The Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu
Derek Bryce, 1984
(from the French of Léon Wieger, 1913)
More English versions
The principle that can be enunciated is not the one that always was. The being that can be named is not the one that was at all times.
Before time there was an ineffable, unnameable being. When it was still unnameable, it conceived heaven and earth. When it had thus become nameable, it gave birth to the multitude of beings.
These two acts are but one, under two different denominations.
The unique act of generation; that is the mystery of the beginning; the effects.
Everyone has the idea of beauty, and from that by opposition that of not beautiful (ugly).
All men have the idea of good, and from that by contrast that of not good (bad).
Thus, being and nothingness, difficult and easy, long and short,
high and low, sound and tone, before and after, are correlative ideas, one of which, in being known, reveals the other.
That being so, the Sage serves without acting and teaches without speaking.
He lets all beings become, without thwarting them, he lets them live, without monopolizing them, and lets them act, without exploiting them.
He does not attribute to himself the effects produced, and in consequence these effects last.
Not making any special case of cleverness, of ability, will have the result that people will no longer push themselves.
Not to prize rare objects will have the result that no one will continue to steal.
To show nothing as alluring will have the effect of putting the people's hearts at rest.
Therefore the politics of Sages consists in emptying the minds of men and filling their stomachs, in weakening their initiative and strengthening their bones.
Their constant care is to hold the people in ignorance and apathy. They make things such that clever people dare not to act,
for there is nothing that cannot be sorted out through the practice of non-action.
The Principle produces in abundance, but without filling itself up.
Empty abyss, it seems to be (is) the ancestor (origin) of all beings.
It is peaceful, simple, modest, amiable.
Spilling itself out in waves, it seems to remain (it remains) always the same.
I do not know of whom it is the son (where it comes from). It seems to have been (it was) before the Sovereign.
Heaven and earth are not good to the things that they produce, but treat them like straw dogs.
Like heaven and earth, the Sage is not good for the people he governs, but treats them like straw dogs.
The betwixt of heaven and earth, seat of the Principle, the place from where its virtue acts, is like a bellows, like the bag of a bellows of which heaven and earth would be the two boards, which empties itself without exhausting itself, which moves itself externally without cease.
This is all that we can understand of the Principle and of its action as producer. To seek to detail it further using words and numbers would be a waste of time. Let us hold ourselves to this grand idea.
The expansive transcendent power which resides in the median space, the virtue of the Principle, does not die. It is always the same and acts the same, without diminution or cessation. This virtue is the mysterious mother of all beings.
The doorway of this mysterious mother is the root of heaven and earth, the Principle.
Sprouting forth, she does not expend herself; acting, she does not tire herself.
If heaven and earth last forever,
it is because they do not live for themselves.
Following this example, the Sage, in withdrawing, advances;
in neglecting himself, he conserves himself.
As he does not seek his own advantage, everything turns to his advantage.
Transcendent goodness is like water. Water likes to do good to all beings; it does not struggle for any definite form or position, but puts itself in the lowest places that no one wants. By this, it is the reflection of the Principle.
From its example, those who imitate the Principle, lower themselves, sink themselves. They are benevolent, sincere, regulated, efficacious, and they conform themselves to the times.
They do not struggle for their own interest, but yield. Therefore they do not suffer and contradiction.
To hold a vase filled to the brim, without spilling anything, is impossible; better not to fill it so.
To keep an over-sharpened blade without its edge becoming blunt, is impossible; better not to sharpen it to this extreme.
To keep a roomful of precious stones, without any of it becoming misappropriated, is impossible; better not to amass this treasure.
No extreme can be maintained for a long time. Every height is followed by a decline. Likewise for a man. Whomsoever, having become rich and powerful, takes pride in himself, prepares thereby his own ruin.
To retire at the height of one's own merit and fame, that is the way of heaven.
Keep your body and spermatic soul closely united, and ensure that they do not become separated.
Apply yourself such that the air you breath in, converted into the aerial soul, animates this composite, and keeps it intact as in a new-born baby.
Withhold yourself from considerations which are too profound, in order not to wear yourself out.
As for love of the people and anxiety for the state, limit yourself to non-action.
Let the gates of heaven open and close, without wishing to do something, without interfering.
Know all, be informed on everything, and for all that remain indifferent, as if you knew nothing.
Produce, breed, without taking any credit for what has been produced, without exacting a return for your actions, without imposing yourself on those you govern. There you have the formula for transcendent action.
A wheel is made of thirty perceptible spokes, but it turns due to the imperceptible central axis of the hub.
Vessels are made of perceptible clay, but it is their imperceptible hollow that is useful.
The imperceptible holes which make the doors and windows of a house, are its essentials.
It is the imperceptible that produces effects and results.
Colours blind the eyes of man. Sound makes him deaf. Flavours exhaust his taste.
Hunting and racing, by unchaining savage passions in him, madden his heart. The love of rare and difficult-to-obtain objects pushes him to efforts that harm him.
Therefore the Sage looks to his stomach, and not his senses. renounces this, in order to embrace that. (He renounces what causes wear, in order to embrace what conserves).
Favour, because it can be lost, is a source of worry. Greatness, because it can be ruined, is a source of fear.
What do these two sentences mean? The first means that the care required to keep in favour, and the fear of losing it, fill the mind with worry.
The second points out that ruin generally comes from caring too much for one's own greatness. He who has no personal ambition does not have to fear ruin.
He who is only concerned about the greatness of the empire (and not that of himself), he who only desires the good of the empire (and not his own good), to him the empire should be confided (and it would be in good hands).
