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The Tao Te Ching

Translation by Gia Fu Feng & Jane English

Comments and layout by Thomas Knierim

Table Of Contents
Table Of Contents.................................................................................................................1
About The Tao Te Ching ..................................................................................................... 2
About Lao Tzu ..................................................................................................................... 3
Yin And Yang ....................................................................................................................... 4
The Translation ................................................................................................................... 5

Tao Te Ching, Page 1

About The Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching was written in China roughly 2,500 years ago at about the same time
when Buddha expounded the Dharma in India and Pythagoras taught in Greece. The Tao
Te Ching is probably the most influential Chinese book of all times. Its 81 chapters have
been translated into English more times than any other Chinese document.

The Tao Te Ching provides the basis for the philosophical school of Taoism, which is an
important pillar of Chinese thought. Taoism teaches that there is one undivided truth at
the root of all things. It literally means:

= tao (the way)

= te (strength/virtue)
= ching (scripture)

The verses of the Tao Te Ching are written in ancient Chinese, which is very different from
English. Abstraction and logic are not distinguishing marks of the ancient Chinese
language, hence, it is less rigid than English and there are very few formal or grammatical
structures. The classical Chinese word does not stand for a single concrete idea, but it
evokes associations of different ideas and things. Quite a few Chinese words can be used
as nouns, adjectives and verbs at the same time. Thus sentences composed of various
signs have a sort of suggestive power, evoking emotions, ideas and pictures.

It is almost impossible to render an ancient Chinese text properly in English without

losing some part. Different translations of the Tao Te Ching may appear as completely
different texts. In order to understand the original text fully it is helpful to read various
translations that consummate each other. The alternative is, of course, to learn Chinese.
This document uses the translation of Tolbert McCarroll.

Tao Te Ching, Page 2

About Lao Tzu

Not much is known about Lao Tzu, at least nothing that is certain. Some even doubt
whether he is the author of the Tao Te Ching. However, his name became legendary with
this writing, which also happens to be his only work.

Lao Tzu (his name is sometimes written Lao Tse or Lao Zi, and he is also known as Li Er
and Lao Dan) was supposedly born in Honan on the 24th of March in the year 604 BC.
His name means “old-young” and he has been called the “Old Master”.

Lao Tzu was very old, when he rode on a water buffalo to retire in the mountains to a
province in the western frontiers. There he was approached by a border official named
Guan Yin Zi, who urged the master to write down his teachings so that they might be
passed on. Lao Tzu then retreated into the solitude of the mountain pass, wrote the Tao Te
Ching, whereupon he went westward and was never seen again.

Tao Te Ching, Page 3

Yin And Yang

In Chinese philosophy, the rhythm of life, which pulsates through the universe, is the
action of complementary principles Yin and Yang. The T’ai-chi T’u diagram (above)
illustrates this principle. The symmetrical disposition of the dark Yin and the light Yang
suggests cyclical changes.

Yin is the quiet, female, intuitive, receiving force that is associated with earth. The earth is
the source of life; it provides us with what we need to survive. Yang is the strong, male,
creative, giving force that is associated with heaven. The heaven above us is always in
motion and brings about change.

When Yin reaches its climax, it recedes in favour of Yang, then after Yang reaches its
climax it recedes in favour of Yin. This is the eternal cycle. The dots inside the white and
black halves indicate that within each is the seed of the other. Yin cannot exist without
Yang and vice versa.

The ideal state of things in the physical universe, as well as in the world of humans, is a
state of harmony represented by the balance of Yin and Yang in body and mind.

Yin Yang
- Night, Dark - Traditional - Day, Light - Reformative
- Rain, Water, Cold - Valley - Fire, Heat - Mountain
- Winter, Autumn - River - Summer, Spring - Desert
- Odd Numbers - Curve - Even Numbers - Straight Line
- The Moon - Soft - The Sun - Hard
- North, West - Solidifying - South, East - Dissolving
- Right, Down - Psychological - Left, Up - Physical
- Intuition - Astral World - Intellect - Visible World
- Passive, Static - Dragon - Active, Dynamic - Tiger
- Contraction - Kidneys, Heart - Expansion - Bladder
- Decreasing - Liver, Lungs - Increasing - Intestines, Skin
- Conservative - Innovative

Tao Te Ching, Page 4

The Translation
Of all the English translations of the Tao Te Ching, one had to be chosen for This wasn’t an easy task. There are many websites that present
various translations side by side, which is great for comparative studies. Clearly, the
available translations have different objectives and thus different strengths and

Some are very literal and helpful in the understanding of the original Chinese text,
but weaker on the literary side. Others are scholarly and heavily commented; and
again others are concise and poetic. There were two favourites: the translation of Gia
Fu Feng & Jane English and that of Tolbert McCarroll.

