Terebess Asia Online (TAO)


The Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu

Translated by Ted Wrigley

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A path is just a path, a name is just a name
What is, is, without sense or differentiation
And only divides itself into things when we give names

Forget the names of things and you sense fit and flow
Use their names and you see uniqueness, significance
Each perspective is as true as the other

How can something be both fragmentary and complete?
There's a mystery here calling for a deeper perception
A perception from which all spirituality springs


Recognize beauty in the world and other things become ugly
Recognize goodness and other things become evil

Is and isn't create each other
Difficult and easy complete each other
Long and short form each other
High and low fill each other
Tone and word define each other
Front and back follow each other
All this is inescapable

Therefore the taoist acts without a plan, teaches without a text
She creates, but doesn't define
Nurtures, but doesn't lay claim
Accomplishes, but walks away

Because he walks away, what he does, lasts


Give rewards, and someone will fight for them
Prize rarities, and someone will try to steal them
Offer all that anyone could desire, and someone will be confused and angry

When one must lead, one must lead people back to themselves
Fill their needs but drain their compulsions
Harden their bones but soften their opinions
Where they feel the need to chase after fashion or stand for some cause
Be quiet and listen, so they will speak cautiously and hesitant to act *
So long as they are cautious, all things will fall into place


The way is emptiness,
Yet practice it and it seems inexhaustible
Fathomless and still,
Yet all life seems to spring from it

It blunts sharp edges
Unravels knots
Softens glare
Settles the dust

It moves beneath all things, seen only in its effects
Where it came from no one can say
It was always there, the potential in nothingness


Nature is not well mannered
It watches creatures be born and die without comment
Nor is the taoist well mannered
People are born and they die, and that's as it should be

Life is like a fan
So long as it moves the breeze continues
But stop the one so you can master the other, and what's left to master?
Don't try to answer, you'll only frustrate yourself

Who can define life or death?  Knowing they are is enough.


Nature is perpetually fertile, like a river valley
This is the feminine principle, ever capable of producing
It expresses itself in the world in uncountable ways
It is the root of all life
Subtle, so subtle, who can see it come and go?
Yet it always renews itself.


Heaven and earth endure forever
They last, because they do not live for themselves
But to nurture the creatures of the world

Following this, the taoist effaces herself but finds that she is heard
Cares only for others but finds his own needs met
How else can you be nurtured by the tao
Except to give yourself up to it?


True goodness is like water
It gives itself to all without argument
It lives in the lowest places that most scorn
And therefore it is close to the tao

Live modestly
Reason deeply
Give wholeheartedly
Speak sincerely
Govern modestly
Work skillfully
Move in rhythm with the flow of life

Be in these ways like water, and you can never go wrong


Fill a bowl to the rim;  will it spill?
Force something to fit;  will it break?
Amass great wealth;  will you be robbed?
Achieve fame and status;  will you be laughed at?

Better to avoid the questions:
Accomplish your ends, then walk away
Such is the road of peace


Feed your emotions, but balance them
Breathe fully and effortlessly, like a child
See who you are, without distortion

Love your nation and your people, without prejudgment
Live the feminine principle, so the tao possesses you
See the world as it is, without interpretation

Be a womb to things, and a breast
Give them life, but let them be
Nurture them without demands

This is virtue


We fire clay to make a cup,
But we use the empty space in the center
We build walls to make a room,
But we use the empty space they surround
We form a wheel to spin,
But we need the axle hole to use it

The point:
Having something is good only to the extent
That it makes nothingness usable


Brilliance and splendors blind the eye
Competition and the hunt for fulfillment madden the mind
Grasping wealth leaves the hand useless for all else
Louder, faster, brighter: these things drown the senses

The tao is subtle, quiet, soft
A thread easily lost in the tumult
Therefore a wise leader feeds the belly and not the senses
Brings the people back rather than driving them on


