Because he does not contend, he gives no cause for resentment.
Those who amass wealth without ceasing are comparable to one who continues to temper a weapon until it loses its keenness.
A house that is filled with gold and jades cannot long remain secure.
A man who proudly displays his riches invites trouble for himself.
The effacement of self after success has been achieved is the way of Heaven.
When the spirit holds fast to the body, how can there be disunion!
When the vital force attains the utmost degree of pliancy, how can one fail to resemble a new-born babe!
When the mind is purified, how can there be blemishes!
When the ruler truly loves the people, how can he fail to accomplish things!
When the sensual organs are properly used, how can one fail to have strength!
When the intellectual faculties are properly employed, how can one fail to have understanding!
The mysterious Nature is that which produces, grows, lives without the desire for ownership, gives without the wish for return, rules without claiming lordship.
Thirty spokes share the space of one nave.
The substance and the void are both essential to the usefulness of a carriage.
Clay is moulded to make vessels.
The substance and the void are both essential to the usefulness of a vessel.
Doors and windows are hewn in a house.
The substance and the void are both essential to the usefulness of a house.
Thus, the presence of something may prove beneficial, just as the absence of something may prove useful.
The five colours blind the eyes of man.
The five tones deafen the ears of man.
The five flavours vitiate the palate of man.
The pursuit of pleasures deranges the mind of man.
The love for wealth perverts the conduct of man.
Wherefore the Sage attends to the inner self, and not to the outward appearance.
Honour and disgrace are alike a cause of excitement.
The great trouble of man lies in the love for self.
What is meant by saying that honour and disgrace are alike a cause of excitement?
Man prefers honour to disgrace.
When he has the one, he becomes excited;
when he loses the other, he becomes excited.
This means that honour and disgrace are alike a cause of excitement.
What is meant by saying that the great trouble of man lies in the love for self?
Man is beset with great trouble because of his consciousness of self.
If he is selfless, how can there be any trouble?
Wherefore, if a man esteems himself only as much as he esteems the whole world, he will find security therein.
If a man loves the world as much as he loves himself, he will find security therein.
That which cannot be seen is formless.
That which cannot be heard is noiseless.
That which cannot be touched is bodiless.
These three cannot be examined in detail for they really constitute one indivisible whole.
This indivisible whole (Truth) does not appear bright when viewed at the summit, or dark when viewed at the nadir.
It is imperceptible and indescribable.
It is always changing, and reverting to the state of Nothingness.
It is formless, shapeless, vague, and indefinite.
Pacing it, one cannot see its head; pursuing it, one cannot see its tail.
Abide by this primordial Truth, and the States of today can be ruled.
Know the primary conditions, and you know the principles of Truth.
The ancients who knew how to live according to Truth possessed a subtle and penetrating intelligence.
The profundity of their character was immeasurable.
As it was immeasurable, we can only give a superficial description of them as follows:
They moved about cautiously as though they were fording a large stream of water.
They were retiring and hesitant as though they were shy of the men around them.
Their demeanour was reverent as though they were meeting honoured guests.
They quickly adapted themselves to any circumstance as though they were ice melting before fire.
Their manners were simple and artless as though they were unhewn wood.
Their minds were expansive and receptive as though they were hollow valley.
Their views were impartial and tolerant as though they were turbid puddles.
What is it that can end the turbidity of puddles?
When there is no disturbance, the impurities gradually settle, and the water becomes clear.
What is it that can perpetuate the continuity of things?
When there is constant change, life gradually undergoes growth.
Those who hold fast to Truth do not desire satiation.
Because there is no satiety, life is continually renewing itself.
When one has attained the utmost humility and abided in the state of extreme quiescence, he can observe the cycle of changes in the simultaneous growth of all animate creation.
Things appear multitudinous and varied, but eventually they all return to the common root.
When they revert to the common root, there is quiescence.
The state of quiescence is called the fulfilment of destiny.
The fulfilment of destiny is called normalcy.
The knowledge of normalcy is called enlightenment.
The ignorance of normalcy causes haphazard action, and brings about calamities.
Knowing normalcy, a man becomes perspicacious.
Being perspicacious, he becomes altruistic, supreme, celestial, true, and everlasting.
Throughout his life nothing can do him harm.
Under the highest type of ruler, the subjects are hardly aware of his existence.
Under the next type of ruler, the subjects love his government.
Under the still next type of ruler, the subjects praise his government.