The Feng & English translation has almost become a classic by now. It is conspicuous
for its poetic, evocative style and it conveys Lao Tzu’s own style in a succinct yet
elegant language.

This document uses the Feng & English Translation.

Tao Te Ching, Page 5

Therefore the sage goes about doing
nothing, teaching no-talking.
The ten thousand things rise and fall
without cease,
Creating, yet not.
Working, yet not taking credit.
Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.

Not exalting the gifted prevents

1 Not collecting treasures prevents
The Tao that can be told is not the Not seeing desirable things prevents
eternal Tao. confusion of the heart.
The name that can be named is not the
eternal name. The wise therefore rule by emptying
hearts and stuffing bellies, by
The nameless is the beginning of weakening ambitions and
heaven and Earth. strengthening bones.
The named is the mother of the ten
thousand things. If men lack knowledge and desire, then
clever people will not try to interfere.
Ever desireless, one can see the
mystery. If nothing is done, then all will be well.
Ever desiring, one sees the
manifestations. 4

These two spring from the same source The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used,
but differ in name; this appears as but never filled.
darkness. Oh, unfathomable source of ten
thousand things!
Darkness within darkness. Blunt the sharpness,
The gate to all mystery. Untangle the knot,
Soften the glare,
2 Merge with dust.
Oh, hidden deep but ever present!
Under heaven all can see beauty as I do not know from whence it comes.
beauty only because there is ugliness. It is the forefather of the gods.
All can know good as good only
because there is evil. 5

Therefore having and not having arise Heaven and Earth are impartial;
together. They see the ten thousand things as
Difficult and easy complement each straw dogs.
other. The wise are impartial;
Long and short contrast each other: They see the people as straw dogs.
High and low rest upon each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each The space between heaven and Earth
other; is like a bellows.
Front and back follow one another. The shape changes but not the form;
The more it moves, the more it yields.

Tao Te Ching, Page 6

More words count less. In action, be aware of the time and the
Hold fast to the center. season.

No fight: No blame.

Better to stop short than fill to the

Oversharpen the blade, and the edge
will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no
one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster
will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven.
The valley spirit never dies;
It is the woman, primal mother.
Carrying body and soul and embracing
Her gateway is the root of heaven and
the one,
Can you avoid separation?
It is like a veil barely seen.
Attending fully and becoming supple,
Use it; it will never fail.
Can you be as a newborn babe?
Washing and cleansing the primal
Can you be without stain?
Heaven and Earth last forever.
Loving all men and ruling the country,
Why do heaven and Earth last forever?
Can you be without cleverness?
They are unborn,
Opening and closing the gates of
So ever living.
The sage stays behind, thus he is
Can you play the role of woman?
Understanding and being open to all
He is detached, thus at one with all.
Through selfless action, he attains
Are you able to do nothing?
Giving birth and nourishing,
Bearing yet not possessing,
Working yet not taking credit,
Leading yet not dominating,
The highest good is like water.
This is the Primal Virtue.
Water give life to the ten thousand
things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is
like the Tao.
Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
Shape clay into a vessel;
In dealing with others, be gentle and
It is the space within that makes it
In speech, be true.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
In ruling, be just.
It is the holes which make it useful.
In daily life, be competent.
Therefore benefit comes from what is

Tao Te Ching, Page 7

Usefulness from what is not there. 14

Look, it cannot be seen - it is beyond

Listen, it cannot be heard - it is beyond
Grasp, it cannot be held - it is
These three are indefinable;
Therefore they are joined in one.

From above it is not bright;

From below it is not dark:
An unbroken thread beyond
It returns to nothingness.
12 The form of the formless,
The image of the imageless,
The five colors blind the eye. It is called indefinable and beyond
The five tones deafen the ear. imagination.
The five flavors dull the taste.
Racing and hunting madden the mind. Stand before it and there is no
Precious things lead one astray. beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.
Therefore the sage is guided by what Stay with the ancient Tao,
he feels and not by what he sees. Move with the present.
He lets go of that and chooses this.
Knowing the ancient beginning is the
13 essence of Tao.
Accept disgrace willingly. 15
Accept misfortune as the human
condition. The ancient masters were subtle,
mysterious, profound, responsive.
What do you mean by "Accept disgrace The depth of their knowledge is
willingly"? unfathomable.
Accept being unimportant. Because it is unfathomable,
Do not be concerned with loss or gain. All we can do is describe their
This is called "accepting disgrace appearance.
willingly." Watchful, like men crossing a winter
What do you mean by "Accept Alert, like men aware of danger.
misfortune as the human condition"? Courteous, like visiting guests.
Misfortune comes from having a body. Yielding like ice about to melt.
Without a body, how could there be Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood.
misfortune? Hollow, like caves.
Opaque, like muddy pools.
Surrender yourself humbly; then you
can be trusted to care for all things. Who can wait quietly while the mud
Love the world as your own self; then settles?
you can truly care for all things. Who can remain still until the moment
of action?
Observers of the Tao do not seek

Tao Te Ching, Page 8

Not seeking fulfillment, they are not When actions are performed
swayed by desire for change. Without unnecessary speech,
People say, "We did it!"


