THE TAO TE
The R. B. Blakney Translation
There are ways but the Way is uncharted;
There are names but not nature in words:
Nameless indeed is the source of creation
But things have a mother and she has a name.
The secret waits for the insight
Of eyes unclouded by longing;
Those who are bound by desire
See only the outward container.
These two come paired but distinct
By their names.
Of all things profound,
Say that their pairing is deepest,
The gate to the root of the world.
Since the world points up beauty as such,
There is ugliness too.
If goodness is taken as goodness,
Wickedness enters as well.
For is and is-not come together;
Hard and easy are complementary;
Long and short are relative;
High and low are comparative;
Pitch and sound make harmony;
Before and after are a sequence.
Indeed the Wise Man's office
Is to work by being still;
He teaches not by speech
But by accomplishment;
He does for everything,
Their life he gives to all,
And what he brings to pass
Depends on no one else.
As he succeeds,
He takes no credit
And just because he does not take it,
Credit never leaves him.
If those who are excellent find no preferment,
The people will cease to contend for promotion.
If Goods that are hard to obtain are not favored,
The people will cease to turn robbers or bandits.
If things much desired are kept under cover,
Disturbance will cease in the minds of the people.
The Wise Man's policy, accordingly,
Will be to empty people's hearts and minds,
To fill their bellies, weaken their ambition,
Give them sturdy frames and always so,
To keep them uninformed, without desire,
And knowing ones not venturing to act.
Be still while you work
And keep full control
The Way is a void,
Used but never filled:
An abyss it is,
Like an ancestor
From which all things come.
It blunts sharpness,
It tempers light,
A deep pool it is,
Never to run dry!
Whose offspring it may be
I do not know:
It is like a preface to God.
Is then the world unkind?
And does it treat all things
Like straw dogs used in magic rites?
The Wise Man too, is he unkind?
And does he treat the folk
Like straw dogs made to throw away?
Between the earth and sky
The space is like a bellows,
Empty but unspent.
When moved its gift is copious.
Much talk means much exhaustion;
Better far it is to keep your thoughts!
The valley spirit is not dead:
They say it is the mystic female.
Her gateway is, they further say,
The base of earth and heaven.
Constantly, and so forever,
Use her without labor.
The sky is everlasting
And the earth is very old.
Why so? Because the world
Exists not for itself;
It can and will live on.
The Wise Man chooses to be last
And so becomes the first of all;
Denying self, he too is saved.
For does he not fulfillment find
In being an unselfish man?
The highest goodness, water-like,
Does good to everything and goes
Unmurmuring to places men despise;
But so, is close in nature to the Way.
If the good of the house is from land,
Or the good of the mind is its depth,
Or love is the virtue of friendship,
Or honesty blesses one's talk,
Or in government, goodness is order,
Or in business, skill is admired,
Or the worth of an act lies in timing,
Then peace is the goal of the Way
By which no one ever goes astray.
To take all you want
Is never as good
As to stop when you should.
Scheme and be sharp
And you'll not keep it long.
One never can guard
His home when it's full
Of jade and fine gold:
Wealth, power and pride
Bequeath their own doom.
When fame and success
Come to you, then retire.
This is the ordained Way.
Can you govern your animal soul, hold to the One and
never depart from it?
Can you throttle your breath, down to the softness of
breath in a child?
Can you purify your mystic vision and wash it until it is
Can you love all your people, rule over the land without
Can you be like a female, and passively open and shut
heaven's gates? -
Can you keep clear in your mind the four quarters of earth
and not interfere?
Quicken them, feed them;
Quicken but do not possess them.
Act and be independent;
Be the chief but never the lord:
This describes the mystic virtue.
Thirty spokes will converge
In the hub of a wheel;
But the use of the cart
Will depend on the part
Of the hub that is void.
With a wall all around
A clay bowl is molded;
But the use of the bowl
Will depend on the part
Of the bowl that is void.
Cut out windows and doors
In the house as you build;
But the use of the house
Will depend on the space
In the walls that is void.
So advantage is had
From whatever is there;
But usefulness rises
From whatever is not.
The five colors darken the eye;
The five sounds will deaden the ear;
The five flavors weary the taste;
Chasing the beasts of the field
Will drive a man mad.
The goods that are hard to procure
Are hobbles that slow walking feet.
So the Wise Man will do
What his belly dictates
And never the sight of his eyes.
Thus he will choose this but not that.
"Favor, like disgrace
Brings trouble with it;
High rank, like self,
Involves acute distress."
What does that mean, to say
That "favor, like disgrace
When favor is bestowed
On one of low degree,
Trouble will come with it.