Looking, one does not see it, for it is invisible. Listening, one does not hear it, for it is silent. Touching, one does not feel it, for it is impalpable.
These three attributes must not be separated, for they designate one and the same being.
This being, the Principle, is not light above and dark below, as are opaque material bodies. Like a slender thread, it unwinds itself (as continuous existence and action). It has no name of its own. It goes back as far as the time when there were no other beings but itself.
It has no parts; from in front one sees no head, from behind no rear.
It is this primordial Principle that has ruled, and rules, all beings right up to the present. Everything that has been, or is, since the ancient origin, is from the unwinding of the Principle.
The ancient Sages were subtle, abstract, profound, in a way that cannot be expressed in words.
Therefore I am going to use illustrative comparisons in order to make myself as clearly understood as possible. They were circumspect like on who crosses an ice-covered river; prudent like one who knows that his neighbours have their eyes on him; reserved like a guest in front of his host.
They were indifferent like melting ice (which is neither one thing nor the other). They were unsophisticated like a tree trunk (the rough bark of which conceals the excellent heartwood). They were empty like a valley (with reference to the mountain that form it). They were accommodating like muddy water, (they, the clear water, not repelling the mud, not refusing to live in contact with the common people, not forming a separate group).
(To seek purity and peace by separating from the world is to overdo things. They can be found in the world). Purity is to be found in the trouble (of this world) through (interior) calm, on condition that one does not let the impurity of the world affect oneself. Peace is to be found in the movement (of this world) by one who knows how to take part in this movement, and who is not exasperated through desiring that is should be stopped.
He who keeps to this rule of not being consumed by sterile desires arising from his own fancy, will live willingly in obscurity, and will not aspire to renew the world.
He who has reached the maximum of emptiness (of indifference) will be firmly fixed in peace.
Innumerable beings come out (from non-being), and I see them return there. They spring forth, then they all return to their root.
To return to one's root, is to enter into the state of rest. From this rest they emerge for a new destiny, and so it goes on, continually, without end. To recognize this law of immutable continuity (of the two states of life and death), is wisdom. To ignore it, is foolish. Those ignorant of this law cause misfortune (through their untimely interference in things).
He who knows that this law weighs heavily on beings, is just (treats all beings according to their nature, with equity), like a King, like Heaven, like the Principle.
In consequence he lasts until the end of his days, not having made himself any enemies.
In the early days (when, in human affairs, everything still conformed to the action of the Principle), subjects scarcely knew that they had a prince (so discreet was the action of the latter). After this the people loved and flattered their prince (because of his good deeds), but later on, they feared him (because of his laws), and scorned him (because of his unjust acts).
They became disloyal, though having been treated disloyally. They lost confidence in him though receiving only good words which were never put into effect.
How delicate was the touch of ancient rulers. When everything prospered under their administration, the people believed they had done everything themselves, of their own free will.
When action conforming to the Principle dwindles, (when men cease to act with spontaneous goodness and fairness), artificial principles of goodness and fairness, prudence and wisdom (are invented).
These artificial principles soon degenerate into politics.
When parents no longer live in natural harmony, they try to make up for this deficit by inventing artificial principles of filial piety and paternal affection.
When states had fallen into disarray, they invented the loyal minister stereotype.
Reject (artificial, conventional, political) wisdom and prudence, (in order to return to primal natural uprightness). and the people will be a hundred times happier.
Reject (artificial, conventional) goodness and fairness, (filial and fraternal piety), and the people will come back (for their well-being, to natural goodness and fairness), to spontaneous filial and paternal piety.
Reject art and gain, and evildoers will disappear. (With the primordial simplicity, they will return to primordial honesty).
Renounce these three artificial categories, for the artificial is good-for-nothing.
Be attached to simplicity and naturalness. Have few personal interests, and few desires.
Give up learning, and you will be free from all your worries. What is the difference between yes and no (about which the rhetoricians have so much to say)? What is the difference between good and evil (on which the critics never agree)? (These are futilities that prevent the mind from being free. Now freedom of mind is necessary to enter into relation with the Principle).
Without doubt, among the things which common people fear, there are things that should be feared; but not as they do, with a mind so troubled that they lose their mental equilibrium.
Neither should one permit oneself to lose equilibrium through pleasure, as happens to those who have a good meal or view the surrounding countryside in spring from the top of a tower (with the accompaniment of wine, etc.). I (the Sage) seem to be colourless and undefined; neutral as a new-born child that has not yet experienced any emotion; without design or aim.
The common people abound (in varied knowledge), but I am poor (having rid myself of all uselessness) and seem ignorant, so much have I purified myself.
They seem full of light, I seem dull. They seek and scrutinize, I remain concentrated in myself. Indeterminate, like the immensity of the oceans, I float without stopping.
They are full of talent, whereas I seem limited and uncultured. I differ thus from the common people, because I venerate and imitate the universal nourishing mother, the Principle.
All of the beings which play a role, in the great manifestation of the cosmic theater, have come from the Principle, through its virtue (its unwinding).
The Principle is indistinct and indeterminate, mysterious and obscure. In its indistinction and indetermination there are types, a multitude of beings. In its mystery and obscurity there is an essence which is reality.
From ancient times until the present, its name (its being) has stayed the same, all beings have come from it.
How do I know that it was the origin of all beings? ... (By objective observation of the universe, which reveals that contingencies must have come from the absolute).
In the old days they said, the incomplete shall be made whole, the bent shall be straightened, the empty shall be filled, the worn shall be renewed. Simplicity makes for success, multiplicity leads one astray.
