The Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu
English version by
Arthur Waley, 1934
The Way and its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought , 1934
More English versions
The Way that can be told of is not an Unvarying Way;
The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.
Truly, “Only he that rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essences”;
He that has never rid himself of desire can see only the Outcomes.
These two things issued from the same mould, but nevertheless are different in name.
This “same mould” we can but call the Mystery,
Or rather the “Darker than any Mystery”,
The Doorway whence issued all Secret Essences.
It is because every one under Heaven recognizes beauty as beauty,
That the idea of ugliness exists.
And equally if every one recognized virtue as virtue,
this would merely create fresh conceptions of wickedness.
For truly, Being and Not-being grow out of one another;
Difficult and easy complete one another.
Long and short test one another;
High and low determine one another.
Pitch and mode give harmony to one another.
Front and back give sequence to one another.
Therefore the Sage relies on actionless activity,
Carries on wordless teaching,
But the myriad creatures are worked upon by him;
He does not disown them.
He rears them, but does not lay claim to them,
Controls them, but does not lean upon them,
Achieves his aim, but does not call attention to what he does;
And for the very reason that he does not call attention to what he does
He is not ejected from fruition of what he has done.
If we stop looking for “persons of superior morality” (hsien) to put in power,
There will be no more jealousies among the people.
If we cease to set store by products that are hard to get,
There will be no more thieves.
If the people never see such things as excite desire,
Their hearts will remain placid and undisturbed.
Therefore the Sage rules
By emptying their hearts
And filling their hearts?
Weakening their intelligence
And toughening their sinews
Ever striving to make the people knowledgeless and desireless.
Indeed he sees to it that if there be any who have knowledge,
They dare not interfere.
Yet through his actionless activity all things are duly regulated.
The Way is like an empty vessel
That yet may be drawn from
Without ever needing to be filled.
It is bottomless; the very progenitor of all things in the world.
In it all sharpness is blunted,
All tangles untied,
All glare tempered,
All dust soothed.
It is like a deep pool that never dries.
Was it too the child of something else?
We cannot tell.
But as a substanceless image it existed before the Ancestor.
Heaven and Earth are ruthless;
To them the Ten Thousand things are but as straw dogs.
The Sage too is ruthless;
To him the people are but as straw dogs.
Yet Heaven and Earth and all that lies between
Is like a bellows
In that it is empty, but gives a supply that never fails.
Work it, and more comes out.
Whereas the force of words is soon spent.
Far better is it to keep what is in the heart.
The Valley Spirit never dies.
It is named the Mysterious Female.
And the doorway of the Mysterious Female
Is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang.
It is there within us all the while;
Draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry.
Heaven is eternal, the Earth everlasting.
How come they to be so?
It is because they do not foster their own lives;
That is why they live so long.
Therefore the Sage
Puts himself in the background; but is always to the fore.
Remains outside; but is always there.
Is it not just because he does not strive for any personal end
That all his personal ends are fulfilled?
The highest good is like that of water.
The goodness of is that it benefits the ten thousand creatures;
Yet itself does not scramble,
But is content with the places that all men disdain.
It is this makes water so near to the Way.
And if men think the ground the best place for building a house upon,
If among thoughts they value those that are profound,
If in friendship they value gentleness,
In words, truth; in government, good order;
In deeds, effectiveness; in actions, timeliness -
In each case it is because they prefer what does not lead to strife,
And therefore does not go amiss.
Stretch a bow to the very full,
And you will wish you had stopped in time;
Temper a sword-edge to its very sharpest,
And you will find it soon grows dull.
When bronze and jade fill your hall.
It can no longer be guarded.
Wealth and place breed insolence.
That brings ruin in its train.
When your work is done, then withdraw!
Such is Heaven's Way.
Can you keep the unquiet physical-soul from straying,
Hold fast to the Unity, and never quit it?
Can you, when concentrating your breath,
Make it soft like that of a little child?
Can you wipe and cleanse your vision of the Mystery till all is without blur?
Can you love the people and rule the land,
Yet remain unknown?
Can you in opening and shutting the heavenly gates play always the female part?
Can your mind penetrate every corner of the land,
But you yourself never interfere?
Rear them, then, feed them,
Rear them, but do not lay claim to them.
Control them, but never lean upon them;
Be chief among them, but do not manage them.
This is called the Mysterious Power.
We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing
That the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing
That the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing
That the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is,
We should recognize the usefulness of what is not.
The fives colours confuse the eye,
The fives sounds dull the ear,
The five tastes spoil the palate.
Excess of hunting and chasing
Makes minds go mad.
Products that are hard to get
Impede their owner's movements.
Therefore the Sage
Considers the belly not the eye.
Truly, “he rejects that but takes this”.
Favour and disgrace goad as it were to madness;
High rank hurts keenly as our bodies hurt.”
What does it mean to say that favour and disgrace goad as it were to madness?
It means that when a rule's subjects get it they turn distraught,
When they lose it they turn distraught.
That is what is meant to by saying favour and disgrace goad as it were to madness.
What does it mean to say that high rank hurts keenly as our bodies hurt?
The only reason that we suffer hurt is that we have bodies;
If we had no bodies, how could we suffer?
