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Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu
by Tam C. Gibbs
More English versions
The tao that can be talked about is not the Absolute Tao.
If it can be named, it is not an Absolute name.
That which has no name is the origin of heaven and earth;
That which has a name is the Mother of all things.
Thus, if always without desire, one can observe indescribable marvels;
If always desirous, one sees merest traces.
These two come from the same source but are differently named.
Both are called Mysterious.
The mystery of the Mysterious is the gateway to all indescribable marvels.
If everyone understands the beautiful as beauty, there must be ugliness.
If everyone understands goodness as good, there must be not good.
Being and not being are mutually arising;
Difficult and easy are complementary;
Long and short arise from comparison;
Higher and lower are interdependent;
Vocalisation and verbalisation harmonise with each other;
Before and after accompany each other.
This is why the Sage manages affairs of Non-action and performs wordless teaching.
The myriad things are made without the slightest word.
Nature gives birth but does not possess.
It acts but does not demand subservience.
Only because it claims no credit is it indispensable.
Not honouring men of worth keeps the people from competing;
Not wanting rare things keeps the people from thievery;
Not showing off desirous objects keeps the hearts of the people from disaster.
That is why the Sage governs himself by relaxing the mind, reinforcing the abdomen, gentling the will, strengthening the bones.
Always cause the people to be without knowledge or desires.
Cause the intelligent ones to dare not act.
Let there be Non-action and there is nothing that will not be well regulated.
The Tao is empty, yet when applied it is never exhausted.
So deep it is, it seems to be the ancestor of all things.
Blunting sharp edges, resolving confusions,
Diffusing glare, uniting the world:
Such depth, something seems to exist there.
I do not know whose child it is.
It seems to have existed before the Ancestor.
Heaven and earth are not humane, treating the myriad things as straw dogs.
The Sage is not humane, treating the people as straw dogs.
The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows, empty and yet inexhaustible;
Move it and even more comes out.
Too many words quickly exhaust;
It is not as good as holding to the centre.
The spirit of the valley does not die, and is called Mysterious Female.
The door of the Mysterious Female is called the root of heaven and earth.
It lingers in wisps; Use it without haste.
Heaven is long-lasting and earth is enduring.
The reason why heaven and earth can live long and endure is that they do not live only for themselves.
Therefore they can produce perpetually.
This is why the Sage puts himself behind, yet ends up ahead,
Considers himself an outsider yet finds himself in the mainstream.
Is it not because he is selfless that his Self can be realised?
The greatest attitude is like water;
Water is good at benefiting all things and yet it does not compete with them.
It seeks out those places regarded as evil by man.
Thereby, it is close to Tao.
For one's dwelling, choose the ground well.
In cultivating one's heart, search the depths well.
In dealing with people, treat them well.
When speaking, do so with sincerity. In governing, keep order.
In serving, do to the best of your ability. In acting, choose the timing well.
Only by not competing can one be beyond reproach.
To grasp after until full is not as good as stopping.
Measure and fit a crossbrace; It cannot last long.
If one's hall is filled with gold and jade, it cannot be safeguarded.
If one is wealthy and honoured, pride follows; and one gifts oneself with the faults thereof.
When the work is done, retire.
This is the Tao of heaven.
In unifying the spirit-of-the-blood and the spirit-of-the-breath can you keep them from separating?
In concentrating the chi to attain resiliency, can you be like an infant?
In polishing the mirror of Mysterious Vision, can you do it spotlessly?
In opening and closing heaven's gate, can you be the Female? In being enlightened and comprehending all, can you do it without knowledge?
In loving the people and governing the nation can you practice Non-action?
Produce and provide a good environment;
Create but do not possess,
Act but do not control,
Raise but do not harvest,
This is called Profound Te.
Thirty spokes converge at a single hub;
It is the vacancy that begets the vehicle's usefulness.
Mix clay to make a vessel;
It is the vacancy that makes the vessel useful.
Cut out the doors and windows to make a room;
It is the vacancy that constitutes the usefulness of the room.
Therefore, that which is there is an advantage,
But it's vacancy is what is useful.
The five colours cause one's eyes to be blinded.
The five tones cause one's ears to be deafened.
The five flavours cause one's palette to be cloyed.
Racing about on horseback and hunting cause one's mind to be maddened.
Hard to obtain merchandise causes mankind to do wrong,
So the Sage concerns himself with the abdomen and not the eyes.
Therefore, he rejects the one and chooses the other.