Therefore the Sage who holds himself to unity, is the model for the empire, (for the world, the ideal man).
He shines, because he does not show off. He imposes himself because he does not claim to be right. One finds merit in him, because he does not brag. He increases constantly because he does not push himself.
As he does not oppose himself to anyone, no one is opposed to him.
The axioms from the old days cited above, are they not full of sense? Yes, towards him who is perfect, (who does nothing to attract to himself), all run spontaneously.
To talk little, to act only without effort, that is the formula. A gusty wind does not blow all morning, torrential rain does not last all day.
And yet these effects are produced by heaven and earth, (the most powerful agents of all. But these are exaggerated, forced effects, that is why they cannot be sustained). If heaven and earth cannot sustain a forced action, how much less is man able to do so?
He who conforms himself to the Principle, conforms his principles to this Principle, his actions to the action of this Principle, his non-action to the non-action of this Principle.
Thus his principles, his actions, his non-action, (speculations, interventions, abstentions), always give him the contentment of success, (for, whether he succeeds or not, the Principle evolves, and therefore he is content).
(This doctrine of the abnegation of one's opinions and one's actions appeals to the taste of but few people). Many only believe in it a little, the others not at all.
By dint of holding oneself on tiptoe, one loses one's balance. By trying to take too great a stride, one does not go forward.
By making a show of oneself, one loses one's reputation. Through imposing oneself, one loses one's influence.
Through boasting about oneself, one becomes discredited. Through pushing oneself, one ceases to be augmented.
In the light of the Principle all these ways of acting are odious, distasteful. They are superfluous excesses. They are like a pain in the stomach, a tumour in the body. He who has principles (in conformity with the Principle), does not act like this.
There is a being, of unknown origin, which existed before heaven and earth; imperceptible and undefined, unique and immutable, omnipresent, the mother of everything there is.
I do not know it by its own name. I designate it by the word Principle. If it were necessary to name it, one would call it the Great,
great going forth, great distance, great return. (The principle of the great cyclic evolution of the cosmos, of the becoming and ending of all beings).
The name Great befits (proportionally) four (superimposed) beings: The emperor, the earth, heaven (the classical Chinese triad), and the Principle.
The emperor owes his greatness to the earth (his theater), earth owes its greatness to heaven (of which it is the fruit), heaven owes its greatness to the Principle (of which it is the principal agent). (Greatness borrowed, as one can see, whereas) the Principle owes its essential greatness to its underived, uncreated existence.
The heavy is the base (root) of the light. Stillness is the prince of movement. (These things should be always united in a just temperament).
Therefore a wise prince, when he travels (in his light carriage), never separates himself from the heavy wagons which carry his baggage. However beautiful the landscape through which he passes, he takes care to lodge only in peaceful places.
Alas, how could an emperor behave so foolishly,
losing all authority by dint of frivolity, and all the rest through his waywardness?
A good walker leaves no trace, a good speaker offends no one, a good reckoner needs no tally,
an expert locksmith can make one that no one can open, an expert on knots can make them so that no one can untie them. (all specialists have their speciality, which makes their fame, from which they take their profit).
Likewise the Sage (Confucian politician), the professional saviour of men and things, has his own procedures.
He considers himself as the born master of other men, regarding them as material born for his craft. Now that is to blind oneself, (to shade out the light, the Daoist principles).
Not wishing to rule, nor to appropriate, others; although wise, seeming like a madman (persisting to live in retreat); this is the essential truth.
Being aware of one's virile strength (knowing that one is a cock), and yet holding oneself willingly in the inferior state of the female (of the hen); keeping oneself willingly in the lowest place in the empire ... To demean oneself thus shows that one has retained the primordial virtue, (absolute disinterestedness, participation in the Principle).
Knowing oneself to be enlightened, and willingly passing oneself off as ignorant; willingly letting oneself be walked over ... To behave thus is to show that the primordial virtue has not wavered in oneself, that one is still united with the first Principle.
Knowing oneself worthy of fame, yet staying in voluntary obscurity; willingly making oneself the valley (the lowest point) of the empire ... To behave thus is to show that one has the original self-sacrifice still intact that one is still in the state of natural simplicity.
(The Sage will refuse therefore the burden of being a governor. If he is constrained to accept such a post, then he will remind himself that) the multiplicity of beings have come from the primordial unity by a scattering. (That he will never busy himself with these diverse beings), but govern as chief of the officials (as prime mover), uniquely applying himself to general government, without occupying himself with details.
He who holds the empire would, in my view, be wishing for failure should he want to manipulate it (to act positively, to govern actively).
The empire is a mechanism of extreme delicacy. It should be let go all alone. It should not be touched. He who touches it, deranges it. He who wishes to appropriate it, loses it.
When he governs, the Sage lets all people (and their sum, the empire) go free according to their several natures, the agile and the slow, the ardent and the apathetic, the strong and the weak, the long-lived and the short-lived.
He limits his action to the suppression of excesses which would harm the whole, such as power, wealth, and ambition.
(of all the excesses, the most prejudicial, the most damnable, as that of weapons, war). Those who act as advisors to a prince should keep themselves from wanting to make war against a country. (For such action, calling for revenge, is always paid for dearly).
Wherever the troops stay the land produces only thorns, having been abandoned by the farm workers. Wherever a great army has passed, years of unhappiness (from famine and brigandage) follow.
Therefore the good general is content to do only what he has to do, (the least possible; moral, rather than material repression). He stops as soon as possible, guarding himself from exploiting his force to the limit.