The loss of favor too
Means trouble for that
This, then, is what is meant
By "favor, like disgrace
trouble with it."
What does it mean, to say
That "rank, like self,
I suffer most because
Of me and selfishness.
If I were selfless, then
What suffering would I bear?
In governing the world,
Let rule entrusted be
To him who treats his rank
As if it were his soul;
World sovereignty can
Committed to that man
Who loves all people
As he loves himself.
They call it elusive, and say
That one looks
But it never appears.
They say that indeed it is rare,
Since one listens,
But never a sound.
Subtle, they call it, and say
That one grasps it
But never gets hold.
These three complaints amount
To only one, which is
Beyond all resolution.
At rising, it does not illumine;
At setting, no darkness ensues;
It stretches far back
To that nameless estate
Which existed before the creation.
Describe it as form yet unformed;
As shape that is still without shape;
Or say it is vagueness confused:
One meets it and it has no front; One
follows and there is no rear.
If you hold ever fast
To that most ancient Way,
You may govern today.
Call truly that
Of primal beginnings
The clue to the Way.
The excellent masters of old,
Subtle, mysterious, mystic, acute,
Were much too profound for their
Since they were not then understood,
It is better to tell how
Like men crossing streams in the winter,
As if all around there were danger,
As if they were guests on every occasion,
Like ice just beginning to melt,
Like a wood-block untouched by a tool,
Like a valley awaiting a guest,
Like a torrent that rushes along,
And so turbid!
Who, running dirty, comes clean like sti1l waters?
Who, being quiet,
moves others to fullness of life?
It is he who, embracing the Way, is
Who endures wear and tear without needing renewal.
This is as far as I have gotten.
I will do more when I feel better.
Touch ultimate emptiness,
Hold steady and still.
All things work together:
I have watched them reverting, And have seen how they flourish And
return again, each to his roots.
This, I say, is the stillness: A retreat to one's roots;
Or better yet, return .
To the will of God,
Which is, I say, to constancy. The knowledge of constancy I call
enlightenment and say That not to know it
Is blindness that works evil.
But when you know What eternally is so, You have stature
And stature means righteousness And righteousness is kingly And
And divinity is the Way
Which is final.
Then, though you die, You shall not perish.
As for him who is highest,
The people just know he is there. His deputy's cherished and praised; Of
the third, they are frightened; The fourth, they despise and revile. If
you trust people less than enough, Some of them never trust you.
He is aloof, as if his talk
Were priced beyond the purchasing; But once his project is contrived,
The folk will want to say of it:
"Of course! We did it by ourselves!"
The mighty Way declined among the folk Aiid then came kindness an-d
morali!y.: Whell wi_sdom and intelligence a.£l?ea1].9, They brought
with them a great hypocrisy. The six relations were no more at
peace-;So codes were made to regulate our homes. The fatherland grew
dark, confused bistIife:
Official loyalty became the style. -
Get rid of the wise men!
- Put out the professors! Then people will profit A hundredfold over.
Away with the kind ones;
Those righteous men too!
And let people return
To the graces of home.
Root out the artisans;
Banish the profiteers!
And bandits and robbers
Will not come to plunder.
But if these three prove not enough To satisfy the mind and heart, More
relevant, then, let there be A visible simQlicitv ot lie, -Embracing
unpretentious ways, And small. self-iI!tere~t
And poverty of coveti~g.
Be done with rote learnin
n Its attendant vexatlOn~
For is there distinction
Of a "yes" from a "yea"
Comparable now to the gulf
Between evil and good?
"What all men fear, I too I:1Ust fear"How barren and pointless a
The reveling of multitudes
At the feast of Great Sacrifice,
Or up on the terrace
At carnival in spring,
Leave me, alas, unmoved, alone, Like a child that has never smiled.
Lazily, I drift
As though I had no home.
All others have enough to spare;
I am the one left out.
I have the mind of a fool, Muddled and confused!
When common people scintillate
I alone make shadows.
Vulgar folks are sharp and knowing: Only I am melancholy.
Restless like the ocean,
Blown about, I cannot stop.
Other men can find employment, But I am stubborn; I am mean.
Alone I am and different, Because I prize and seek
My sustenance from the Mother!
The omnipresent Virtue will take shape According only to the Way.
The Way itself is like some thing
Seen in a dream, elusive, evading one. In it are images, elusive,
evading one. In it are things like shadows in twilight. In it are
essences, subtle but real, Embedded in truth.
From of old until now,
Under names without end,
The First, the Beginning is seen. How do I know the beginning of all,
What its nature may be?