Favour and disgrace are both alarming.
Treat great calamities as if they were happening to yourself.
What does "favour and disgrace are both alarming" mean?
When favour is conferred upon a lowly position, it is like a shock.
And when it is taken away, it is like a shock.
This is what is spoken of as "Favour and disgrace are both alarming."
What does this mean: "Treat calamities as though they were happening to yourself"?
I am able to feel great calamities because I have a self.
If I have no self, what calamity is there?
Therefore, only one who values himself as he values the world is fit to be entrusted with the world.
Only one who loves the world as he loves himself is worthy of being the trustee of the world.
To look but not see is called yi, the extremely dim,
To listen but not hear is called hsi, the extremely faint,
To grasp after but not catch is called wei, the extremely small.
These three qualities cannot be entirely understood, thus they blend into one, a unity.
Its upper surface is not bright, its underside is not dark.
In endless procession the unnameable moves on, until it returns to nothingness.
It is the formless form, the image of nothingness,
It may be called huang-hu, the illusive and evasive.
Confront it , and you cannot see it's face;
Follow it and you cannot see its back.
Hold to the ancient Tao to regulate present realities.
One who is able to comprehend the ancient beginnings may be termed a part of the system of Tao.
In ancient times, those who were well educated were in communion with heaven, and were subtle, profound, mysterious and penetratingly wise.
Their depth was unfathomable.
Because of this, they appeared reluctant, hesitant, like one wading across a stream in winter;
Wary, as if there were dangers on all four sides;
Solemn, as if a guest;
Yielding, like ice on the verge of melting;
Pure, like uncarved wood;
Broad and expansive, like a valley;
Chaotic, like muddy water.
Who can still muddy water and gradually make it become clear?
Who can make the still gradually become alive through activity?
Those who maintain the Tao do not want to be full.
Just because they are not full they can avoid wearing out and being replaced.
Maintain utmost emptiness.
Maintain profound tranquillity.
All things together arise,
By this I see their return.
Things flourish, and each returns to its root.
To return to the root is to attain tranquillity.
This is called returning to one's basic nature.
Returning to one's basic nature is called constancy (ch'ang2).
To understand constancy is called enlightening (ming2).
Not understanding constancy is blindly doing unfortunate things.
Understanding constancy, one gains a capacity for forbearance.
With forbearance, one can be impartial(kung1).
If one is impartial, one can be kingly.
If one is kingly. then one can communicate with heaven.
To communicate with heaven is to be in accord with Tao.
To be in accord with Tao is to be everlasting,
Even though one's body ceases to be, one is not destroyed.
From times immemorial there have been some who have known.
There have also been those who were sympathetic, and praising.
There have been those that feared. There have been those that ridiculed.
There have been those who were not true enough,
And there have been those who were not true at all.
How valuable are the words,
"When an accomplishment is achieved and the task finished, People say it was only natural."
If the great Tao is lost, humanism and justice appear.
When intelligence an cleverness arise, so does gross hypocrisy.
When the six relationships fall into discord, filial piety and parental affection arise.
When a nation falls into darkness and confusion, patriotic ministers arise.
Divorce wisdom and abandon intelligence,
And the people will benefit a hundred-fold.
Divorce humanism and abandon justice,
And the people will return to filial piety and parental affection.
Divorce shrewdness and abandon selfishness,
And there will be no thieves.
I believe these three statements show that words are inadequate.
The people should be made to adhere to these principles:
"Look to the origins and maintain purity; Diminish self and curb desires."
Divorce learning and one will lose anxiety.
How much difference is there between yes and no?
How much distance is there between good and bad?
What others fear, I must fear.
Wildly, endlessly, all men are merry, as though feasting upon beef or sitting on the verandah in the spring sunshine.
I alone remain uncommitted,
Like an infant who has not yet smiled.
I alone seem as mindless as one who has no home to return to.
Everyone else has enough and more,
Yet I alone seem to be left with nothing.
What a fool's mind I have!
How muddled I am!
Most people seek brightness and clarity.
I alone seek dullness and darkness.
Most people are imaginative and observant.
I alone am stifled and confused.
I am as unmoved as the ocean,
As ceaseless as the wind high in the sky.
Everyone else has something to do;
I alone am ignorant and dull.
I alone am different from the rest in that I value taking sustenance from the Mother.
The countenance of a person of high moral cultivation comes from living according to the Tao.
The phenomenon of Tao is so elusive and evanescent.
Evanescent and elusive it is, yet there is a form contained within.
