English version by
Jan Julius Lodewijk Duyvendak, 1954
Tao Te Ching, The Book of the Way and Its Virtue, London: John Murray, 1954
Tao tö king, Le Livre de la Voie et de la Vertu. Adrien-Maisonneuve, Paris 1953, 1975, 1976
More English versions
The Way that may truly be regarded as the Way is other than a permanent way.
The terms that may truly be regarded as terms are other than permanent terms.
The term Non-being indicates the beginning of heaven and earth; the term Being indicates the mother of the ten thousand things.
For, indeed, it is through the constant alteration between Non-being and Being that the wonder of the one and the limitation of the other will be seen.
These two, having a common origin, are named with different terms.
What they have in common is called the Mystery, The Mystery of Mysteries, the Gate of all Wonders.
Everybody in the world recognizes beauty as beauty, and thus ugliness (is known).
Everybody recognizes the good as good, and thus what is not good (is known).
Being and Non-being produce one another,.
Hard and easy complete one another,.
Long and short are relative to one another,.
High and low depend on one another,.
Tone and voice harmonize with one another,.
First and last succeed one another.
Not exalting ability ensures that the people do not strive.
Not prizing goods that are difficult to obtain ensures that the people do not become robbers.
Not showing them what they might desire ensures that the people do not feel disturbed in their hearts.
Therefore the Saint, in the exercise of government, empties their hearts and fills their bellies, weakens their wills and strengthens their bones, thus constantly ensuring that the people are without knowledge and without desires and that those who have knowledge dare not act. He practices Non-action and consequently there is nothing that is not well governed.
The Way is like an empty vessel which, in spite of being used, is never filled. How bottomless it is, like the progenitor of the ten thousand things! How deep it is, as if it will last forever!
Generated by I know not what, it is the Image of what was before the "Emperors".
Heaven and earth are not humane: they treat the ten thousand things like (sacrificial) straw dogs.
The Saints are not humane: they treat the people like (sacrificial) straw dogs.
The space between heaven and earth, - how like a bellows it is! It is emptied without being exhausted. It is put in motion and it brings forth more and more.
A multiplicity of words is soon exhausted; better it is to preserve a middle course.
"The valley spirit never dies"; this refers to the dark female.
"The gate of the dark female"; this refers to the root of heaven and earth.
In fibrous ramifications it is ever present; its activity never ceases.
Heaven is longeval and earth is long lasting. The reason why heaven and earth and longeval and long lasting is because they do not reproduce themselves; therefore they are able to be longeval and long lasting.
That is why the Saint puts himself behind and yet he comes to the fore. He puts himself outside and yet he is preserved. Is it not because he is without personal preference that his personal preference is fulfilled?
The highest goodness is like water. The goodness of water consists in benefiting the ten thousand things without ever striving. It stays in the (lowest) place which all men loathe. Therefore it comes near to the Way.
What one values in a dwelling is the location;
What one values for the heart is depth;
What one values in human relations is humanity;
What one values in speaking is good faith;
What one values in ruling is good order;
What one values in serving others is ability;
What one values in action is timeliness.
Indeed, just because there is not striving, one may remain without blame.
Better to stop than to hold and fill.
Though in tempering a sword, you may feel (the edge), you cannot guarantee (its sharpness) for long.
A hall full of bronze and jade no one can guard.
Wealth and honours lead to pride; thus evil will naturally follow in their train.
To withdraw one's person when the work is done, such is heaven's Way.
By clinging to the One with both your spiritual and physical souls, can you prevent them from becoming divorced?
By concentrating your breath until you become soft, can you be like an infant?
By cleansing your secret mirror, can you make it without blemish?
In loving the people and ruling a state, can you be without action?
In opening and closing the natural gates, can you be like a hen?
In penetrating the four quarters with your intelligence, can you be without knowledge?
Though thirty spokes may be joined in one hub, the utility of the carriage lies in what is not there.
Though clay may be moulded into a vase, the utility of the vase lies in what is not there
Though doors and windows may be cut to make a house, the utility of the house lies in what is not there.
Therefore, taking advantage of what is, we recognize the utility of what is not.
The five colours blind man's eye.
The five notes deafen man's ear.
The five tastes jade man's palate.
Galloping and hunting madden man's heart.
Goods that are difficult to obtain entangle man's conduct.
That is why the Saint cares for the belly and not for the eye.
For indeed, he rejects the one and chooses the other.
Favour and disgrace are both like goads; value great disasters as your body.
What is the meaning of: "Favour and disgrace are both like goads"?
Favour is high, disgrace is low; to attain is like a goad; to fail is like a god. That is the meaning of: "Favour and disgrace are both like goads".
What is the meaning of: "value great disasters as your body"?