The crooked shall be mad~ straight And the rough places plain;
The pools shall be filled And the worn renewed; The needy shall receive
And the rich shall be perplexed.
So the Wise Man cherishes the One, As a standard to the world:
He is famous;
Not. asserting himself,
He is distinguished;
Not boasting his powers,
He is effective;
Taking no pride in himself,
He is chief.
Because he is no competitor,
No one in all the world
Can compete with him.
The saying of the men of old
Is not in vain:
"The crooked shall be made straight-" To be perfect, return to it.
Sparing indeed is nature of its ti\lk.:
The w_hlrlwind will not last the morningouli
The cloudburst eii'aS6efOretlie day is done.
What is it that -behavesitse1flike this? .
The earth and sky! And if it be tbllt tbes~
Cut short their speech, how much more yet should pan!
If you work by the Way,
You will be of the Way;
If you work through its virtue
You will be given the virtue;
Abandon either one
And both abandon you.
Gladly then the_Way receivesThose who choose tQ ~al~ i.11 itj Gladly
too its power up_hold§ Those who choose to use it well;
Gladly will abandon greet .
Those who to abandon drift.
Little faith is put in thel1! Whose faith is small.
On tiptoe your stance is unsteady;
Long strides make your progress unsure; Show off and you get no
Your boasting will mean you have failed; Asserting yourself brings no
Be proud and you never will lead.
To persons of the Way, these traits Can only bring distrust; they seem
Like extra food for parasites.
So those who choose the Way. Will never give them place.
Something there .~, whose veiled creatiou- w_afi Before the earth-or-sKY
-began to be;
So silent,- so aloof and so alone,
It changes not, nor fails, but touches all: Conceive It as the mother of
I do not know its nam~;' A nam~ for it j§ "W~y':; Pressed fOr
I call it Great. .
Great means outgoing, Outgoing, far-reaching? Far-reaching, retuf!!.
The Way is great, The sky is great,
The earth is great, The king also is great. Within the realm These four
are great; The king but stands For one of them.
Man conforms to the earth;
The earth conforms to the sky;
The sky conforms to the Way; The Way conforms to its own nature.
The heavy is foundation for the light; So quietness is master of the
The WiseMa.!1~ thQu~ he travel all the day, Will not ~e se.earated from
his -gooas. _.. So even if the scene is gloii9us toy.;e~ He keeps his
place, at peace, above it ~
For how can one who rules
Ten thousand chariots .
Give up to lighter moods
As all the world may do?
If he is trivial, .
His ministers are lost;
If he is strenuous,
There is no master then.
A good runner leaves no tracks.
A good speech has no flaws to censure.
A good computer uses no tallies.
A good door is well shut without bolts and cannot be opened.
A good knot is tied without rope and cannot be loosed.
The Wise Man is always good at helping people, so that none are cast
out; he is always good at saving things, so that none are thrown away.
This is called applied intelligence.
Surely the good man is the bad man's teacher; and the bad man is the
good man's business. If the one does not respect his teacher, or the
other doesn't love his business,
his error is very great. .
This is indeed an important secret.
~e a~.r:e of Y..Q!.l!: masc_u~12e nat~;
But by keeping the fem4!ip.Lw~y,
You shall be to the world like a canyon,
Where the Virtue eternal abidesl
And go back to become as a child.
Be aware of the white all around you; But rememb'ring the black that is
there, You shall be to the world like a tester, Whom the Virtue eternal,
unerring, Redirects to the infinite past.
Be aware of your glory and honor; But in never relinquishing shame,
You shall be to the world like a valley, Where Virtue eternal,
sufficient, Sends you back to the Virginal Block.
When the Virginal Block is asunder, And is made into several tools,
To the ends of the Wise Man directed, They become then his chief
officers: For "The Master himself does not carve."
As for those who would take the whole world To tinker it as tbey see
I observe that they never succeed:
For the world is a sacred vessel
Not made to be altered by man.
The tinker will spoil it;
Usurpers will lose it.
For indeed there are things
That must move ahead, While others must lag; And some that feel hot,
While others feel cold;
And some that are strong, While others are weak; And vigorous ones,
With others worn out.
So the Wise Man discards Extreme inCimations
To make sweeping judgments, Or to a life of excess.
To those who would help
The ruler of men
By means of the Way:
Let him not with his militant mi~ Try to conquer tlie wodd;
This tactic iSllke to recoil.
for where armies haye ri!arch~<1
There do briars spring up; Where great hosts are impressed, Years of
hunger and evil ensue. .
The good man's purpose once attained, He staRs at that;
He will not press for victory.