Elusive and evanescent, yet there is substance within.
So vacant and so dark, yet there is a vital essence (ching1) within.
This vital essence is very real;
For within is the proof.
From the past to the present its name has not been obliterated, because it is evident in the origin of all things.
How do I know the circumstances of the origin of all things?
Exactly by this phenomenon.
Yield, and become whole,
Bend, and become straight.
Hollow out, and become filled.
Exhaust, and become renewed
Small amounts become obtainable,
Large amounts become confusing.
Therefore the Sage embraces the One, and so is a shepherd fro the whole world.
He does not focus on himself and so is brilliant.
He does not seek self-justification and so becomes his own evidence.
He does not make claims and hence is given the credit.
He does not compete with anyone and hence, no-one in the world can compete with him.
How can that which the ancients expressed as "yield, and become whole" be meaningless?
If wholly sincere, you will return to them.
It is nature's way to say little,
For hurricanes do not last a whole morning nor thunderstorms all day.
What causes them? Heaven and earth.
Even if heaven and earth are unable to persevere for long
Then how much longer can man?
Therefore, there are those who practice the Tao.
Those who behave according to Tao are in communication with the Tao.
Those who behave according to Te are in communication with Te.
Those who have lost Tao and Te are in communication with failure.
Those in communication with Tao are also joyously received by Tao.
Those in communication with Te are also joyously received by Te.
Those in communication with failure are also welcomed by failure.
Some are not true enough to the Tao,
And so there are some who are not true to it at all.
If one is on tiptoe, he cannot stand firm.
If one stands with straddled legs he cannot walk.
One who is fascinated with himself is not clear-sighted.
If one seeks self-justification, he will not be his own evidence.
If one makes claims, he will not get credit.
If one considers his successes important, he will not endure.
According to Tao, these are called "excess nature"(yu te) and "superfluous behaviour," and go against natural law. Hence, a man of Tao spurns them.
There is a chaotic thing, born before heaven and earth,
So silent, so empty, unique and unchanging, circling endlessly,
It could be considered the Mother of all under heaven.
I do not know its name.
I reluctantly style it "Tao"
And if forced to, reluctantly describe it as "great."
"Great" can be described as going ever onward.
"Going ever onward" can be described as going far.
"Going far" can be described as returning.
Hence, Tao is great. Heaven is great, earth is great, and mankind, also, is great.
There are four phenomena in the universe, and mankind is one of them.
Mankind follows the ways of the earth,
The earth follows the ways of heaven,
Heaven follows the ways of Tao,
And Tao follows the ways of Nature(tzu4 jan3).
Heaviness is the root of lightness.
Tranquillity is the master of emotion.
That is why the Sage, practising all day long, does not part from his baggage.
Although he may have a grand mansion, still his daily life remains simple.
How can one be lord of a large state and behave lightly before the world?
If light, his root will be lost;
If emotional, his mastery will be lost.
The best walking leaves no tracks.
The best speech is flawless.
The best calculation needs no counting slips.
The best latch has no bolt, yet it cannot be opened.
The best knot uses no rope, yet it cannot be untied.
That is why the Sage is always good at saving people, and therefore abandons nobody.
He is always good at saving things and therefore abandons nothing.
This is called hsi ming.
Therefore good people are examples for mediocre people,
While mediocre people have the potential to be good people.
Not to appreciate the example, not to cherish the potential,
Is to be far astray, regardless of intelligence.
This is an essential tenet of the Tao.
Know the masculine, cleave to the feminine.
Be the valley for the world.
To be the valley for the world, do not swerve from your innate nature and return to the state of infancy.
Know the bright, keep to the dull.
Be a guide for the world, follow your innate nature without changing and return to the pre-conceptual.
Understand glory, keep to humility.
Be the valley for the world.
Innate nature completed, return to original uniqueness.
When original uniqueness is divided,
It then becomes the instrumentalities.
The Sage employs them,
They then become the officers,
Thus, subtle governance shapes not.
If one strives to be the ruler of the world, I do not see how they can succeed.
The world is a vessel for the spirit which cannot be acted upon.
Those who act upon it destroy it.
Those who try to hold on to it lose it.
Therefore, things either move forward or fall behind,
Puff strongly or weakly, grow powerful or become weak,
Persevere or fall.
And therefore, the enlightened do away with excess, extravagances and extremes.
Those who use Tao to help the ruler never use arms to force the world.
Such affairs tend to easily rebound.