He does as much as is required (to reestablish peace), not for his personal advantage and fame, but from necessity and with reluctance, without any intention of increasing his power.
Any height of power is always followed by decadence. Making oneself is therefore contrary to the Principle (the source of duration). He who is lacking on this point, will not be long in coming to an end.
The best weapons are ill-omened instruments that all beings hold in fear. Therefore those who conform themselves to the Principle do not use them.
In times of peace, the prince puts the civil minister he honours on his left (the place of honour); but even in times of war, he puts the military commander on his right (which is not the place of honour, even though he is exercising his function).
Weapons are disastrous instruments. A wise prince uses them only with reluctance and from necessity. He prefers always a modest peace to a glorious victory.
No one should think that victory is a good thing. He who thinks that, shows that he has the heart of an assassin. Such a man would not be fit to reign over the empire.
According to the rites, those of good omen are placed on the left, those of ill-omen on the right. (Now when the emperor receives two military officers together), the one of subordinate rank (who only acts on superior orders, and is therefore less ill-omened) is placed on the left. The commanding officer is placed on the right, that is, in the first place according to the funeral rites, (the place of the chief mourner).
For it behooves one who has killed many men to weep tears of lamentation for them. The only place really fitting for a conquering general is that of the chief mourner (leading the mourning for those whose death he has caused).
When, in the beginning, in this visible world, the Principle imparted itself in the production of (sentient) beings with names, it did not produce them in a way that exhausted itself (but only as tenuous prolongations, its mass remaining intact).
The Principle has no name of its own. It is nature. This nature so unmanifest is stronger than anything.
If princes and emperors were to conform themselves to it, all beings would collaborate with them spontaneously;
heaven and earth would act in perfect harmony, sprinkling a sweet dew (the best possible omen); the people would be governable without the need for constraint.
The Principle is, with reference to the diversity of beings in the world, like the mass of great rivers and oceans with reference to trickles and rivulets of water.
Knowing others is wisdom, but knowing oneself is superior wisdom, (one's own nature being most hidden and profound).
Imposing one's will on others is strength; but imposing it on oneself is superior strength (one's own passions being the most difficult to subdue).
Being satisfied (content with what destiny has given), is true wealth; being master of oneself (bending oneself to the dispositions of destiny) is true character.
Staying in one's (natural) place (that which destiny has given), makes for a long lifer. After death, not ceasing to be, is true longevity, (which is the lot of those who have lived in conformity with nature and destiny).
The great Principle extends itself in all directions.
It lends itself willingly to the genesis of all beings (its participants). When a work is accomplished, it does not attribute it to itself. It nourishes all beings with kindness, without imposing itself on them as a master (for having nourished them; leaving them free; not exacting any degrading return from them).
Because of its constant disinterestedness, one might think it would become diminished. This is not so.
All beings to who it is so liberal, run towards it. It therefore finds itself magnified (through this universal trust).
The Sage imitates this conduct. He, also, makes himself small (through his disinterestedness and his delicate reserve), and acquires thereby true greatness.
Because he resembles the great prototype (the Principle, through his disinterested devotion), all come to the Sage. He welcomes them all, does them good, and gives them rest, peace, and happiness.
Music and good cheer may hold up a passer-by for but a night, (since sensual pleasures are fleeting and leave nothing behind).
Whereas the exposition of the great principle of disinterested devotion, simple and gentle, which charms neither the eyes nor the ears, pleases, engraves itself, and is of an inexhaustible fecundity in matters of practical application.
The beginning of contraction necessarily follows the maximum of expansion. Weakness follows strength, decadence follows prosperity, depravation follows opulence.
This is a subtle insight (that many do not wish to see). All preceding strength and superiority is expiated by subsequent debility and inferiority. More calls for less, excess calls for deficit.
A fish should not leave the depths (where it lives ignored but in security, in order to show itself at the surface where it could be harpooned). A state should not show its resources (if it does not wish the others to turn against it in order to crush it).
The Principle is always non-acting (not acting actively), and yet it does everything (without seeming to participate).
If the prince and the lords could govern like that (without poking their fingers in it), all beings would become spontaneously perfect (by returning to nature). It would only remain to call them back to unnamed nature (to the primordial simplicity of the Principle) each time they showed any tendency to come out of this state (by acting). In this state of unnamed nature there are no desires.
When there are no desires all is peaceful, and the state is governed by itself.
That which is superior to the Virtue of the Principle (the Principle itself, considered in its essence), does not act, but holds Virtue in a state of immanence within itself. All those which are inferior to the Virtue of the Principle (artificial rules of conduct), are only a palliative for the loss of that Virtue; palliative with which it has nothing in common.
That which is superior to the Virtue (the Principle), does not act in detail. (The artificial rules) which are inferior to the Virtue (of the Principle) only exist for action in detail.
When nature, with its good instincts, has been forgotten, artificial principles come as palliatives for this deficit. These are, in descending order, goodness, fairness, rites and laws. (Artificial Confucian goodness is superior to artificial fairness which, in struggling to cope with the diverse inclinations of men, has produced rites and laws).
Rites are but a poor expedient to cover up the loss of original uprightness and frankness. They are more a source of trouble (in etiquette and rubric) then they are of order. The last term of this descending evolution, political wisdom (making laws), was the beginning of all abuses.
He who is truly a man, holds himself to uprightness and natural good sense. He is contemptuous of artificial principles. Using discernment, he rejects this (the false), in order to embrace that (the true).
