Tao Te Ching

Yielding is the way of the Tao.

Going forward seems like retreat,
for one gains by losing
and loses by gaining.

Look, it cannot be seen —
it is beyond form.

Listen, it cannot be heard —
it is beyond sound.

Grasp, it cannot be held —
it is intangible.

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 description.
It returns to nothingness.

The form of the formless,
The image of the imageless,

It is called indefinable
and beyond imagination.

Stand before it and there is no beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.

Stay with the ancient Tao,
Move with the present.

Knowing the ancient beginning
is the essence of Tao.

Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.

The ancients say,
“Yield and overcome.”
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole,
And all things will come to you.

The truth often sounds paradoxical.

Know the white,
But keep the black,
Be an example to the world!

Being an example to the world,
Ever true and unwavering,
Return to the infinite.

Know honor,
Yet keep humility.
Be the valley of the universe!

Being the valley of the universe,
Ever true and resourceful,
Return to the state of the uncarved block.

Accept disgrace willingly…
Accept being unimportant…

Surrender yourself humbly;
then you can be trusted
to care for all things.

Love the world as your own self;
then you can truly care for all things.

Achieve results,
But never glory in them.

Achieve results,
But never boast.

Achieve results,
But never be proud.

Achieve results,
Because this is the natural way.

Creating without claiming,
Doing without taking credit,
Guiding without interfering,

This is Primal Virtue.

Mask your brightness.
Be at one with the dust of the earth.

This is Primal union.

The sage works without recognition.
He achieves what has to be done
without dwelling on it.
He does not try to show his knowledge.

He who has achieved this state
Is unconcerned with friends and enemies,
With good and harm,
with honor and disgrace.
This therefore is the highest state of man.

The sage, traveling all day,
Does not lose sight of his baggage.

Though there are beautiful things
to be seen,
He remains unattached and calm.

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.

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.

These two spring from the same source
but differ in name;
this appears as darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

The sage seeks freedom from desire.
He does not collect precious things.

He learns not to hold on to ideas.
He brings men back to
what they have lost.

If I have even just a little sense,
I will walk on the main road and
my only fear will be of straying from it.

Keeping to the main road is easy,
But people love to be sidetracked.

To die but not to perish is
to be eternally present.

Practice non-action.
Work without doing.

The Tao of the sage is
work without effort.

In the pursuit of learning,
every day something is acquired.

In the pursuit of Tao,
every day something is dropped.

 Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them…

If the sage would guide the people,
he must serve with humility.

If he would lead them,
he must follow behind.

In this way when the sage rules,
the people will not feel oppressed…

If an expert does not have
some problem to vex him,
he is unhappy!
If a philosopher’s teaching
is never attacked, he pines away!
If critics have no one on whom
to exercise their spite,
they are unhappy.

All such men are prisoners
in the world of objects.

He who wants followers,
seeks political power.

He who wants reputation,
holds an office.

The strong man looks
for weights to lift.

The brave man looks
for an emergency in which
he can show bravery.

The swordsman wants a battle
in which he can swing his sword.

Men past their prime prefer
a dignified retirement, in which
they may seem profound.

Men experienced in law
seek difficult cases to extend
the application of laws.

Liturgists and musicians
like festivals in which
they parade their
ceremonious talents.

The benevolent, the dutiful,
are always looking for chances
to display virtue.

Where would the gardener be
if there were no more weeds?

What would become of business
without a market of fools?

Where would the masses be
if there were no pretext
for getting jammed together
and making noise?

What would become of labor
if there were no superfluous objects
to be made?

Produce! Get results!
Make money! Make friends!
Make changes!
Or you will die of despair!

Those who are caught
in the machinery of power
take no joy except
in activity and change–
the whirring of the machine!

Whenever an occasion
for action presents itself,
they are compelled to act;
they cannot help themselves.

They are inexorably moved,
like the machine of which
they are a part.

Prisoners in the world of objects,
they have no choice but
to submit to the
demands of matter!

They are pressed down
and crushed by external forces,
fashion, the market, events,
public opinion.

Never in a whole lifetime
do they recover their right mind!

The active life! What a pity!

Great knowledge sees all in one.
Small knowledge breaks down
into the many.

When the body sleeps,
the soul is enfolded in One.
When the body wakes,
the openings begin to function.

They resound with every encounter
With all the varied business of life,
the strivings of the heart;
Men are blocked,
perplexed, lost in doubt.
Little fears eat away
their peace of heart.
Great fears swallow them whole,

Arrows shot at a target:
hit and miss, right and wrong.
That is what men call judgment, decision.
Their pronouncements are as final
As treaties between emperors.
Oh, they make their point!
Yet their arguments fall
faster and feebler
Than dead leaves
in autumn and winter.

Their talk flows out like urine,
Never to be recovered.
They stand at last, blocked,
bound, and gagged,
Choked up like old drain pipes.

The mind fails.
It shall not see light again.

Pleasure and rage
Sadness and joy
Hopes and regrets
Change and stability
Weakness and decision
Impatience and sloth:
All are sounds from the same flute,
All mushrooms from the same wet mold.