Status is a cold, damp wind to the spirit
It can lead to fevers
The more status you gain, the more afraid you are to lose it
The more you lose, the more afraid you are to show your face
And this fear is like any other sickness; it limits you
It debilitates you and risks being spread to others

To earn the trust of a society you must care for its health
And so you must guard yourself against the ill effects of status
Care for the spirit of society as you would for the health of your body
Whoever can do that, is worthy to lead


You can look at it, but you can't see it;  it has no color, no size
You can listen to it, but you can't hear it;  it has no tone, no words
You can grasp it, but you can't hold it;  it has no texture, no shape
These three senses can not measure its depths
It passes beyond where they mingle and become one

One - there is nothing greater around it
Nothing smaller inside
It has no edge, no definition, no name
And it is constantly returning to itself
It is the form of formlessness
The image of imagelessness
Subtle and hidden

How can you follow what has no back
How can you lead what has no front
Stay with it, here and now, and you will find
The thread that runs unbroken from the ancient past


Those ancient masters who once walked the way
Were subtle, wise, profound, penetrating
Unfathomable;  they can only be described, not known

They were cautious, as though wading a winter-swollen river
Hesitant as though fearing to offend
Moderate as a guest
Difficult to grasp as melting ice
Supple in mind and body as a green branch
Fertile as a valley
Opaque as muddy water

If you take muddy water and still it, it gradually becomes clear
Let it come to rest, and it gradually comes alive
Hold to this way, nurture that hidden life
And you will never desire to be finished
And thus will never wear yourself out


Be completely empty;  be tranquil to the core

The creatures of the world are all born
And by this I see their deaths
Things pour forth from the earth and each returns to it
Know this and you know tranquility, for your own fate is clear
See what is, accept it, and you are free of all burdens

No good can come from rejecting this
Without such burdens you have no prejudice
Without prejudice you give to all equally and fully
Giving equally and fully is a step along the way
And being so, you will fear nothing to the end of your days


The greatest leaders are never seen, their presence is never felt
Lesser rulers are loved and praised
Lesser still are hated, and obeyed through fear
And the least are despised and ignored

If you would lead people, trust them to do the right thing
When a leader accomplishes something using the tao
He steps back, moves on to something else
And lets the people praise themselves


What happens when the nation wanders from the tao?
The people first try to be polite, assuming things will balance themselves
Then they try to be informed, or clever, or wise, and search for solutions
Then they turn to morality, like drowning men clinging to driftwood
And only after that, when the whole land is in turmoil
Do they throw up their hands and cry for strong and loyal leaders


Without morality and ethics, they will thrive
Without cleverness, they will treat each other honestly
Without politeness, they will respect each other
Where you can't see how these apply, cling to their essence
Treat people simply, directly, and caringly


Agreement and disagreement, beauty and ugliness
What does it mean to say these are different things?
As a man who is feared by others must inevitably come to be afraid
These things feed each other, endlessly

The multitudes are ecstatic, impassioned
Like they are on their way to a great fair
I am as unimpressed as an infant that has not yet learned to smile
Detached, as though I were wandering aimlessly over the earth

Such a fool am I
They have plenty while I am lacking
They see things clearly while I am unsure
Make fine distinctions that are meaningless to me

The multitudes all have their purpose and their place in life
I alone am uncultured, ill defined
I drift from one thing to another, without form or direction
In truth, though, I differ from them in only one thing

I want to be nourished by the great tao


All virtue is derived from the tao
Yet the tao's nature is changeable, elusive
Substanceless and formless, yet it produces all shapes
Formless and substanceless, yet it produces all things
Hidden, obscured, yet from it springs all purity, all clarity

From the present to the past
The thread has never disappeared
And through it we can see the workings of nature

How do I know this is so?
There is no how, I listen, and I know


Learn to bend, and you will never break
Learn to turn, and you will never fall
Empty yourself, and you'll be filled
Release yourself, and you'll be renewed
Own little, you can accomplish much
Own much, you will be bewildered by your choices

The taoist holds to the simple way and guides the world
Being reserved, he becomes noted
Being subtle, he shines
Being quiet, he is acknowledged
Being humble, he is long remembered

Because he does not compete, no one can overcome him
'Bend and you will never break'
Surely this phrase has merit
Who practices it will be whole, always


Nature rarely speaks
Gales don't last more than a morning
Downpours don't last more than a day
If heaven and earth can't make things last
How much truer is this for us?