When the great Tao is forgotten,

Kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are
The great pretense begins.

When there is no peace within the

Filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in
16 Loyal ministers appear.
Empty yourself of everything. 19
Let the mind become still.
The ten thousand things rise and fall Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,
while the Self watches their return. And it will be a hundred times better
They grow and flourish and then for everyone.
return to the source.
Returning to the source is stillness, Give up kindness, renounce morality,
which is the way of nature. And men will rediscover filial piety
The way of nature is unchanging. and love.
Knowing constancy is insight.
Not knowing constancy leads to Give up ingenuity, renounce profit,
disaster. And bandits and thieves will
Knowing constancy, the mind is open. disappear.
With an open mind, you will be
openhearted. These three are outward forms alone;
Being openhearted, you will act they are not sufficient in themselves.
royally. It is more important
Being royal, you will attain the divine. To see the simplicity,
Being divine, you will be at one with To realize one's true nature,
the Tao. To cast off selfishness
Being at one with the Tao is eternal. And temper desire.
And though the body dies, the Tao will
never pass away. 20
17 Give up learning, and put an end to
your troubles.
The very highest if barely known.
Then comes that which people know Is there a difference between yes and
and love. no?
Then that which is feared, Is there a difference between good and
Then that which is despised. evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What
Who does not trust enough will not be nonsense!
trusted. Other people are contented, enjoying
the sacrificial feast of the ox.

Tao Te Ching, Page 9

In spring some go to the park, and 22
climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting, not knowing Yield and overcome;
where I am. Bend and be straight;
Like a newborn babe before it learns to Empty and be full;
smile, Wear out and be new;
I am alone, without a place to go. Have little and gain;
Others have more than they need, but Have much and be confused.
I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused. Therefore the wise embrace the one
Others are clear and bright, And set an example to all.
But I alone am dim and weak. Not putting on a display,
Others are sharp and clever, They shine forth.
But I alone am dull and stupid. Not justifying themselves,
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea, They are distinguished.
Without direction, like the restless Not boasting,
wind. They receive recognition.
Everyone else is busy, Not bragging,
But I alone am aimless and depressed. They never falter.
I am different. They do not quarrel,
I am nourished by the great mother. So no one quarrels with them.
Therefore the ancients say, "Yield and
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole,
And all things will come to you.


To talk little is natural.

High winds do not last all morning.
Heavy rain does not last all day.
Why is this? Heaven and Earth!
If heaven and Earth cannot make
things eternal,
21 How is it possible for man?
He who follows the Tao
The greatest Virtue is to follow Tao Is at one with the Tao.
and Tao alone. He who is virtuous
The Tao is elusive and intangible. Experiences Virtue.
Oh, it is intangible and elusive, and yet He who loses the way
within is image. Is lost.
Oh, it is elusive and intangible, and yet When you are at one with the Tao,
within is form. The Tao welcomes you.
Oh, it is dim and dark, and yet within When you are at one with Virtue,
is essence. The Virtue is always there.
This essence is very real, and therein When you are at one with loss,
lies faith. The loss is experienced willingly.
From the very beginning until now its
name has never been forgotten. He who does not trust enough
Thus I perceive the creation. Will not be trusted.
How do I know the ways of creation?
Because of this.

Tao Te Ching, Page 10

And the king is one of them.

Man follows Earth.

Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
Tao follows what is natural.


The heavy is the root of the light.

The still is the master of unrest.

Therefore the sage, traveling all day,

24 Does not lose sight of his baggage.
Though there are beautiful things to be
He who stands on tiptoe is not steady. seen,
He who strides cannot maintain the He remains unattached and calm.
He who makes a show is not Why should the lord of ten thousand
enlightened. chariots act lightly in public?
He who is self-righteous is not To be light is to lose one's root.
respected. To be restless is to lose one's control.
He who boasts achieves nothing.
He who brags will not endure. 27
According to followers of the Tao,
"These are extra food and unnecessary A good walker leaves no tracks;
luggage." A good speaker makes no slips;
They do not bring happiness. A good reckoner needs no tally.
therefore followers of the Tao avoid A good door needs no lock,
them. Yet no one can open it.
Good binding requires no knots,
25 Yet no one can loosen it.