The reason that I suffer great disasters, is that I have a body.
As soon as I have no body, what disaster can I suffer?
Therefore, he who rules All-under-heaven as he values his own body, may well be entrusted with All-under-heaven; he who rules All-under-heaven as he loves his body, may well be entrusted with All-under-heaven.
Gazing, we do not see it; we call it dim.
Listening, we do not hear it; we call it inaudible.
Groping, we do not grasp it; we call it subtile.
These three (properties) do not allow ultimate scrutiny, for indeed, merging, they become One.
Its rising is not bright, nor is its setting dark. Branching out in shoots innumerable that cannot be defined, it returns again to nothingness.
This may be called giving shape to the shapeless, forming an image out of nothingness; this may be called a vague likeness.
We meet it, but do not see its front; we follow it, but do not see its back.
If, by seizing they Way of antiquity, we direct the existence of to-day, we may know the primordial beginning. This may be called: (unravelling) the clue of the Way.
In olden times those skilful in the Way had wonderful subtlety and mysterious penetration, so profound that it is impossible to understand them. Since, indeed, it is impossible to understand them, one can only try to the best of one's ability to describe their appearance.
How hesitant, like one who wades a stream in winter!
How circumspect, like one who fears his neighbours on all sides!
How reserved, like one who is a guest!
How fluid, like ice about to melt!
How solid, like uncarved wood!
How wide, like a valley!
How turbid, like muddy water!
What may allay the muddiness? Through stillness it will gradually become clear.
What may make repose lasting? Through movement it will gradually ensue.
Those who observed this Way did not desire to be full. Indeed, because they were not full, they could wear out without renewal.
Attaining the utmost vacuity and earnestly observing quietness, while the ten thousand things all together are operating, I thus contemplate their return (to nothingness).
Indeed, things flourish luxuriantly, each to return again to the root (from which it sprang). To return to the root is called stillness; this may be described as surrendering one's trust.
Surrendering one's trust is called the constant (law). He who knows this constant (law), is called enlightened. He who does not know this constant (law), is foolishly active and comes to grief. He who knows this constant (law) forbears; forbeairng, he is unprejudiced; unprejudiced, he is all-embracing; all-embracing, he is great; great, he (knows) the Way; (knowing) the Way, he lasts; until the end of his life he is not in peril.
In highest (antiquity) one did not even know there were (rulers).
Next one loved them and praised them.
Next one feared them.
Next one despised them.
If good faith (of the prince towards the people) is inadequate, good faith (of the people towards the ruler) will be wanting.
Thoughtful were (the sage rulers), valuing their words!
When the work was done and things ran smoothly, the people all said: "We have done it ourselves!"
When the great Way declines, there is "humanity and justice".
When cleverness and knowledge appear, there is "great artificiality".
When the six degrees of kinship do not live in harmony, there are "filial sons".
When state and dynasty are plunged in disorder, there are "loyal ministers".
Abolish saintliness and reject knowledge: the people will benefit a hundredfold.
Abolish humanity and reject justice: The people will return to filial piety and maternal affection.
Abolish skill and reject profit: thieves and robbers will disappear.
(Lest) these three be considered as (mere) words which are inadequate, let there be something to hold on to.
Display natural simplicity and cling to artlessness: decrease selfishness and diminish desires.
Abolish study and you will be free from care.
"What the distinction is between 'yea' and 'aye'", "what the difference is between 'good' and 'evil'"; that "one should stand in awe of what others stand in awe of"; - how vast (is the study of these things)!
There is no end to it!
But when all men are joyous as if celebrating the Great Sacrifice or climbing the heights in spring, then I alone, - so passive, - giving no sign, like an infant that has not yet smiles; - so forlorn, - like one who has nowhere to turn! When all men have plenty, I alone am like one who is left out.
I have indeed the heart of a fool, - so obtuse!
Let ordinary men be bright and intelligent, I alone am stupid and confused.
Let ordinary men be astute and far-sighted, I alone am dull and mope-eyed.
Wan like the waning moon; adrift like one who has nowhere to rest!
Let all men have a purpose, I alone am ignorant like a boor.
I alone am different from others because I prize feeding on "the Mother".
The outward manifestations of the Grand Virtue proceed exclusively from the Way.
The Way is something utterly vague and intangible. Though intangible and vague, latent in it are Images. Though vague and intangible, latent in it are things. Though impenetrable and obscure, latent in it is infallibility, so that, from of old till now, that name ("Way") has not been discarded in describing the common origin. How do I know the manner of this common origin? From this.
What is bowed, becomes whole.
What is crooked, becomes straight.
What is hollow, becomes filled.
What is worn, becomes new.
He, who has little, acquires.