Therefore we may accept the saying:
“He who in dealing with the empire regards his high rank
As through it were his body is the best person to be entrusted with rules;
He who in dealing with the empire loves his subjects as one should love one's body
Is the best person to whom one commit the empire.”
Because the eye gazes but can catch no glimpse of it,
It is called elusive.
Because the ear listens but cannot hear it,
It is called the rarefied.
Because the hand feels for it but cannot find it,
It is called the infinitesimal.
These three, because they cannot be further scrutinized,
Blend into one,
Its rising brings no light;
Its sinking, no darkness.
Endless the series of things without name
On the way back to where there is nothing.
They are called shapeless shapes;
Forms without form;
Are called vague semblance.
Go towards them, and you can see no front;
Go after them, and you see no rear.
Yet by seizing on the Way that was
You can ride the things that are now.
For to know what once there was, in the Beginning,
This is called the essence of the Way.
Of old those that were the best officers of Court
Had inner natures subtle, abstruse, mysterious, penetrating,
Too deep to be understood.
And because such men could not be understood
I can but tell of them as they appeared to the world:
Circumspect they seemed, like one who in winter crosses a stream,
Watchful, as one who must meet danger on every side.
Ceremonious, as one who pays a visit;
Yet yielding, as ice when it begins to melt.
Blank, as a piece of uncarved wood;
Yet receptive as a hollow in the hills.
Murky, as a troubled stream —–
(Tranquil, as the vast reaches of the sea,
Drifting as the wind with no stop.)
Which of you an assume such murkiness,
To become in the end still and clear?
Which of you can make yourself insert,
To become in the end full of life and stir?
Those who possess this Tao do not try to fill themselves to the brim,
And because they do not try to fill themselves to the brim,
They are like a garment that endures all wear and need never be renewed.
Push far enough towards the Void,
Hold fast enough to Quietness,
And of the ten thousand things none but can be worked on by you.
I have beheld them, whither they go back.
See, all things howsoever they flourish
Return to the root from which they grew.
This return to the root is called Quietness;
Quietness is called submission to Fate;
What has submitted to Fate has become part of the always so.
To know the always-so is to be Illumined;
Not to know it, means to go blindly to disaster.
He who knows the always-so has room in him for everything;
He who has room in him for everything is without prejudice.
To be without prejudice is to be kingly;
To be kingly is to be of heaven;
To be of heaven is to be in Tao.
Tao is forever and he that possess it,
Though his body ceases, is not destroyed.
Of the highest the people merely know that such a one exists;
The next they draw near to and praise.
The next they shrink from, intimidated; but revile.
Truly, “It is by not believing people that you turn them into liars”.
But from the Sage it is so hard at any price to get a single word
That when his task is accomplished, his work done,
Throughout the country every one says: “It happened of its own accord”.
It was when the Great Way declined
That human kindness and morality arose;
It was when intelligence and knowledge appeared
That the Great Artifice began.
It was when the six near ones were no longer at peace
That there was talk of “dutiful sons”;
Nor till fatherland was dark with strife
Did we hear of “loyal slaves”.
Banish wisdom, discard knowledge,
And the people will be benefited a hundredfold.
Banish human kindness, discard morality,
And the people will be dutiful and compassionate.
Banish skill, discard profit,
And thieves and robbers will disappear.
If when these three things are done they find life too plain and unadorned,
Then let them have accessories;
Give them Simplicity to look at, the Uncarved Black to hold,
Give them selflessness and fewness of desires.
Banish learning, and there will be no more grieving.
Between wei and o
What after all is the difference?
Can it be compared to the difference between good and bad?
The saying “what others avoid I too must avoid”
How false and superficial it is?
All men, indeed, are wreathed in smiles,
As though feasting after the Great Sacrifice,
As though going up to the Spring Carnival.
I alone am inert, like a child that has not yet given sign;
Like an infant that has not yet smiled.
I droop and drift, as though I belonged nowhere.
All men have enough and to spare;
I alone seem to have lost everything.
Mine is indeed the mind of a very idiot,
So dull am I.
The world is full of people that shine;
I alone am dark.
They look lively and self-assured;
I alone depressed.
(I seem unsettled as the ocean;
Blown adrift, never brought to a stop.)
All men can be put to some use;
I alone am intractable and boorish.
But wherein I most am different from men
Is that I prize no sustenance that comes not from the Mother's breast.
Such the scope of the All-pervading Power.
That it alone can act through the Way.
For the Way is a thing impalpable, incommensurable.
Yet latent in it are forms;
Yet within it are entities.
Shadowy it is and dim;
Yet within it there is a force,
Is none the less efficacious.
From the times of old till now
Its charge has not departed
But cheers onward the many warriors.
How do I know that the many warriors are so?
“To remain whole, be twisted!”
To become straight, let yourself be bent.
To become full, be hollow.
Be tattered, that you may be renewed.
Those that have little, may get more,
Those that have much, are but perplexed.
Therefore the ; Sage
Clasps the Primal Unity,
Testing by it everything under heaven.
He does not show himself; therefore he seen everywhere.
He does not define himself, therefore he is distinct.
He does not boast of what he will do, therefore he succeeds.
He is not proud of his work, and therefore it endures.
He does not contend,
And for that very reason no one under heaven can contend with him.
