The way that can be told of is hardly an eternal, absolute, unvarying one; The name that can be coded and given is no absolute name.
Heaven and earth sprang from something else: the bright nameless; The named is but the said mother who rears the ten thousand creatures of heaven and earth, each after its kind.
He that rids himself of base desire can see the secret essences; He that didn’t and reached high being, he can see outcomes. The two are the same; the secret and its manifestations came from the same ground, the same mould, but anyway sound different. They are given different names. They can both be called the deep mystery. Or rather more secret than a mystery. There is that deeper mystery: the gate and doorway that all hidden essences issued from: all such subleties, a mysterial opening homewards. Call it the door mystery or golden secret of all life.
The wise man relies on doing nothing in the open, it is wu-wei. And he spreads doctrines without true or false words, by a wordless influence.
All things appear, and he hardly turns away from the creatures worked on by him: Some he gives solid, good life, he hardly disowns his chosen ones, and hardly takes possession of anyone under fair conditions. He rears his sons in earthly ways, but neither appropriates nor lays blatant claim to any one. He acts, but does not rely on ability. At times he controls them, but hardly leans on any of them. Because he lays claim to no credit, handy credit can hardly be taken away from him.
For the very reason that he hardly calls attention to what he does, the wise man is far from ejected at once.
Let the people have no cunning.
A substanceless image of all things seemed to exist before the progenitor that we hardly know of.
The force of words is soon spent. It seems far better to keep what is in the heart. Hold to the heart core and a regular mean.
The mysterious female never dies. In being used, she is not exhausted.
The wise man looks on his body almost as an outer something to be well taken care of, puts himself last, and finds himself in the foremost place.
The ground can be the best place to build a house on.
Among thoughts, value those that are profound.
In friendship value gentleness.
In words, value truth and sincere faithfulness. In deeds, value competence, ability, effectiveness. In actions, value timeliness and proper timing. Just prefer things that hardly lead to strife, going astray or amiss.
If your work is done, withdraw – That is heaven’s way.
When “concentrating” your breath, make it soft like that of an infant.
In opening and shutting the heavenly gates, ever play the feminine part.
And refrain from mismanaging.
Here is found the essential Tao prowess.
It is on the spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
The wise man cares for his belly before his eyes.* So: “The tummy first, not the eye.”
* Belly stands for an inside selfsameness or self, and the eye represents the world of matter through our sense experiences. [Yutang 1963, 36]
Those who receive favour from above, should they lose it they turn distraught.
Unseen, unheard, fine formless merge and become . . . It cannot be defined.
Hold on to a Tao of old to master things of the present. [Master a pearl-stringed Tao if you will.]
The best rulers of old had fine natures, they couldn’t be understood.
Guard against being over-full. Or be beyond wearing out and renewal.
To return to the root is basic repose; basic repose is quiet and returning to some destiny.
Being much-including, there is little prejudice.
The wise man is a clever ruler; he values his words highly.
A confused country enmeshed in disorder praises ministers in chaos and misrule.
Dispel profit; dismiss utility, then thieves and robbers will disappear. Yet let people hold well on to keeping accessories. Let them go on and shield their internal soul’s nature and some private, secret means, and less ardent desires.
Men can be put to some use.
The marks of great virtue follow alone from the [one] Tao. What is called one Tao seems impalpable and vague, not to be measured at all. Tao is virtually incommensurable, elusive, and contains sub-forms. Within it lie idea-images of coming things, much rarefied, latent aligned to the life-force. By life-force chunks we can view [much of the past too]. The life-force can be set to operate. Latent in it are evidences.
Those that have little, can get more.
The wise man clasps the primal unity, himself testing “everything” under heaven by it. Wholeness is won by return to Tao.
He who takes to or follows [one] Tao, becomes merged with [this] Tao.
Who follows virtue, is soaked by it. If one uses the power as one’s instrument, the results will be like the power.
For to those who have conformed themselves to Tao, Tao readily lends its power.
To those who have conformed themselves to the power, the power readily lends more power.
He who does his own looking sees little.
Who brags does not endure for long.
Someone who has Tao does not stay to bray and show off.
Before heaven and earth here was something nebulous, formless yet complete; unchanging, operating everywhere. One can think of it as the mother of all. I call it Tao by a by-name.
Passing on means going far away, to go really far is to return to the original point. . . . To go far away means to return.
The ruler has subtle greatness. The ways of men are conditioned by those of earth and the ways of Tao by the Self-so’s. Tao in turn models itself after Nature.