Under the still next type of ruler, the subjects stand in awe of his government.
Under the still next type of ruler, the subjects despise his government.
When one fails to inspire confidence, there must be cause for distrust.
How can speech be of any avail!
When there are successes and achievements, the people believe that these are the natural results.
When the great Truth is abandoned, the teachings of benevolence and righteousness become fashionable.
When wit and cunning are highly esteemed, the adepts in hypocrisy become fashionable.
When discord reigns in the family, the teachings of filial piety and fraternal love become fashionable.
When chaos prevails in the country, the loyal ministers become fashionable.
Banish the witty and cunning, and the people will be benefited a hundred-fold.
Cease the teaching of benevolence and righteousness, and the people will again become filial and fraternal.
Discard deceit and greed, and the people will cease to rob one another.
The above three are based on artifice, and are insufficient for good government.
Hence the people should be asked to do the following:
Cherish simplicity and honesty.
Banish selfishness and desires.
Discard learning and fears.
Respect and insolence, - are they really different?
Beauty and ugliness, - are they really different?
A man feels compelled to detest that which the multitude detest.
The multitude seem to be busy and merry as though they were celebrating a religious festival or attending a spring picnic.
I alone remain quiet and indifferent.
I roam about in a wide expanse as though I could never find an anchorage.
I am simple and ignorant like a new-born babe.
I fell weary and desolate like a homeless solitaire.
The multitude seem to have plenty.
I alone seem to have an insufficiency.
The multitude appear wise.
I alone look foolish.
The multitude appear bright.
I alone look dull.
I am like one tossed about on the wide sea or blown about in a high gale.
The multitude appear useful.
I alone look worthless.
I am different from other men, because I alone esteem the attainment of Truth.
The conduct of those who have attained perfection is always in accordance with the way of Truth.
Truth is vague and intangible.
Though vague and intangible, within it there is substance.
Though vague and intangible, within it there is form.
Though distant and vacuous, within it there is essence.
Its essence is real, and its validity can be proven.
It has existed from the earliest time, and only its name is new.
It is the primary origin of the whole of creation.
The imperfect becomes perfect.
The old becomes new.
The crooked becomes straight.
The empty becomes full.
Loss means gain.
Plenitude means confusion.
Wherefore, the Sage holds fast to Truth and thereby sets an example for the world.
Because he is not self-complacent, he becomes enlightened.
Because he is not self-important, he becomes illustrious.
Because he is not self-conceited, he becomes successful.
Because he is not self-assertive, he becomes supreme.
Because he himself does not strive for superiority, there is none in the world who can contend with his superiority.
There is an old saying:
"The imperfect becomes perfect."
How true are these words!
In order to revert to the whole, one must abide by what is normal and natural.
Boisterous gales do not continue unabated from morn till eve.
Torrential rainfalls do not continue unabated throughout the day and night.
Who is it that produces these phenomena?
Heaven and earth.
Since these phenomena cannot last for ever, how much less can the work of man!
Those who follow the way of Truth will meet in Truth.
Those who follow the way of virtue will meet in virtue.
Those who follow the way of Heaven will meet in Heaven.
Those who meet in Truth become one with Truth, and they rejoice in it.
Those who meet in virtue become virtuous, and they rejoice in it.
Those who meet in Heaven become heavenly, and they rejoice in it.
Those who raise themselves on tiptoe cannot stand firm;
those who walk with long steps cannot travel far.
Those who are self-complacent are not enlightened.
Those who are self-important are not illustrious.
Those who are self-conceited are not successful.
Those who are self-assertive are not supreme.
Those who abide by Truth say:
"When one has a surplus of food and an excess of clothing, he causes envy in other men.
Therefore, the followers of Truth eschew these."
There is something evolved from chaos, which was born before heaven and earth.
It is inaudible and invisible.
It is independent and immutable.
It is all-pervasive and ceaseless.
It may be regarded as the mother of heaven and earth.
I do not know its name and call it Truth or Daw.
If I must describe it, I will say that it is great, active, far-reaching, and cyclical in its motion.
Thus Truth is great, heaven is great, earth is great, and the king is also great.
Within the universe there are four great ones, and the king is one of them.
The king must follow the examples of earth, heaven, Truth, and Nature.
That which is weighty has its source in that which is light.
That which is tranquil can subdue that which is disquiet.
