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Tao Teh Ching
by Lao Tzu
by Liu Qixuan, 2002
More English versions
Laozi: The Way
There are ways to follow,
But what is followed is not the true Way.
There are names to give,
But what is given is not the true Name.
Let us call non-being the beginning of the universe
And let us call being the development of all things.
When we follow non-being
We approach the wonder of the Way.
When we follow being
We approach the farther-end manifestation of the Way.
Each has the same origin,
And here exists a metaphysical door to true wisdom.
We know beauty because there is ugliness.
We know goodness because there are evils.
Therefore, being and non-being are relative to each other
As are what is difficult and what is easy;
What is long and what is short;
What is high and what is low;
What sounds and what resonates;
And what precedes and what follows.
The wise do good by doing nothing
And teach well by teaching nothing.
Things work without intruding on the natural process,
Develop and produce without desiring willfully,
And are successful without feeling success.
Only those who possess nothing
Will lose nothing.
Worship no sage,
And people will not struggle for vanity.
Treasure no rare goods,
And people will not steal them.
Dangle no tantalizer,
And people will not be confused in mind and will.
The wise politics fills the stomach rather than the mind,
Strengthens the bones and muscles rather than the will,
And enables people to be rather than to desire to be.
Indeed, it is through doing nothing misleading
That the greatest political success can be achieved.
The Way is open for endless use
And will never fill up.
Like an endless valley
It blunts the sharpness,
Dissolves the currents,
Softens the intense light,
Assimilates all substances.
Is it being or non-being?
I don't know which son takes after which father.
The universe benefits none
And takes every being for a straw dog.
The wise king benefits none
And takes all people for nothing dearer.
Should we say that
It is just like bellows between Heaven and Earth?
It is empty but well propped up,
And any stir in it will cause spilling.
After all moralization and calculation,
It is a better strategy to keep that bellows empty.
The totally unoccupied being never dies,
And is called the metaphysical mother.
Can be called the root of Heaven and Earth.
Uses that come in her grace are continuous,
Transcendental, and receivable with no effort.
The heaven lasts.
The earth lasts.
They last because they do not live to last.
The wise person lags behind in struggles for benefits
And finally benefits more than others;
The wise person does not live for himself,
And is therefore able to enjoy longevity.
Isn't it one's thorough selflessness
That makes one seem to be most successfully selfish?
The perfect goodness is like the water.
Water benefits everything without caring for its own profit,
And lives in places that none would like.
As a good instance of the able Way,
Water is best at choosing places for its existence,
Freeing its mind for working up new wonders
Matching the heaven in generous grace
Speaking with the most persuasive power,
Governing supremely without verbalized policies
Crowning everything it does with success
And taking its actions at the best times.
For one who struggles for nothing
Will find no difficulty in everything.
Rather than possessing more and more wealth,
One would do better to give it all up.
Rather than forging sharper and sharper weapons,
One would get better protection by throwing them away.
One who gets a whole house of gold can not keep it.
One who is proud of wealth and status will suffer for it.
It is in agreement with the spirit of the Way
That one duly withdraws with his successes achieved.
How is it
That you hold your soul and body together?
Is it like a quiet infant
That you soften your breath?
Is it without any dust
That you clear your mind as a metaphysical mirror?
Is it without willful actions
That you love and take care of your country and people?
Is it without any dark corner
That you sense what is happening in the world?
Is it without misguiding knowledge
That you understand the whole world?
The metaphysical getter is one
That lets be everything that is born,
Produces without possessing anything surplus,
Achieves successes without being proud of them,
And rules well without any executive power.
Thirty strokes radiate from the axle,
And there is a good working cart when it is empty.
Clay is given shapes for holding things,
And there is a good working ware when it is not full.
Windows and doors have been made,
And there is a good working house when it is not occupied.
Therefore, in general principle,
Seeking after being is for profit,
Keeping non-being is for use.
Loud colors blind the eye.
Wild hunting maddens the mind.
Precious objects cause thefts.
Delicious food confuses the taste.
Beautiful sounds deafen the ear.
That's why wise politics chooses the essentials
In all its matters
Instead of contriving impressive shows.
Favor is invited and disgrace is feared,
As if they are a disastrous matter of life and death.
One is surprised when favor is bestowed.
One is again surprised when favor is lost
Or when one is afflicted with disgrace.