Something mysteriously formed, Therefore the sage takes care of all

Born before heaven and Earth. men
In the silence and the void, And abandons no one.
Standing alone and unchanging, He takes care of all things
Ever present and in motion. And abandons nothing.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten
thousand things. This is called "following the light."
I do not know its name
Call it Tao. What is a good man?
For lack of a better word, I call it great. A teacher of a bad man.
What is a bad man?
Being great, it flows A good man's charge.
I flows far away. If the teacher is not respected,
Having gone far, it returns. And the student not cared for,
Confusion will arise, however clever
Therefore, "Tao is great; one is.
Heaven is great; This is the crux of mystery.
Earth is great;
The king is also great." 28
These are the four great powers of the
universe, Know the strength of man,

Tao Te Ching, Page 11

But keep a woman's care! Sometimes breathing is hard,
Be the stream of the universe! sometimes it comes easily;
Being the stream of the universe, Sometimes there is strength and
Ever true and unswerving, sometimes weakness;
Become as a little child once more. Sometimes one is up and sometimes
Know the white,
But keep the black! Therefore the sage avoids extremes,
Be an example to the world! excesses, and complacency.
Being an example to the world,
Ever true and unwavering, 30
Return to the infinite.
Whenever you advise a ruler in the
Know honor, way of Tao,
Yet keep humility. Counsel him not to use force to
Be the valley of the universe! conquer the universe.
Being the valley of the universe, For this would only cause resistance.
Ever true and resourceful, Thorn bushes spring up wherever the
Return to the state of the uncarved army has passed.
block. Lean years follow in the wake of a
great war.
When the block is carved, it becomes Just do what needs to be done.
useful. Never take advantage of power.
When the sage uses it, he becomes the
ruler. Achieve results,
Thus, "A great tailor cuts little." But never glory in them.
Achieve results,
But never boast.
Achieve results,
But never be proud.
Achieve results,
Because this is the natural way.
Achieve results,
But not through violence.

Force is followed by loss of strength.

This is not the way of Tao.
That which goes against the Tao comes
to an early end.

29 31

Do you think you can take over the Good weapons are instruments of fear;
universe and improve it? all creatures hate them.
I do not believe it can be done. Therefore followers of Tao never use
The universe is sacred. The wise man prefers the left.
You cannot improve it. The man of war prefers the right.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it. Weapons are instruments of fear;
they are not a wise man's tools.
So sometimes things are ahead and He uses them only when he has no
sometimes they are behind; choice.
Peace and quiet are dear to his heart,

Tao Te Ching, Page 12

And victory no cause for rejoicing. 33
If you rejoice in victory, then you
delight in killing; Knowing others is wisdom;
If you delight in killing, you cannot Knowing the self is enlightenment.
fulfill yourself. Mastering others requires force;
Mastering the self needs strength.
On happy occasions precedence is
given to the left, He who knows he has enough is rich.
On sad occasions to the right. Perseverance is a sign of willpower.
In the army the general stands on the He who stays where he is endures.
left, To die but not to perish is to be
The commander-in-chief on the right. eternally present.
This means that war is conducted like
a funeral. 34
When many people are being killed,
They should be mourned in heartfelt The great Tao flows everywhere,
sorrow. both to the left and to the right.
That is why a victory must be observed The ten thousand things depend upon
like a funeral. it;
it holds nothing back.
It fulfills its purpose silently and
makes no claim.

It nourishes the ten thousand things,

And yet is not their lord.
It has no aim; it is very small.

The ten thousand things return to it,

Yet it is not their lord.
It is very great.

It does not show greatness,

And is therefore truly great.
The Tao is forever undefined.
Small though it is in the unformed All men will come to him who keeps to
state, it cannot be grasped. the one,
If kings and lords could harness it, For there lie rest and happiness and
The ten thousand things would come peace.
And gentle rain fall. Passersby may stop for music and
Men would need no more instruction good food,
and all things would take their course. But a description of the Tao
Seems without substance or flavor.
Once the whole is divided, the parts It cannot be seen, it cannot be heard,
need names. And yet it cannot be exhausted.
There are already enough names.
One must know when to stop. 36
Knowing when to stop averts trouble.
Tao in the world is like a river flowing That which shrinks
home to the sea. Must first expand.
That which fails
Must first be strong.

Tao Te Ching, Page 13

That which is cast down
Must first be raised. When a truly kind man does
Before receiving something, he leaves nothing undone.
There must be giving. When a just man does something, he
leaves a great deal to be done.
This is called perception of the nature When a disciplinarian does something
of things. and no one responds,
Soft and weak overcome hard and He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to
strong. enforce order.