So, to follow the way you must be like the way
When the time comes to act, act well
When the time comes to lose, let go
Act well and the tao will supply you
Let go and the tao will carry on


Raise yourself too high, and you lose your balance
Prominence does not come from putting on airs
Inner light is not made by clothes or jewels
Nor does respect come from boasts
Honor is not a thing you can claim for yourself

To the taoists all this is a waste
Like spending hours cooking food no one wants to eat
Why offer people air instead of substance?
Air is free, and only fools and flatterers will buy it
Do you want to be surrounded by fools?

Where you are is where you are
Live there


There was something formed and complete
Before heaven and earth were born
Quiet, still, pure, deep;  changeless and self-sufficient
Perhaps it is the womb in which the world grew
It has no name, properly speaking, though I call it the tao

If I had to describe it, I'd call it 'The Spirit of Quiet Motion'
It is never still in the here and now
Always leaving, always absent, always returning, always here
If the tao is like this, then so is heaven, and so is earth,
And so could be leaders, if they would be the spirit of a nation

Men conform to the actions of their leaders
Let the leaders conform to the patterns of the earth
As the earth conforms to the cycles of the heavens
And the heavens conform to the motion of the tao
And as the tao must, by necessity, conform to itself


As the heaviest part of anything must be at the bottom
So all activity must center on quietness
Only an idiot, while traveling, would wander away from his luggage
Until a safe and secure place is reached
So how can a leader treat a nation otherwise
Than as an extension of her own body?

Treat people as unimportant and they will think the same of you
Leave them behind to pursue your own interests, and when you look again
They will not be there


Skilled travelers always find the easy path
Skilled speakers talk freely, on any subject
Skilled counters never need to use paper and pencil
A door can be sealed with neither bolt nor lock
A knot tied without rope or cord, if you only know the skill

The taoist's skill is saving men,
He does this regardless of their aptitude for being saved
He never discards a useful thing simply because it needs a little work
And since every man thinks of himself as useful
The taoist needs only one attitude for all men

A skilled leader can create goodness in whoever comes to hand
And anyone, bad or good, can be his raw material
But fail to respect the material as much as the act
And nothing will be created, no matter how much effort goes into it

The point:
There is nothing more practical than faith


Know the male principle, but practice the female
You will be like a ravine that gathers all things into itself
And shelters all who enter
Hold to this virtue, and you'll be as soft and accepting as an infant

Know perfection, but let imperfection be
You will be like a valley in which all manner of things are grown
Fertile ground for every thought, every action
Hold to this virtue, and you'll be as full of potential as uncarved wood

Know brightness, but let yourself be dark
You will become a model of common sense and propriety
Quiet and respected
Hold to this virtue, and you'll live till the mother calls you back

Others become tools, carved into shapes that fit their functions
The taoist lets himself be used however is needed
Leads without a destination in mind
By not being shaped, the world shapes itself around him


Would you try to improve the way the world works?
You won't succeed
The way the world works is the mold by which it continues working
Nothing else can make it work
You can follow it and you can use it
But try to mold it, and it will slip through your fingers

Some things are fast and some are slow
Some are hot and some cold
Some are strong and some weak
Some rise and some sink
So the taoist allows for all these things
Preferring none over the other


Whoever the tao aids in leading the people
Does not rely on weapons and violence
Armies consume, and destroy, and nothing more
A true leader uses them only at need
Lives with the destruction they create only as long it is needed
And so achieves his ends without using force