Brambles grow where an army camps.
Famine is sure to follow a war.
Subtly arrange the outcome and nothing more.
Dare not use force.
After the outcome do not be complacent. A
fter the outcome do not be smug.
After the outcome do not be conceited.
Overcome only because there is no choice.
Overcome but do not force.
When things have matured, they are old.
This is not Tao.
That which runs counter to the Tao is soon finished.
The finest weapons are still instruments of misfortune.
Everything hates them, therefore, those who follow the Tao avoid them.
In peacetime, the nobleman regards the left side of the host as the place of honour.
In wartime, he regards the right side of the commander as the place of honour.
Since weapons are inauspicious instruments, they are not the instruments of a noble man.
He uses them only when necessary, for peace and quiet are what he holds highest.
To him even a victory is not worthy of celebration.
Those who celebrate it take pleasure in the slaughter of men.
Those that take pleasure in the slaughter of men consequently cannot have their way in the world.
On auspicious occasions, the place of honour is to the left of the host;
On inauspicious occasions the place of honour is to the right of the commander.
In the military the lesser commander stand on the left, while the commander in chief stands on the right, the same as in the etiquette of funerary rites.
When many people have been killed there is mourning, grief and tears.
Hence, even victory is treated according to funerary rites.
Tao is always without a name.
Small as it may be in its original uniqueness,
It is inferior to no power in the world.
If a ruler can cleave to it,
All beings will pay homage to him.
Heaven and earth mingle in harmony and a sweet liquor rains down.
Without command from above peace and order spread among the people.
With the genesis of the world, names appeared.
There are so many names, is it not time to stop?
Knowing when to stop is to be free from danger.
Tao is to the world as a valley or brook is to a river or ocean.
One who knows others is intelligent;
One who knows himself is enlightened.
One who conquers men is strong;
One who conquers himself has strength.
One who knows sufficiency is rich.
One who pursues his objective with steadfastness has willpower.
One who does not lose what he has gained is durable.
One who dies yet still remains has longevity.
The great Tao is so all pervasive, how can we tell where its right or left is?
All things depend on it for growth, and it requires nothing from them.
It accomplishes its work, but makes no claim for itself.
It clothes and feeds all, but it does not control them.
Everlasting Non-desire is called "the lesser."
That all things return to it and yet it does not control them is called "the greater."
Because it never insists on its greatness, Its greatness becomes a reality.
The world moves toward the possessor of the great image.
Moving toward him there is no harm, only peace and order.
The passing guest pauses for sweetmeats and music.
The Tao that can be uttered seems bland, even flavourless.
It does not appear noteworthy. It does not sound worth listening to.
It has unlimited uses.
That which should be reduced, must first be enlarged.
That which should be weakened, must first be strengthened.
That which should be abolished, must first be established.
That which should be taken away, must first be given.
Softness and suppleness overcome hardness and strength.
Fish cannot leave the depths.
The sharpest weapons of the state must not be displayed.
Tao never makes a name for itself,
Yet there is nothing it does not do.
If a ruler can cleave to it,
All beings will eventually change by themselves.
After this change, when they desire to act,
He will keep them in their places with original uniqueness of the Nameless.
Eventually there will be Non-desire.
If no desire arises, then serenity,
And eventually the world will settle by itself.
Superior Te does not reveal its Te, thereby retaining it.
Inferior Te cannot rid itself of the appearance of Te, and thereby loses te.
Superior Te practices Non-action and has no private ends to serve.
Inferior Te both acts and has private ends to serve.
Superior humanism acts but has no private ends to serve.
Superior justice both acts and has private ends to serve.
Superior etiquette not only acts but, getting no response, tries to enforce its will with raised fists.
Thus, if Tao is lost, Te appears.
If Te is lost, humanism appears.
If humanism is lost, justice appears.
If justice is lost, etiquette appears.
When conscience and honesty wear thin,
Etiquette is the beginning of strife.
As to prescience, it is merely a blossom of Tao, and the beginning of stupidity.
That is why the truly cultivated man takes generosity for his location, and does not dwell on the meanness;
Focuses on the fruit, and does not dwell on the blossom.
So he avoids the one and chooses the other.
In times past, Oneness appeared in the following pattern:
The heavens attained Oneness and became clear;
The earth attained Oneness and settled;
The spirits attained Oneness and became numinous;
Valleys attained Oneness and became reproductive;
All things attained Oneness and became alive;
Kings and queens attained Oneness and became the orthodox of the world.