Wherefore, the Sage always conducts himself gravely and tranquilly.
Though he may be surrounded by splendour and comfort, he is always reposeful and disinterested.
When the ruler conducts himself lightly, he loses the respect of his ministers.
When he conducts himself with disquietude, he loses the support of his people.
Good conduct leaves behind no traces.
Good words afford no room for criticism.
Good mathematicians require no calculating apparatus.
Good lids need no bolts, and they cannot be opened.
Good fasteners need no cords, and they cannot be released.
The Sage, by his abiding goodness, saves mankind because he spurns no one.
He, by his abiding goodness, saves the inanimate creation because he spurns nothing.
This is called mutual understanding.
the good man should be the teacher of the bad man;
the bad man should serve as a lesson for the good man.
When one fails to esteem his teacher, or the other fails to value his lesson, each is under a great illusion, though each may possess erudition.
This is called obscure conception.
When a man, though aware of his manly strength, abides by a womanly meekness,
he is content to occupy the most humble position in the world.
When he is content to occupy the most humble position in the world, and when he always abides by his true nature,
he becomes again like a new-born babe.
When a man, though aware of his own purity, does not spurn the impure,
he is content to dwell in the lowest place in the world.
When he is content to dwell in the lowest place in the world, and when he always abides by his true nature,
he reverts to the natural simplicity.
The original qualities are destroyed when a thing is turned into some useful vessel.
The Sage, by preserving the original qualities, becomes the supreme ruler.
Hence, the great institutions are those which do not violate the nature of man.
When one desires to win over an Empire by action, I find that he will never have a moment of rest.
The possession of an Empire is something ordained by the gods.
It cannot be gained by action, or held.
Those who try to gain by action are sure to fail;
those who try to hold are sure to lose.
As regards the things of this world, they are constantly alternating:
they lead, they follow;
they inhale, they exhale;
they are strong, they are weak;
they rise, they fall.
Wherefore, the Sage eschews that which is excessive, extravagant, or superfluous.
Those who use Truth in assisting the ruler do not resort to war for the conquest of an Empire.
War is a most calamitous evil.
Wherever armies are quartered, briars and thorns become rampant.
Famines inevitably follow in the wake of great wars.
The good rulers are satisfied when an attack is stopped, and they do not venture to pursue conquest for supremacy.
Victories do not make them vainglorious, aggressive, arrogant, or anxious to pursue conquest for supremacy.
It is contrary to Truth for the strong to do harm to the weak.
Those who act contrary to Truth are sure to perish early.
The weapons of war are implements of disaster, and they should not be employed by the rulers except when it is unavoidable.
They should not show enthusiasm for their employment, and even when they are victorious, they should not glorify them.
To glorify them means taking delight in the killing of men.
Those who take delight in the killing of men cannot win the approval of the whole Empire.
The weapons of war are the implements of disaster, and they are detestable.
Therefore they are spurned by the followers of Truth.
Ordinarily the ruler esteems the left hand, but in war he esteems the right hand.
On joyful occasions, the left-hand side is the place of honour,
but on mournful occasions, the right-hand side is the place of honour.
The general second in command is seated on the left-hand side, and the general-in-chief is seated on the right-hand side.
All these indicate that war should be regarded as a mournful occasion.
When many people are killed, it should be an occasion for the expression of bitter grief.
Even when a victory is scored, the occasion should be regarded as lamentable.
Truth is the name given to that which was originally nameless and simple.
Though small, the whole world cannot subjugate it.
When the rulers abide by it, all animate creation will of their own accord become their servants.
Because heaven and earth are one with Truth, they produce rains and dews which benefit all mankind alike without their asking.
The name was fabricated by man.
Since it has been given a name, the rulers ought to know it.
When they know it, they will be free from danger.
Truth is to the universe as rivers and seas are to the earth.
He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.
He who overcomes others is powerful; he who overcomes himself is strong.
He who feels self-contentment is rich; he who practises self-cultivation is resolute.
He who abides by his original nature endures; he who follows Truth throughout life enjoys immortality.
The great Truth is all-pervasive and may be found everywhere.
It gives life to all animate creation, and yet it does not claim lordship over them.
It accomplishes all things, and yet it does not claim anything for itself.
It embraces all things, and yet it has no fixed abode.
It abides by inaction, and may be considered minute.
It is the ultimate destiny of all animate creation though it is not conscious of it, and it may be considered great.