The following participate in primitive simplicity: Heaven, which owes its luminosity to its simplicity. Earth, which owes its stability to it. The universal generative action, which owes its activity to it.
The median space, which owes its fecundity to it. The life common to all beings. The power of the emperor and the princes. (Life and power being emanations of the Principle). What makes them such as they are, is the (primitive) simplicity (in which they participate).
If heaven came to lose it, it would fall. If the earth came to lose it, it would lose its stability. If the generative action lost it, it should cease to act,
If the median space lost it, all beings would disappear. If the emperor and the princes should lose it, they would have no more dignity.
All elevation, all nobility, is based on abasement and simplicity (characteristics proper to the Principle).
Therefore it is right that the emperor and the princes, the most exalted of men, should be designated by the terms sole, unique, incapable, without them being thereby degraded.
(Applying the same principle of simplicity in their government), they should reduce the multitude of their subjects to unity, considering them with the same serene impartiality as an undivided mass,
not regarding some as precious jade and others like base stones.
Going back (towards the Principle) is the type of movement characteristic of those who conform themselves to the Principle. Attenuation is the result of their being conformed to the Principle.
Considering all that exists is born of simple being, and that being is born of formless non-being, they tend, in diminishing themselves without cease, to go back to primordial simplicity.
When a well-read person of high caliber hears about the return to the Principle, he applies himself to it with zeal. A person of medium caliber applies himself to it indecisively.
An inferior person ridicules it. That such a person should ridicule it, is a mark of the truth of this doctrine. The fact that they do not understand it, shows its transcendence.
They say in the proverb: Those who have understood the Principle are as if blind; those who tend towards it are as if disoriented; those who have reached it seem like common people. This is because great virtue hollows itself like a valley, the great light voluntarily dims itself, vast virtue seems defective, solid virtue seems incapable.
Therefore the Sage hides his qualities beneath a somewhat repulsive exterior. He who goes by these appearances will be quite misled. Like a square so big that its corners are invisible, like an enormous vase that is never finished, like a great meaning hidden in a feeble sound, like a great shape that cannot be grasped;
the Sage resembles the Principle. - Now the Principle is latent and has no name, but through its gentle communication, everything is produced. It is the same, in proportion, for the Sage.
When the Principle has emitted its virtue, the latter begins to evolve according to two alternating modalities. This evolution produces (or condenses) the median air (tenuous matter). From tenuous matter, under the influence of the two modalities yin and yang, all sentient beings are produced.
Coming out from the yin (from strength) they pass to the yang (to the act), through the influence of the two modalities on matter.
What men dislike is being alone, unique, incapable, (in obscurity and abasement), and yet emperors and princes are designated by these terms, (which imply humility without debasement).
Beings diminish themselves by wanting to augment themselves, and they are augmented through diminishing themselves.
Always and everywhere it is the soft that wears the hard (as water wears stone). Non-being penetrates even where there are no cracks (as in the most homogeneous bodies such as metal and stone). From that I conclude the supreme effectiveness of non-action.
Silence and inaction - few men come to understand their effectiveness.
Is not the body more important that reputation? Is life not of more consideration that wealth? Is it wise to risk a great loss for a small advantage?
He who is a great lover, wears out (his heart). He who amasses great wealth, heads toward ruin (by theft or confiscation).
Whereas he who is modest courts no disgrace; he who is moderate does not perish, but endures.
Accomplished, beneath an imperfect exterior. Giving, (of himself) without becoming worn out. Filled up, without appearing to be so, And pouring out without being emptied. Very straight, beneath a bent air;
most able, behind an awkward appearance; highly perspicacious, with an embarrassed exterior. This is the Sage.
Movement beats the cold (warms one up), rest overcomes heat (refreshes). The withdrawn life of the Sage rectifies all the empire (strikes at the root of its depravation.
When the Principle reigns (in perfect peace), war horses work in the fields. When the Principle is forgotten, (war horses are the order of the day) And they are raised even in the suburbs of the towns.
To give in to one's covetousness (And this includes the mania for waging war), is the worst of crimes. Not to know how to control oneself, is the worst of nasty things. The worst of faults is to want more, always.
Those who know how to say 'enough is enough', are always content.
Without going out by the door, one can know the whole world; without looking through the window, one can become aware of the way of heaven (principles which rule all things). - The further one goes, the less one learns.
The Sage gets there without having taken a step to reach it. He knows before having seen, through superior principles. He achieves, without having acted, through his transcendent action.
By studying, every day one increases (useless and injurious particular notions, in one's memory); by concentrating on the Principle, they are diminished every day.
Pushed to the limit, this diminution ends in non-action, (the consequence of the absence of particular ideas). Now there is nothing that non-action (letting things go) cannot sort out. It is through non-action that one wins the empire.
To act, in order to win it, results in failure.
The Sage has no definite will of his own, he accommodates himself to the will of the people.
He treats the good and the bad equally well, which is the true practice of goodness.
He trusts the sincere and insincere alike, which is the true practice of trust.
In this mixed-up world, the Sage is without any emotion, and has the same feelings for all. All men fix their eyes and ears on him. He treats them like children, (Daoism kindliness, sightly disdainful).
Men go forth into life, And return in death.
Out of ten men, three prolong their life (through cleanliness), three hasten their death (through their excesses), three compromise their life by the attachment they have to it, (And only one stays alive until his term, because he is not attached to it).
He who is not attached to his life, does not turn aside to avoid an encounter with a rhinoceros or a tiger; he throws himself into the fray without armour or weapons;
And he comes to no harm because he is proof against the rhinoceros horn, the tiger's claws, And weapons of combat. Why is this? ... Because, exteriorized through his indifference, death cannot take a hold on him.