In the heavens, that which is not clear eventually settles.
On the earth, that does not settle dissipates.
Spirits which are not luminous disappear.
Valleys not filled will dry up.
Creatures that do not reproduce become extinct.
Kings and officials, if not honoured and esteemed, will fail.
Hence the honourable takes the as its trunk.
The high takes the low as its foundation.
That is why the officials call themselves the lonely, the hubless.
This is taking the humble for the trunk, is it not?
Therefore, it is better to consider the vacancy of the vehicle rather than its appearances.
Do not desire to be as shiny and attractive as fine jade.
Be as ordinary as stone.
Tao moves in cycles;
Tao functions through softness.
All is born of nothing.
Something is born of nothing.
When a superior scholar hears the Tao he tirelessly practices it.
When a middling scholar hears the Tao sometimes he follows it and sometimes he forgets it.
When a piddling scholar hears the Tao he laughs loudly at it.
Without his laughter it would not be worthy of being Tao,
Hence the sayings:
"One who understands the Tao seems benighted;
One who progresses towards the Tao seems to regress;
One who is in accord with the Tao seems tied in knots."
Great Te seems like a valley.
The completely immaculate seems disgraced.
The thoroughly virtuous seems insufficient.
Established morality seems a conspiracy.
True characteristics seem submerged.
A great square has no corners.
A great instrument is completed late.
A great sound comes from a small noise.
A great form has no shape.
Tao is hidden and nameless.
Yet wonderfully, Tao guarantees that all things are fulfilled.
Tao gives birth to unity, unity gives birth to duality, duality gives birth to trinity, and trinity gives birth to all things.
All things are wrapped by yin and contain yang, and their pulsing ch'is marry.
That which men abominate, the lonely, the hubless, their leaders take as names.
Thus one does not either benefit from a loss or lose from a benefit.
What other people teach, I also teach.
"The end of a strong one is an untimely death."
I will take this as a precept to teach proper behaviour.
The softest in the world overcomes the strongest, just as a rider controls his galloping steed.
The insubstantial can penetrate where there is no opening.
Because of that I know the benefit of Non-action.
Few in the world attain wordless teaching and the benefit of Non-action.
Which is dearer, fame or health?
Which is worth more, health or wealth?
Which is more beautiful, gain or loss?
Hence excessive love finally exacts its price.
The certain consequence of proud ownership is ruin.
To know sufficiency is to be blameless.
Knowing when to stop avoids danger.
Thereby one can be durable.
The greatest accomplishment seems unfinished, yet its applications are endless.
The greatest fullness seems crude.
The greatest eloquence seems stuttering.
Activity overcomes cold.
Tranquillity overcomes heat.
Peace and quiet is the true path in the world.
When Tao prevails in the world, stray horses are kept away from tilled fields.
When Tao does not prevail in the world, warhorses breed in fields grown wild.
No disaster is greater than not knowing what is sufficient.
No crime is greater than avarice.
No defect is worse than the desire to achieve.
One who knows sufficiency will always have enough.
Without leaving his door one can understand the world.
Without glancing out the window one can see the Tao of heaven.
The further one travels the less one knows.
That is why the Sage does not travel and yet understands.
Does not look and yet names.
Does not act and yet completes.
In pursuing knowledge, one accumulates daily.
In practicing Tao, one loses daily.
Lose and lose and lose, until one reaches Non-action.
Non-action, yet there is nothing left undone.
To win the world one must not act for gain.
If one acts for gain, one will not be able to win the world.
The Sage is without a set mind.
He makes the mind of the people his own.
I am kind.
I am also kind to the unkind.
Thus kindness is attained.
I believe those who believe.
I believe also those who do not believe.
Thus faith is attained.
The Sage, when in the midst of the worldly, does it calmly and slowly, and his mind merges with the world.
The Sage treats everyone as his children.
In circumstances of life and death, the chances of living are three out of ten, the chances of dying are three out of ten.
In ordinary conditions, where activity is the province of death, the chances are also three out in ten.
Why is this so?
Because of the propagative force of the life principle.
It is said that those who cultivate the life principle can travel without encountering a tiger or wild buffalo.
In battle, no weapon can penetrate their armour.
The wild buffalo's horns find nothing to gore, the tigers claws nothing to flay, and weapons find no place for their points to penetrate.
Why is this so?
Because for them, there is no province of death.
Tao propagates life; Te provides fecundity; species shapes life; affinity brings to completion.