But why could they mean so much to us?
I would say I can have disasters
Only because I treasure my own life too much.
But if I live beyond my physical existence,
What disaster can matter to me?
Therefore, we should value our own life only to the extent
That we are supporting the world,
And love our physical existence only to the extent
That the world has been entrusted to us.
What you look at but can not see is called "formless."
What you listen to but can not hear is called "soundless."
What you grasp at but can not get is called "traceless."
Those three are an inseparable puzzle.
One can't know where it begins and where it ends.
Continuous and nameless, it returns to nothingness.
It is formless shape, imageless image, invisible vision.
One tries to meet it, but can see no head.
One tries to follow it, but can see no end.
In the domain of the Way, the past shapes the present,
And being able to feel the past is abiding by the Way.
The ancient wise ones seemed unattainably profound.
Since they were such, I can describe them only this way:
Hesitant as if they were crossing a winter river;
Inhibited as if they were afraid of their neighbors;
Undisciplined like melting ice on flowing water;
Simple-minded like a piece of rough plank;
Void like a vast-spreading empty valley;
And unenlightened like a muddled pool.
If anyone keeps the muddled state still,
It will gradually clear up.
If anyone keeps it still for long,
There will gradually be new production.
One who keeps this Way will not try to become filled.
Keeping unfilled, one is always ready for new successes.
When one is extremely stilled and free of vain desires,
All things will work together
So that one can watch the changes,
For all things return to their roots:
Their original states without poles.
Returning is completing the cycle of life's work.
The cycling of life is absolute,
Awareness of that absoluteness is wisdom.
Without that wisdom, one may do things willfully
And may hence meet with an early death.
With the wisdom, one can be tolerant.
Being tolerant, one can be just to everything.
Being just, one can be a wise leader,
Being a wise leader, one can fulfill the greatest cause.
Being able to fulfill, one is serving the Way.
By serving the Way, the cause can last,
And will not vanish even after one's death.
The best king rules so that people know that "there is a king."
The less wise king rules so that he is praised and loved.
The still less wise king rules so that he is feared.
The worst king rules so that he is cursed.
He who abides by nothing,
Who rules by saying and doing nothing misleading,
Achieves such political success that people all think
They are just following their own nature.
When the Way is lost
There needs to be grace and kindness.
When sophisticated knowledge is produced
There must be falsehood.
When relatives turn rude to each other,
There must be filial piety.
When a country is in chaos,
There will appear loyalty.
Advocate no sage knowledge,
And people can benefit one hundred times as much.
Advocate no public welfare,
And people will turn to good and kindly feelings again.
Advocate no art and profit,
And people will not commit theft.
Those three are just roughly relegated
And cannot be fully clarified through words:
The best policy is to strive for simplicity,
To reduce selfish desires,
And to apply no confusing knowledge.
How much difference can there be
Between praise and criticism?
How similar goodness is to evil!
Why must one want and do
What everyone else wants and does?
What an absurd expanse of culture!
People hustle and bustle everywhere
As if they were enjoying a grand feast
Or climbing a spring tower.
I sit here, alone, like an infant that cannot giggle yet
And look forlorn as if I am homeless.
Everyone else is acquiring, possessing,
But I seem to be losing all the time.
Am I not foolish, indeed?
While others are decisive,
I am muddled.
While others are quick in judgment,
I am dull-minded.
I am like an ocean that cannot be easily stirred,
Or a wind that has nowhere to dwell.
Other people are intelligent, strong-minded, longheaded,
But I seem simple, foolish, slow.
I am different in that
I value only what provides my nourishment.
To one who keeps the Way, nature bestows its richest gifts.
The working of the Way cannot be clearly stated,
But one can find an image in its vagueness,
Substance in its obscurity,
Essence in its vast, uncertain expanse,
And confirmable manifestations of that essence.
What existed at the earliest beginning
Is existing now, in the developments of all beings,
And that is what helps me to know the nature of all things.
What is adaptable can remain whole.
What is bendable can be straight.
What is empty can be replenished.
What is used can be renewed.
One is satisfied when one gets barely enough.
One is overburdened when one gets too much.
The wise keeps the humblest life style
As a basic model for the world.
Unoccupied with one's own views, one is objective.
Unoccupied with one's own merits, one is recommended.