Fit integrity has to be the basis of light frivolity.*
The lord seldom allows himself to be light-spirited and lighter than those he rules.
Perfect speech leaves no craft-marks and no flaws. The perfect knot needs no rope and no one can untie it.
The wise man is all the time helping men – he does not turn his back on men and creatures. The bad man is a sort of material from which the good can learn.
He who knows the male [active], yet keeps to the female [receptive], becomes like a ravine, receiving all sort of things.
He who knows glory, yet keeps to obscurity, turns into a valley that receives into it all kind of things. Such simplicity is the raw, uncarved block.
Among creatures of this world some lead and some follow. Some blow out, some blow in. The wise man discards excess.
Where armies are, thorns and brambles grow.
A good general effects his purpose and does not take further advantage of a victory. He effects his purpose and does not boast of a thing he accomplished as some perhaps regrettable necessity that could hardly be averted and avoided.
Things age after reaching their prime. After things reach their prime, they begin to grow old.
He who is against the Tao perishes young. What is against Tao will hardly survive.
The durable, even when he conquers, does not regard weapons as lovely things. Weapons and soldiers are sinister tools. They are not often the tools of the gentleman and good ruler.
Use of soldiers [and police] cannot be helped, best policy is calm restraint.
Best Tao is absolute and eternal, and without name or fame. Though seemingly of small value, it could be greater than anything in the universe. Keep such unspoiled, inborn nature.
A human civilisation can rise once there are names. As soon as there are names, it is time to stop. By that, much danger could be avoided.
All will come to Tao as streams and torrents flow into a great river.
He who knows others is learned, but he who knows himself is wise.
He who works, may eventually succeed.
The one who acts with vigour has will.
The determined one has strength of will.
He who does not lose his centre can last long.
He who remains for long has long life. There is no other longevity.
Tao can flow everywhere. All beings derive their life from it. Though it covers all like some garment it does not claims to lord it over them.
The wise man hardly ever makes a show of greatness.
Sound of music, smell of good dishes will make the passing stranger pause or stay.
Tao is mild to the taste.
If one looks for Tao, there is hardly anything material to see, and nothing loud to hear. We listen to this [ordinarily] inaudible. If one uses it, its supply never fails. It is inexhaustible.
He who is to be laid low can first be exalted to power, or: First promoted, next destroyed.
This is a fine art: the soft overcomes the hard; and the weak, the strong.
Fish should be left in the deep pool, not taken away from water.
Sharp weapons of the state should be where nobody can see them.
When reformed and rising to action, let all influenced be restrained by the nameless pristine simplicity. Yes, if transformed they should desire to act, someone has to restrain them with simplicity without a name – an unnamed blankness, a pristine simplicity stripped of desire.
The two oldest and now found Dao De Jing documents from some centuries BCE, begin with hymn 38 and go on from there. In other writings that were handed over, a division between verses 1-38 and verses 38-81 was also set up during the reign of Han Wonti (179-157 BC). The common name, Book of Might (i.e. te) was given to verses 38-81. The translations by Roberts, Henricks and Lin seek to make sense of oldest, more recently discovered texts.
Superior virtue transcends common virtuousness*.
*Compare findings by Abraham Maslow in Motivation and Personality (1987, chap. 11)
Only when Tao is lost does low-grade virtue arise. The man of low virtue can lose sight of some virtue by never losing sight of it. The man of low virtue acts from himself, and very often with ulterior motives.
No one thinks a man of highest calibre acts: no one thinks he ever acts with ulterior motives.
If sensible, inward morality gets lost, then propriety or semi-ritual arise. Boss-given morality can be the thinning out of loyalty and honesty of heart, and the start of chaos. Thus, ritual endorsement could be the mere husk of loyalty and promise-keeping. And unsound propriety is a superficial expression of loyalty and faithfulness, and the start of chaos or disorder.
Mere words on Tao flower into folly: the noble one dwells in reality, which is a fruit, and not in the show of appearances (flowering terms). He rejects flowering folly and accepts reality, that fruit.
In old times, spirits or gods became divine.
Some inner fabric of unified wholeness makes people back up their princes. The humble is the stem on which the mighty grow.
Low-grade exalted ones depend on the lowly for their base, depend on common man for support, or on hard ruler might rooting itself on humility?
When the highest of men hear of Tao and truth they put it into practice diligently and well.
One who understands Tao could seem dull – Tao which is bright appears to be dark.
Great virtue may seem hollow and empty.
Great capability is a hollow.
The loftiest is abysmal.
The largest square has no corners: great space has no corners.