The Principle gives life to beings, then its Virtue nourishes them, until the completion of their nature, until the perfection of their faculties. Therefore all beings venerate the Principle and its Virtue.
No one has the eminence of the Principle and its Virtue conferred on them; they have it always, naturally. The Principle gives life; its Virtue gives growth, protects, perfects, matures, maintains, And covers (all beings).
When they are born, it does not monopolize them; it lets them act freely, without exploiting them; it lets them grow, without tyrannizing them. This is the action of transcendent Virtue.
That which was, before the beginning of the world, became the mother of the world.
He who has reached knowledge of the mother (matter, the body), knows through that her son (the vital spirit which is enclosed in it). He who knows the son (his vital spirit) And conserves the mother (his body), will reach the end of his days without accident.
If he keeps his mouth and nostril closed (to prevent evaporation of the vital spirit), he will reach the end of his days without having suffered decadence.
Whereas, if he talks a lot and causes himself much worry, he will use up and shorten his life.
Restricting one's considerations to small things, And one's cares to affairs of little importance, makes the mind clear and the body strong.
Concentrating one's intellectual rays in one's intelligence, And not letting mental applications harm one's body, is to protect (the mind) And make for long (life).
He who has little wisdom, should conform himself to the great Principle. He should take care to avoid any irksome boasting.
But to this wide road many prefer the narrow sidetracks. (Few men walk along the way of obscure disinterestedness. They prefer the narrow tracks of their vanity, their own advantage. This is how the princes of these times act).
When the palaces are too well kept up, the fields go uncultivated and the granaries empty, (because the farm workers are requisitioned for forced labour).
Dressing magnificently, wearing a sharp sword, stuffing oneself with food and drink, amassing wealth to the extent of not knowing what to do with it (as do the princes of these times), is being like a brigand (who ostentatiously plays with his loot). Such conduct is opposed to the Principle.
He who builds on disinterestedness will not find his work destroyed. He who keeps himself disinterested will not lose what he has. His sons and his grandsons will make offerings to him without interruption (that is to say, they will succeed him and enjoy the fruit of his works).
First of all one should conform oneself to the Principle; afterwards, this conformity will spread spontaneously, by itself, to one's family, district, principality, And to the empire; (like radiant heat coming from a central hearth).
Through one's own nature, one understands those of other individuals, And of all individual collectivities such as families, districts, principalities, And the empire.
How can one know the nature of an entire empire? ... By this (through one's own nature).
He who holds himself in perfect Virtue (without lust or anger) is like the new-born child whom the scorpion does not bite, the tiger does not devour, the vulture does not seize, whom all respect. A child's bones are weak, its tendons are feeble, but it grasps objects strongly (just as its soul and body are held together by force).
He has not yet any notion of the act of generation, And, in consequence, keeps his seminal virtue intact.
He cries softly all day long without becoming hoarse, so perfect is his peace. Peace makes for durability; he who understands this is enlightened.
Whereas any violent excitement, above all lust and anger, wears one out.
From this it follows that virility (which man abuses) is succeeded by decrepitude. Intense life is contrary to the Principle, And in consequence prematurely mortal.
He who knows (the Principle), does not speak.
He keeps his mouth closed, controls his breathing, blunts his activity, rescues himself from any complication, tempers his light, And mingles with people. This is mysterious union (with the Principle).
No one can attach himself (by doing favours) to such a man, nor repulse him (by treating him badly). He is indifferent to gain or loss, exaltation or humiliation. Being thus, he is the most noble in the world.
One can govern with rectitude, one can wage war with competence, but it takes non-action to win and hold the empire. How do I know that this is so? From what I am going to say:
The more rules there are, the less people enrich themselves. The more taxes there are, the less order there is.
The more ingenious inventions there are, the fewer serious and useful objects there are. The more detailed the penal code, the more thieves abound. Multiplication ruins everything.
Therefore the programme of the Sage is quite the contrary. Not acting, And the people amend themselves. Staying peaceful, And the people rectify themselves.
Doing nothing, And the people enrich themselves. Wishing for nothing, And the people come back to natural spontaneity.
When the government is simple, the people abound in virtue. When the government is political, the people lack virtue.
Good and bad succeed one anther, alternately.
Who will discern the heights? (of this circular movement, of good and evil. It is very delicate, an excess or a default changing the moral entity). In many the right measure is lacking. In some an exaggerated righteousness degenerates into a mania. In others an exaggerated goodness becomes extravagance. (Points of view changing in consequence. For a long time now, men have thus been crazy.
The Sage takes them as they are). Taking them to task, he is not sharp or cutting. Straight, he is not rude. Enlightened, he does not humiliate.
The essential for co-operation with heaven in the government of men, is to moderate one's action.
This moderation should be the prime care. It procures perfect efficacy, which succeeds in everything, even the governing of the empire.
He who possesses this mother of the empire (wise moderation), will last a long time.
It is called the pivoting root, the solid trunk. It is the principle of perpetuity.
To govern a great state, one should act like someone cooking a very small fish (very delicately, otherwise they break up).
When a state is governed according to the Principle, phantoms do not appear there to harm the people, because the Sage who governs does not harm the people.
Not that the spirits have no more powers, But their powers will not harm men./ Neither will they harm men, Nor will the Sage harm the people.
The merit of this double tranquility (on the part of the living and the dead) comes back, therefore, to the Sage.