Unoccupied with one's own deeds, one is successful.
Unoccupied with one's own superiority, one is obeyed.
One gets the most if one gets nothing for one's self.
The old saying about flexibility holds true.
One sticks to it heart and soul, and it will work.
The ruler by nature says few words.
A sudden wind cannot last the whole morning.
A sudden rain cannot last the whole day.
Who produces them?
Heaven and Earth.
Since even Heaven and Earth cannot start a lasting cause,
How can mankind achieve that?
Those choosing the Way identify themselves with the Way,
Those choosing uses identify themselves with using,
And those choosing losses identity themselves with losing.
One identified with the Way is gladly provided by the Way.
One identified with using is gladly provided with uses.
One identified with losing suffers from the loss of the Way.
One who does not believe will find one's self not believed.
A long stander would not stand on tiptoe.
A far walker would not walk with long strides.
A wise observer would not observe self-preoccupations.
A true celebrity would not brag about self.
A successful doer would not show off his/her deeds.
A good ruler would not look superior to others.
It is the Way that is enabling and disabling.
Eating too much will result in obesity in form,
Which is avoided even by the public,
And is therefore not preferred by Way servers.
There is a mixture of substances
That is born before Heaven and Earth.
Quiet, far and wide, it turns round and round by itself.
It can be taken as the mother of Heaven and Earth.
I don't know what its name is,
But for the purpose here, let's call it the Way
And describe it as "big."
By "big," I mean it is the most expansive.
What is expansive extends the farthest.
What goes farthest will turn round.
Therefore, the Way is big,
The heaven is big,
The earth is big,
And mankind is big.
In the universe, there are four big growth domains,
With mankind being one of them.
Mankind's nature is determined by Earth,
Earth's nature is determined by Heaven,
Heaven's nature is determined by the Way.
And the Way, being the biggest of all,
Copies its own growth nature.
Weight anchors lightness, and peace controls turmoil.
Thus, the wise person travels always with heavy provisions,
Is indifferent, like a swallow, to all the glory and grandeur.
What if a king treats the world lightly?
Being light, he will lose his root in the world.
Being changeable, he loses peace for the society.
A good walker leaves no trace.
A good speaker uses no blasphemy.
A good calculator uses no counting aids.
A good door-keeper needs no bars.
A good knot uses no strings.
A wise saver will part with no one.
A wise user will waste nothing.
It is the subtle insight that gives such abilities.
The wise person will be seen as the teacher for the unwise.
The unwise will be regarded as the resources for the wise.
One may be a mental genius,
But if he appreciates no teacher or other resources,
He is only a blundering fool.
The key is such teaching/learning.
One keeps weakness while knowing what strength is,
And serves as the humblest brook for the world.
Being the humblest, one can receive best
Until one returns to be the weakest infant.
One keeps black while knowing what white is,
And serves as a basic model for the world.
Being the basic model, one can receive properly
Until one returns to the oneness without polar opposition.
One keeps disgrace while knowing what glory is,
And serves as the lowest valley for the world.
Being the lowest, one can receive enough
To return to the most original simplicity.
Followed by people, this simplicity can shape the world
The wise use it as the example for the government.
The big system is, therefore, an indivisible simple whole.
A willful doer cannot, as I see it, win the world,
The world cannot be willfully manipulated or controlled.
One who tries to manipulate it will destroy it.
One who tries to control it will lose it.
The wise does nothing to manipulate or control
And will, therefore, neither destroy nor lose.
For there are forever subtle changes in the world.
People walk either in front or behind.
They are either inhaling or exhaling,
Either strengthening or weakening,
And doing either good or harm.
That is why the wise will never desire too much.
Those who aid a government with the Way
Will not threaten the world with military power,
And are therefore returned with kindness in all affairs.
Where armies have stayed will grow only thorns and bush.
When military force dominates, an inauspicious year follows.
Wise leaders prefer natural results than uses of force.
And win victories that would result naturally.
They win without boasting about their valor,
Or feeling proud of their victories,
Or looking triumphant everywhere.
They win but feel guilty as if they were forced to it.
They win without military reinforcement.
Things that have become strong will begin to weaken.
That which weakens is against the Way.
What is against the Way cannot last long.
The weapon is a disliked inauspicious object.
One who serves the Way will not take up a weapon.