So then we see that the ancient saying “To remain whole, be twisted!” was no idle word;
For true wholeness can only be achieved by return.
To be always talks is against nature.
For the same reason a hurricane never lasts a whole morning,
Nor a rainstorm all day.
Who is it that makes the wind and rain?
It is Heaven-and Earth.
And if even Heaven-and Earth cannot blow or pour for long,
How much less in his utterance should man?
Truly, if one uses the Way as one's instrument,
The results will be like the Way;
If one uses the “power” as instrument,
The results will be like the “power”.
If one uses what is the reverse of the “power”,
The results will be the reverse of the “power”.
For to those who have conformed themselves to the Way,
The Way readily lends its power.
To those who have conformed themselves to the power,
The power readily, lends more power.
While to those who conform themselves to inefficacy,
Inefficacy readily lends its ineffectiveness.
“It is by not believing in people that you turn them into liars.”
'He who stands on tip-toe, does not stand firm;
He who takes the longest strides, does not walk the fastest.”
He who does his own looking sees little,
He who defines himself is not therefore distinct.
He who boasts of what he will do succeeds in nothing;
He who is proud of his work, achieves nothing that endures.
Of these, from the standpoint of the Way, it is said:
“Pass round superfluous dishes to those that have already had enough,
And no creature but will reject them in disgust.”
That is why he that possesses Tao does not linger.
There was something formless yet complete,
That existed before heaven and earth;
Without sound, without substance,
Dependent on nothing, unchanging,
All pervading, unfailing.
One may think of it as the mother of all things under heaven.
Its true name we do not know;
Were I forced to say to what class of things it belongs
I should call it Great (ta)
Now ta also means passing on,
And passing on means going Far Away,
And going far away means returning.
Thus just as Tao has “this greatness” and as earth has it and as heaven has it,
So may the ruler also have it.
Thus “within the realm there are four portions of greatness”,
And one belongs to the king.
The ways of men are conditioned by those of earth.
The ways of earth, by those of heaven.
The ways of heaven by those of Tao, and the ways of Tao by the Self-so.
As the heavy must be the foundation of the light,
So quietness is lord and master of activity.
Truly, “A man of consequence though he travels all day
Will not let himself be separated from his baggage-wagon,
However magnificent the view, he sits quiet and dispassionate”.
How much less, then, must be the lord of ten thousand chariots
Allow himself to be lighter than these he rules!
If he is light, the foundation is lost;
If he is active, the lord and master is lost.
Perfect activity leaves no track behind it;
Perfect speech is like a jade-worker whose tool leaves no mark.
The perfect reckoner needs no counting-slips;
The perfect door has neither bolt nor bar,
Yet cannot be opened.
The perfect knot needs neither rope nor twine,
Yet cannot be united.
Therefore the Sage
Is all the time in the most perfect way helping men,
He certainly does not turn his back on men;
Is all the time in the most perfect way helping creatures,
He certainly does not turn his back on creatures.
This is called resorting to the Light.
Truly, “the perfect man is the teacher of the imperfect;
But the imperfect is the stock-in-trade of the perfect man”.
He who does not respect his teacher,
He who does not take care of his stock-in-trade,
Much learning through he may possess, is far astray.
This is the essential secret.
“He who knows the males, yet cleaves to what is female
Because like a ravine, receiving all things under heaven,”
And being such a ravine
He knows all the time a power that he never calls upon in vain.
This is returning to the state of infancy.
He who knows the white, (yet cleaves to the black
Becomes the standard by which all things are tested;
And being such a standard
He has all the time a power that never errs,
He returns to the Limitless.
He who knows glory,) yet cleaves to ignominy
Become like a valley that receives into it all things under heaven,
And being such a valley
He has all the time a power that suffices;
He returns to the state of the Uncarved Block.
Now when a block is sawed up it is made into implements;
But when the Sage uses it, it becomes Chief of all Ministers.
Truly, “The greatest carver does the least cutting”.
Those that would gain what is under heaven by tampering with it -
I have seen that they do not succeed.
For that which is under heaven is like a holy vessel, dangerous to tamper with.
Those that tamper with it, harm it.
Those that grab at it, lose it.
For among the creatures of the world some go in front, some follow;
Some blow hot when others would be blowing cold.
Some are feeling vigorous just when others are worn out.
Therefore the Sage “discards the absolute, the all-inclusive, the extreme”.
He who by Tao purposes to help a ruler of men
Will oppose all conquest by force of arms;
For such things are wont to rebound.
Where armies are, thorn and brambles grow.
The raising of a great host
Is followed by a year of dearth.
Therefore a good general effects his purpose and then stops; he does not take further advantage of his victory.
Fulfils his purpose and does not glory in what he has done;
Fulfils his purpose and does not boast of what he has done;
Fulfils his purpose, but takes no pride in what he has done;
Fulfils his purpose, but only as a step that could not be avoided.
Fulfils his purpose, but without violence;
For what has a time of vigour also has a time of decay.
This is against Tao,
And what is against Tao will soon perish.
Fine weapons are none the less ill-omened things.
(People despise them, therefore,
Those in possession of the Tao do not depend on them.)
That is why, among people of good birth,
In peace the left-hand side is the place of honour,
But in war this is reversed and the right-hand side is the place of honour.