If a great state lowers itself, like those holes in which water accumulates, everyone will come to it. It will belike the universal female. In her apparent passivity and inferiority, the female is superior to the male (for it is she who gives birth).
On condition of knowing how to lower itself, a great state will win over lesser states,
which in their turn, will lower themselves, seeking its protection.
For this to be realized, only one thing is needed, but it is essential. It is that the great state deigns to lower itself before the lesser ones. (if it is proud and hard, there is no hope).
The Principle is the palladium of all beings. It is the treasure of the good (that by which they are good), and the salvation of the wicked (that which prevents them from perishing).
It is to it that one should be grateful from affectionate words, and the noble conduct of good people. It is with regard to it, that the wicked should not be rejected.
It is for that reason (for the conservation and development of the part of the Principle which is in all beings) that the emperor and the great ministers were instituted. Not so that they should become complacent with their sceptre and their ancient four-horsed chariot; but in order that they should meditate on the Principle (advancing themselves in their knowledge, and in the development of others).
Why did the ancients make so much of the Principle? is it not because it is the source of all good and the remedy for all evil? It is the most noble thing in the world.
To act without acting; to be busy without being busy; to taste without tasting;
to look equally on the great, the small, the many and the few; to be indifferent to thanks and reproaches; this is how the Sage acts.
He only sets about difficult complications through their easiest details, and only applies himself to great problems in their weak beginnings.
The Sage never undertakes anything great, and that is why he makes great things.
He who promises much, cannot keep his word; he who embarrasses himself with too many things, even easy things, never succeeds in anything.
The Sage keeps clear of difficulty, therefore he never has any difficulties.
Peaceful situations are easily controlled; problems are easily forestalled before they arise; weak things are easily broken; small things are easily dispersed.
One should take one's measures before something happens, and protect order before disorder bursts out.
A tree which one's arms can barely embrace comes from a shoot as fine as a hair; a nine-storey tower begins with a pile of earth; a long journey begins with a single step.
Those who make too much of things, spoil their affairs. Those who grip too strongly, end up by letting go. The Sage who does not act, does not spoil any affair. Since he holds on to nothing, nothing escapes him.
When the common people have affairs, they often fail at the moment when they should have succeeded, (nervousness at the beginning of success making them lose propriety and make clumsy mistakes). For success, the circumspection of the beginning should last until the final achievement.
The Sage desires nothing. He does not prize any object because it is rare. He does not attach himself to any system, but instructs himself by the faults of others. In order to co-operate with universal evolution, he does not act, but lets things go.
In antiquity, those who conformed themselves to the Principle did not seek to make the people clever, but aimed at keeping them simple.
When people are difficult to govern, it is because they know too much. Those who claim to procure the good of a country by disseminating instruction, are wrong, and ruin the country.
This is the formula of mysterious action, of great profundity, of great bearing.
It is not to the taste of (the curious) but, thanks to it, everything turns out well, peacefully.
Why are the oceans and rivers kings of all the valleys? (receiving all the watercourses in tribute). Because they are benevolently the inferiors of all the valleys (with regard to levels). That is why all the water flows towards them.
Following this example, the Sage who wishes to become superior to the common people should speak in words beneath himself (speak very humbly of himself). If he wishes to become the first, he should put himself in last place, (and continue to do so, after he has been exalted).
He could then be elevated to the highest peak without the people feeling oppressed by him; he could be the first without the people complaining about him. The whole empire would serve him with joy, without becoming weary of him.
For, not being opposed to anyone, no one would be opposed to him.
Everyone says the Sage is noble, despite his common air; an air which he gives himself because he is noble (to hide his nobility and not to attract envy to himself). Everyone knows, on the contrary, how much those who pose as nobles are men of little worth.
The Sage prizes three things and holds on to them: charity, simplicity, and humility.
Being charitable, he will be brave (within just limits, without cruelty). Being simple, he will be liberal (within just limits, without waste). Being humble, he will govern men without tyranny.
The men of today have forgotten charity, simplicity, and humility. They prize war, ostentation, and ambition. This is like wishing not to succeed. It is like wishing to perish.
For it is the charitable aggressor who wins the battle (not the savage aggressor); it is the charitable defender who is impregnable (and not the pitiless warrior). Those whom heaven wishes well, are thereby made charitable.
He who commands should not think that tactics, valour, and effort give victory.
It is by putting oneself at the service of men that one subdues them. That is the correct procedure.
It is sometimes formulated as follows: art of not struggling (of accommodating oneself, of winning be making oneself everything to everyone); of ability to manage men; of action conforming to that of heaven. All these formulae designate the same thing. They show the greatness of the ancients.
Rather be on the defensive than the offensive, rather retreat a step than advance an inch, are current principles of military art. It is worth more to yield than to triumph. Prevention (of war) through diplomacy is worth even more.
That is the meaning of certain abstruse formulae of military art, such as: advancing without marching; defending oneself without moving an arm; status quo without fighting; holding on without weapons; and others.
There is no worse curse than a war waged with little or no reason, (which is sought-after deliberately, and pushed beyond necessary limits).
He who does that, exposes his own goods to loss, and causes great mourning.
What I (Lao Zi) teach is easy to understand and to practice, and yet the world neither understands or practices it.
My precepts and procedures derive from a superior principle and procedure, the Principle and its Virtue. The world does not recognize the Principle which directs me, that is why it does not know me. Very few understand me. That makes my glory.
It befalls me to be like the Sage who is unrecognized from amongst the common people because of his humble appearance, even though his interior is filled with jewels.