When armies are used for gaining profit, or pride, or glory,
Or to show the martial prowess of leader and nation
They serve only to fill heads and empty bellies
This is imbalanced, and must be held like that at great cost
This is not the way, sooner or later will collapse of itself


Weapons are dangerous tools for all concerned
Natural creature do not use them

If you must use them, don't let them take hold of your mind
At peace it is the earth that is important, the feminine principle
At war it is heaven, the essence of the male
Therefore weapons and war are not the tools of the taoist

If you must use them remain calm and detached
Never look upon them as things of beauty
To do so would mean that you delight in the slaughter of men
You would never be able to lead the land properly

In happy events we honor the richness of the earth
In sad ones we turn our eyes to heaven
Since every soldier's mind, and every general's, is on the weather
It is clearly an occasion of sadness
Whenever multitudes are killed, the taoist grieves
Victory or defeat, it's all a funeral to him


The tao is ever nameless
Though it naturally seems small, no one would dare to try and capture it
If the leaders of the world could be one with it
All the creatures of the earth would bow down before them
And manna would spring from heaven and earth equally for all
Though no one insisted upon it

Failing that, of course, things must be named and put in some kind of order
As soon as you start to establish order, however
You must know when it's time to stop, so nothing can go wrong
The great tao flows into the world
As water flows into streams, then rivers, then oceans
There comes a point when it's self-defeating to try and control it


Knowing others is knowledge; knowing yourself is wisdom
Conquering others is strength; conquering yourself is power
Wanting more is ambition; stopping at enough is wealth
Having it all makes a full life; leaving and being honored, that is having lived


The tao floats and drifts whichever way it likes
It does what it wants, without proclaiming itself
All things depend on it, but it is not their master
It has no desire, and thus is small
Yet since all things depend on it, and it does not rule them
It is magnificent

So the taoist attempts great works with no thought of being great
And thus accomplishes his ends


Rest in the tao and the whole world will come to you
They will suffer no harm, but find safety and peace

The curious will stop where they see music and games and food
But will soon lose their taste for it and wander on
The tao, though, has no flavor, no color, no sound
It is easily missed, yet once found
It is inexhaustible


What you want to shrink;  let expand
What you want to weaken;  let grow strong
What you want to avoid;  let approach
What you want to own;  give away

Honestly done, this is subtle and effective
It is how the weak overcomes the strong, how the few lead the many
In the end, a leader leads because people consent to it
And force will never be as effective as engaging simple cooperation


The tao is ever nameless
If leaders could be one with it
The world would transform itself
Wherever it is restless and troubled
It could be soothed by simple anonymous actions
Which, being anonymous,
Would cause no disgrace, no insult, no worries
And all of heaven and earth would find its own proper balance


True mastery always seems artless
The more it must be proclaimed, the less masterful it is

The virtuous act as the tao moves them, without forethought or reason
The good have an end in mind, but act from the heart
The righteous have an end and a means, and wave them like a flag
And when the righteous lose their faith in humanity
They roll up their sleeves and fight the good fight
And the thread of the way becomes tangled beyond recognition


At best, we are like infants;  we do nothing and everyone smiles
Failing that, we try to sense what makes those around us happy
When that fails, we turn to abstractions - rules of truth, of justice, of order
But such abstractions are merely the flower of the way
Beautiful and bitter, full of hope and anger and violence
Rigid and fragile as crystal

What can this bring to the world but disorder?
Thoughtless ideology can only lead to cynical indifference
Flowers bloom and fade and wither away, no matter what
So the taoist lets them be, and reaches for the fruit instead


It is said that by attaining the one, long ago
Heaven rose and opened above us
As the earth took root and became solid
Gods walked the land in their glory
As the valleys poured forth all forms of life to honor them
And so leaders, attaining the one, would make their people prosperous and orderly

If, then, the way were ever truly lost
Heaven would close and fall, and the earth crumble
Gods would fade away and the valleys go barren
And leaders would fall amidst chaos and despair

What is noble must be rooted in the crude
What is high must be settled on the low
This is why leaders speak more often of the unfortunate than the fortunate
They would ground themselves among the lowly to reach high
Though they have cars, they would rather walk among the people
Though they could shine like jewels, they would rather seem solid as old stone


The tao is always returning, always yielding
The creatures of the world are born of those like them
And give birth to those like them in turn
But where does birth come from?