A gentleman values the left in the dwelling place
And a general the right in the battlefield.
One serving the Way uses the inauspicious weapon
Only when there is the extreme necessity.
It is best to be indifferent to military achievements.
Having achieved a victory, one should not beautify it.
Those who beautify wars like killing.
Those who like killing cannot be accepted by the world.
The left is valued on auspicious occasions.
And the right on inauspicious occasions.
On the battle field, the assistant general is on the left.
And the general on the right.
Such positioning treats the war as a burial ceremony.
The wise person mourns when too many have died,
Holds a burial ceremony rather than victory celebration.
The eternal Way has no name.
The earliest simplicity has no significance,
But its function is supreme.
If kings and officials can keep the Way,
The whole world will become their guest.
Harmony between heaven and earth creates rains and dews,
Which all share equally without laws or rules.
With the growth of the earliest system,
There appeared names, which are therefore conventional.
Knowing what is conventional,
One can also understand where and when to stop.
Knowing where and when to stop,
One will never meet with countering forces.
The Way is to the world what rivers are to the ocean.
One who knows others is clever.
One who knows one's self is wise.
One who can defeat others has energy.
One who can defeat one's self is strong.
One who is easily satisfied is rich.
One who drives one's self forth has will.
One who never loses one's place lives long.
One who never vanishes after death is eternal.
The Way extends and expands.
One is in it wherever one is.
By trusting it, all beings grow and develop.
The Way enables successes but possesses no name.
It provides for all but rules over nothing.
It is free of personal desires
And can therefore be named as insignificant.
It is obeyed by all, though it has no political power.
Therefore, it can be named as the greatest.
One who never wants to be great can therefore grow great.
The owner of the biggest image attracts the whole world.
When all who come have been safely settled,
The world will then be peaceful.
Melodious music and delicious food
Can only attract passers-by.
But the Way is, when put into one's mouth, tasteless,
When looked at, colorless,
When listened to, uninteresting,
And, when used, limitlessly bountiful.
To compress something, one must first prop it.
To weaken something, one must first strengthen it.
To stop something, one must first advocate it.
To take something, one must first give it.
Subtle wisdom depends on the Way
In enabling the weak to defeat the strong killers.
A fish cannot go out of deep water for its existence.
A nation's effective system should be kept unknown.
The eternal Way serves everything by doing nothing.
If the kings can keep the model,
A natural order will appear in the world.
Should something undesirable grow after that,
Prevent it with the nameless simplicity.
By saying "the nameless simplicity,"
I mean the reduction of vain desires.
Vain desires can be reduced by serenity of mind,
And the world can then be back in the Way.
The virtuous getter does not get,
And is therefore getting something better.
The worst getter does not give what he/she gets
And is therefore getting something worse.
The best getter does nothing for nothing.
The kind giver does something for nothing.
The faithful contractor does something for something.
The ceremony holder does things but is not responded to,
For ceremony means lack of faithfulness
And the start of social disorders.
Predictive knowledge is the turbulence of the Way
And the beginning of folly.
Therefore, the reasonable person
Will stay in the thick center of the Way
Instead of its tumbling thin edge,
And will prefer the solid spot of the Way
Instead of its turbulence.
Achievement of oneness in the past includes:
The heaven that became clear,
The earth that became peaceful,
The soul that became sensitive,
And kings that became the world's leaders.
The following can be inferred:
The heaven will break
If it can by no means clear up;
The earth will be wasteland
If it can by no means be peaceful;
The soul will die out
If it can by no means be sensitive;
And kings will go rampant
If they can by no means lead the world.
Nobility is rooted in the ordinary people,
And the high is based on the low.
The kings take names
Like "the Isolated," "the Helpless," or "the Wicked,"
Just because they appreciate their roots and bases.
The most glorious does not seek after glory,
And the wisest does not seek to be the beautiful jade
But the unrefined rough rock.
Polar opposition helps the movement of the Way.
Weakness is the condition for the use of the Way.
Everything is developed from being,
And being is developed from non-being.
Upon hearing the Way,
First-class people stand up and go with it.
Second-class people go around in circles about it.
Third-class people laugh loudly at it,
And if they don't laugh, it won't be the true Way.