That is why all living things revere Tao and kneel down to Te.
Tao inspires reverence and Te inspires awe because they give no commands and yet nature continues on and on.
Thus Tao creates life, and Te conceives, grows, fosters, shelters, comforts, nurtures and protects it.
Producing but not possessing,
Acting but not controlling,
Growing but not slaughtering,
These are Mysterious Te.
The beginning of the world may be called the Mother of the world.
Once we discover the Mother, we can know the children.
Once we know the children, we should return and cleave to the mother.
Even though the body may die, there is no danger.
Close the mouth, shut the door, and to the end of life do not strain.
Open the mouth, increase involvements, and be helpless to the end of life.
To value the lesser is enlightenment.
To cleave to the gentle is steadfastness.
Use bright intellect, but return to enlightenment.
Do not ask for trouble. This is "practicing longevity."
I have cause to know that, though I possess great wisdom, to preach it while traveling on the highway is dangerous. Though the highway is smooth and straight,
The common people prefer the byways.
The ruler's court is well tended, but the fields are neglected.
The granaries are empty, but garments are gorgeous.
Men carry sharp swords, but food and drink satiate them.
There is a surplus of money and merchandise, "temptation for bandits"
Alas, it is not Tao.
The well established cannot be uprooted.
The well embraced cannot be lost.
Descendants will continue ancestral sacrifices for generations without end.
Cultivate in yourself, and its Te will become real.
Cultivate in the family, and its Te will become abundant.
Cultivate in the community, and Te will have an enduring effect.
Cultivate in the nation, and Te will flourish.
Cultivate in the world, and Te will become ubiquitous.
Hence, judge a person as a person, a family as a family, a community as a community and a nation as a nation, the world as a world.
How do I know about the world?
Measure the fullness of one's virtue against an infants:
Neither scorpion nor snake will attack it.
Nor does the tiger maul it.
Nor do the birds of prey clutch it.
Its bones and sinews soft,
Yet its grip is firm.
It does not know the union of male and female,
Yet its reproductive organ is fully formed:
Its essence is whole.
It can cry all day without getting hoarse;
This is total harmony.
To know harmony is constancy.
To know constancy is enlightening.
That which is beneficial to life is auspicious.
To direct ch'i by heart is steadfastness.
Things mature and then decay.
This is contra-Tao.
That which runs counter to the Tao is soon finished.
One who knows does not speak.
One who speaks does not know.
Close the mouth.
Shut the door.
Blunt the sharp edge.
Untie the knot.
Harmonise with others' light.
Merge with the mundane world.
This is "mysterious assimilation."
When one acquires it,
One is neither familiar with it nor escapes it.
Neither takes advantage of it nor harms it,
Neither increases it nor cheapens it.
Therefore, it is the most precious thing in the world.
Use the orthodox to govern the state;
Use the unorthodox to wage war.
Use non-involvement to win the world.
How do I know it is so?
The more restrictions and prohibitions there are, the poorer the people become.
The sharper the people's weapons are, the more national confusion increases.
The more skill artisans require, the more bizarre their products are.
The more precisely the laws are articulated, the more thieves and criminals increase.
Therefore the Sage says; I practice non-action, and the people gradually transform themselves.
I love tranquillity, and the people gradually become orthodox by themselves.
I do not interfere, and the people gradually become wealthy by themselves.
I am without desires, and the people gradually return to simplicity.
If the government is muffled and subdued, the people will be simple and sincere.
If the government is strict and exacting, the people will be lax and indifferent.
Good fortune depends on bad fortune, bad fortune lurks behind good fortune.
Who know where this process will end?
If there is no orthodoxy, the orthodox will return to the unorthodox.
Good becomes perverse.
Mankind's state of confusion has continued for a long time.
That is why the Sage squares up but doesn't cut, is sharp but not injurious, is straightforward but not unrestrained, and is bright but doesn't dazzle.
In governing people and in serving heaven, nothing compares with frugality.
Frugality is "to acquire the habit early."
"To acquire the habit early" stresses accumulating Te.
There is nothing which cannot be overcome, by stressing the accumulation of Te.
If there is nothing which cannot be overcome,
Then one's limits are unfathomable.
If one's limits are unfathomable, one can rule a state.
If one can arrive at the Mother of the State, one can endure.
This is called "deeply rooted and firmly seated."
It is the Tao of longevity and lasting vision.
Ruling a large country is like cooking a small fish.
When the world is ruled by Tao, spirits do not haunt.