Fish cannot leave deep waters, Therefore when Tao is lost, there is
And a country's weapons should not be goodness.
displayed. When goodness is lost, there is
37 When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there ritual.
Tao abides in non-action, Now ritual is the husk of faith and
Yet nothing is left undone. loyalty, the beginning of confusion.
If kings and lords observed this, Knowledge of the future is only a
The ten thousand things would flowery trapping of Tao.
develop naturally. It is the beginning of folly.
If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of Therefore the truly great man dwells
formless substance. on what is real and not what is on the
Without for there is no desire. surface,
Without desire there is. On the fruit and not the flower.
And in this way all things would be at Therefore accept the one and reject the
peace. other.


These things from ancient times arise

from one:
The sky is whole and clear.
The earth is whole and firm.
The spirit is whole and strong.
The valley is whole and full.
The ten thousand things are whole and
Kings and lords are whole, and the
country is upright.
All these are in virtue of wholeness.
The clarity of the sky prevents its
A truly good man is not aware of his falling.
goodness, The firmness of the earth prevents its
And is therefore good. splitting.
A foolish man tries to be good, The strength of the spirit prevents its
And is therefore not good. being used up.
The fullness of the valley prevents its
A truly good man does nothing, running dry.
Yet leaves nothing undone. The growth of the ten thousand things
A foolish man is always doing, prevents their drying out.
Yet much remains to be done.

Tao Te Ching, Page 14

The leadership of kings and lords A wealth of Virtue seems inadequate;
prevents the downfall of the country. The strength of Virtue seems frail;
Real Virtue seems unreal;
Therefore the humble is the root of the The perfect square has no corners;
noble. Great talents ripen late;
The low is the foundation of the high. The highest notes are hard to hear;
Princes and lords consider themselves The greatest form has no shape;
"orphaned", "widowed" and The Tao is hidden and without name.
"worthless". The Tao alone nourishes and brings
Do they not depend on being humble? everything to fulfillment.

Too much success is not an advantage. 42

Do not tinkle like jade
Or clatter like stone chimes. The Tao begot one.
One begot two.
Two begot three.
And three begot the ten thousand

The ten thousand things carry yin and

embrace yang.
They achieve harmony by combining
these forces.

Men hate to be "orphaned,"

"widowed," or "worthless,"
But this is how kings and lords
describe themselves.

40 For one gains by losing

And loses by gaining.
Returning is the motion of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao. What others teach, I also teach; that is:
The ten thousand things are born of "A violent man will die a violent
being. death!"
Being is born of not being. This will be the essence of my
The wise student hears of the Tao and
practices it diligently. The softest thing in the universe
The average student hears of the Tao Overcomes the hardest thing in the
and gives it thought now and again. universe.
The foolish student hears of the Tao That without substance can enter
and laughs aloud. where there is no room.
If there were no laughter, the Tao Hence I know the value of non-action.
would not be what it is.
Teaching without words and work
Hence it is said: without doing
The bright path seems dim; Are understood by very few.
Going forward seems like retreat;
The easy way seems hard;
The highest Virtue seems empty;
Great purity seems sullied;

Tao Te Ching, Page 15

There is no greater sin than desire,
No greater curse than discontent,
No greater misfortune than wanting
something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough
is enough will always have enough.


Without going outside, you may know

the whole world.
Without looking through the window,
44 you may see the ways of heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
Fame or self: Which matters more?
Self or wealth: Which is more Thus the sage knows without traveling;
precious? He sees without looking;
Gain or loss: Which is more painful? He works without doing.
He who is attached to things will suffer 48
He who saves will suffer heavy loss. In the pursuit of learning, every day
A contented man is never something is acquired.
disappointed. In the pursuit of Tao, every day
He who knows when to stop does not something is dropped.
find himself in trouble.
He will stay forever safe. Less and less is done
Until non-action is achieved.
45 When nothing is done, nothing is left
Great accomplishment seems
imperfect, The world is ruled by letting things
Yet it does not outlive its usefulness. take their course.
Great fullness seems empty, It cannot be ruled by interfering.
Yet cannot be exhausted.
Great straightness seems twisted.
Great intelligence seems stupid. The sage has no mind of his own.
Great eloquence seems awkward. He is aware of the needs of others.

Movement overcomes cold. I am good to people who are good.

Stillness overcomes heat. I am also good to people who are not
Stillness and tranquility set things in good.
order in the universe. Because Virtue is goodness.
I have faith in people who are faithful.
46 I also have faith in people who are not
When the Tao is present in the Because Virtue is faithfulness.
The horses haul manure. The sage is shy and humble - to the
When the Tao is absent from the world he seems confusing.
universe, Others look to him and listen.
War horses are bred outside the city. He behaves like a little child.