Because it is never conscious of its greatness, it becomes truly great.
He who abides by the great Simulacrum (Truth) finds the people of the whole world eager to follow him.
By following him they are rendered free from harm, and peace prevails.
Like music and baits, he attracts all passers-by.
The utterance of Truth is insipid.
It cannot be seen with the eyes;
it cannot be heard with the ears;
it cannot be exhausted from constant use.
When one wishes to expand, one must first contract.
When one wishes to be strong, one must first be weak.
When one wishes to rise, one must first fall.
When one wishes to take, one must first give.
This is called mere truism.
Meekness can overcome hardness, and weakness can overcome strength.
Fishes cannot survive after leaving deep waters.
The State must not leave the weapons of war in the hands of the people.
Truth abides by inaction, and yet nothing is left undone.
If the rulers abide by Truth, all animate creation will of their own accord come under their influence.
When they of their own accord come under their influence, and if selfish desires arise, I would tranquillize them with the nameless simplicity (Truth).
Once tranquillized by the nameless simplicity, they will again be free from selfish desires.
Thus free from selfish desires, they will be calm, and the world will of its own accord become peaceful.
The most virtuous is not conscious of being virtuous, and therefore he attains virtue.
The least virtuous is always afraid of losing virtue, and therefore he fails to attain virtue.
The most virtuous abides by inaction, and nothing is left undone.
The least virtuous is always employed with action, and much is left undone.
When benevolence is most highly esteemed, people practise it for its own sake.
When righteousness is most highly esteemed, people practise it for their own good.
When propriety is most highly esteemed, people practise it because they are compelled to.
virtue becomes fashionable when people fail to follow Truth;
benevolence becomes fashionable when people fail to attain virtue;
righteousness becomes fashionable when people fail to practise benevolence;
propriety becomes fashionable when people fail to practise righteousness.
The rules of propriety are brought about by the lack of loyalty and sincerity, and by the prevalence of confusion.
Learning is pushed to the fore when Truth is disregarded as a matter of no importance, and when hypocrisy begins to prevail.
Therefore the truly great men dwell in what is fundamental, and shun what is trivial;
they abide by what is real, and discard what is ornamental.
Since antiquity the following may be said to have attained Truth:
Heaven, which by Truth is clear.
Earth, which by Truth is secure.
The gods, which by Truth are divine.
The valleys, which by Truth are full.
All animate creation, which by Truth are alive.
The rulers, which by Truth are capable of rectifying the Empire.
Conversely, the following inferences may be stated:
Without that which renders it clear, heaven stands the danger of disruption.
Without that which renders it secure, earth stands the danger of depression.
Without that which renders them divine, the gods stand the danger of impotence.
Without that which renders them full, the valleys stand the danger of desiccation.
Without that which renders them life, all animate creation stand the danger of annihilation.
Without that which renders them capable of rectification, the rulers stand the danger of being overthrown.
Humility forms the basis of honour, just as the low ground forms the foundation of a high elevation.
Wherefore, the sovereigns are content to call themselves "The Virtueless" and "The Unworthy."
Does not this show that they regard humility as a matter of utmost importance?
Hence, the most praiseworthy are indifferent about praise.
It matters not to them whether they are admired as are beautiful jades, or despised as are rugged stones.
The motion of Truth is cyclical.
The way of Truth is pliant.
The multitude of things in this world have their origin in Reality.
Before the birth of Reality there was Nothingness.
When the highest type of men hear of Truth, they forthwith sedulously practise it.
When the average type of men hear of Truth, they are unimpressed.
When the lowest type of men hear of Truth, they greatly deride it.
Indeed, if these men do not deride it, it is surely not Truth.
Wherefore it is said in the Book of Jiann-Yan:
"The one who understands Truth appears as though he did not understand it.
The one who advances toward Truth appears as though he were retreating from it.
The one who finds the way of Truth easy appears as though he found it difficult."
The most virtuous appear as though they were devoid of virtue.
The virtuous who can impart virtue to others appear as though they were incapable.
The virtuous who are strong appear as though they were weak.
The virtuous who are solid appear as though they were unreal.
The most pure appears as though it were impure.
The perfect square is cornerless.
The greatest achievement is slow of completion.
The highest note is inaudible.
The great Simulacrum is formless.
The great Truth is nameless.
It is only Truth that excels both in giving and achieving.