His point once made, he does not boast, Or celebrate the goal he gained,
Or proudly iQdicate the ~oi~.
He won the day because he must:
But not by force or violence.
That things with age decline in strength, You well may say, suits not
the Way; And not to suit the Way is early death.
Weapons at best are tools of bad omen, Loathed and avoided by those of
In the usage of men of good breeding, Honor is had at the left;
Good omens belong on the left;
Bad omens belong on the right;
And warriors press to the right! When the general stands at the right
His lieutenant is placed at the left.
So the usage of men of great power Follows that of the funeral rite.
\yea.Q2!11J are tools of bad omen,
By gentlemen not to be used;
But when it cannot be avoided,
They use them with calm and restraint.
Even in victory's hour
These tools are unlovely to see;
For those who admire them truly
Are men who in murder delight.
As for those who delight to do murder,
It is certain they never can get
From the world what they sought when ambition Urged them to power and
A multitude slain!-and their death Is a matter for grief and for tears;
The victory after a conflict
Is a theme for a funeral rite.
The Way eternal has no name.
A block of wood untooled, though small, May still excel the world.
And if the king and nobles could
Retain its potency for good,
Then everything would freely give Allegiance to their rule.
The earth and sky would then conspire To bring the sweet dew down;
And evenly it would be given
To folk without constraining power.
Creatures came to be with order's birth, And once they had appeared,
Came also knowledge of repose,
And with that was security.
In this world,
Compare those of the Way
To torrents that flow
Into river and sea.
It is wisdom to know others;
it is enlightenment to know one's self~
The conqueror of men is powerful; The master of himself is strong.
It is wealth to be content;
It is willful to force one's way on others.
Endurance is to keep one's place; Long life it is to die and not perish.
o the great Way o'erfiows And spreads on every side! All being comes
No creature is denied.
But having called them forth, It calls not one its own.
It feeds and clothes them all And will not be their lord.
Without desire always, It seems of slight import. Yet, nonetheless, in
this Its greatness still appears: When they return to it, No creature
meets a lord.
The Wise Man, the!efore, while he is alive, Will never make a- sho~_QJ
6emg great: And-mar-iniow h!.s g!"eatness k. achieved.
Once grasp the great Form without form,
,And you roam where you will With no evil to fear, Calm, peaceful, at
At music and viands
The wayfarer stops.
But the Way, when declared, Seems thin and so flavorless!
It is nothing to look at And nothing to hear; But used, it will prove
What is to be shrunken Is first stretched out; What is to be weakened Is
first made strong; What will be thrown over Is first raised up;
What will be withdrawn Is first bestowed.
This indeed is
The gentle way
The hard and strong. As fish should not
Get out of pools,
The realm's edged tools Should not be shown To anybody.
The Way is always still, at rest,
And yet does everything that's done.
If then the king and nobles could
Retain its potency for good,
The creatures all would be transformed.
But if, the change once made in them, They still inclined to do their
I should restrain them then
By means of that unique
Found in the Virgin Block,
Which brings disinterest,
With stillness in its train,
And so, an ordered world.
A _~an o! highest virtue
Will not display it.lls his own;
His virtue then is real,
Low virtue makes one miss no chance To show his virtue off;
His virtue then is nought.
High virtue is at rest;
It knows no need to act.
Low virtue is a busyness
'Pretending to accomplishment.
Compassion at its best
Consists in honest deeds; Morality at best
Is something done, aforethought; High etiquette, when acted out Without
response from others, Constrains a man to bare his arms And make them do
Truly, once the Way is lost,
There comes then virtue;
Virtue lost, comes then compassion; After that morality;
And when that's lost, then~.'s etiqu~tte~ The husk of all good faith.
The rising point of anarchy.
Foreknowledge is, they say,
The Doctrine* come to flower;
But better yet, it is
The starting point of silliness.
So once full-grown, a man will take The meat and not the husk;
The fruit and not the flower. Rejecting one, he takes the other.
These things in ancient times received the One:
The sky obtained it and was clarified;
The earth received it and was settled firm;
The spirits got it and were energized;
The valleys had it, filled to overflow;
All things, as they partook it came alive;
The nobles and the king imbibed the One
In order that the realm might upright be; Such things were then
accomplished by the One.
Without its clarity the sky might break; Except it were set firm, the
earth might shake; Without their energy the gods would pass; Unless kept
full, the valleys might go dry; Except for life, all things would pass
away; Unless the One did lift and hold them high, The nobles and the
king might trip and fall.
The humble folk support the mighty ones; They are base on which the
highest rest. The nobles and the king speak of themselves As "orphans,"
"desolate" and "needy ones." Does this not indicate that they depend
Upon the lowly people for support?