It is tao


One man, hearing of the way, will strive to follow it
Another will practice it sometimes, and not others
A third will hear of it, and laugh at how useless it sounds
And that's as it should be.

The clearest path is often easily missed
The easiest seems to go in the wrong direction
The smoothest looks rutted and rough
True strength is hidden, like seeds in a valley before the rains
True white shows every blotch and blemish
True virtue feels pathetic, thin, weak, insufficient

Such is the way of words;  they always fail in their ideals
Does an infinite square have corners or edges?
Could a cup be molded to hold everything, including itself?
Can a note sound that has all tones, and none?
Would everything seen at once look like anything at all?

The tao is eternal, too large and too small for names
Only it can begin things and bring them to their ends


The tao gave birth to the universe
The universe opened heaven and earth
Heaven and earth added man to their number
And man named the ten thousand things

All living things wrap themselves in the female and wrap the male
And by so cycling achieve harmony and life
So all despise the same things, where the cycle fails
Being orphaned, abandoned, or starving
All leaders, then, claim as their sacred trust
To defend those with no other options
And so it goes - where there is great loss, there is great attention
Where there are great gains, all is secrecy and shadowed warfare.

Consider well, then, the following phrase:
'Who uses force will be forced in turn'
You have to start somewhere


What flows cannot be held back by even the hardest wall
What has no form finds every crack and space, and fills it
This is doing without doing, teaching without a text
And the only way to learn to do it
Is to learn not to do anything else


Fame or your health, riches or your health, which is worth more to you?
Can you gain one without losing the other?
Live the high life and you will lose respect, whatever you gain in envy
Be a miser and you will lose affection, whatever you gain in respect
If you want respect, know when you have enough
If you want peace of mind, know when to stop
Understand 'enough' and you'll live healthy and long


What's done right seems unfinished, but always works
What's filled right seems empty, but there's always enough
The perfectly straight seems warped
The most skilled looks artless
The greatest eloquence sounds plain

What exists in abundance always seems unremarkable
We move to warm ourselves and rest to cool ourselves
But never think about the natural warmth that lies within us
Always flow back to the center, find what strengths lie there
And things will go right with you


When the world has the way, people do what the want
When it loses the way, they are forced to do what they're told
There is no greater crime than wanting too much
No disaster more total than not knowing when to stop
No flaw more serious than the grasping hand

Know what enough is, know when you have it, and be content
That is wisdom


If you know where you are, you know the world
You do not need to look out a window to see the tao
The more you look, the less you really see
So the taoist stays and lets things come to him
Sees things without looking for them
Finishes things by not trying to make them complete


To practice most things means to gain a little skill,every day
To practice the tao means to lose a little
Lose a little of this and a little of that until one has no skill left at anything
And then nothing will ever be left undone
If you want to lead, forget what leadership should be
If you can't forget the shoulds
You will always find someone to oppose you


The taoist has no opinions
He simply listens, and acts
He treats those who are good as worthy
He treats those who aren't good as worthy, too
And so he finds their goodness
He gives those who are honorable his trust
He gives those who are dishonorable his trust, too
And so he gains their trust


We all come out into life and go back into death
There are certain signs that point to life and certain signs that point to death
And yet people, in their desire to show they are alive
Often cultivate the signs of death

Those who cultivate the signs of life have no fear in them
They don't run from wild animals or cover themselves with armor and shields
They know the horn, the claw, the weapon
Can not pierce what yields and flows like water