Therefore we may say:
He/She who is wise on the Way seems foolish;
He/She who progresses towards the Way seems to retreat;
He/She who walks the Way evenly
Seems to climb a mountain;
Those who receive most from the Way seem totally deprived;
The pure white person seems a soiled disgrace;
The richest person seems the poorest;
The strongest person seems the weakest;
The truest person seems the most false;
The biggest square has no corner;
The loudest sound can not be heard;
And the largest image cannot be seen;
For what the Way gives and achieves best is nameless.
The Way produces one.
One produces two.
Two produces three.
Three produces everything.
Everything has polar elements in it
That interact to achieve harmony.
People all hate being isolated, helpless and wicked,
But kings use these words as their titles.
Therefore, things can gain from losses
And can lose because of gainings.
I just teach what I have been taught.
Those who willfully go against the Way
Will die an undue death,
And are fit to be my textbook.
The feeblest is the strongest
That can run everywhere in the world,
It can go through being and non-being alike
Without any effort.
I therefore come to know the good
Of doing nothing willfully.
The efficiency of wordless teaching and doing nothing
Is rarely matched.
Which is more precious, the body or the name?
Which is more important, the body or the goods?
Which is more harmful, gains or losses?
One who cares for reputation pays more.
One who possesses much fears death most.
One who is easily satisfied is not a disgrace.
One who knows where to stop is not stopped in life.
The perfect seems defective, but can be used limitlessly.
The truly full seems empty, but can be used endlessly.
The straight seems crooked.
The truly artful seems clumsy.
The most eloquent seems tongue-tied.
Peace outdoes turmoil, and cold heat.
Peace is therefore the best policy.
With the Way, horses are used for farming.
With the Way lost, horses give births in battlefields.
No disaster is worse than greed.
No fault is worse than desire.
Therefore, one who can be easily satisfied
Will be always satisfied.
Without going out of the door,
One can feel the world.
Without looking out of the window,
One can feel the universe.
The farther one goes,
The less one knows.
The wise person arrives without traveling,
Knows without seeing,
And achieves without willful actions.
Those who approach being academically
Will become filled in mind day by day.
Those who approach non-being for the Way
Will become freed in mind day by day.
When one is freed of all wanton ideas and desires
One arrives at the state of no willful action.
One who does nothing out of personal will
Can achieve all purposes at the same time.
It is only when no willful actions are needed,
That one can win the world.
When a person must act willfully to achieve a purpose,
That person has not the sufficient conditions to be a leader.
The best ruler has no personal ideas
And what the people think is what he/she thinks.
He/She is good to people that are good.
He/She is also good to people that are not good.
It is the goodness typical of the Way server.
He/She trusts people that are trustworthy.
He/She also trusts people that are not trustworthy.
It is the trust typical of the Way server.
The best ruler gives each breath of his/her life to the world.
He/She holds to just a simple mind,
But is looked up to and listened to.
He/She takes the whole world to be his/her children.
Life and death co-exist in the same process.
The chance for life is thirty percent.
The chance for death is thirty percent.
The chance for death in the life's area is also thirty percent.
Because some live too actively for their lives.
It has been said that people good at living
Do not meet with tigers on land,
Or receive hits in battle.
Tigers can have no chance to apply their paws.
Weapons can have no chance to exert their edges.
Because people good at living have no chance of death.
Things are produced by the Way,
Cultivated by their accumulation through time,
Realized in their forms by substances,
And guided in their development
By the potential in specific circumstances.
Therefore, everything respects the Way
And values what has been accumulated in the culture.
In the respected Way and valued accumulation,
Things grow and develop
By following their natural courses.
That's why we say that things are produced by the Way,
And, through diachronic accumulation, reared,
Cultivated, developed, matured, and protected naturally.
That process is the basic moral model for providers:
Produce without possessing anything,
Achieve without showing off anything,
And lead without making personal decisions.
The earliest beginning we can trace
Can be taken as the mother.
When we have come to know the mother,
We can then trace the son.
When we have found the son,
We should go back to stay with the mother.
Staying with the mother,
We are on the safest spot for our life.
Shut the eyes and cover the ears,
And one can stay away from worry all one's life.
Opening the door and rushing about all the time
Will not help save one from cares and trouble.
One who understands subtle details is wise.
One who keeps weakness is strong.
By adopting that subtle insight in the world,
One can avoid any danger.
That is called the inheritance of what is eternal.