(Weapons are ill-omened things, which the superior man should not depend on.
When he has no choice but to use them,
The best attitude is to retain tranquil and peaceful.)
The Quietist, even when he conquers, does not regard weapons as lovely things.
For to think them lovely means to delight in them,
And to delight in them means to delight in the slaughter of men.
And he who delights in the slaughter of men
Will never get what he looks for out of those that dwell under heaven.
(Thus in happy events,
The left-hand side is the place of honour, in grief and mourning,
The right-hand is the place of honour.
The lieutenant general stands on the left,
While the supreme general stands on the right,
Which is arranged on the rites of mourning.)
A host that has slain men is received with grief and mourning;
He that has conquered in battle is received with rites of mourning.
Tao is eternal, but has no fame (name);
The Uncarved Block, though seemingly of small account,
Is greater than anything that is under heaven.
If kings and barons would but possess themselves of it,
The ten thousand creatures would flock to do them homage;
Heaven-and-earth would conspire
To send Sweet Dew,
Without law or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony.
Once the block is carved, there will be names,
And so soon as there are names,
Know that it is time to stop.
Only by knowing when it is time to stop can danger be avoided.
To Tao all under heaven will come
As streams and torrents flow into a great river or sea.
To understand others is to have knowledge;
To understand oneself is to be illumined.
To conquer others needs strength;
To conquer oneself is harder still.
To be content with what one has is to be rich.
He that works through violence may get his way;
But only what stays in its place
When one dies one is not lost, there is no other longevity.
Great Tao is like a boat that drifts;
It can go this way; it can go that.
The ten thousand creatures owe their existence to it and it does not disown them;
Yet having produced them, it does not take possession of them.
Makes no claim to be master over them,
(And asks for nothing from them.)
Therefore it may be called the Lowly.
The ten thousand creatures obey it,
Though they know not that they have a master;
Therefore it is called the Great.
So too the Sage just because he never at any time makes a show of greatness
In fact achieves greatness.
He who holding the Great From goes about his work in the empire
Can go about his, yet do no harm.
All is peace, quietness and security.
Sound of music, smell of good dishes
Will make the passing stranger pause.
How difference the words that Tao gives forth!
So thin, so flavourless!
If one looks for Tao, there is nothing solid to see;
If one listens for it, there is nothing loud enough to hear.
Yet if one uses it, it is inexhaustible.
What is in the end to be shrunk
Must first be stretched.
Whatever is to be weakened
Must begin by being made strong.
What is to be overthrown
Must begin by being set up.
He who would be a taker
Must begin as a giver.
This is called “dimming” one's light.
It is thus that the soft overcomes the hard
And the weak, the strong.
“It is best to leave the fish down in his pool;
Best to leave the State's sharpest weapons wherenone can see them.”
Tao never does;
Yet through it all things are done.
If the barons and kings would but possess themselves of it,
The ten thousand creatures would at once be transformed.
And if having been transformed they should desire to act,
We must restrain them by the blankness of the Unnamed.
The blankness of the Unnamed
To be dispassionate is to be still.
And so, of itself, the whole empire will be at rest.
The man of highest “power” does not reveal himself as a possessor of “power”;
Therefore he keeps his “power”.
The man of inferior “power” cannot rid it of the appearance of “power”;
Therefore he is in truth without “power”.
The man of highest “power” neither acts nor is there any who so regards him;
The man of inferior “power” both acts and is so regarded.
The man of highest humanity, though he acts, is not regarded;
Whereas a man of even the highest morality both acts and is so regarded;
While even he who is best versed in ritual not merely acts,
But if people fail to respond
Then he will pull up his sleeves and advance upon them.
That is why it is said:
“After Tao was lost, then came the 'power';
After the 'power' was lost, then came human kindness.”
After human kindness was lost, then came morality,
After morality was lost, then came ritual.
Now ritual is the mere husk of loyalty and promise-keeping
And is indeed the first step towards brawling.”
Foreknowledge may be the “flower of doctrine”,
But it is the beginning of folly.
Therefore the full-grown man takes his stand upon the solid substance
And not upon the mere husk,
Upon the fruit and not upon the flower.
Truly, “he reject that and takes this”.
As for the things that from of old have understood the Whole —
The sky through such understanding remains limpid,
Earth remains steady,
The spirits keep their holiness,
The abyss is replenished,
The ten thousand creatures bear their kind,
Barons and princes direct their people.
It is the Whole that causes it.
Were it not so limpid, the sky would soon get torn,
Were is not for steadiness, the earth would soon tip over,
Were it not for their holiness, the spirit would soon wither away.
Were it not for this replenishment, the abyss would soon go dry,
Were it not that ten thousand creatures can bear their kind,
They would soon become extinct.
Were the barons and princes no longer directors of their people
And for that reason honoured and exalted, they would soon be overthrown.
Truly “ the humble is the stem upon which the mighty grows,
The low is the foundation upon which the high is laid.”
That is why barons and princes refer to themselves as “The Orphan”,
“The Needy”, “The Ill-provided.
Is this not indeed a case of might rooting itself upon humility?