It is not that Spirits are no longer numinous, but that their powers do not harm men.
It is not just that their powers do not harm men, the Sage also does not harm men.
If neither side harms the other, Te spreads throughout.
A great nation receives all that flows into it.
It the place of intercourse with world, the Feminine of the world.
The feminine always conquers the masculine through tranquillity.
Tranquillity is the lower position.
Hence, if a large country take a position under a small country, it can win over the small country.
If a small country takes a position under a large country, it will win over the large country.
In the first case the large country purposely takes the lower position;
In the other case the small country simply remains in the lower position.
A large country wants no more than to protect its people and provide the environment for growth.
A small country wants no more than to enter into the service of a patron.
Thus, each party gets its wish.
It is fitting that the greater take the lower position.
Tao is the enigma of all creation.
It is a treasure for the good man, a shelter for the bad.
Words of worth can create a city;
Noble deeds can elevate a man.
Even though a man is not good, how can he be abandoned?
A jade disc and a coach and four are presented to the emperor at his enthronement ceremony and to the Three Ministers at their installation, but this cannot compare with riding toward the Tao.
Those ancients who prized Tao would instead have said, "Seek and you will find, thus you will be free from guilt."
Hence Tao is valued by the world.
Act through Non-action.
Do without doing.
Taste the tasteless.
Great or small, many or few, repay injury with kindness.
Plan to tackle the difficult when it is easy.
Undertake the great while it is small.
Begin the most difficult task in the world while it is still easy.
Begin the greatest task in the world while it is still small.
That is how the Sage becomes great without striving.
One who makes promises easily is inevitably unreliable.
One who thinks everything is easy eventually finds everything difficult.
That is why the Sage alone regards everything as difficult and in the end finds no difficulty at all.
When at peace, control is easy.
When there are no omens, planning is easy.
The brittle shatters easily.
The minuscule disperses easily.
Act before it is gone.
Establish order before confusion sets in in.
A tree that takes several armspans to circle grew from a tiny sprout.
A tower nine stories high began from a mound of earth.
A journey of a thousand li starts with a step. T
o act consciously is to fail.
To clutch at is to lose.
That is why the Sage does nothing and therefore fails at nothing,
Clutches at nothing and therefore loses nothing.
The way people commonly handle affairs often leads to failure just at the point of success.
Be as cautious throughout as at the beginning, and there will be no failures.
That is why the Sage desires Non-desire.
He does not value rare things.
He studies the unfathomable.
He avoids the mistakes of ordinary people and assists all things to fulfil their natures, not daring to contrive any other action.
The ancients who were most adept at ruling did not try to enlighten the people, but instead gradually made them stupid. The people are difficult to govern because they are clever.
Hence, the nation's malefactor is one who uses cleverness to govern.
While the nation's benefactor is one who does not use cleverness to govern.
To understand both of these is also to harmonise with an eternal pattern.
To understand and harmonise with that pattern is called Profound Te.
Profound Te is so deep, so far-reaching.
It causes things to return and eventually reach Great Confluence.
The river and sea rule the hundred valleys by making the lower position an asset.
Hence, they are kings of the hundred valleys.
One must speak as if under them;
That is how the Sage remains over the people without oppressing them.
That is how he remains in front without blocking them.
The whole world is happy to draw near him and does not tire of him.
Because he does not compete, absolutely no-one can compete with him.
All the world considers my Tao great and unrelated to anything else.
Precisely because it is so great it is "unrelated to anything else."
If it were related to other things it would have grown small a long time ago.
I have three treasures which I possess and maintain securely.
The first is parental love.
The second is frugality.
The third is not daring to be first.
Possessing parental love, one can be courageous.
Possessing frugality, one can be generous.
Not daring to be first, one can lead all "instruments".
Today, many people reject parental love but desire courage.
They reject frugality but desire generosity.
And they reject following but desire to be first.
This is to court death. Influenced by parental love, the offence will win wars, and the defence will be firm.
Through the influence of parental love, heaven will provide succour and protection.
Good men are not aggressive.
A good fighter does not lose his temper.
Those good at defeating the enemy do not engage them directly.
One who is good at using men places himself below them.
This is the Te of non-contention or strength from the ability to use people.
It is in accord with most ancient heaven.
Military tacticians have a saying:
"I dare not be the aggressor, but rather the defender.
I dare not advance an inch, but would rather retreat a foot."
This is to move without moving,
To raise one's fists without showing them,
To lead the enemy on but against no adversary,
To wield a weapon but not clash with the enemy's.