Great talent could be slow to mature: The greatest vessel takes the longest to finish.
Great talent takes long to ripen.
Great music could be hard to get to, and is rarely heard.
Tao backs all things financially too.
It is on yin-yang blending of so-called breaths that harmony depends.
It happens that things gain by losing and lose by gaining.
Know the benefit of taking no action. There can be solid value in action that is actionless. The benefit may be without compare. Few can understand it.
To teach without words might be fit – at times best.
Fame or one’s own self, which which does one love more – fame or one’s own life? Which counts most, one’s own life or wealth and solid goods and things bought?
Who hoards much is in for losing heavily eventually.
Who stops in time knows when to stop, can long endure, getting safe and secure –
The greatest abundance appears to be never-failing.
By limpid calm one may succeed in putting many things right, as far as can be.*
He who has once known the pure contentment that comes simply through being content gets rather content-centred afterwards.
The further one travels the less one knows; there is such a danger.
The wise man understands much without seeing.
He who conquers a domain does so by doing nothing (by wu wei).
The wise man uses the heart of the people as his own. People’s opinions and feeling are then as his own.
The man of wisdom says: “I treat those who are good with goodness: I approve of the good man. I believe I am honest to those who are honest.” By such means great honesty is attained: the honest becomes truthful. And at times the wise man sees and hears no more than an infant.
Out of living, death pops up.
Who is a good preserver of his life could have a true hold on life, because he is beyond death.
Who accommodates likeably, does homage to some built-in Tao structure. In this way all things of the universe honour Tao without being ordered by anybody.
Right praise comes of its own accord.
A Tao gives them birth, a fit te fosters them, can feed, nurture, shelter, protect and give peace in a fit place for it.
A man must never lean on others. Natural Tao could be a prolongation of something deft that is seemingly “of itself”.
Tao begets and breeds, and Tao’s power tends and feeds all who take varied shape and reach final form. Fit Tao gives birth and hardly seems possessive. Through self-becoming myriads honour and esteem Tao highly. By natural designs the fit Tao can operate and also bring help, yet does not control anybody. A Tao’s power tends and feeds, fosters and raises up and brings to maturity, preserves and protects.
Keep to the inner, subtle mother start of the world. Regain true vision’s inner home and strive for the common lasting norm.
Close life’s doors, and strength may remain. Seal and bar all gates and doors, and thus prevent debility.
Use the light and return to clarity, and thus get preserved from most harm.
People love by-paths – fear getting off the road. On the main path, better avoid the by-paths.
Some carry sharp weapons, and glut themselves with drink and foods. Wealth and treasures are accumulated in excess, and they own more than they can handle and use. This is robbery-based extravagance. It cannot be a highway of Tao.
The ancestor’s Tao ways and means and their powers unite to gyrate the modern family on from generation to generation.
You can cultivate, elevate and apply forebear jobs, routines, accomplishments, such quite inborn Tao know-how. Iif so, your lifestyle and its prowess may be genuine and bring fruit, by some “like father, like son” and steer out of unseen trouble. Cultivated in the world, apply it to the village on a wider, social scale, and the village will be strengthened, even more secure.
Delve sagaciously into forebear issues and contemplate. Then perhaps you can control your household through your individual and evaluate the family, the village, the state and the world, all brought well together.
After things reach their prime, they begin to grow old. Whatever has a time of vigour also has a time of decay. The tender child hardly yet knows about the union of male and female. Such a one can cry all day.
To know eternity and bland harmony implies to be in eternity, or to grasp something by some degree of mental clarity or illumination.
Who is against Tao might perish rather young.
Certain losses can be hard to make good. So dull keen edges, soften glaring light, shut and seal the gates and doors and find sublime at-oneness.
Battles can be won by tactics of surprise and attack.
Rule kingdoms by right. The more ‘sharp weapons’ there are, the more troubled and chaotic the state may be. The more prohibitions, ritual avoidances, and taboos there are, the poorer the people will end. The greater the number of statutes, the greater the number of thieves in the end.
Who knows when the limit will be reached?
Under rule that probes and prods, the ruled connive and contrive.
Who would be able to know the ultimate results of good fortune?
The people have been deluded for a long time.
The wise man is straight, and refrains from dazzling. The wise who rule, keep to the square but form no edge, gather gains, shed light but not to blind.
Having in store spells taking precaution. To forestall is to be prepared and strengthened. Be prepared and strengthened to be victorious.