Knowing all and believing that one knows nothing, is true knowledge (of a superior kind). Knowing nothing and believing that one knows everything, is the common evil of humans. Seeing this evil as an evil, keeps one away from it.
The Sage is exempt from self-conceit, because he dreads it. This fear keeps him from it.
Those (who expose themselves to danger through curiosity, love of gain, or ambition) should be afraid when they are not afraid. For they are lost.
Do not consider your place of birth too restricting, do not become dissatisfied with the condition in which you were born. (Stay what you are and where you are. The effort to seek for better could perhaps cause you to lose you way). One does not become dissatisfied, if one does not wish to become so. (Dissatisfaction is always voluntary, coming from preparing one's situation with another, and having preference for the other).
The Sage knows his worth but does not show it, (he does not feel the need to show it off). He respects himself but does not try to be esteemed. He discerns, adopting this, and rejecting that (after the light of his wisdom).
Active (warlike) courage procures death. Passive courage (patience, endurance) conserves life.
Therefore there are two courages, one harmful, the other beneficial. (Patience and forbearance are always worth more than incisive action, even in government, in politics). For does heaven wish harm, or not, to this or that man, or nation? ... And why? ... Who knows? - Therefore the Sage always acts as though embarrasses, (hesitating, making up his mind with difficulty before any active intervention).
For the way of heaven (its constant conduct), is not to intervene positively. It wins without fighting. It makes things obey without giving orders. It makes them come without calling them. It brings everything to its conclusion whilst having the appearance of letting everything drag.
The heavenly net catches all. Its mesh is wide, but no one escapes it.
If the people do not fear death, what is the good of trying to control them by the threat of death?
If they fear death, then only capture and execute those who cause disorder, turning the others away from doing likewise. (The legalists who are lavish with the death penalty and believe it will sort everything out, are therefore wrong).
The servant of death (heaven), kills, (let him do it. Let us not do his work. He alone is capable of it). The man who wants to kill may end up like those who play with the carpenter's tools, and often lose a finger in their play.
If the people are hungry, it is because the prince eats up excessive sums of money (which he extorts from them).
If the people are restive, it is because the prince does too much, (indisposes them by his innovations).
If the people expose themselves lightly to death (in hazardous enterprises), it is because he loves life too much, (love of well-being, of pleasure, of fame). He who does nothing in order to live, is wiser than he who harms himself in order to live.
When a man is born he is supple and weak (but full of life); he becomes strong and powerful, and then he dies.
It is the same for plants, delicate (herbaceous) at first, then becoming woody at the time of their death.
He who is strong and powerful is marked for death; he who is weak and flexible is marked for life.
The great army will be defeated. The great tree will be cut down.
Everything that is strong and great is in a poorer condition. The advantage is always with the supple and the weak.
Heaven acts (with regard to men) like the archer who, bending his bow, makes the convexities straight and the concavities bulge, diminishing the greater and augmenting the lesser. (Lowering the higher, and raising the lower).
It takes away from those who have plenty, and adds to those who have little. Whereas men (bad princes who bleed the people) do quite the opposite, taking away from those who lack (the people), in order to add to those who have in abundance (their favourites) ...
Any superfluity ought to come back to the empire (to the people), but only he who possesses the Principle is capable of that.
The Sage conforms himself to the Principle. He influences without attributing the result to himself. He accomplishes without appropriating his work to himself. He does not claim the title of the Sage, (but keeps himself in voluntary obscurity).
In this world there is nothing more supple and weak than water; and yet no one, however strong and powerful he may be, can resist its action (corrosion, wear, wave action); and no being can do without it ( for drinking, growth, etc.).
Is it clear enough that weakness is worth more than strength, that suppleness can overcome rigidity? - Everyone agrees with this; but no one acts according to it.
The Sages have said: "He who rejects neither moral filth nor political evil is capable of becoming the chief of a territory or the sovereign of the empire." (He who is supple enough to accommodate himself to all that; and not a rigid and systematic person). These words are quite true, even though they offend many.
When the principle of a dispute has been settled (some accessory grievances) always remain, and things do not return to the state they were in before, (bruises remain).
(Therefore the Sage never questions it, despite his right). Keeping his half of the agreement, he does not exact the execution (of what is written).
He who knows how to conduct himself after the Virtue of the Principle, lets his written agreements sleep. He who does not know how to conduct himself thus, exacts his due.
Heaven is impartial. (If it were capable of some partiality), it would give advantage to good people, (those who act as in C. It would overwhelm them, because they ask for nothing).
If I were king of a little state, of a little people, I would take care to use (put in charge) the few dozen capable men that this state would contain.
I would prevent my subjects from traveling, by making them fear possible accidental death so much that they would not dare climb into a boat or carriage. I would prohibit all use of weapons.
As for writing and calculating, I would oblige them to go back to knotted cords. Then they would find their food tasty, their clothes fine, their houses peaceful, and their manners and customs agreeable.
(I would prevent curiosity and communication to the point where) my subjects would hear the noise of the cocks and dogs of the neighbouring state, but die from old age without having crossed the border and had relationships with the people there.
(I have finished. Perhaps you may find my discourse lacks something, is not very subtle, and is scarcely wise). This is because native frankness does not dress itself up,
natural directness avoids quibbling,
common sense can dispense with artificial erudition.
The Sage does not hoard, but gives. The more he does for men, the more he can do; the more he gives them, the more he has.
Heaven does good to all, doing no evil to anyone. The Sage imitates it, acting for the good of all, and opposing himself to no one.