Unless an utter fool, a person should know that
It is not wise to wander here and there
While walking on a wide road.
The wide road is the flattest and safest,
But rulers like to stray from this safe road.
Their courts are luxuriously constructed;
And, while the fields are neglected,
The barns are empty.
They fuss about clothes and ornaments,
Carry sharp swords wherever they go,
Gobble down best food to excess,
And care only for goods and money.
They are robbers rather than rulers.
Being robbers, they are doing things against the Way.
A well-founded establishment cannot be uprooted,
And a well-preserved tradition can not be dissolved:
Each will go on generation after generation.
One has true being when one keeps the Way body and soul,
Effective being when one extends the Way over the family,
Long being when one extends the Way over the community,
Rich being when one extends the Way over a nation,
Universal being when one extends the Way over the world.
Therefore, one knows others by looking at one's self,
Other communities by looking at one's own community,
Other states through the comparison with one's own state
And other worlds by inferring from one's own world.
That's how I come to know the world.
The truest being can be illustrated by the infant.
Infants are not attacked by poisonous insects
Or by the birds and beasts of prey.
Though they are weak and fragile,
They have a firm grasp.
Though they don't know about sexual intercourse,
The male penises can naturally erect
(Which is the best embodiment of energy).
Though they can cry the whole day,
Their voices never crack
(Which is the best function of harmony).
Keeping harmony is keeping eternity.
The keeper of eternity can attain true wisdom.
Exertion of will beyond harmony is strength.
What is strong will soon weaken,
What is weakening is against the Way.
What is against the Way will die early.
One who knows says nothing.
One who says knows nothing.
Cover the ears, close the eyes;
Blunt the sharpness, dissolve the currents;
Soften the light, blend the substances.
And the result is called the profound sameness.
One who holds that sameness cannot be
Approached too close,
Or estranged too far,
Or favored too much,
Or harmed too badly,
Or valued too high,
Or degraded too low.
And is therefore the most appreciated in the world.
A nation should be governed with simplicity.
A war should be directed with sophistication.
The world should be won without any action.
Why should I think that?
Here are the reasons:
The more prohibitions there are,
The poorer people are;
The more weapons there are,
The more confused the social order is;
The more skills and tricks there are,
The more confusing machines are invented;
The more laws there are,
The more thieves there can appear.
That is why the wise would say:
"I stay idle, and the world will be naturally changed;
I stay quiet, and the world will be naturally restrained;
I do nothing, and the world will be naturally provided;
I desire nothing, and the world will be naturally simplified."
If the government seems dark and tolerant,
The people will be honest and friendly;
If the government seems bright and sophisticated,
The people will be sly and cold-hearted.
What is bad goes with what is good;
What is good lies in what is bad.
Who can tell the exact difference
When all factors are considered?
The positive changes into the negative
And the negative changes into the positive.
Changing over and over again is the action of evil souls.
Such action has long been a confusing force in the world.
The wise person therefore prefers to be a simple square
That points in no directions,
A cutting tool that has no edge,
A straight line that goes nowhere,
And a light source that causes no fire.
To govern the world to cultivate one's nature,
One should stick to frugality.
For being frugal,
One will not stray from the Way as others do.
Staying with the Way, one can accumulate earlier.
Since one has stayed and accumulated longer in the Way,
One can overcome more wanton desires.
When one has overcome all desires,
Others would by no means be able to know
The limits of one's abilities.
One can then be qualified to lead a nation.
With a qualified leader, a nation can be long.
The Way is therefore the longest-rooted system
That supports the longest life span.
Governing a big country is like cooking small fish:
Too much stirring will spoil the whole dish.
If the ruler governs the country by the Way,
The evil souls will not work against the society.
It is not that evil souls will have lost their influence,
But that their influence can do no harm to the living.
When evil souls can exert no bad influence from below,
Nor rulers harm people from above,
Then the Way will have extended far enough
To bring all the living back to their nature.
A big country should position itself low
So as to be the world's mother ocean.
The biggest producer is for ever still and peaceful,
Dissolves all the commotions with her stillness,
And keeps her lowness with her stillness, too.
Therefore, if a big country can be humble toward a small one,
It will win over the small country.
If a small country can be humble toward a big one,
It will win over the big country.
Thus, countries either lower themselves to win over others
Or lower themselves to be tolerated by others.