He, who has much, is deluded.
Therefore the Saint clings to the One and makes it into the measure of All-under-heaven.
He does not display himself; therefore he shines.
He does not assert himself; therefore he is manifest.
He does not boast; therefore he succeeds.
He does not feel conceit; therefore he becomes chief.
Indeed, just because he does not strive, in All-under-heaven there is none that can strive with him.
The old saying: "what is bowed, become whole", is surely not an empty word? It implies all that is truly whole.
To be brief of word is the natural (course).
For a whirlwind does not last all morning, nor does a rainstorm last all day. Who is it that makes these? Heaven and earth. Now if even heaven and earth cannot make (such exuberance) lasting, how much less man!
Therefore he who follows the Way in his actions, identifies himself with the Way. If he succeeds, he identifies himself with success; if he fails, he identifies himself with failure.
If he identifies himself with the Way, he rejoices on obtaining the Way. IF he identifies himself with success, he likewise rejoices on obtaining success. If he identifies himself with failure, he also rejoices on obtaining failure.
On tiptoe one does not stand.
Straddle-legged one does not go forward.
He who displays himself, shines not.
He who asserts himself, is not manifest.
He who boasts, succeeds not.
He who is conceited, does not become chief.
(Of such an attitude) in regard to the Way it may be said: "Superfluous food and redundant actions are loathed by all. Therefore, he who has the Way, does not concern himself with them."
There was something in a state of fusion before heaven and earth were formed. How tranquil, how void it is; it stands alone and changes not, it permeates universally and never tires. It may be regarded as the mother of All-under-heaven.
Its proper name I know not, but I call it by the by-name "Way", and, to the best of my ability, inventing a term for it, I should call it "great". "Great" means "to pass on", "to pass on" means "to go far", "to go far" means "to revert" (t the contrary).
Thus: the Way is great, heaven is great, earth is great and the king is great. There are in the world four great ones and the king is one thereof. The king patterns himself on earth, earth patterns itself on heaven, heaven patterns itself on the Way, and the Way patterns itself on the Natural.
Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness the master of agitation.
Thus a nobleman travels all day without leaving his baggage-wagon. Though he may have a camp and watch-towers (around him), he sits quietly and undisturbed.
How should then a lord of ten thousand chariots conduct himself lightly in regard to All-under-heaven?
If he conducts himself lightly, he will lose the mastery.
For a skilful traveller there are neither tracks nor traces.
For a skilful speaker there is neither blame nor praise.
A skilful reckoner used no counting-tallies.
A skilful 'closer' does not bar or bolt; yet to open (what he has shut) would be impossible.
A skilful binder does not twine or know; yet to loosen (what he has bound) would be impossible.
Thus the Saint is constantly good at saving men. Even of the not-good, who will be rejected?
He is constantly good at saving things: for he acts without rejecting things. This is called a twofold understanding. For a good man is the master of the not-good, and the not-good are the material for the good. However wise one may be, not to value one\s master, or not to be sparing of one's material, is a great error. This is called the chief wonder.
Conscious of what is virile, yet keeping to what is feminine, that is being a ravine for All-under-heaven. Because he is a ravine for All-under-heaven, the permanent Virtue ("Power", Te) will not seep out. He returns to the state of infancy.
Conscious of what is white, yet keeping to what is black, that is being a measure for All-under-heaven. Because he is a measure for All-under-heaven, the permanent Virtue ("Power", Te) will not fail him. He returns to that state where there are no poles.
Conscious of what is glorious, yet keeping to ignominy, that is being a valley for All-under-heaven. Because he is a valley for All-under-heaven, the permanent Virtue ("Power", Te) will be sufficient. He returns to the state of uncarved wood.
Uncarved wood (cut and) dispersed forms (various) vessels, but the Saint, by using it, becomes the chief minister.
For great carving is not done by hacking.
Those who would seize All-under-heaven by means of action, - I have seen to what plight they come!
The spiritual vessel of All-under-heaven cannot me made. He who makes it, spoils it; he who holds it, loses it.
Therefore the Saint does nothing and so spoils nothing; he holds nothing and so loses nothing.
For things sometimes go forward, sometimes they lag behind; sometimes they breathe gently, sometimes they pant violently; sometimes they are strong, sometimes they are feeble; sometimes they start afresh, sometimes they decay.
Therefore the Saint avoids too much emphasis; he avoids extravagance; he avoids excess.
He who, in harmony with the Way, would assist a lord of men, will not coerce All-under-heaven by force of arms. Such things are apt to recoil.
Wherever great armies are stationed, briars and thorns grow.
In the wake of great campaigns bad years are sure to follow.