True indeed are the sayings:
“Enumerate the parts of a carriage,
And you still have not explained what a carriage is,”
And They did not want themselves to tinkle like jade-bells,
While others resounded like stone chimes”.
In Tao the only motion is returning;
The only useful quality, weakness.
For though all creatures under heaven are the products of Being,
Being itself is the product of Not-being.
When the man of highest capacities hears Tao
He does his best to put it into practice.
When the man of middling capacity hears Tao
He is in two minds about it.
When the man of low capacity hears Tao
He laughs loudly at it.
If he did not laugh, it would not be worth the name of Tao.
Therefore the proverb has it:
“The way out into the light often looks dark,
The way that goes ahead often looks as if it went back.”
The way that is least hilly often looks as if it went up and down,
The “power” that is really loftiest looks like an abyss,
What is sheerest white looks blurred.
The “power” that is most sufficing looks inadequate,
The “power” that stands firmest looks flimsy.
What is in its natural, pure state looks faded;
The largest square has no corners,
The greatest vessel takes the longest to finish,
Great music has the faintest notes,
The Great From is without shape.
For Tao is hidden and nameless.
Yet Tao alone supports all things and brings them to fulfillment.
Tao gave birth to the One;
The One gave birth successively to two things,
Three things, up to ten thousand.
These ten thousand creatures cannot turn their backs to the shade
Without having the sun on their bellies,
And it is on this blending of the breaths that their harmony depends.
To be orphaned, needy, ill-provided is what men most hate;
Yet princes and dukes style themselves so.
Truly, “things are often increased by seeking to diminish them
And diminished by seeking to increase them.”
The maxims that others use in their teaching I too will use in mine.
Show me a man of violence that came to a good end,
And I will take him for my teacher.
What is of all things most yielding
Can overwhelm that which is of all things most hard.
Being substanceless it can enter even where is no space;
That is how I know the value of action that is actionless.
But that there can be teaching without words,
Value in action that is actionless,
Few indeed can understand.
Fame or one's own self, which matters to one most?
One's own self or things bought, which should count most?
In the getting or the losing, which is worse?
Hence he who grudges expense pays dearest in the end;
He who has hoarded most will suffer the heaviest loss.
Be content with what you have and are, and no one can despoil you;
Who stops in time nothing can harm.
He is forever safe and secure.
What is most perfect seems to have something missing;
Yet its use is unimpaired.
What is most full seems empty;
Yet its use will never fail.
What is most straight seems crooked;
The greatest skill seems like clumsiness,
The greatest eloquence like stuttering.
Movement overcomes cold;
But staying still overcomes heat.
So he by his limpid calm
Puts right everything under heaven.
When there is Tao in the empire
The galloping steeds are turned back to fertilize the ground by their droppings.
When there is not Tao in the empire
War horses will be reared even on the sacred mounds below the city walls.
(No lure is greater than to possess what others want,)
No disaster greater than not to be content with what one has,
No presage of evil greater than men should be wanting to get more.
“He who has once known the contentment that comes simply through being content,
Will never again be otherwise than contented”.
Without leaving his door
He knows everything under heaven.
Without looking out of his window
He knows all the ways of heaven.
For the further one travels
The less one knows.
Therefore the Sage arrives without going,
Sees all without looking,
Does nothing, yet achieves everything.
Learning consists in adding to one's stock day by day;
The practice of Tao consists in “subtracting day by day,
Subtracting and yet again subtracting
Till one has reached inactivity.
But by this very inactivity
Everything can be activated.”
Those who of old won the adherence of all who live under heaven
All did so not interfering.
Had they interfered,
They would never have won this adherence.
The Sage has no heart of his own;
He uses the heart of the people as his heart.
Of the good man I approve,
But of the bad I also approve,
And thus he gets goodness.
The truthful man I believe, but the liar I also believe,
And thus he gets truthfulness.
The Sage, in the dealings with the world, seems like one dazed with fright;
For the world's sake be dulls his wits.
The Hundred Families all the time strain their eyes and ears,
The Sage all the time sees and hears no more than an infant sees and hears.
He who aims at life achieves death.
If the “companions of life” are thirteen,
So likewise are the “companions of death” thirteen.
How is it that the “death-stops” in man's life
And activity are also thirteen?
It is because men feed life too grossly.
It is said that he who has a true hold on life,
When he walks on land does not meet tigers or wild buffaloes;
In battle he is not touched by weapons of war.
A buffalo that attacked him would find nothing for its horns to butt,
A tiger would find nothing for its claws to tear,
A weapon would find no place for its point to enter in.
Because such men have no “death-spot” in them.
Tao gave them birth;
The “power” of Tao reared them,
Shaped them according to their kinds,
Perfected them, giving to each its strength.
Of the ten thousand things there is not one that does not worship Tao
And do homage to its “power”.
No mandate ever went forth that accorded to Tao the right to be worshipped,
Nor to its “power” the right to be worshipped,
Nor to its “power” the right to receive homage.
It was always and of itself so.
Therefore as Tao bore them and the “power” of Tao reared them,
Made them grow, fostered them,
Brewed for them,
So you must rear them, but not lay claim to them,
Control them, but never lean upon them,
Be chief among them, but not manage them.
This is called the mysterious power.”
That which was the beginning of all things under heaven
We may speak of as the “mother” of all things.