A big country's purpose is to support all kinds of people.
A small country's purpose is to gain support to serve people.
To satisfy the two purposes,
The big country should be more yielding in attitude.
The Way is the pacifier appreciated by all.
It is the treasure of the wise and the shelter for the unwise.
Eloquent words can win respect.
Kind deeds can win praises.
Since the unwise are not affected,
Why should they be given up as hopeless?
It is better to sit down and present the Way
Than to present a king and officials to the world
And to give them a precious jade
And a carriage and four horses at the ceremony.
Didn't the ancient wise ones rightly appreciate the Way
Because it can both satisfy our needs
And forgive us for our sins and folly?
That is why the Way is the most respected.
One does things so that one needs to do nothing.
One takes actions so that one needs no action.
One tastes so that one can appreciate tastelessness.
One values what is small or little, and returns good for evil.
One starts from the easiest to achieve the most difficult.
One starts from the most trivial to achieve the highest.
For it is only by taking easy measures
That one can achieve the most difficult in the world.
It is only by taking trivial steps
That one can achieve the highest in the world.
Therefore, the wise person who never looks important
Is able to be the most important.
Those who make hasty promises can rarely keep them.
Those who think nothing difficult will have many difficulties.
That is why the wise person worries about difficulties
And can therefore solve them successfully.
What is still is easy to keep.
What has not developed is easy to guide.
What is fragile is easy to break.
What is little is easy to scatter.
One starts a project before things develop otherwise.
One prevents tumults before they happen otherwise.
A huge tree starts from a small sprout.
A nine-story tower starts from the first shovel full of dirt.
A long journey starts from the spot under the feet.
One who willfully starts a cause will ruin it.
One who willfully ends a cause will lose it.
The wise person does nothing willfully
And will therefore neither ruin nor lose.
People often fail when they are about to succeed.
If one is careful from start to end, one will not fail.
The wise ruler therefore desires what none would desire,
Values what none would value, learns what none can learn,
Remembers the useful experiences and lessons of all,
And does nothing willfully so as to help cultivate the natural.
The ancient wise persons who were good at keeping the Way
Did not try to achieve it by teaching sophisticated knowledge,
But by ridding people of the folly such knowledge holds.
A foolishly sophisticated nation is difficult to govern.
Therefore, there are two models which a ruler may follow:
One who rules with sophistication is stealing a nation,
One who rules with no sophistication is saving a nation.
To make the wise choice always is to be subtle and profound.
The subtle and profound wisdom is rooted far back in time
And such wisdom will also function far ahead into the future.
Therefore, such wisdom can be used
To help bring about what is natural in the world.
The ocean can be the king of all deep places
Because it positions itself lowest in the world.
Similarly, the one who wants to be influential
Must first be humble in his speech and actions.
The one who wants to be the leader
Must first go back behind all others.
When such a leader is above, people will feel no weight.
When such a leader is in front, people will feel no hindrance.
He/She is therefore recommended without reservation,
For one who fights for nothing advances best.
It is said that my Way is the biggest
And nothing could be like it.
Because it is the biggest,
There can be nothing like it.
If there were anything like it,
It wouldn't have been the Way.
I have three things to keep it:
One is motherly love; one is frugality,
And one is the courage to lag behind.
Cherishing motherly love, one can be the bravest.
Being frugal, one can give the most.
Lagging behind, one can grow to the fullest.
The absurdity of today is this:
Foolhardiness is preferred more than motherly love;
Wastefulness preferred more than frugality;
Front positions preferred more than growing to the fullest.
The result can be nothing other than death!
Cherishing motherly love,
An army is invincible,
Because it is protected by Heaven with love.
A true gentleman admires no martial arts.
An invincible warrior never resorts to anger.
A true winner never appears in any encounter.
A wise employer never looks superior.
Holders of the true Way struggle for nothing of their own,
And depend on resources of strength other than their own.
The best ability of all time matches that of the heaven.
The ancient wise generals all held:
"Start no war.
Fight only when forced to.
A foot back instead of an inch forward."
Such military creeds all boil down to this:
Advance invisible ranks;
Raise invisible arms;
Poise invisible armies;
Fight as if one is not fighting with enemies.
The biggest military disaster is this:
To attack an enemy thoughtlessly
With threats, menaces and challenges.