Truly, a cart is more than the sum of its parts.
Better to rumble like rocks
Than to tinkle like jade.
The movement of the Way is a return;
In we~ne~s Jiesjt~ lI!ajo_f.. us~fulness.
From What-is all the world of things was born But What-is sprang in turn
On. hearing of the Way, the best of men. ~Will earnestly explore its
The mediocre person learns of it
And takes it up and sets it down.
But vulgar people, when they hear the news, Will laugh out loud, and if
they did not laugh, It would not be the Way.
And so there is a proverb:
"When going looks like coming back,
The clearest road is mighty dark."
Today, the Way that's plain looks rough, And lofty virtue like a chasm;
The purest innocence like shame,
The broadest power not enough, Established goodness knavery, Substantial
worth like shifting tides.
Great space has no corners; Great powers come late; Great music is soft
sound; The great Form no shape.
The Way is obscure and unnamed; It is a skilled investor, nonetheless,
The master of accomplishment.
The Way begot one, And the one, two; Then the two begot three And three,
All things bear the shade on their backs And the sun in their arms;
By the blending of breath
From the sun and the shadel Equilibrium comes to the world.
Orphaned, or needy, or desolate, these Are conditions much feared and
disliked; Yet in public address, the king
And the nobles account themselves thus.
So a loss sometimes benefits one
Or a benefit proves to be loss.
What others have taught
I also shall teach:
If a violent man does not come
To a violent death,
I shall choose him to teach me.
The softest of stuff in the world Penetrates quickly the hardest;
Insubstantial, it enters
Where no room is.
By this I know the benefit
Of something done by quiet being; In all the world but few can know
Accomplishment apart from work, Instruction when no words are used.
Which is dearer, fame or self?
Which is worth more, man or pelf? Which would hurt more, gain or loss?
The mean man pays the highest price; The hoarder takes the greatest
loss; A man content is never shamed,
And self-restrained, is not in danger: He will live forever.
Most perfect, yet it seems Imperfect, incomplete:
Its use is not impaired. Filled up, and yet it seems Poured out, an
empty void: It never will run dry.
The straightest, yet it seems To deviate, to bend;
The highest skill and yet It looks like clumsiness. The utmost
It sounds like stammering. *
As movement overcomes The cold, and stillness, heat, The Wise Man, pure
and still, Will rectify the world.
When the..}Ya.YJ1!les. ~~.w.orld,. coacn1iOr~es fertilize fields; When
the Way does not rule, War horses breed in the parks.
No sin can exceed Incitement to envy;
No calamity's worse
Than to be discontented; Nor is there an omen . More dreadful than
coveting. But once be contented) And truly you'll always be so.
The world may be known Without leaving the house; The Way may be seen
Apart from the windows. The further you go,
The less you will know.
Accordingly, the Wise Man Knows without going, Sees without seeing,
Does without doing.
The student learns by daily increment. The Way is gained by daily loss,
Loss upon loss until
At last comes rest.
By ~ttiI.!g go, it all gets done;
The wQrl<l i§. won by those who let it go! But when you try and tIT,
The world is then beyond the winning.
The Wise Man's mind is free But tuned to people's need:
"Alike to good and bad I must be good,
For Virtue is goodness. To honest folk
And those dishonest ones
.Alike, I proffer faith, For Virtue is faithful."
The Wise Man, when abroad, Impartial to the world, Does not divide or
judge. But people everywhere Mark well his ears and eyes; For wise men
hear and see As little children do.
On leaving life, to enter death: Thirteen members form a living body; A
corpse has thirteen, too:
Thirteen spots by which a man may pass From life to death. Why so?
Because his way of life
Is much too gross.
As I have heard, the man who knows
On land how best to be at peace
Will never meet a tiger or a buffalo;
In battle, weapons do not touch his skin. There is no place the tiger's
claws can grip; Or with his horn, the buffalo can jab;
Or where the soldier can insert his sword. Why so? In him there is no
place of death.
The Way brings forth,
Its Virtue fosters them,
With matter they take shape, And circumstance perfects them all:
That is why all things
Do honor to the Way
And venerate its power.
The exaltation of the Way, The veneration of its powe~, Come not by fate
or by decree; But always just because
By nature it is so.
So when the Way brings forth,
Its power fosters all:
They grow, are reared,
And fed and housed until
They come to ripe maturity.
You shall give life to things But never possess them;
Your work shall depend on none; You shall be chief but never lord.
This describes the mystic power.
It began with a matrix: The world had a mother Whose sons can be known
As ever, by her.