Truth gave birth to one;
one gave birth to two;
two gave birth to three;
three gave birth to the multitude of things which attain the state of harmony when the opposite elements of Ying and Yang are mingled in a well-balanced manner.
Men dislike to be called "The Virtueless" or "The Unworthy."
But these are the names with which the sovereigns style themselves.
Hence, a thing may seem diminished when it is actually augmented, and it may seem augmented when it is actually diminished.
What other men teach, I also teach:
"The violent and overbearing men will die an unnatural death."
This will form the main theme of my teaching.
The softest thing in the world can overcome the hardest.
Such a thing seems to issue forth from nowhere, and yet it penetrates everywhere.
From this I have learned the advantage of inaction.
Few men in this world have learned the precept of silence, and the advantage of inaction.
Fame and life, - which is the more precious?
Life and property, - which is the more important?
Gain and loss, - which is the more to be preferred?
Inordinate love will surely result in abandonment.
Over-hoarding will surely end in heavy loss.
He who knows contentment will not suffer disgrace.
He who knows when to stop will not incur danger.
The most perfect appears as though he were imperfect, and his beneficence is inexhaustible.
The most complete appears as though he were incomplete, and his usefulness is limitless.
The most upright appears as though he were crooked.
The most skillful appears as though he were stupid.
The most eloquent appears as though he were inarticulate.
Calm can overcome unrest; heat can overcome cold.
With purity and quiescence of mind, one may rule supreme in this world.
When Truth prevails in this world, horses are employed to work on the farm.
When Truth fails to prevail in this world, horses employed in war are bred on the outskirts of the metropolis.
There is no error greater than that of having many desires.
There is no calamity greater than the feeling of discontent.
There is no fault greater than the desire for gain.
Therefore, he who knows contentment is always contented.
Without leaving the house, one may know everything about the world.
Without looking through the window, one may see the way of Heaven.
The further one travels, the less he knows.
Thus, the Sage possesses wisdom without seeking;
becomes famous without display;
achieves success without effort.
With learning one aims at constant augmentation.
With Truth one aims at constant diminution.
The diminution continues and continues until the state of inaction is reached.
Because of inaction, nothing is left undone.
When one constantly abides by inaction, he can win an Empire.
If he does not abide by inaction, he will never be able to win an Empire.
The Sage has no fixed prejudices, but always regards the hearts of all mankind as his own.
Those who are good, he treats well;
those who are not good, he also treats well.
Thus he finds only good men.
Those who are sincere, he believes;
those who are not sincere, he also believes.
Thus he finds only sincere men.
The Sage wishes that all men in this world will soon return to simplicity.
While people in general strain their ears and eyes, the Sage wishes to have them all sealed.
Man begins with life, and ends with death.
During the span of man's existence,
three-tenths of it are passed in the processes of growth;
three-tenths are passed in the processes of decay.
That which is meant for the development of life but which is passed in the processes of decay also constitutes three-tenths.
Why is this so?
Because man over-taxes the life force.
It has been said that he who knows how to preserve life avoids the rhinoceros and tigers when travelling by land;
dodges arms and weapons when engaged in battle with a hostile army.
He sees to it that the rhinoceros have no opportunity to use their horns;
that tigers have no opportunity to use their claws;
that enemies have no opportunity to use their weapons.
Why is this so?
Because man avoids the risks of death.
It is Truth that gives both life and form to things.
The nature of a thing determines its individuality and perfection.
Therefore, as regards all things, Truth and Nature are the most important.
The importance of Truth and Nature is a matter of course, and requires no comment.
Truth gives birth to life.
Nature determines the individuality, growth, development, completion, maturity, protection, and security of a thing.
The mysterious Nature is that which lives without the desire for ownership, gives without the wish for return, rules without claiming lordship.
There was something which preceded the birth of the universe.
When the primary cause is grasped, the effects may be understood.
One's whole life can be secure if knowing the effects, one still holds fast to the primary cause.
Stop up all the orifices of lust, shut out all forms of distraction, - then one's whole life will be free from harm.
Open all the orifices of lust, attend to the gratification of desires, - then one's whole life will be beyond salvation.
The clear-sighted is he who can discern even the minute things.
The strong is he who can abide by meekness.
Following the light, reverting to the source of illumination, doing no harm to oneself, - these are the ways of attaining what is normal.
If I am truly enlightened and travel the way of great Truth, I should always feel apprehensive lest I deviate from it.