They do not cultivate the signs of death, and so death has no place to enter


Tao brings all the creatures of the world to be born
And by following the way they come to fill their nature
Thus do they follow the tao and honor virtue
No one asks them to;  they do it without thinking

It creates them but doesn't own them
It supplies them but doesn't make them dependent
It matures them but doesn't command them
This is the ideal of virtue


What womb gave birth to the world?
Know that mother and you will come to understand her children
Embrace her and you will never suffer harm

Block up the holes, close the doors
Do without doing, and you will never labor
Open the doors, intrude yourself on the world
Act with force, and your troubles will not end

See the smallest signs, bend at their lightest touch
And let the subtlest rays lead you
Back to the bright light


When you follow the tao, planning will only lead you astray
The way is easy and straight, but people always look for shortcuts
They leave weeds in the fields to make sure the courtyard is clean
Empty their cupboards so that everyone can gorge
Carry a sword so they can wear their jewels in public

One excess always leads to another
This wanders far from the way


When the foundation is laid well, and the mortar sound
The house will stand long
And your descendents will honor your memory

Cultivate virtue in yourself - see yourself - so it will be genuine
Cultivate it in your family - see your family - so it will spread
Cultivate it in your village - see your village - so it will have roots
Cultivate it in your nation - see your nation - so it will be abundant
Cultivate it in the world - see the world - so there will be nothing else

How do I know the world works this way?
There is no how, I listen, and I know


One who embraces virtue in its fullest
Is like a newborn babe
She has no fear of wasps and scorpions, or snakes and vipers
Birds of prey and fierce beasts mean nothing to him
Her bones and muscles are soft, but her grip is firm
Because his essence is at its height he can become aroused
Though he knows nothing of sex
Because her harmony is at its height she will not become hoarse
Though she screams all day

Harmony is the path of wisdom
But you can't reach it be getting more
You can try to breathe more, but what sense is in that?
Eventually your breath will return to what it is

If you look for more, you'll get as much as you can
And after that you'll just get old
An easy way to an early end


How can you speak of things that go beyond words?
The wise know when not to talk

They blocks up their holes
Close their doors
Soften their light
Settle their dust
Blunt their rough edges
Untie their knots

This is oneness
Whoever achieves it
Can never be known intimately but will never be shunned
Can never be benefited but will never be harmed


It has been said of good leaders
'Peace is won by doing the expected, war by doing the unexpected'
But to lead by following the way you must let expectations go

Prohibitions only protect one by depriving another
Weapons only defend one by assaulting another
No amount of knowledge will ever substitute for wisdom
No amount of laws can ever replace honor

When you lead by following the way, remember
If you do nothing, people will transform themselves
If you remain quiet, people will have nothing to be confused about
Don't play the angles, and prosperity will be the norm
Don't impose your desires, and no one will conform or rebel


Government is only sincere when it has no end in mind
Let it be discriminating and clear, and it will be cunning and sly
It uses disaster to create its own good fortune
Uses good fortune to conceal the disasters it creates
Who knows where this can lead?
When nothing is constant anymore
The natural is transformed into the deviant
The good is twisted into the evil
And the confusion will last for generations

Bring order, but don't mold people to fit
Be conscientious, but not stifling
Be direct, but not aggressive
Be bright, but only bright enough that others can see their own way


If you would lead men and follow the way
It's good to be sparing in your actions
For only by being sparing can you submit early to the way
And this is how to accumulate virtue

When you accumulate virtue in this way
There is no obstacle you can't overcome
Without obstacles, no one can predict your downfall
Thus you can possess the state

Being one with the way of the state like this
Creates deep roots and a firm base
And leads to long life and lasting work


Ruling a large state is like cooking a small fish

When you govern using the way power doesn't corrupt
It's not that power has no power over you
It's just that it's only used to give honor and respect to everyone
Where honor and respect are given, no one need do violence to get them
And each is allowed to master himself