But if you know them, You'll keep close to her As long as you live And
suffer no harm.
Stop up your senses; Close up your doors; Be not exhausted
As long as you live. Open your senses;
Be busier still:
To the end of your days There's no help for you.
You are bright, it is said, If you see what is smah;
A store of small strengths Makes you strong.
By the use of its light, Make your eyes again bright From evil to lead
This is. called "practicing constancy."
When I am walking on the mighty Way, Let me but know the very least I
may, And I shall only fear to leave the road.
"The mighty Way is easy underfoot, But people still prefer the little
The royal court is dignified, sedate,
While farmers' fields are overgrown with weeds; The granaries are empty
and yet they
Are clad in rich-embroidered silken gowns.
They have sharp swords suspended at their sides; With glutted wealth,
they gorge with food and drink:.
It is, the people say,
The boastfulness of brigandage, But surely not the Way!
Set firm in the Way: none shall uproot you; Cherish it well and none
shall estrange you; Your children's children faithful shall serve Your
forebears at the altar of your house.
Cultivate the Way yourself,
and your Virtue will be genuine.
Cultivate it in the home,
and its Virtue will overflow.
Cultivate it in the village,
and the village will endure.
Cultivate it in the realm,
and the realm will flourish.
Cultivate it in the world,
and Virtue will be universal.
One will be judged by the Man of the Way;
Homes will be viewed through the Home of the Way; And the Village shall
measure the village;
And the Realm, for all realms, shall be standard;
And the World, to this world, shall be heaven.
How do I know the world is like this?
Rich in virtue, like an infant, Noxious insects will not sting him; Wild
beasts will not attack his flesh Nor birds of-prey sink claws in him.
His bones are soft, his sinews weak, His grip is nonetheless robust;
Of sexual union unaware,
His organs all completely formed, His vital force is at its height.
He shouts all day, does not get hoarse: His person is a harmony.
Harmony experienced is known as constancy; Constancy experienced is
called enlightenment; Exuberant vitality is ominous, they say;
A bent for vehemence is called aggressiveness.
That things with age decline in strength, You well may say, suits not
the Way; And not to suit the Way is early death.
Those who know do not talk And talkers do not know.
Stop your senses,
Close tlie doors;
Let sharp things be blunted, Tangles resolved,
The light tempered
And turmoil subdued;
For this is mystic unity
In which the Wise Man is moved N either by affection
Nor yet by estrangement
Or profit or loss
Or honor or shame. Accordingly, by all the world, He is held highest.
"Govern the realm by the right, And battles by stratagem."
The world is won by refraining. How do I know this is so?
As taboos increase; people grow poorer; When weapons abound, the state
grows chaotic;. Where .s~ill.~m.ll!!!pJY.l...novelties flourish;
As statutes increase, mo~e crim~~ls~~!..
So the Wise Man will say:
As I refrain, the people will reform; Since I like quiet, they will keep
order; When I forebear, the people will prosper; When I want nothing,
they will be honest.
Listlessly govel"!1';" lI~y your peop~ei Govern exact~
_. ._-~-.- .-.
"Bad fortune will
Promote the good; Good fortune, too, Gives rise to bad."
But who can know to what that leads? For it is wrong and would assign
To right the strangest derivations And would mean that goodness
Is produced by magic means!
Has man thus been so long astray?
Accordingly, the Wise Man
Is square but not sharp,
Honest but not malign,
Straight but not severe,
Bright but not dazzling.
"For ruling men or serving God, 'IJ1ere's nothing else like stores saved
By "stores saved up" is meant forehandedness, Accumulated Virtue, such
Can resist it and its limit
None can guess: such infinite resource
Allows the jurisdiction of the king;
Whose kingdom then will long endure
If it provides the Mother an abode.
Indeed it is the deeply rooted base,
The firm foundation of the Way
To immortality of self and name.
Rule a large countJ:Y
~s~m~~ fish ..!lr~ cooked.
The evil spirits of the world
Lose sanction as divinities
When government proceeds
According to the Way;
But even if they do not lose
Their ghostly countenance and right,
The people take no harm from them; And if the spirits cannot hurt the
folk, The Wise Man surely does no hurt to them.
Since then the Wise Man and the people Harm each other not at all,
Their several virtues should converge.
The ~reat laJ1d is~ place
To which the streams descend;
If is the concourse arid .
The f~~~le of ihe woild: Quiescent, underneath,
It overcomes the male.
By quietness and by humility
The great land then puts down the small And gets it for its own;
But small lands too absorb the ~eat
Bx. their sub~ervience.