Tao Te Ching, Page 16

Doing without taking credit,
Guiding without interfering,
This is Primal Virtue.


The beginning of the universe

Is the mother of all things.
Knowing the mother, on also knows
the sons.
Knowing the sons, yet remaining in
touch with the mother,
Brings freedom from the fear of death.
Keep your mouth shut,
Between birth and death, Guard the senses,
Three in ten are followers of life, And life is ever full.
Three in ten are followers of death, Open your mouth,
And men just passing from birth to Always be busy,
death also number three in ten. And life is beyond hope.
Why is this so?
Because they live their lives on the Seeing the small is insight;
gross level. Yielding to force is strength.
Using the outer light, return to insight,
He who knows how to live can walk And in this way be saved from harm.
abroad This is learning constancy.
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle. 53
For in him rhinoceroses can find no
place to thrust their horn, If I have even just a little sense,
Tigers no place to use their claws, I will walk on the main road and my
And weapons no place to pierce. only fear
Why is this so? will be of straying from it.
Because he has no place for death to Keeping to the main road is easy,
enter. But people love to be sidetracked.
51 When the court is arrayed in splendor,
The fields are full of weeds,
All things arise from Tao. And the granaries are bare.
They are nourished by Virtue. Some wear gorgeous clothes,
They are formed from matter. Carry sharp swords,
They are shaped by environment. And indulge themselves with food and
Thus the ten thousand things all drink;
respect Tao and honor Virtue. They have more possessions than they
Respect of Tao and honor of Virtue are can use.
not demanded, They are robber barons.
But they are in the nature of things. This is certainly not the way of Tao.

Therefore all things arise from Tao.

By Virtue they are nourished,
Developed, cared for,
Sheltered, comforted,
Grown, and protected.
Creating without claiming,

Tao Te Ching, Page 17

He has not experienced the union of
man and woman, but is whole.
His manhood is strong.
He screams all day without becoming
This is perfect harmony.

Knowing harmony is constancy.

Knowing constancy is enlightenment.

It is not wise to rush about.

Controlling the breath causes strain.
If too much energy is used, exhaustion
54 follows.
This is not the way of Tao.
What is firmly established cannot be Whatever is contrary to Tao will not
uprooted. last long.
What is firmly grasped cannot slip
away. 56
It will be honored from generation to
generation. Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.
Cultivate Virtue in your self,
And Virtue will be real. Keep your mouth closed.
Cultivate it in the family, Guard your senses.
And Virtue will abound. Temper your sharpness.
Cultivate it in the village, Simplify your problems.
And Virtue will grow. Mask your brightness.
Cultivate it in the nation, Be at one with the dust of the Earth.
And Virtue will be abundant. This is primal union.
Cultivate it in the universe,
And Virtue will be everywhere. He who has achieved this state
Is unconcerned with friends and
Therefore look at the body as body; enemies,
Look at the family as family; With good and harm, with honor and
Look at the village as village; disgrace.
Look at the nation as nation; This therefore is the highest state of
Look at the universe as universe. man.

How do I know the universe is like 57

By looking! Rule a nation with justice.
Wage war with surprise moves.
55 Become master of the universe without
He who is filled with Virtue is like a How do I know that this is so?
newborn child. Because of this!
Wasps and serpents will not sting him;
Wild beasts will not pounce upon him; The more laws and restrictions there
He will not be attacked by birds of are,
prey. The poorer people become.
His bones are soft, his muscles weak, The sharper men's weapons,
But his grip is firm. The more trouble in the land.

Tao Te Ching, Page 18

The more ingenious and clever men 59
The more strange things happen. In caring for others and serving
The more rules and regulations, heaven,
The more thieves and robbers. There is nothing like using restraint.
Restraint begins with giving up one's
Therefore the sage says: own ideas.
I take no action and people are This depends on Virtue gathered in the
reformed. past.
I enjoy peace and people become If there is a good store of Virtue, then
honest. nothing is impossible.
I do nothing and people become rich. If nothing is impossible, then there are
I have no desires and people return to no limits.
the good and simple life. If a man knows no limits, then he is fit
to be a ruler.
The mother principle of ruling holds
good for a long time.
This is called having deep roots and a
firm foundation,
The Tao of long life and eternal vision.