A great state is like the lowest part of a river
All things flow down to it, given time
It has the resources to let myriad things grow in its borders
And so it is better cast in the feminine principle

If it rests quietly, then weaker states will come to it
And both will be enriched
If it reaches out to conquer, then weaker states will resist
And both will be impoverished

The great state desires diversity and prosperity
The weak state desires to be great
If both would get what they want
The great state must let itself be lower


The tao is that towards which all things flow
It honors the good man and the bad man alike

Praise can be bought or sold, privilege can be given as a gift
Even the bad can acquire them this way;  will they be refused?
So if you would offer a gift to a new leader
Though you might shower him with wealth, or jewels, or adulation
You'd do better to sit quietly and let him have the tao
There is a reason the ancients valued this above all else
'Whether you would attain something or be absolved
You will succeed only by following the tao'
It can not be given, only found
Therefore its value is immeasurable


Do without doing, without expectations
Taste what has no flavor

[In Progress]


What is quiet is easy to contain
What has not yet committed itself is easy to divert
The soft is easily melted, the small easily dispersed

The moral: Don't wait till problems mature before you act on them

The greatest chaos was once orderly
The tallest tree was once a hidden seed
The tallest tower a pile of dirt
The longest journey, but one step, then another

Those who act, ruin; those who cling, lose
Things always seem to fall apart just at completion
Because you think they're done, and act carelessly
So the taoist never acts, never clings, never tries to complete
He is as aware at the end as at the beginning

Though she could bring all things into perfect harmony
She doesn't, because she knows what's enough


The ancient leaders who followed the way
Were not trying to enlighten the people
But instead to give them no cause to have knowledge
If you use knowledge to rule you will be accused of thievery
Of protecting one against the interests of another
And everyone will want to know the laws to protect themselves
Avoid this, and your actions will be closer to the way

If you keep this always in mind and practice it
You will lead a virtuous state
The effects of this are subtle and far reaching
And will always bring the people back


A river makes a valley lush and fertile because it's content to settle to the lowest place
All things can draw what they need from it, without drowning in it
To be a leader, then, you must sink and be still
And let the people gather around you
You must follow the contours of people's hearts
And spill into their lives as little as possible
When you are quiet, the people will not see you as a weight on their shoulders
When you keep to your banks, the people will not be threatened by you
There will be no reason to build dykes or damns to limit your power
And the people will delight in your presence


The whole world hears these words and says they are beautiful, but over simplified
But it's precisely because they're simple that they can be great
If they tried to be detailed and precise, what use would they be?

There are only three compasses to steer by;  treasure them
Compassion, frugality, and genuineness
Compassion leads to courage
But courage without compassion is pure violence
Frugality leads to affluence
But affluence without frugality is pure extravagance
Genuineness brings honor and respect
But honor and respect gained hypocritically is pure disaster

Attack with these qualities and you'll never lose
Defend with them, and you'll never fall
Whoever wraps himself in the tao
Finds in it a shield and a sanctuary that will never fail


Therefore a good leader, like a good soldier
Sees no need to flaunt her might
Never lets his passions sway him out of balance
Allows her opponents to overextend themselves
And in all things places himself below others

If you don't compete, then you're dealing with men correctly
And the tao, in all its antiquity, is on your side


Consider the phrases 'discretion is the better part of valor'
And 'fall back a foot rather than struggle for an inch'
Moving forward sometimes means stepping backwards
Strength sometimes means letting yourself be weak
Hold to your center or any weapon is useless
Be open to all, and let opponents come to you

It's arrogance that leads you to think no one can defeat you
And arrogance can only lead to tragedy for one or the other
If you have to fight, you'll do better to forget about the victory
And strive, instead, to contain everyone's loses