No disaster is greater than taking the enemy lightly.
If I take the enemy lightly, I am on the verge of losing my treasures.
Hence, when opposing troops resist each other, the one stung by grief will be the victor.
My words are very easy to understand and very easy to practice.
Yet no-one in the world can understand them;
No-one can practice them.
My words have their sources, my deeds their precedents.
If people do not understand that, they do not understand me.
The fewer who know me, the more valuable I am.
That is why the Sage wears course clothes while carrying jade in his bosom.
To know yet appear not knowing is best.
To not know yet appear knowing is sickness.
Whoever is sick of sickness will not be sick.
The Sage is never sick, because he is sick of sickness.
Thereby he is never sick.
If people do not fear the awesome, something more awful is imminent.
But do not be disrespectful of their dwellings.
If not oppressed, they will not press.
That is why the Sage knows himself but does not reveal himself.
He has self-respect, but does not seek recognition.
Hence, he rejects one and takes the other.
To have the courage to dare is to die.
To have the courage to dare not is to live.
Heaven abominates in both these cases, whether harmful or beneficial.
Who knows why?
Even the Sage feels it is difficult.
The Tao of heaven does not contend, yet it easily wins;
It does not speak, yet gets a good response;
It comes without being called;
It is calm, yet everything is minutely planned.
The web of heaven is so vast, so vast.
Though its mesh is wide, it loses nothing.
If the people do not fear death, it is useless to threaten them with the spectre of death.
If the people have a normal fear of death, and some do something unorthodox,
Then I would catch them and put them to death.
Who would dare break the law?
There is always an executioner in charge of killing.
If someone tries to do the killing for the executioner, it is called trying to chop wood for the Great Carpenter.
Few who substitute for the Great Carpenter do not injure their own limbs.
If the people starve, it is because those above them tax their livelihood too heavily.
That is why they starve.
If the people are unruly,
It is because those above them are too Active.
That is why they are unruly.
If the people take death lightly, it is because they seek life's bounty.
That is why they take death lightly.
Those who live life without striving are exemplars of valuing life.
When a person is born he is soft and supple.
When he dies he is stiff and hard.
All things, including plants are soft and tender at birth.
At death they are withered and dry.
Hence the stiff and the hard are the closest to death; the soft and the supple are closest to life.
That is why a rigidly strong army is not victorious.
The sturdy tree gets cut down.
Rigidity and strength are inferior;
Suppleness and softness are superior.
The Tao of heaven is like drawing a bow:
For high things, lower: for low things, raise;
If excessive, reduce; if insufficient, supplement.
The Tao of heaven reduces the excessive and supplements the insufficient.
The way of man is not so.
It takes from the insufficient and adds to the excessive.
Who can have enough surplus to supplement the world?
Only those with Tao.
That is why the Sage acts but does not demand subservience; is deserving of merit yet claims no credit.
He has no desire to show his worth.
Nothing in the world is softer and more supple than water.
Yet when attacking the hard and the strong nothing can surpass it.
The supple overcomes the hard.
The soft overcomes the strong.
None in the world do not know this.
Yet none can practice it.
That is why the Sage says to accept the filth of a nation is to be the lord of the society.
To accept the disasters of a nation is to be is to be the ruler of the world.
Words of truth seem contradictory.
Compromising with great hatred inevitably leads to more hatred.
How can this be considered good?
That is why the Sage holds the left half of the tally-stick yet does not demand others measure up.
To have Te is to hold the other half of the tally-stick.
To be without Te is to lose the tally-stick.
The Tao of heaven is not clannish.
It always dwell with the good man.
In small country of few people, even if there are hundreds of weapons, they are unnecessary.
Cause the people to respect death and they will not migrate.
Though there are ships and vehicles, no-one boards them.
Though there are armour and weapons, no-one parades with them.
Let men return to knotting strings and using them.
Food will be sweet.
Clothes will be beautiful.
Homes will be comfortable.
Customs will delight.
Although neighbouring states will see each other and hear the other's chickens and dogs,
the citizens of each will age and die establishing contact with the other.
Words of truth are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
The good do not argue;
Those who are argue are not good.
The wise are not extensively learned;
The extensively learned are not wise.
The Sage is not mean.
Simply doing things for others he feels the greater fulfilment.
Simply giving to others he feels he has gained more.
The Tao of heaven benefits and does not harm.
The Tao of the Sage is to accomplish without competing.