Ruling the country is like cooking a

small fish.
Approach the universe with Tao,
And evil is not powerful,
But its power will not be used to harm
58 others.
Not only will it do no harm to others,
When the country is ruled with a light But the sage himself will also be
hand protected.
The people are simple. They do not hurt each other,
When the country is ruled with And the Virtue in each one refreshes
severity, both.
The people are cunning.
Happiness is rooted in misery.
Misery lurks beneath happiness. A great country is like low land.
Who knows what the future holds? It is the meeting ground of the
There is no honesty. universe,
Honesty becomes dishonest. The mother of the universe.
Goodness becomes witchcraft.
Man's bewitchment lasts for a long The female overcomes the male with
time. stillness,
Lying low in stillness.
Therefore the sage is sharp but not
cutting, Therefore if a great country gives way
Pointed but not piercing, to a smaller country,
Straightforward but not unrestrained, It will conquer the smaller country.
Brilliant but not blinding. And if a small country submits to a
great country,
It can conquer the great country.

Tao Te Ching, Page 19

Therefore those who would conquer Achieve greatness in little things.
must yield,
And those who conquer do so because In the universe the difficult things are
they yield. done as if they are easy.
In the universe great acts are made up
A great nation needs more people; of small deeds.
A small country needs to serve. The sage does not attempt anything
Each gets what it wants. very big,
It is fitting for a great nation to yield. And thus achieved greatness.

Easy promises make for little trust.

Taking things lightly results in great
Because the sage always confronts
He never experiences them.


Peace is easily maintained;

Trouble is easily overcome before it
The brittle is easily shattered;
62 The small is easily scattered.

Tao is source of the ten thousand Deal with it before it happens.

things. Set things in order before there is
It is the treasure of the good man, and confusion.
the refuge of the bad.
Sweet words can buy honor; A tree as great as a man's embrace
Good deeds can gain respect. springs up from a small shoot;
If a man is bad, do not abandon him. A terrace nine stories high begins with
Therefore on the day the emperor is a pile of earth;
crowned, A journey of a thousand miles starts
Or the three officers of state installed, under one's feet.
Do not send a gift of jade and a team of
four horses, He who acts defeats his own purpose;
But remain still and offer the Tao. He who grasps loses.
Why does everyone like the Tao so The sage does not act, and so is not
much at first? defeated.
Isn't it because you find what you seek He does not grasp and therefore does
and are forgiven when you sin? not lose.
Therefore this is the greatest treasure
of the universe. People usually fail when they are on
the verge of success.
63 So give as much care to the end as to
the beginning;
Practice non-action. Then there will be no failure.
Work without doing.
Taste the tasteless. Therefore the sage seeks freedom from
Magnify the small, increase the few. desire.
Reward bitterness with care. He does not collect precious things.
He learns not to hold on to ideas.
See simplicity in the complicated.

Tao Te Ching, Page 20

He brings men back to what they have
lost. Because he does not compete,
He help the ten thousand things find He does not meet competition.
their own nature,
But refrains from action. 67

Everyone under heaven says that my

Tao is great and beyond compare.
Because it is great, it seems different.
If it were not different, it would have
vanished long ago.

I have three treasures which I hold and

The first is mercy; the second is
The third is daring not to be ahead of
From mercy comes courage; from
65 economy comes generosity;
From humility comes leadership.
In the beginning those who knew the
Tao did not try to enlighten others, Nowadays men shun mercy, but try to
But kept it hidden. be brave;
Why is it so hard to rule? They abandon economy, but try to be
Because people are so clever. generous;
Rulers who try to use cleverness They do not believe in humility, but
Cheat the country. always try to be first.
Those who rule without cleverness This is certain death.
Are a blessing to the land.
These are the two alternatives. Mercy brings victory in battle and
Understanding these is Primal Virtue. strength in defense.
Primal Virtue is deep and far. It is the means by which heaven saves
It leads all things back and guards.
Toward the great oneness.
A good soldier is not violent.
Why is the sea king of a hundred A good fighter is not angry.
streams? A good winner is not vengeful
Because it lies below them. A good employer is humble.
Therefore it is the king of a hundred This is known as the Virtue of not
streams. striving.
This is known as ability to deal with
If the sage would guide the people, he people.
must serve with humility. This since ancient times has been
If he would lead them, he must follow known as the ultimate unity with
behind. heaven.
In this way when the sage rules, the
people will not feel oppressed; 69 There is a saying among soldiers:
When he stands before them, they will I dare not make the first move but
not be harmed. would rather play the guest;
The whole world will support him and I dare not advance and inch but would
will not tire of him. rather withdraw a foot.