Thus some lie low, designing conquest's ends; While others lowly are, by
To conquer all the rest.
The great land's foremost need is to increase The number of its folk;
The small land needs above all else to find Its folk more room to work.
That both be served and each attain its goal The great land should
Like the gods of the shrine in the home, So the Way and its mystery
In the world of mat~"ia1 things:
The good man's treasure,
The bad man's refuge.
Fair wordage is ever for sale;
Fair manners are worn like a cloak; But why should there be such a waste
Of the badness in men?
On the day of the emperor's crowning, When the three noble dukes are
appointed, Better than chaplets of jade
Drawn by a team of four horses,
Bring the Way as your tribute.
How used the ancients to honor the Way? Didn't they say that the seeker
may find it, And that sinners who find are forgiven? So did they lift up
the Way and its Virtue Above everything-else in the world.
Act in repose;
Be at rest when you work; Relish unflavored things. Great or small,
Frequent or rare, Requite anger with virtue.
Take hard jobs in hand
While they are easy;
And great affairs t()o
.While they are s~all.
The troubles of the world
Cannot be solved except.
Before they grow too hard.
The business of the world
Cannot be done except
While relatively small.
The Wise Man, then, throughout his life Does nothing great and yet
A greatness of his own.
Again, a promise lightly made Inspires little confidence;
Or often trivial, sure that man
Will often come to grief.
Choosing hardship, then, the Wise Man Never meets with hardship all his
A thing that is still is easy to hold. Given no omen, it is easy to
plan. Soft things are easy to melt.
Small particles scatter easily.
The time to take care is before it is done.
Establish order before cO!lfusion sets in.
Tree trunks around which you can reach with
your arms were at first only minuscule sprouts. A nine-storied terrace
began with a clod.
A thousand-mile journey began with a foot put down.
Doing sE.0il~j1, grabbing misses it; Sollie Wise Man refrains from doing
arid ooesri't spoil anytliingj' He grabs at nothing and so never misses.
People are constantly spoiling a project when
it lacks only a step to completion.
To avoid making a mess of it, be as careful of
the end as you were of the beginriing. .
So the Wise Man wants the unwanted; he sets no high value on anything
because it is hard
to get. He studies what others neglect
and restores to the world what multitudes have passed by. His object is
to restore everything to its natural course, but he
dares take no steps to that end.
Those ancients who were skilled in the Way Did not enlighten people by
But had them ever held in ignorance:
The more the folk know what is going on The harder it becomes to govern
For public knowledge of the government
Is such a thief that it will spoil the realm; But when good fortune
brings good times to all The land is ruled without publicity.
To know the difference between these two Involves a standard to be
sought and found.
To know that standard always, everywhere,
Is mystic Virtue, justly known as such;
Which Virtue is so deep and reaching far,
It causes a return, things going back
To that prime concord which at first all shared.
How could the rivers and the seas Become like kings to valleys? Because
of skill in lowliness
They have become the valley's lords.
So then to be above the folk,
You speak as if you were beneath; And if you wish to be out front, Then
act as if you were behind.
The Wise Man so is up above But is no burden to the folk; His station is
ahead of them
To see they do not come to harm.
The world will gladly help along
The Wise Man and will bear no grudge. Since he contends not for his own
The world will not contend with him.
Everywhere, they say the Way, our doctrine, Is so very like detested
But greatness of its own alone explains Why it should be thus held
beyond the pale. Jf it were only orthodox, long since
It would have seemed a small and petty thing!
I have to keep three treasures well secured: The first, compassion;
And third, I say that never would I once Presume that I should be the
whole world's chief.
Given compassion, I can take courage; Given frugality, I can abound;
If I can be the world's most humble man, Then I can be its highest
Bravery today knows no compassion; Abundance is, without frugality,
And eminence without humility:
This is the death indeed of all our hope.
In battle, 'tis compassion wins the day; befending,'tis compassion-
tl1at i~ firm:
Compassion arms the people God woufd savel
A skillful soldier is not violent;
An able fighter does not rage;
A mighty conqueror does not give battle; A great commander is a humble
You may call this pacific virtue;
Or say that it is mastery of men;
Or that it is rising to the measure of God, Or to the stature of the
The strategists have a saying: "If I cannot be host, Then let me be
guest. But if I dare not advance Even an inch,
Then let me retire a foot."
This is what they call
A campaign without a march, Sleeves up but no bare arms, Shooting but no
enemies, Or arming without weapons.
Than helpless enemies, nothing is worse: To them I lose my treasures.
When opposing enemies meet,
The compassionate man is the winner!
My words are easy just to understand: To live by them is very easy too;
Yet it appears that none in all the world Can understand or make them
come to life.