He who apprehends the mother
Thereby knows the sons.
And he who has known the sons,
Will hold all the tighter to the mother,
And to the end of his days suffer no harm;
“Block the passages, shut the doors,
And till the end your strength shall not fail.
Open up the passages, increase your doings,
And till your last day no help shall come to you.”
As good sight means seeing what is very small
So strength means holding on to what is weak.
He who having used the outer-light can return to the innerlight
Is thereby preserved from all harm.
This is called resorting to the always-so.
He who has the least scrap of sense,
Once he has got started on the great highway has nothing to fear
So long as he avoids turnings.
For great highways are safe and easy.
But men love by-paths.
So long as Court is in order
They are content to let their fields run to weed
And their granaries stand empty.
They wear patterns and embroideries,
Carry sharp swords, glut themselves with drink and food,
Have more possessions than they can use.
These are the riotous ways of brigandage; they are not the Highway.
What Tao plants cannot be plucked,
What Tao clasps, cannot slip.
By its virtue alone can one generation after another carry on the ancestrial sacrifice.
Apply it to yourself and by its power you will be freed from dross.
Apply it to your household and your household shall thereby have abundance.
Apply it to the village, and the village will be made secure.
Apply it to the kingdom, and the kingdom shall thereby be made to flourish.
Apply it to an empire, and the empire shall thereby be extended.
Therefore just as through oneself one may contemplate Oneself,
So through the household one may contemplate the Household,
And through the village, one may contemplate the Village,
And through the kingdom, one may contemplate the Kingdom,
And through the empire, one may contemplate the Empire.
How do I know that the empire is so?
The impunity of things fraught with the “power”
May be likened to that of an infant.
Poisonous insects do not sting it,
Nor fierce beasts seize it,
Nor clawing birds maul it,
Its bones are soft, its sinews weak; but its grip is strong.
Not yet to have known the union of male and female,
But to be completely formed,
Means that the vital force is at its height;
To be able to scream all day without getting hoarse
Means that the harmony is at its perfection.
To understand such harmony is to understand the always so.
To understand the always-so is to be illumined.
But to fill life to the brim is to invite omens.
If the heart makes calls upon the life-breath, rigidity follows.
Whatever has a time of vigour also has a time of decay.
Such things are against Tao,
And whatever is against Tao is soon destroyed.
Those who know do not speak;
Those who speak do not know.
Black the passages,
Shut the doors,
Let all sharpness be blunted,
All tangles untied,
All glare tempered.
All dust smoothed.
This is called the mysterious leveling.
He who has achieved it cannot either be drawn into friendship or repelled,
Cannot be benefited, cannot be harmed,
Cannot either be raised or humbled,
And for that very reason is highest of all creatures under heaven.
“Kingdoms can only be governed if rules are kept;
Battles can only be won if rules are broken.”
But the adherence of all under heaven can only be won by letting-alone.
How do I know that it is so?
The more prohibitions there are, the more ritual avoidances,
The poorer the people will be.
The more “sharp weapons” there are,
The more benighted will the whole land grow.
The more cunning craftsmen there are,
The more pernicious contrivances will be invented.
The more laws are promulgated,
The more thieves and bandits there will be.
Therefore a sage has said:
So long as I “do nothing” the people will of themselves be transformed.
So long as I love quietude, the people will of themselves go straight.
So long as I act only by inactivity the people will of themselves become prosperous.
So long as I have no wants
The people will of themselves return to the “state of the Uncarved Block”.
When the ruler looks repressed the people will be happy and satisfied;
When the rule looks lively and self-assured the people will be carping and discontented.
“It is upon bad fortune that good fortune leans, upon good fortune that bad fortune rests.”
But though few know it, there is a bourn where there is neither right nor wrong;
In a realm where every straight is doubled by a crooked,
And every good by an ill, surely mankind has gone long enough astray?
Therefore the Sage
Squares without cutting,
Shapes the corners without iopping,
Straightens without stretching,
Gives forth light without shining.
You cannot rule men nor serve heaven unless you have laid up a store;
This “laying up a store” means quickly absorbing,
And “quickly absorbing” means doubling one's garnered “power”.
Double your garnered power and it acquires a strength that nothing can overcome.
If there is nothing it cannot overcome, it know no bounds,
And only what knows no bounds is huge enough to keep a whole kingdom in its grasp.
But only he who having the kingdom goes to the Mother can keep it long.
This is called the art of making the roots strike deep by fencing the trunk,
Of making life long by fixed staring.
Ruling a large kingdom is indeed like cooking small fish.
They who by Tao all that is under heaven
Did not let an evil spirit within them display its powers.
Nay, it was not only that the evil spirit did not display its powers;
Neither was the Sage's good spirit used to the hurt of other men.
Nor was it only that his good spirit was not used to harm other men,
The Sage himself was thus saved from harm.
And so, each being saved from harm,
Their “powers” could converge towards a common end.
A large kingdom must be like the low ground towards which all streams flows down.
It must be a point towards which all things under heaven converge.
Its part must be that of the female in its dealings with all things under heaven.
The female by quiescence conquers the male; by quiescence gets underneath.