Tao Te Ching, Page 21

This is called marching without
appearing to move, My words are easy to understand and
Rolling up your sleeves without easy to perform,
showing your arm, Yet no man under heaven knows them
Capturing the enemy without or practices them.
Being armed without weapons. My words have ancient beginnings.
My actions are disciplined.
There is no greater catastrophe than Because men do not understand, they
underestimating the enemy. have no knowledge of me.
By underestimating the enemy, I
almost lost what I value. Those that know me are few;
Those that abuse me are honored.
Therefore when the battle is joined, Therefore the sage wears rough
The underdog will win. clothing and holds the jewel in his


Knowing ignorance is strength.

Ignoring knowledge is sickness.

If one is sick of sickness, then one is

not sick.
The sage is not sick because he is sick
of sickness.
Therefore he is not sick.

When men lack a sense of awe, there
There is a saying among soldiers: will be disaster.
I dare not make the first move but
would rather play the guest; Do not intrude in their homes.
I dare not advance and inch but would Do not harass them at work.
rather withdraw a foot. If you do not interfere, they will not
weary of you.
This is called marching without
appearing to move, Therefore the sage knows himself but
Rolling up your sleeves without makes no show,
showing your arm, Has self-respect but is not arrogant.
Capturing the enemy without He lets go of that and chooses this.
Being armed without weapons. 73

There is no greater catastrophe than A brave and passionate man will kill or
underestimating the enemy. be killed.
By underestimating the enemy, I A brave and calm man will always
almost lost what I value. preserve life.
Of these two which is good and which
Therefore when the battle is joined, is harmful?
The underdog will win. Some things are not favored by
heaven. Who knows why?

Tao Te Ching, Page 22

Even the sage is unsure of this. Because the rulers interfere too much.
Therefore they are rebellious.
The Tao of heaven does not strive, and
yet it overcomes. Why do the people think so little of
It does not speak, and yet is answered. death?
It does not ask, yet is supplied with all Because the rulers demand too much
its needs. of life.
It seems to have no aim and yet its Therefore the people take death
purpose is fulfilled. lightly.

Heaven's net casts wide. Having little to live on, one knows
Though its meshes are course, nothing better than to value life too much.
slips through.

A man is born gentle and weak.

At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with
At their death they are withered and

Therefore the stiff and unbending is

the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple
of life.
74 Thus an army without flexibility never
wins a battle.
If men are not afraid to die, A tree that is unbending is easily
It is no avail to threaten them with broken.
The hard and strong will fall.
If men live in constant fear of dying, The soft and weak will overcome.
And if breaking the law means that a
man will be killed, 77
Who will dare to break the law?
The Tao of heaven is like the bending
There is always an official executioner. of a bow.
If you try to take his place, The high is lowered, and the low is
It is like trying to be a master raised.
carpenter and cutting wood. If the string is too long, it is shortened;
If you try to cut wood like a master If there is not enough, it is made
carpenter, you will only hurt your longer.
The Tao of heaven is to take from
75 those who have too much and give to
those who do not have enough.
Why are the people starving? Man's way is different.
Because the rulers eat up the money in He takes from those who do not have
taxes. enough and give to those who already
Therefore the people are starving. have too much.
What man has more than enough and
Why are the people rebellious? gives it to the world?

Tao Te Ching, Page 23

Only the man of Tao.
Therefore the sage works without
recognition. A small country has fewer people.
He achieves what has to be done Though there are machines that can
without dwelling on it. work ten to a hundred times faster
He does not try to show his knowledge. than man, they are not needed.
The people take death seriously and do
not travel far.
Though they have boats and carriages,
no one uses them.
Though they have armor and weapons,
no one displays them.
Men return to the knotting of rope in
place of writing.
Their food is plain and good, their
clothes fine but simple, their homes
They are happy in their ways.
Though they live within sight of their
78 And crowing cocks and barking dogs
are heard across the way,
Under heaven nothing is more soft and Yet they leave each other in peace
yielding than water. while they grow old and die.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong,
nothing is better; 81
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong; Truthful words are not beautiful.
The supple can overcome the stiff. Beautiful words are not truthful.
Under heaven everyone knows this, Good men do not argue.
Yet no one puts it into practice. Those who argue are not good.
Therefore the sage says: Those who know are not learned.
He who takes upon himself the The learned do not know.
humiliation of the people is fit to rule
them. The sage never tries to store things up.
He who takes upon himself the The more he does for others, the more
country's disasters deserves to be king he has.
of the universe. The more he gives to others, the
The truth often sounds paradoxical. greater his abundance.
The Tao of heaven is pointed but does
79 no harm.
The Tao of the sage is work without
After a bitter quarrel, some effort.
resentment must remain.
What can one do about it?
Therefore the sage keeps his half of the
But does not exact his due.
A man of Virtue performs his part,
But a man without Virtue requires
others to fulfill their obligations.
The Tao of heaven is impartial.
It stays with good men all the time.

Tao Te Ching, Page 24