A skilful (general) is resolute, that is all. He dares not use violence in seizing (the empire). Let him be resolute but not boastful; let him be resolute but not vainglorious; let him be resolute but not haughty. Let him be resolute because he has no choice. Let him be resolute but no use violence.
Truly, it is because arms are instruments of evil, which for ever are loathed by all beings, that one who has the Way has no concern with them.
At home a nobleman values the left as the place of honour, but when he bears arms, he values the right as the place of honour.
Arms are instruments of evil and not the instruments proper to a nobleman. Only when forced to do so he bears them, and peace and quiet he sets above all. Even when he conquers, he finds no beauty in it. Should he find beauty in it, he would take pleasure in the slaughter of men. He who takes pleasure in the slaughter of men, will never get his will in All-under-heaven.
On joyful occasions the left is valued as the place of honour; on sad occasions the right is valued. The second-in-command is posted on the left, the commander-in-chief is posted on the right, which means that they are placed in accordance with the mourning rites. The slaughter of multitude of men is bewailed with sorrow and lamentation. Therefore, upon a victory in war, they are placed in accordance with the mourning rites.
The Way has the simplicity of the nameless. As soon as it is carved, there are names.
Since the names also exist, the Saint will now where to abide. He who knows where to abide, may be without peril.
The relation of the Way to All-under-heaven may be compared to that of torrents and valleys to the River and the sea.
He who knows others, is knowing; he who knows himself, is enlightened.
He who vanquishes others, has power; he who vanquishes himself, is strong.
He who acts forcefully, has determination; he who knows contentment, is rich.
He who departs not from his allotted place, will last; he who dies without perishing, will have long life.
How ambiguous is the great Way! It may go left or it may go right.
The ten thousand things depend on it for their existence, and it denies them not.
When a work has been completed, it does not appropriate it.
It clothes and nourishes the ten thousand things, but it does not act as their master.
It may be named with the smallest things.
The ten thousand things revert to it, but it does not act as their master.
It may be named with the greatest things.
Because it never asserts its own greatness, therefore it is able to achieve its proper greatness.
To him who holds the great Image, All-under-heaven will resort.
Those who resort to him, will suffer no harm, but will dwell in peace and union (with heaven and earth).
Music and dainties will make a passing stranger halt his steps.
But the words which are uttered about the Way, - how insipid and without flavour are they!
Looked at, it is not worth seeing.
Listened to, it is not worth hearing.
But used, it cannot be exhausted!
If you wish to contract, you should first expand.
If you wish to weaken, you should first strengthen.
If you wish to destroy, you should first rouse.
If you wish to seize, you should first give.
This is called 'subtile vision': the soft overcomes the hard and the feeble overcomes the strong.
Fish should not be taken from the deep; the useful implements of the state should not be shown to men.
The Way is constantly inactive and yet there is nothing that remains undone.
If the vassal kings could abide by this, the ten thousand things would develop of themselves. If in this development desire should stir, I would suppress it by the (natural) simplicity of the nameless.
Insignificant though the (natural) simplicity may be, none in All-under-heaven can enslave it.
If the vassal kings could abide by this, the ten thousand things would flock to them of themselves. Heaven and earth would unite to send down sweet dew and the people, at no one's command, would spontaneously share alike.
Truly, they would become without desire. Being without desire they would be quiet, and All-under-heaven would of itself be settled.
Superior Virtue never asserts its virtue; therefore it has virtue.
Inferior virtue never abandons it virtue; therefore it has no virtue.
Superior Virtue neither acts nor aims.
Inferior Virtue acts and aims
Superior humanity acts but aims not.
Superior justice acts and aims.
(A man of) superior ritual conduct acts, and not finding response, he pulls up his sleeves and becomes aggressive.
Thus, once the Way is abandoned, thereafter Virtue is asserted; once Virtue is abandoned, thereafter humanity is asserted; once humanity is abandoned, thereafter justice is asserted; once justice is abandoned, thereafter ritual conduct is asserted.
Now ritual conduct is the thin shell of loyalty and good faith and the beginning of disorder. Foreknowledge is but a blossom of the Way and the beginning of folly.
Therefore, "the Great Adult" is concerned with what is think, and keeps not to what is thin; he is concerned with the kernel and keeps not to the blossom.
Therefore he rejects that and chooses this.
Those who of old attained the Unity (are the following):
Heaven attained unity and became clear.
Earth attained unity and became tranquil.
The spirits attained unity and became animated.
The valleys attained unity and became filled.
The ten thousand things attained unity and were produced.
The feudal kings attained unity and became rectifiers of All-under-heaven.
all this is effected (by unity).
If, by this, heaven were not clear, it is to be feared it might burst.
If, by this, earth were not tranquil, it is to be feared it might quake.