If a large kingdom can in the same way succeed in getting underneath a small kingdom
Then it will win the adherence of the small kingdom;
And it is because small kingdoms are by nature in this way underneath large kingdoms
That they win the adherence of large kingdoms.
The one must get underneath in order to do it;
The other is underneath and therefore does it.
(What large countries really need is more inhabitants;
And what small countries need is some place
Where their surplus inhabitants can go and get employment.)
Thus each gets what it needs.
That is why I say the large kingdom must “get underneath”.
Tao in the Universe is like the south-west corner in the house.
It is the treasure of the good man,
The support of the bad.
There is a traffic in speakers of fine words;
Persons of grave demeanour are accepted as gifts;
Even the bad let slip no opportunity to acquire them.
Therefore on the day of an Emperor's enthronement
Or at the installation of the three officers of State
Rather than send a team of four horses, preceded by a disc of jade,
Better were it, as can be done without moving from one's seat,
To send this Tao.
For what did the ancients say of this Tao,
How did they prize it?
Did they not say of those that have it
“Pursuing, they shall catch; pursued, they shall escape?”
They thought it, indeed, most precious of all things under heaven.
It acts without action, does without doing,
Finds flavour in what is flavourless,
Can make the small great and the few many,
“Requites injuries with good deeds,
Deals with the hard while it is still easy,
With the great while it is still small.”
In the governance of empire everything difficult
Must be dealt with while it is still easy,
Everything great must be dealt with while it is still small.
Therefore the Sage never has to deal with the great;
And so achieves greatness.
But again “Light assent inspires little confidence
And 'many easies' means many a hard.”
Therefore the Sage knows too how to make the easy difficult,
And by doing so avoid all difficulties!
“What stays still is easy to hold;
Before there has been an omen it is easy to lay plans.
What is tender is easily torn,
What is minute is easy to scatter.”
Deal with things in their state of not-yet-being,
Put them in order before they have got into confusion.
For “the tree big as a man's embrace began as a tiny sprout,
The tower nine storeys high began with a heap of earth,
The journey of a thousand leagues began with what was under the feet”.
He who acts, harms; he who grabs, lets slip.
Therefore the Sage does not act, and so does not harm;
Does not grab, and so does not let slip.
Whereas the people of the world, at their tasks,
Constantly spoil things when within an ace of completing them.
“Heed the end no less than the beginning,”
And your work will not be spoiled.
Therefore the Sage wants only things that are unwanted,
Sets no store by products difficult to get,
And so teaches things untaught,
Turning all men back to the things they have left behind,
That the ten thousand creatures may be restored to their Self-so.
This he does; but dare not act.
In the days of old those who practiced Tao with success did not,
By means of it,
Enlighten the people, but on the contrary sought to make them ignorant.
The more knowledge people have, the harder they are to rule.
Those who seek to rule by giving knowledge
Are like bandits preying on the land.
Those who rule without giving knowledge
Bring a stock of good fortune to the land.
To have understood the difference between these who things
Is to have a test and standard
To be always able to apply this test and standard
Is called the mysterious “power”, so deep-penetrating,
That can follow things back —
All the way back to the Great Concordance.
How did the great rivers and seas get their kingship
Over the hundred lesser streams?
Through the merit of being lower than they;
That was how they got their kingship.
Therefore the Sage
In order to be above the people
Must speak as though he were lower than the people.
In order to guide them
He must put himself behind them.
Only thus can the Sage be on top and the people not be crushed by his weight.
Only thus can he guide, and the people not be led into harm
Indeed in this way everything under heaven will into harm be pushed by him
And will not find his guidance irk-some.
This he does by not striving;
And because he does not strive, none can contend with him.
Every one under heaven says that our Way is greatly like folly.
But it is just because it is great, that it seems like folly.
As for things that do not seem like folly — well,
There can be no question about their smallness!
Here are my three treasures.
Guard and keep them!
The first is pity;
The second, frugality;
The third, refusal to be “foremost of all things under heaven.”
For only he that pities is truly able to be brave;
Only he that is frugal is able to be profuse.
Only he that refuse to be foremost of all things
Is truly able to become chief of all Ministers.
At present your bravery is not based on pity,
Nor your profusion on frugality,
Nor your vanguard on your rear; and this is death.
But pity cannot fight without conquering or guard without.
But pity cannot fight without conquering or guard without saving.
Heaven arms with pity those whom it would not see destroyed.
The best charioteers do not rush ahead;
The best fighters do not make displays of wrath.
The greatest conqueror wins without joining issue;
The best user of men acts as though he were their inferior.
This is called the power that comes of not contending,
Is called the capacity to use men,
The secret of being mated to heaven, to what was of old.
The strategists have the sayings:
“When you doubt your ability to meet the enemy's attack,
Take the offensive yourself”
And “If you doubt your ability to advance an inch, then retreat a foot”.
This latter is what we call to march without moving,
To roll the sleeve, but present no bare arm,
The hand that seems to hold, yet had no weapon in it,
A host that can confront, yet presents no battle-front.
Now the greatest of all calamities is to attack and find no enemy.
I can have no enemy only at the price of losing my treasure.
Therefore when armies are raised
And issues joined it is he who does not delight in war that wins.
My words are very easy to understand
And very easy to put into practice.
Yet no one under heaven understands them;
No one puts them into practice.