These words are easy to remember and easy to practice
Yet few remember them when they are needed, and fewer practice them
This is because these words are rooted in principles that go beyond words
Saying them is not enough
For those few who practice them, though, they are of great value
They may look plain, but they lead to the wealth of the heart


People are odd
They think they know what they don't
They think they don't know what they do
Excellence does not come, however, from knowing everything or knowing nothing
But merely from knowing that you don't know


When people don't fear your power, then you have found true power
You can only constrain people by making them fear you
Limit their actions and their potentials by making them fear the consequences
But if they fear like this they will feel cheated and be discontent

Know where you want to the nation to go, but don't worry about how to get there
Know your worth, but let others find it for themselves


There are two kinds of bravery
That which takes death lightly and that which takes life seriously
Where one needs to be brave either will suffice
But they are not both in line with the tao

The tao honors what can win without belligerence
What can respond without speaking
For such, everything needed comes on its own without being called
Everything desired is achieved without being planned

It pays to remember that the tao casts its net far and wide
Its cord may look flimsy and its mesh coarse, but nothing escapes it


If people were content with their own deaths
You could not use force on them;  they would be immune
But this is not the way the world is

If you threaten them with death to make them behave
You must assign someone to kill them, or do it yourself
Who, then, kills:  you, or the executioner, or the state?
Someone must take the responsibility

Whoever is responsible for death has put his way above the tao
Yet though he can end a life, the tao will by its nature find a way to return
Any sane man would find in that cause for worry


The more the leader fills his coffers, the more people go hungry
The more he rules on this or that, the more people are discontent

People who avidly seek to experience life take death lightly
Those who do not try to live life to its fullest are truly alive


When people are born they are supple and soft
When they die they are stiff and hard
What is full of life is lithe and moist and resilient
What is drained of it is brittle, withered, dry
The former are the marks of life
While the latter are the marks of death
If a soldier is stiff, whether with fear or pride, he will be defeated
If a tree is stiff, it will fall to the next wind
If you become stiff to raise yourself above others, you will fall
Let yourself fall, be supple and responsive, and you will be lifted


The way is like the bending of a bow
To achieve its ends the top must bend down and the bottom rise up
It takes from that which has much, adds to that which has little
And keeps a still, quiet center

Men, however, always seek to add more, regardless of their place
How can anything be accomplished that way?
The taoist way is to pull the bowstring and let it go
Accomplish the task and move on to the next
Doing is profit enough


There is nothing softer and more yielding than water
Yet nothing hard and rigid can withstand it
Everyone knows this
That water can defeat the unyielding, that the weak can overcome the strong
Yet no one is willing to put it into practice

If you would be a leader, you must claim every disgrace of the state
Take all the offenses of the state as your own burden
How can you be honored if you run from dishonor?


If you have to make things bitter to get them settled,the bitterness will remain
The taoist, then, holds the debt but doesn't demand repayment
Thus, when he is repaid, the debt is forgotten
Fail that, and you will be treated like a tax collector
And known as such even by those who owe you nothing

The tao plays no favorites
It supplies all who act with virtue


If the tao held sway, nations would be small and people few
There might be weapons enough, but no one would use them or display them
All would regard fighting as a serious, unpleasant affair
They might have boats and carriages enough, but no one would ride them
All would be content with what they see and know
There might be laws and contracts, but no one would write them
All would pay their debts as they could, because no one would care if they didn't

Such a land would delight in their food, their clothing, their traditions
And feel safe and secure in their homes
Though neighboring lands might be close enough that their songs are heard
One could grow old without ever having the urge to visit them


It is one thing to speak elegantly and another to speak sincerely
Knowledge and insight are different things
The first accumulates fine distinctions, precise statements
And the other, well, it sees all as essentially the same

Whoever follows the way hoards nothing
Life is too long a journey to carry excess weight
He uses what he has for others
And finds his spirit lighter and his heart enriched

The tao sustains all without fear of exhaustion
And virtue lies in letting it.