The way of great Truth is most easy to travel, yet men prefer the by-paths.
The Court is very corrupt, the fields are much neglected, the granaries are much depleted;
yet there are men who still don expensive dresses, carry sharp swords, gorge themselves with food and wine, and wallow in superfluous wealth.
These men may be called the captains of robbers.
He who knows how to establish himself cannot be uprooted.
He who knows how to hold fast cannot lose his grip.
The descendants of such a man will worship him without cease.
When one's conduct is in accordance with Truth, the inherent qualities become real.
When a whole family follows Truth, the inherent qualities become abundant.
When a whole village follows Truth, the inherent qualities become enduring.
When the whole State follows Truth, the inherent qualities become superabundant.
When a whole Empire follows Truth, the inherent qualities become universal.
one man is the measure of other men,
one family is the measure of other families,
one village is the measure of other villages,
one State is the measure of other States,
and one Empire is the measure of other Empires.
When the inherent qualities are completely preserved, one is like a new-born babe.
Poisonous insects will not bite him, ferocious beasts will not crouch in wait for him, predatory birds will not attack him.
Though his body is weak and supple, yet he has a firm grip.
Though he is ignorant about the reproductive organs, yet he possesses them all.
This is because he is full of the elemental force.
He may cry all day, yet he never loses his voice.
This is because he attains the perfect harmony.
When the elemental force is in perfect harmony, there is normalcy.
When one knows normalcy, there is enlightenment.
When one tampers with life, there is calamity.
When the heart is subservient to the will, there is compulsion.
Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know.
Stop up all the orifices of lust,
shut out all forms of distraction,
repress all manner of cunning,
unravel all causes of confusion,
eliminate all opportunities for rivalry,
remove all kinds of inequality,
- then there is great harmony.
When there is no cause for favour or disfavour, gain or loss, honour or disgrace,
the world will become rectified.
When one rules the State with uprightness, and uses stratagem in war,
he cannot hope to win over a whole Empire.
How do I know that this is true?
Because of the following:
When there are many prohibitory statutes in the Empire, the people become the more impoverished.
When the people possess numerous weapons of war, the State becomes more chaotic.
When men possess much skill and cunning, there is an increase of fanciful goods.
When there is a profusion of laws and regulations, banditry becomes rife.
Therefore, one of the Sages said:
"I abide by inaction, and the people reform themselves.
I esteem quietude, and the people rectify themselves.
I make no effort, and the people enrich themselves.
I have no desires, and the people of their own accord practise simplicity."
When the government is simple, the people are honest.
When the government is complicate, the people are wily.
What one calls calamity is often a fortune under disguise.
What one calls fortune is often a cause of calamity.
Who knows what the final outcome will be?
How can there be absolute right!
The right may turn out to be wrong.
How can there be absolute goodness!
The good may turn out to be evil.
Indeed, men have been under a delusion for such a long time.
though he is strict in his own conduct, does not require other men to conform;
though he is honest, does not hurt other men;
though he is upright, does not condemn other men;
though he is glorious, he does not dazzle other men.
In governing men and serving Heaven, there is nothing better than temperance.
In order to practise temperance, one must first follow Truth, and this means adherence to the inherent qualities.
When one adheres to the inherent qualities, he becomes invincible.
When he is invincible, he also becomes unfathomable.
When he is unfathomable, he also becomes one with Truth.
When he is one with Truth, he becomes everlasting.
This is the way to attain immortality.
To govern a large State is as easy as frying small fishes.
When one rules an Empire according to Truth, the spirits become powerless.
Not only the spirits, but also the gods are powerless to do harm to men.
Not only the gods, but also the Sages are powerless to do harm to men.
When these do not do harm to one another, their inherent qualities will enable them to arrive at a common end.
In order to govern a large State, one must practise humility.
The father of an Empire should behave as though he were the mother.
The female willing to occupy a subordinate position uses quietude to subjugate the male.
when a large State is humble, it can win over the small States;
when a small State is humble, it can win over the large States.
In the case of the large States, humility makes them desirous of protecting all men, and no more.
In the case of the small States, humility makes them desirous of serving all men, and no more.
These obtain what they desire because they practise humility.
Truth is the abode of the whole of creation.
It is treasured by good men, and it should also be treasured by bad men.
Good words enable one to obtain honour, and good conduct enables one to receive respect.
When a man is bad, why should we spurn him?