But my words have an ancestry, my deeds have a lord;
And it is precisely because men do not understand this
That they are unable to understand me.
Few then understand me, but it is upon this very fact my value depends.
It is indeed in this sense that “the Sage wears hair-cloth on top,
But carries jade under neath his dress.”
“To know when one does not know is best.
To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.
Only he who recognizes this disease as a disease
Can cure himself of the disease.
The Sage's way of curing disease
Also consists in making people recognize their diseases as diseases
And thus ceasing to be diseased.
Never mind if the people are not intimidated by your authority.
A Mightier Authority will deal with them in the end.
Do not narrow their dwelling or harass their lives;
And for the very reason that you do not harass them,
They will cease to turn from you.
Therefore the Sage knows himself but does not show himself.
Knows his own value, but does not put himself on high.
Truly, he rejects that but takes this”.
He whose braveness lies in daring, slays.
He whose braveness lies in not daring , gives life.
Of these two, either may be profitable or unprofitable.
But “Heaven hates what it hates;
None can know the reason why”.
Wherefore the Sage, too, disallows it.
For it is the way of Heaven not to strive but none the less to conquer,
Not to speak, but none the less to get an answer,
Not to beckon; yet things come to it of themselves.
Heaven is like one who says little, yet none the less has laid his plans.
Heaven's net is wide;
Coarse are the meshes, yet nothing slips through.
The people are not frightened of death.
What then is the use of trying to intimidate them with the death-penalty?
And even supposing people were generally frightened of death
And did not regard it as an everyday thing,
Which of us would dare to seize them and slay them?
There is the Lord of Slaughter always ready for this task,
And to do it in his stead is like thrusting oneself into the master-carpenter's place
And doing his chipping for him.
Now “he who tries to do the master-carpenter's chipping for him is lucky if he does not cut his hand.”
The people starve because those above them eat too much tax-grain.
That is the only reason why they starve.
The people are difficult to keep in order because those above them interfere.
That is the only reason why they are so difficult to keep in order.
The people attach no importance to death,
Because those above them are too grossly absorbed in the pursuit of life.
That is why they attach no importance to death.
And indeed, in that their hearts are so little set on life
They are superior to these who set store by life.
When he is born, man is soft and weak;
In death he becomes stiff and hard.
The ten thousand creatures and all plants
And trees while they are alive are supple and soft,
But when and dead they become brittle and dry.
Truly, what is stiff and hard is a “companion of death”;
What is soft and weak is a “companion of life”.
Therefore “the weapon that is too hard will be broken,
The tree that has the hardest wood will be cut down”.
Truly, the hard and mighty are cast down;
The soft and weak set on high.
Heaven's way is like the bending of a bow.
When a bow is bent the top comes down and the bottom-end comes up.
So too does Heaven take away from those who have too much,
And give to those that have not enough.
But if it is Heaven's way to take from those who have too much
And give to those who have not enough, this is far from being man's way.
He takes away from those that have not-enough in order
To make offering to those who already have too much.
One there is and one only, so rich that he the possessor of Tao.
(If, then, the Sage “though he controls does not lean,
And when he has achieved his aim does not linger”,
It is because he does not wish to reveal himself as better than others.)
Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water;
But when it attacks things hard and resistant there is not one of them that can prevail.
For they can find no way of altering it.
That the yielding conquers the resistant
And the soft conquers the hard is a fact known by all men,
Yet utilized by none.
Yet it is in reference to this that the Sage said
“Only he who has accepted the dirt of the country can be lord of its soil shrines;
Only he who takes upon himself the evils of the country
Can become a king among those what dwell under heaven.”
Straight words seem crooked.
(To requite injuries with good deeds.)
To allay the main discontent,
But only in a manner that will certainly produce further discontents can hardly be called successful.
Therefore the Sage behaves like the holder of the left-hand tally,
Who stays where he is and does not go round making claims on people.
For he who has the “power” of Tao is the Grand Almoner;
He who has not the “power” is the Grand Perquisitor.
“It is Heaven's way, without distinction of persons,
To keep the good perpetually supplied.”
Given a small country with few inhabitants,
He could bring it about that through
There should be among the people contrivances requiring ten times,
A hundred times less labour, they would not use them.
He could bring it about that the people would be ready
To lay down their lives and lay them down again in defence of their homes,
Tather than emigrate.
There might still be boats and carriage,
But no one would go in them;
There might still be weapons of war,
But no one would drill with them.
He could bring it about that
“The people should have no use for any from of writing save knotted ropes,
Should be contented with their food, pleased with their clothing,
Satisfied with their homes,
Should take pleasure in their rustic tasks.
The next place might be so near at hand
That one could one could hear the cocks crowing in it, the dogs barking;
But the people would grow old and die without ever having been there”.
True words are not fine-sounding;
Fine-sounding words are not true.
The good man does not prove by argument;
The he who proves by argument is not good.
True wisdom is different from much learning;
Much learning means little wisdom.
The Sage has no need to hoard;
When his own last scrap has been used up on behalf of others,
Lo, he has more than before!
When his own last scrap has been used up in giving to other,
Lo, his stock is even greater than before!
For heaven's way is to sharpen without cutting,
And the Sage's way is to act without striving.