My words have ancestors, my works a prince; Since none know this,
unknown I too remain. But honor comes to me when least I'm known: The
Wise Man, with a jewel in his breast, Goes clad in garments made of
:ro know that you are ignorant is best;
To know what you do not, is a disease; But if you recognize the malady
Of mind for what it is, then that is health.
The Wise Man has indeed a healthy mind; He sees an aberration as it is
And for that reason never will be ill.
If people do not dread your majesty,
A greater dread will yet descend on them.
See then you do not cramp their dwelling place, Or immolate their
children or their stock, Nor anger them by your own angry ways.
It is the Wise Man's way to know himself, And never to reveal his inward
He loves himself but so, is not set up;
He chooses this in preference to that.
A brave man who dares to, will kill;
A brave man who dares not, spares life; And from them both come good and
ill. "God hates some folks, but who knows why?" The Wise Man hesitates
God's Way is bound to conquer all
But not by strife does it proceed.
Not by words does God get answers:
He calls them not and all things come. Master plans unfold but slowly,
Like God's wide net enclosing all:
Its mesh is coarse but none are lost.
The people do not fear at all to die;
What's gained therefore by threat'ning them with deatl1J If you could
always make them fear decease,
As if it were a strange evenf and rare,
Who then would dare to take and slaughter them?
The executioner is always set
To slay, but those who substitute for him
Are like the would-be master carpenters
Who try to chop as that skilled craftsman does
And nearly always mangle their own hands!
The people starve because of those Above them, who consume by tax
In grain and kind more than their right. For this, the people are in
The people are so hard to rule Because of those who are above them,
Whose interference makes distress. For this, they are so hard to rule.
The people do not fear to die;
They too demand to live secure:
For this, they do not fear to die.
So they, without the means to live, In virtue rise above those men
Who value life above its worth.
Alive, a man is supple, soft;
In death, unbending, rigorous. All creatures, grass and trees, alive Are
plastic but are pliant too, And dead, are friable and dry.
Unbend~g- ri~or is the mate of death, Aiidyielding.!'oftness, company of
life: Unbending soldiers get no victories;
The stiffest tree is readiest for the axe.
The strong and mighty topple from their place; The soft and yielding
rise above them all.
Is not God's Way much like a bow well bent? The upper part has been
disturbed, pressed down; The lower part is raised up from its place;
The slack is taken up; the slender width
Is broader drawn; for thus the Way of God
Cuts people down when they have had too much, And fills the bowls of
those who are in want. But not the way of man will work like this:
The people who have not enough are spoiled
For tribute to the rich and surfeited.
Who can benefit the world
From stored abundance of his own? He alone who has the Way,
The Wise Man who can act apart And not depend on others' whims; But not
because of his high rank Will he succeed; he does not wish To flaunt
Nothing is weaker than water,
But when it attacks something hard Or resistant, then nothing withstands
it, And nothing will alter its way,
Eve!yon~ .Jqtows this, that weakness prevails (Jver strength and that
gentleness conquers 1'Iieaaamant hTri<Irance of men, but that
NobodY ~J!i§Ilstr~tes how it is so,"
Because of this the Wise Man says
That only one who bears the nation's shame Is fit to be its hallowed
That only one who takes upon himself The evils of the world may be its
This is paradox,
How can you think it is good
To settle a grievance too great
To ignore, when the settlement Surely evokes other piques?
The Wise Man therefore will select
The left-hand part of contract tallies: He will not put the debt on
other men. This virtuous man promotes agreement; The vicious man allots
"Impartial though the Way of God may be, It always favors good men."
The ideal land is small Its people very few, Where tools abound Ten
times or yet
A hundred-fold Beyond their use; Where people die And die again
But never emigrate; Have boats and carts Which no one rides. Weapons
have they And armor too,
But none displayed. The folk returns
To use again
The knotted cords. Their meat is sweet; Their clothes adorned, Their
homes at peace, Their customs charm.
And neighbor lands Are juxtaposed
So each may hear The barking dogs, The crowing cocks Across the way;
Where folks grow old And folks will die And never once Exchange a call.
As honest words may not sound fine, Fine words may nofbe honest ones-;
A good man does~ofar~e1_a§~ All ~u_er may not !:!.e_gQfJ<fl
The knowers are not learned men
Andlearned . meil- may never. know.;
The Wise Man does not hoard his things; Hard-pressed, from serving other
men, He has enough and some to spare;
But having given all he had,
He then is very rich indeed.
God's Way is gain that works no harm; The Wise Man's way, to do his work
Without contending for a crown.