If, by this, the spirits were not animated, it is to be feared they might dissolve.
If, by this, the valleys were not filled, it is to be feared they might be exhausted.
If, by this, the ten thousand things were not produced, it is to be feared they might become extinct.
If, by this, the feudal kings were not noble and exalted, it is to be feared they might trip.
For the noble has the vile as its root; the exalted has the lowly as its base.
Therefore feudal kings call themselves "the Orphan", "the Lonely one", "the Destitute one". Surely this is because they regard the vile as their root!
For supreme honour attained is without honour.
Its desire is not to be finely carved like jade, but to be scattered like gravel.
The movement of the Way is: to reverse.
The method of the Way is: to be weak.
Heaven and earth and the ten thousand things are born out of Being; Being is born out of Non-being.
When a gentleman of top grade hears about the Way, he does his best to put it into practice.
When a gentleman of middle grade hears about the Way, he seems now to keep it, now to lose it.
When a gentleman of bottom grade hears about the Way, he will laugh loudly at it.
If it were not laughed at, it would not be worth regarding as the Way.
For there is an established saying:
"The bright Way looks dark.
The progressive Way looks retrograde.
The level Way looks rugged.
The highest Virtue looks like a valley.
Sheer white looks soiled.
The widest Virtue looks inadequate.
The firmest Virtue looks feeble.
The truest substance looks pitted.
The greatest square has no corners.
The greatest vessel is the last completed.
The greatest music has the rarest sound.
The greatest Image has no form.
The Way is hidden and without names. Indeed, just because the Way is able to lend it is able to complete."
One produced two; two produced three; three produced the ten thousand things.
The ten thousand things turn away from the dark (Yin) and embrace the light (Yang); the vapours of the void blend them harmoniously.
What people loathe is to be "orphaned", "lonely", "destitute", and yet kings and dukes call themselves thus.
For things are sometimes increased by decrease, and decreased by increase.
What others have taught I also teach; that men of violence will not reach their natural death, I shall be the father of that doctrine.
The weakest thing in the whole world dashes against the hardest in the whole world. There is in all the world nothing softer or weaker than water, but in attacking the hard and strong, nothing surpasses it. Without substance it penetrates where there is no crevice; by what-is-not this becomes easy.
From this I know that non-action profits.
The doctrine without words and the profit of non-action, few in the world will attain to these.
Therefore the Saint abides by the practice of non-action, and professes the doctrine without words.
Name or person; - which is nearest?
Person or goods; - which counts most?
Gain or loss; - which is worse?
For, the greater sparing the greater spending; the more hoarding the more loss.
He who knows contentment, will not be ashamed.
He who knows where to abide will be without peril.
He will last long.
Treat the most flawless (vase) as cracked, and it will not wear out in use.
Treat the fullest (vase) as empty, and it will not run dry in use.
Treat the straightest as crooked, the cleverest as clumsy, the most eloquent as stammering.
Stamping may overcome cold, but stillness overcomes heat.
Purity and stillness are what rectifies All-under-heaven.
When the Empire has the Way, (even) coursers will be stabled for the sake of their dung.
When the Empire is without the Way, warhorses will be raised in the suburb.
No guilt is greater than to approve of desire.
No disaster is greater than not to know what is enough.
No fault is greater than the desire to acquire.
For, to know that enough is enough is to have always enough.
To know All-under-heaven without going out of doors!
Without peeping out of the window, to see the Way of Heaven!
The further one goes out, the less one knows.
Therefore: the Saint knows without travelling, names (things) without seeing them, achieves without acting.
Practice learning and there is daily increase.
Practice the Way and there is daily decrease.
Decrease, and again decrease, till it reaches non-action.
By doing nothing there is nothing that is not done.
The Saint has no fixed mind. He makes the mind of the people his own, (saying): "The good I treat well, and the not-good I also treat well; thus I obtain goodness. Those of good faith I treat with good faith, and those not of good faith I also treat with good faith; thus I obtain good faith."
The Saint in Al-under-heaven makes no distinctions; he makes his heart impartial towards All-under-heaven. The people rivet their ears and eyes on him, and the Saint treats them all like infants.
Coming forth (man) is born, entering he dies.
Followers of life there are three in ten; followers of death there are three in ten; and men who, while regarding life as life, in their every act tend towards the death-spot, there are also three in ten.
Why is that? Because of the excessive manner in which they regard life as life.
For indeed, I have heard that one who has a firm purchase on life, when travelling overland, meets neither tiger no rhinoceros, and when going into battle, he wears no cuirass no does he bear arms. A rhinoceros would find nowhere to butt its horn, a tiger would find nowhere to fix its claws, weapons would find no room to enter their blades. Why is that? Because he has no death-spot.