For such an attack means the loss of all advantages.
When two armies battle, one against the other,
The army that fights out of love and sadness wins.
As it can happen,
What I say is easy to understand and to do,
But none can understand it and do it,
In spite of the fact that what I say has a source
And what I do has a reason.
Since people don't understand what I say and what I do,
They don't know me.
Since people don't know me,
I am special.
That explains why the wise person wears rough clothes
And cherishes a heart of jade.
The best knower knows how to know.
The worst knower knows that he/she knows.
The wise person knows how poor knowers stray
And can therefore keep himself/herself on the right path.
When people revolt,
Governmental prestige ends.
The ruler should always bear this in mind:
Never narrow the roads of life;
Never cause people to be dissatisfied with their existence.
For, satisfied with life,
None would revolt against the government.
The moral for the ruler is:
Know one's own shortcomings
Instead of being occupied with one's own views.
Appreciate others' appreciation
Instead of imposing one's self upon others.
That is how the wise person makes choices.
One who is brave enough to dare gets death.
One who is brave enough not to dare gets life.
The big difference between the two
Is the result of heaven's intervention.
And that is where the ruler should hesitate.
Heaven's way wins without fighting,
Responds without being asked,
Comes to the rescue without being summoned,
And has wonderful schemes within a simple expanse.
Heaven's net of law is the most sparsely woven,
But it is the biggest and lets off no criminals.
Since people are not afraid of death,
Why should they be threatened with it?
If they were afraid of death,
Who would dare to be executioner
When the evil ones are captured and executed?
The best killer kills all the time.
One who kills in the most accurate and exacting way
Can seldom avoid injuring one's own hands.
People are hungry because "the Above" tax too much.
People are disobedient because "the Above" do too much.
People would rather die because "the Above" live too high.
Therefore, one who does nothing to benefit one's own life
Is good at keeping and supporting lives.
Life is soft and weak, death is hard and strong.
Plants are soft or fragile while living
And wither and harden while dying.
Therefore death grows in strength and hardness,
And life grows in softness and weakness.
A strong army perishes and a strong tree breaks.
What is hard and strong should not be valued,
And "the Above" should keep soft and weak.
The way of Heaven is like the opening of the bow,
Which flats the high, lifts the low,
Reduces the surplus, and compensates for losses.
The way of Heaven cuts the superfluous
To compensate the meager.
The way of Mankind cuts the meager
To add to the superfluous.
Who can have more than enough to provide for the world?
Only the ones who are good at keeping the Way.
Therefore, the wise person does but occupies nothing,
Achieves but does not feel successful,
Because he/she does not want to be praised as a sage.
Nothing is softer and weaker
And, at the same time, stronger, than water
While it is attacking the strong and hard in the world.
Only water can keep being the weakest steadfastly.
All the world knows the weak defeats the strong
And the soft defeats the hard,
But none can be courageous enough to do it.
Therefore, the wise person says:
"One who bears the worst disgrace
Is the glorious lord of a land;
One who suffers the worst disaster
Is the greatest savior of a nation."
The most truthful words always seem the most absurd.
Suppression of an uprising does not eliminate the revolt.
How can one solve the problem by suppressing?
The wise person prefers to be the owner of debts
Who gives for ever but presses for no paying back.
The wise contractor gives but does not take.
The poor contractor takes but does not give.
The way of Heaven favors none.
It gives all the time and only the good ones can receive.
The wise person reduces the importance of governments
And simplifies the modes of living,
So that people use fewer tools and wares
And treasure simplicity in their lives,
So that, though there are vehicles,
People do not take them.
And, though there are weapons,
People do not carry them.
And, though there are records,
Tying knots will serve the record-keeping purpose.
Thus, the highest political achievement is one
In which people savor their food,
Like the beauty of their clothes,
Appreciate their safe and peaceful homes,
Enjoy their social customs;
And in which roosters and dogs
Can be heard between countries;
But people, all their lives,
Have no need to go across the borders.
Truthful words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
Good words are not eloquent.
Eloquent words are not good.
One who knows will not show off.
One who shows off does not know.
The wise person accumulates nothing.
The more one does for others, the more one achieves.
The more one gives to others, the more one receives.
The way of Heaven benefits by harming nothing.
The way of the wise person achieves
And receives by accumulating nothing.