Wherefore, it is better to advance toward Truth than to be an Emperor, or a Grand Minister, or a royal messenger wearing precious jades and riding in fine carriages.
Why did the ancients esteem Truth?
Was it not for the reason that by following Truth men could obtain what was desirable and avoid what was undesirable?
Because of Truth they could rule the whole Empire.
Abide by inaction.
Do not crave for accomplishment.
Regard great, small, much and little as the same.
Deal with what is easy as though it were difficult;
with what is trivial as though it were important.
The world's difficult tasks may appear easy in the beginning, just as the world's great achievements may appear small in the beginning.
Because the Sage does not go about great undertakings, he is able to accomplish great things.
He who lightly makes promises will surely be found wanting in good faith.
He who often underestimates difficult tasks will surely be beset with difficulties.
Because the Sage is always aware of the existence of difficulties, he never encounters difficulties.
When chaos has not yet appeared, it is easy to maintain peace.
When portents have not yet appeared, it is easy to devise measures.
When a thing is brittle, it can be easily broken.
When a thing is minute, it can be easily dispersed.
Measures should be adopted to forestall future emergencies.
Action should be taken to safeguard against possible confusion.
A giant tree whose trunk measures several feet in diameter is grown from a tiny seed.
A tall tower nine storeys high is built upon basketfuls of earth.
A long journey of a thousand lii is covered step by step.
Those who try to gain by action are sure to fail;
those who try to hold are sure to lose.
Because the Sage abides by inaction, he does not fail.
Because he does not try to hold, he does not lose.
Men often fail in their undertakings when they are on the verge of success.
If the same care is exercised towards the end as at the beginning, they can never fail.
Wherefore, the Sage has no desires, covets not rarities, and acquires not learning in order that he may avoid the faults of the multitude.
He promotes the spontaneous development of all things, and does not venture to interfere by his own action.
The ancients who knew Truth well did not make the people acquire learning, but kept them in the state of simplicity.
The people become difficult to govern when they are full of wiles.
the ruler who relies on learning does harm to the State;
the ruler who relies not on learning does good to the State.
These two ways are the ways of government.
When one always follows the right course, he acts in accordance with the mysterious Nature.
The mysterious Nature is profound and far-reaching.
When things revert to it, there is great concord.
That the rivers and seas are the lords of all waterways is because they occupy the lowest position, which fact is the cause of their lordship.
Wherefore, he who wishes to be above the people must be content to be at the bottom.
He who wishes to be at the head of the people must be content to be in the rear.
Thus the Sage occupies a superior position, and the people do not find it burdensome.
He occupies a leading position, and the people do not find it irksome.
Therefore the whole Empire takes delight, and is never weary of paying him homage.
Because he himself does not strive for superiority, there is none in this world who can contend with his superiority.
The world thinks that Truth which I describe is so great that it seems unreal.
It seems unreal because it is indeed so great.
If it were considered real, then it must be small.
There are three treasures which I cherish as the most precious.
The first is compassion.
The second is frugality.
The third is humility.
Because of compassion, there is courage.
Because of frugality, there is liberality.
Because of humility, there is supremacy.
Perdition will be the lot of those who choose courage, and abandon compassion;
who choose liberality, and abandon frugality;
who choose supremacy, and abandon humility.
When there is compassion, one can be victorious in an offensive war, and hold his position in a defensive war.
Because of the compassion of such a man, Heaven will deliver and protect him.
The best warriors are not warlike.
The best strategists are not impulsive.
The best winners are not quarrelsome.
The best rulers are not arrogant.
All these indicate the virtue of non-contention,
the ability to employ men,
compliance with Heaven's sublime way.
One of the ancient strategists said:
"I do not venture to fight an offensive war;
I prefer to be on the defensive.
I dare not advance an inch;
I prefer to retreat a foot."
This indicates the futility of possessing armaments,
the reluctance to send armed expeditions,
the inexistence of casus belli,
the absence of foes.
Nothing can be more calamitous than an underestimation of the enemy's strength.
To underestimate the enemy's strength may cost a man his life.
In the event of war, those who regard it as a lamentable necessity will win.
My teaching is very easy to understand and very easy to practise.
Yet the world does not understand or practise it!
My teaching has its basis, and my conduct has its reason.
Because the world is ignorant of them, I am misunderstood.
There are few who understand me, and those who abuse me are placed in positions of honour.