The Way produces them, Virtue rears them, things lend their form, environment completes their development.
Therefore the ten thousand things there is none but honours the Way and values Virtue.
Honouring the Way and valuing Virtue is not at somebody's behest but is always spontaneous.
For the Way produces, Virtue rears. They grow, feed, prosper, lead, support and shelter.
They produce and rear: they produce but do not appropriate, they act but do not rely (on the result), they grow but do not control.
When a work has been accomplished they do not rest in it. Indeed, just because they do not rest in it, they do not withdraw.
This is called the mystic Virtue.
All-under-heaven has a beginning which may be regarded as the mother of All-under-heaven. Having found the mother one may know the children. If, knowing the children, one still keeps to the mother, until the end of his life one is not in peril.
Stop its apertures, close its doors, and until the (natural) completion of the body (your strength) will not fail.
Open its apertures, promote its activities and until the (natural) completion of the body nothing will avail.
To perceive what is small is (clear) vision; to keep to what is weak is strength.
If using the light, one resorts to one's vision, the body will not be exposed to any harm. This is called "practicing what is constant".
Suppose that with only the least scrap of knowledge I were to walk the great Way, I would only fear turning aside. Though the great Way is quite level, people love bypaths.
When the Court is well purified, but the fields are full of weeds and the granaries are empty, (the rulers) wear decorated and embroidered robes, gird themselves with sharp swords, glut themselves with food, and have superfluous possessions; - this I call robbing and bragging.
It is certainly contrary to the Way.
That which is well planted is not uprooted.
That which is well clasped is not snatched away.
Sons and grandsons will then not interrupt their sacrifices.
If one practices (the Way) in one's person, its Virtue will be genuineness.
If one practices it in one's family, its Virtue will be abundance.
If one practices it in one's village, its Virtue will be durability.
If one practices it in one's state, its Virtue will be prosperity.
If one practices it in the Empire, its Virtue will be universality.
From the standpoint of one's own person one views other persons, from that of one's own family other families, from that of one's own village other villages, from that of one's own state other states, from that of the Empire the Empire.
How do I know that it is like this for the Empire?
The plenitude of one who contains Virtue within himself, may be likened to that of an infant.
Poisonous insects will not sting it, fierce beasts will not seize it, nor will birds of prey claw it. Though its bones are weak and its sinews soft, it has a firm grip. Though it knows not yet of the union of male and female, its male member will stir. This is because the fine essence (in it) has attained the utmost (potency). Though it may scream all day long, its voice will not become hoarse. This is because the natural harmony (in it) has attained the utmost (potency).
To understand the natural harmony means being constant.
To understand being constant means being enlightened.
To increase life means inviting evil.
To control the vital breath with the mind means rigidity.
When things have matured they age. (Such control) is contrary to the Way. What is contrary to the Way will soon end.
He stops his apertures, he closes his doors.
"He blunts his sharpness, he unravels tangles, he dims brightness, he levels tracks.
This is called the mystic equality.
For in getting him one cannot come close nor remain distant, one cannot profit by him nor be harmed by him, one cannot gain honour by him nor suffer disgrace by him.
Therefore he is the most prized in All-under-heaven.
A State may be ruled by rectification and a war may be fought by stratagems, but the Empire is gained by non-action.
The Empire is gained by remaining constantly in non-action. As soon as one becomes active, one is unable to gain the Empire.
How do I know that this is so? By this:
The more taboos and prohibitions there are in the Empire, the poorer the people will be.
The more useful implements the people have, the more state and dynasty will be in confusion.
The more cunning craftsmen there are, the more bizarre contrivances will spring up.
The more laws and ordinances are promulgated, the more thieves and robbers will there be.
Therefore a Saint has said:
"If I practice doing nothing, the people will of themselves be correct.
If I love stillness, the people will of themselves be correct.
If I practice non-action, the people will of themselves become rich.
If I practice being without desires, the people will of themselves become simple."
If government is mope-eyed, the people will be faultless.
If government is far-sighted, the people will be full of flaws.
Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on.
Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in.
Who may know the acme of either?
Since there is no normal condition, the correct reverts to what is bizarre and the good reverts to what spells evil, but people indeed are deluded for a long time.
Therefore the Saint is square without being pointed, he is straight without being stretched, he is bright without being polished.
For governing men and serving heaven nothing is equal to moderation.
Just because there is moderation, this means applying oneself early (to the Way).
To apply oneself early is to garner a double (harvest of) Virtue, there is not a thing of which one is not capable, nobody knows the extreme limit (of that capacity). If nobody knows the extreme limit, one may possess a kingdom. The "mother" of possessing a kingdom may endure long.
This means that a deep root and a firm foundation are the way to long life and durability.