The mother-source of this dominion yields staying power through deep roots and strong base. Make the roots strike deep to be firmly rooted, to have deep strength and firm stalks. Who is fit to rule, keeps the kingdom by going to the mother. He who has the mother [Tao] of the state may long endure.
If evil spirits and supermen do not harm each other, each can be quite saved from harm, and virtue could be accumulated in both for ulterior benefit or towards some common end.
A big kingdom can take over a small kingdom.
By lying below a great kingdom a small state may be taken over.
The old ones honoured Tao. They thought Tao to be the most precious, the treasure of the world.
Tao is the good man’s treasure. Tao can be delivered.
One can influence without action, taste without tasting, and thus accomplish without doing,
Forestall trouble when it is easy to do so. Act on the major when it’s still minor. Prepare for and deal with the hard while it is still easy. Deal with the great or big while it is still small.
This world’s troubles start with simple things, and major matters rise from little ones. In governing your kingdom everything hard must be dealt with while still easy. The great problems of the world are to be dealt with while they are yet small. Everything great must be dealt with while it is still small.
Therefore the wise man never has to deal with the great. Thus, great undertakings shall start with what is small. However, much too easy means much trouble. Even the wisest look for the trouble ahead, and end up with the trouble spared.
“Many easies” means many a hard. From this even the wise man regards things as hard, but he also knows how to make the easy difficult. For that reason he very seldom meets with difficulties.
Before there has been an omen it may be easy to lay plans and prepare something in advance. Yet, decision can prevent disorder – deal with things in their state of not-yet-being and thus before they appear.
Put things well in shape before disorder and confusion. Put all very well in order before disorder, and next go on to check loss or disorder well.
A tree as big as a man’s hug grows from a tiny sprout.
A journey of three hundred miles begins where one stands, and with the very first step.
He who grasps much, is in for losing much also.
Be as careful at the end as at the start to avert failures at hand. Heed the end no less than the start, so that your valuable work will not be spoiled and ruined.
The wise man learns to seem unlearned. Men of wisdom, taking no lead, do not fail; not clinging, they do not lose hold.
He who rules a state through deep knowledge is a blessing. [Opp.]
The wise man keeps himself on top. He does not compete in the open, so no one can compete well with him.
A great Tao may look like folly.
Things that do not look foolish to common men, there can be no question about their smallness.
Guard and keep deep-going concern and pity by “Never too much”.
Who has saved, may give. But to be generous by forsaking frugality could prove fatal in the end.
It can be fit to develop one’s talent and strength; let it mature and hold sway somehow.*
When heaven is to save a person, heaven will protect him.
The best fighter may not lose his temper.
Present no battle-front.
Refrain from having an enemy at the price of losing your body and life. Great calamity comes from making light of an enemy. He whose enemy presents no front, could lose his booty.
Some of my teaching could have nature as a source. Few people understand me, and on this my real value depends.
The wise man wears jade underneath his dress.
The wise man is hardly of a sick mind if he recognises sick mind as sick and also cures some diseases.
Never mind if people are not intimidated by your authority.
Neither despise their dwellings nor narrow the living space of their dwellings.
If you do not persecute all, you’ll hardly be so much disliked. They are not oppressed if you refrain from gross oppressive measures.
The wise man hardly shows off and does not exalt himself.
One who is brave in non-daring, can survive or give life. Who is brave in non-daring without ado lets live.
Not compete, but all the same win expertly.
Tao-heaven’s net is wide, with big, coarse meshes.
There is always the master executioner [Heaven].
Who thrusts oneself into the master-carpenter’s place and does his chipping for him is lucky if he does not cut his hand.* To take the place of the executioner is in part like handling the hatchet for the master carpenter – one may not escape injury to his hands.
People are hungry because rulers eat too much tax-grain.
The people are anxious to make a living.
Dead folk become brittle and dried, wheras gentleness may be a companion of life.
The tree that has the hardest [best liked] wood risks being cut down for it.
Humans take away from those that have not enough to offer those who already have too much.
The man of Tao, if he accomplishes a task, achieves an aim, he does not wish to reveal himself as better than others.
The yielding may conquer the resistant and the soft the hard.
The wise man refrains much from blaming.
The way of heaven is to keep the good firmly supplied.
Let the people value their lives highly and be quite ready to lay down their lives at times to defend their homes.
Let people be very pleased with their food, beautify their clothing, be content with their homes, take pleasure in rustic tasks, and delight in such customs.
Nice words are far from always true.
Brilliant wisdom is different from learning. Learning can mean too little wisdom.
Chan, Wing-Tsit. 1963. A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.