Day and night follow one another
and come upon us
Without our seeing
how they sprout!

Enough! Enough!
Early and late we meet the “that”
From which “these” all grow!

If there were no “that”
There would be no “this.”
If there were no “this”
There would be nothing
for all these winds to play on.

So far can we go.
But how shall we understand
What brings it about?

One may suppose
the True Governor
to be behind it all.
That such a power works
I can believe.
I cannot see his form.
He acts, but has no form.

Truthful words are not beautiful;
beautiful words are not truthful.
Good words are not persuasive;
persuasive words are not good.
He who knows
has no wide learning;
he who has wide learning
does not know.

The sage does not hoard.
Having bestowed all he has
on others, he has yet more;
Having given all he has to others,
he is richer still.
The way of heaven benefits
and does not harm;
The Way of the sage is
bountiful and does not contend.

The non-action of the wise man
is not inaction.
It is not studied.
It is not shaken by anything.
The sage is quiet
because he is not moved.
Not because he wills to be quiet.

Still water is like glass.
You can look at it
and see the bristles
on your chin.
It is a perfect level;
A carpenter could use it.
If water is so clear, so level,
How much more the spirit of man?
The heart of the wise man is tranquil.
It is the mirror of heaven and earth
The glass of everything.

Emptiness, stillness,
tranquillity, tastelessness,
Silence, non-action:
this is the level of heaven and earth.

This is perfect Tao.
Wise men find here
Their resting place.
Resting, they are empty.

From emptiness comes
the unconditioned.

From this, the conditioned,
the individual things.

So from the sage’s emptiness,
stillness arises:

From stillness, action.
From action, attainment.

From their stillness comes
their non-action,
which is also action
And is, therefore,
their attainment.

For stillness is joy.
Joy is free from care
Fruitful in long years.
Joy does all things
without concern:

For emptiness, stillness,
tranquillity, tastelessness,
Silence and non-action
Are the root of all things.

A man is supple and weak when living,
but hard and stiff when dead.
Grass and trees are pliant
and fragile when living,
But dried and shriveled when dead.

Thus the hard and the strong
are the comrades of death;
The supple and the weak
are the comrades of life.

Therefore a weapon
that is strong
will not vanquish;
A tree that is strong
will suffer the ax.

The strong and big
takes the lower position,
The supple and weak
takes the higher position.

Is not the way of heaven like
the stretching of a bow?
The high it presses down,
The low it lifts up;
The excessive it takes from,
The deficient it gives to.

It is the way of heaven to take
from what has in excess
In order to make good
what is deficient.

The way of man is otherwise.
It takes from those who are in want
In order to offer this to those
who already have more than enough.

Who is there that can take what
he himself has in excess
And offer this to the empire?
Only he who has the way.

Therefore the sage benefits them
yet exacts no gratitude.
Accomplishes his task yet
lays claim to no merit.

Is this not because he does not wish
to be considered a better man than others?

Do that which consists in
taking no action;
Pursue that which is
not meddlesome;
Savor that
which has no flavor.
Make the small big and
the few many;
Do good to him
who has done you an injury.
Lay plans for the accomplishment of
the difficult before it becomes difficult;
Make something big by starting
with it when small.

Difficult things in the world must needs
have their beginnings in the easy;
Big things must needs have
their beginnings in the small.

Therefore it is because the sage
never attempts to be great that
he succeeds in becoming great.

One who makes promises rashly
rarely keeps good faith;
One who is in the habit
of considering things easy
meets with frequent difficulties.

Therefore even the sage treats
some things as difficult.
That is why in the end no difficulties
can get the better of him.

The way is empty,
yet use will not drain it.
Deep, it is like the ancestor
of the myriad creatures.
Blunt the sharpness;
Untangle the knots;
Soften the glare;
Let your wheels move
only along old ruts.
Is not the space between
heaven and earth like a bellows?
It is empty without being exhausted;
The more it works the more comes out.
Much speech leads inevitably to silence.
Better to hold fast to the void.

The spirit of the valley never dies.
This is called the mysterious female.
The gateway of the mysterious female
Is called the root of heaven and earth.
Dimly visible, it seems
as if it were there,
Yet use will never drain it.

Heaven and earth are enduring.
The reason why heaven and earth
can be enduring
Is that they do not give
themselves life.
Hence they are able to be long-lived.

Therefore the sage puts
his person last and it comes first,
Treats it as extraneous to himself
and is preserved.
Is it not because he is
without thought of self
That he is able to accomplish
his private ends?

Highest good is like water.
Because water excels in benefiting
the myriad creatures without
Contending with them and settles
where none would like to be,
It comes close to the way.

In a home it is the site
that matters;
In quality of mind
it is depth that matters;
In an ally it is benevolence
that matters;
In speech it is good faith
that matters;
In government it is order
that matters;
In affairs it is ability
that matters;
In action it is timeliness
that matters.
It is because it does not contend
that it is never at fault.

When you get sick of being sick,
You stop being sick.
The sage has gotten sick of being sick,
Therefore he is no longer sick!