Ruling a great state is like cooking a small fish.
If one governs All-under-heaven according to the Way, the manes (of the dead) will not manifest themselves as spirits. It is not that these manes are not spirits, but these spirits will not harm men. Just as the spirits will not harm men, the Saint will not harm the people.
If indeed these two do not harm one another, their Virtue will converge towards a common end.
A great state is downstream. It is the converging point (of the water) of All-under-heaven. It is the female of All-under-heaven. The female always overcomes the male by stillness; by stillness she is underneath.
Therefore, by getting beneath a little state, a great state gains a little one, and by abasing itself to a great state, a little state gains a big one. The one gains by becoming low, the other by being low. A great state only wishes to unite men and feed them; a little state only wishes to be received and to serve others. So that each shall get what is wishes, the great must become low.
The Way for the ten thousand things is like the southwest corner of the house.
It is the treasure of the good and the refuge of the not-good.
Fine words may buy honours, fine conduct may raise one above others.
Therefore, when the Son of Heaven is inaugurated or the Three Ducal Ministers are installed, though they may hold a jade disk and are preceded by a chariot and four, it would be better for them to sit still and make progress in the Way.
Why did the ancients prize this Way so highly? Did they not say: "he who seeks, finds by it; he who trespasses, escapes by it"?
Therefore it was the most prized in All-under-heaven.
Do by not doing, act by nonacting, taste the taste-less, regard the small as great, much as little.
Plan what is difficult where it is easy; do what is great where it is minute.
The hardest things in the world begin with what is easy; the greatest things in the world begin with what is minute.
Therefore the Saint never does anything great and so is able to achieve the great.
Now, he who promises lightly, will have but little faith. He who finds much easy, will find much hard.
Therefore the Saint, while finding even (the easy) hard, will in the end have nothing that is hard.
What is at rest is easy to hold.
What is not yet manifested is easy to forestall.
What is brittle is easy to melt.
What is minute is easy to disperse.
Act before a thing is there; create order before there is disorder.
A tree of an arm's span has grown from a tiny fibre.
A tower nine storeys high was raised from a heap of earth.
A journey of a thousand leagues started with what was under a footsole.
In promoting their affairs men often spoil them when they are about to succeed.
Heed the end as much as the beginning, then no affairs will be spoiled.
Therefore the Saint desires not to desire and does not prize goods that are difficult to obtain. He learns not to learn and reverts to what all men pass by.
Thus he sustains the natural course of the ten thousand thing, but he dares not act.
Of old those who were well versed in the practice of the Way, rather than use it to enlighten the people, they used it to stultify the people.
If people are hard to rule, it is because of too much knowledge.
Therefore he who rules a state by means of knowledge, is like a robber of the state. He who will not rule a state by means of knowledge, is a boon for the state.
He who knows these two things, scrutinizes also the Measure.
Always to know how to scrutinize the Measure is called Mystic Virtue. Mystic Virtue is profound, is far-reaching, and operates contrariwise to things, till in the end it attains the Grand Conformity.
That by which the River and the sea are able to be kings of the hundred valleys, is their fitness to be lower than these. That is why they are able to be the kings of the hundred valleys.
Therefore, if a Saint wishes to be above the people, he should, in his words, be lower. If he wishes to be in front of the people, he should in his person, be behind.
Therefore the Saint stays above but the people do not feel his weight; he stays in front but the people do not feel it as an injury.
Therefore All-under-heaven will gladly push him forward and will not weary (of him), Because he strives not, none are able to strive with him.
All the world says that my Way, though great, seems unconventional.
Indeed, just because it is great, it seems unconventional. If it were unconventional, it would long ago have become minute.
I have three treasures which I hold and preserve.
The first is forbearance.
The second is moderation.
The third is not daring to be first in the world.
Having forbearance, I am able to be courageous.
Having moderation, I am able to be liberal.
Not daring to be first in the world, I am able to become the chief of all the "vessels".
If to-day one rejects forbearance but is only courageous, if one rejects moderation but is only liberal, if one rejects being last but is only first, it is death!
Truly, he who fights with forbearance, conquers; he who guards himself with it is safe.
Him, whom heaven would save, it protects with forbearance.
A good captain is not impetuous.
A good fighter is not angry.
A good conqueror does not engage his adversaries.
A good user of men makes himself inferior to them.
This may be called the Virtue of not striving. This may be called the strength to use men. This may be called the acme of conformity to heaven.
A strategist of old has said:
"I dare not be host, I prefer being guest. I dare not advance one inch, I prefer withdrawing one foot."
This is called: to march without marching, to roll up one's sleeves without having an arm, to draw without having a sword, to attack without having an adversary.