Therefore the Sage must dress in coarse robes while hiding precious jewels within his breast!
Those who know, and yet do not think they know, belong to the highest type of men.
Those who do not know, and yet think they know, are really at fault.
When one knows that he is at fault, he can be free of faults.
The Sage is free of faults because he knows when he is at fault.
When the people are not afraid of punishment, the exercise of authority will be hampered.
Do not oppress the people; do not make them weary of life.
When the ruler does not oppress the people, they will not be weary of life.
The Sage knows his own worth, but makes no self-display.
He has self-respect, but does not feel self-important.
When one is daring to the point of recklessness, he will meet with violent death.
When one's daring is tempered by caution, he will find his life secure.
Of these two types, one is beneficial and the other harmful.
Who knows the cause of Heaven's preference?
The way of Heaven is victorious, and there is no strife convincing, and there is no speech;
responsive, and there is no compulsion;
sure of success, and there is no haste.
The rule of Heaven is extensive and comprehensive, slow but sure.
When the people are not afraid of death, why try to frighten them by capital punishment?
If the people are really afraid of death and when the wrongdoers are promptly executed, who will dare to do wrong?
There should be a certain authority to decide on the death of men.
If the decision of death is given to other men than the qualified party, it is comparable to asking a novice to do the work of a master-craftsman.
In so doing, the novice seldom escapes injuring his hands.
The people suffer hunger because the rulers levy so many taxes.
That is why they starve.
The people become difficult to govern because the rulers demand too much action.
That is why they are difficult to govern.
The people risk death because the rulers have too many desires.
That is why they risk death.
He who does not occupy himself with the preservation of his own body is superior to those who regard it as a matter of utmost importance.
When a man is alive, his body is supple and pliant.
When he is dead, it is hard and stiff.
When a plant is alive, it is supple and pliant.
When it is dead, it is dry and brittle.
to be hard and stiff is the way of death;
to be supple and pliant is the way of life.
A stiff weapon may break, just as a stiff tree may crack.
That which is hard and stiff occupies a disadvantageous position.
That which is supple and pliant occupies an advantageous position.
The way of Heaven is like the drawing of a bow!
The bulge is levelled;
the depression is raised;
the excess is diminished;
the deficiency is replenished.
The way of Heaven is to diminish excess, and replenish deficiency.
The way of man is the opposite.
He robs the poor to serve the rich.
Who can give all he has to serve the world?
Only the follower of Truth.
Thus the Sage gives without the wish for return;
he achieves without claiming credit.
Is this not because he wishes to conceal his worth?
There is nothing in this world more supple and pliant than water.
Yet even the most hard and stiff cannot overcome it.
This is an irrefutable truism.
That the meek can overcome the strong, just as the supple can overcome the hard, is known to all people.
Only they fail to practise it.
A Sage once said:
"He who can suffer humiliation for the sake of his country is qualified to rule over a State.
He who can suffer calamities for the sake of his country is qualified to rule over an Empire."
When one merely tries to allay anger, the feelings of resentment may always remain.
Only by returning injury with kindness can there be goodwill.
Wherefore, the Sage always gives without expecting gratitude.
The virtuous is preoccupied with the thought of how to benefit others.
The unvirtuous is preoccupied with the thought of how to injure others.
The way of Heaven is impartial, helping all men alike in doing good.
The State should be small, and its inhabitants should be few.
Its ruler should teach the people to shun arms and weapons even though they are available.
He should teach the people to avoid the risks of death, and to be reluctant to travel in distant countries.
Thus though there might be ships and carriages, they would have no need to mount them.
Though there might be arms and weapons, they would have no need to use them.
He should make the people return to the state of pristine simplicity where the system of knotting threads was used.
Then they would relish the food they eat;
consider beautiful the clothes they wear;
regard as comfortable the houses they dwell in;
enjoy the customs they have.
The State may be so closely situated that the barking of dogs and the crowing of cocks in one may be heard in the other.
Thus the people would be content to live in their own country from the time of their birth until their death without thinking of foreign intercourse.
True words may not be specious, and specious words may not be true.
Good words may not be convincing, and convincing words may not be good.
Wise men may not be learned, and the learned may not be wise.
The Sage gives without reservation.
He offers all to others, and his life is more abundant.
He helps all men alike, and his life is more exuberant.
The way of Heaven is to benefit, and not to harm.
The way of the Sage is to give, and not to strive.