There is no greater calamity than underestimating one's adversary.
If I underestimate my adversary, I risk losing my treasures.
For, when the opposing arms are crossed, he who yields, will win.
My words are very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice; but in all the world there is no one who can understand them and can put them into practice.
My words have a system, my actions have a governor.
Indeed, it is just because they are not understood, that men do not understand me.
Those who understand me are rare, those who pattern themselves after me are highly prized.
Thus the Saint wears hair-cloth, but carries jade in his breast.
Not to regard knowing as knowing is the highest.
To regard not-knowing as knowing is a sickness.
Indeed, it is only by being sick of that sickness that one is not sick.
The Saint is not sick, because he is sick of that sickness.
Therefore he is not sick.
If the people feel no awe for the awful, the greater will be the awe.
Do not restrict them in their dwellings, do not weary them in their livelihood. Indeed, just because they are not wearies, they will not be weary.
Therefore the Saint knows himself, but does not display himself; he is careful of himself, but does not value himself. For he rejects the one and chooses the other.
He who is brave in daring, is killed.
He who is brave in not-daring, will live.
Of these two course the one is profitable and the other harmful. Who knows the cause of what heaven hates?
It is the Way of heaven not to strive and yet be able to conquer; not to speak and yet be able to respond; not to call and yet let things come of themselves; to be slow and yet be able to plan well.
Heaven's net is wide; though its meshes be far apart, nothing escapes it.
If the people fear death, why frighten them with death?
Even if one could cause the people always to fear death and could seize and kill those who make ingenious things, - who would dare to act thus?
There is always a Chief Executioner who kills. To kill in the place of the Chief Executioner may be called: to chop in the place of the Master Carpenter.
Now in chopping in place of the Master Carpenter, few will escape maiming their hands!
If the people starve, it is because of the quantity of taxes consumed by their superiors. That is why they starve.
If the people are hard to govern, it is because of the interference of their superiors. That is why they are hard to govern.
If the people think lightly of death, it is because of the excessive manner in which they seek to obtain life. That is why they think lightly of death.
Truly, not acting for life's sake is wiser than valuing life.
Man at birth is soft and weak; at death he is hard and rigid.
The ten thousand things, plants and trees, while alive, are soft and fragile; at death they are dry and withered.
For, what is hard and rigid is a follower of death; what is soft and weak is a follower of life.
Therefore, is a weapon is too rigid, it is destroyed; if a tree is too rigid, it breaks.
What is hard and rigid is placed below; what is soft and weak is placed above.
The Way of heaven, how like the bending of a bow it is! What is up is pressed down, and what is down is raised up; the surplus is reduced, want is supplied.
The Way of heaven reduces where there is a surplus and supplies where there is want. The Way of men however is not thus; they reduce where there is want and proffer where there is a surplus.
Who is able to proffer his surplus where there is want? Only he who has the Way.
Therefore the Saint, when he acts, does not rely (on the results); when the work is accomplished, he does not rest in it.
The Saint does not hoard. Having regarded everything as belonging to others, he has greater abundance himself. Having given everything to others he has the more himself.
The Way of heaven brings profits but not harm. The Way of the Saint is to act but not to strive.
He has no desire to display his ability.
The weak conquers the strong and the soft conquers the hard.
Though every one in the world knows this, no one is able to practice it.
Therefore a Saint has said: "He who receives the filth of a state, is called the master of the Altar of the Soil and Grain; he who receives the evils of a state, is called the king of All-under-heaven."
Straightforward words seem paradoxical.
Though a great grievance may be appeased there is sure to remain some grievance. How can one stand well with others? By requiting grievances with Virtue.
Therefore the Saint, although he holds the left-hand tally, does not serve a summons on people.
He who has Virtue, controls the tally; he who has no Virtue, controls the levying.
The Way of heaven ahs no favouritism; it always gives (the opportunity of) standing well with people.
A small country with few inhabitants where, though there be tools which can do the work of ten or a hundred men, (the people) may be induced not to use them!
Where the people may be induced to regard death gravely and not to move to distant places!
Where, though there be boats and carts, there would be nothing to load them with and where, though there are cuirasses and arms, there would be nowhere to drill in them!
Where the people may be induced to revert to the use of knotted cords, to savour their own food, to admire their own clothing, to take their ease in their own homes and to delight in their own customs!
Where, though a neighbouring country may be within sight, so that they hear each other's cocks crowing and dogs barking, yet the inhabitants, till they die of old age, would never meet one another!
He who knows, speaks not.
He who speaks, knows not.
He who is sincere, does not embellish.
He who embellishes, is not sincere.
He who is good, disputes not.
He who disputes, is not good.
He who knows, does not game.
He who games, knows not.