When the highest type of men hear the Tao (truth),
they try hard to live in accordance with it.
When the mediocre type hear the Tao,
they seem to be aware and yet unaware of it.
When the lowest type hear the Tao,
They break into loud laughter –
If it were not laughed at, it would not be Tao.
Therefore there is the established saying:
“Who understands Tao seems dull of comprehension;
Who is advance in Tao seems to slip backwards;
Who moves on the even Tao (Path) seems to go up and down.”
Superior character appears like a hollow (valley);
Sheer white appears like tarnished;
Great character appears like infirm;
Pure worth appears like contaminated.
Great space has no corners;
Great talent takes long to mature;
Great music is faintly heard;
Great form has no contour;
And Tao is hidden without a name.
It is this Tao that is adept at lending (its power)
and bringing fulfillment.
Out of Tao, One is born;
Out of One, Two;
Out of Two, Three;
Out of Three, the created universe.
The created universe carries the yin at its back
and the yang in front;
Through the union of the pervading principles it
To be “orphaned,” “lonely” and “unworthy” is what men hate most.
Yet the princes and dukes call themselves by such names.
For sometimes things are benefited by being taken away from,
And suffer by being added to.
Others have taught this maxim,
Which I shall teach also:
“The violent man shall die a violent death.”
This I shall regard as my spiritual teacher.
The softest substance of the world
Goes through the hardest.
That-which-is-without-form penetrates that-which-has-no-crevice;
Through this I know the benefit of taking no action.
The teaching without words
And the benefit of taking no action
Are without compare in the universe.
Fame or one’s own self, which does one love more?
One’s own self or material goods, which has more worth?
Loss (of self) or possession (of goods), which is the greater evil?
Therefore: he who loves most spends most,
He who hoards much loses much.
The contented man meets no disgrace;
Who know when to stop runs into no danger –
He can long endure.
The highest perfection is like imperfection,
And its use is never impaired.
The greatest abundance seems meager,
And its use will never fail.
What s most straight appears devious,
The greatest skill appears clumsiness;
The greatest eloquence seems like stuttering.
Movement overcomes cold,
(But) keeping still overcomes heat.
Who is calm and quiet becomes the guide for the universe.
When the world lives in accord with Tao,
Racing horses are turned back to haul refuse carts.
When the world lives not in accord with Tao,
Cavalry abounds in the countryside.
There is no greater curse than the lack of contentment.
No greater sin than the desire for possession.
Therefore he who is contented with contentment
shall be always content.
Without stepping outside one’s doors,
One can know what is happening in the world,
Without looking out of one’s windows,
One can see the Tao of heaven.
The farther one pursues knowledge,
The less one knows.
Therefore the Sage knows without running about,
Understands without seeing,
Accomplishes without doing.
The student of knowledge (aims at) learning day by day;
The student of Tao (aims at) losing day by day.
By continual losing
One reaches doing nothing (laissez-faire).
He who conquers the world often does so by doing nothing.
When one is compelled to do something,
The world is already beyond his conquering.
The Sage has no decided opinions and feelings,
But regards the people’s opinions and feelings as his own.
The good ones I declare good;
The bad ones I also declare good.
That is the goodness of Virtue.
The honest ones I believe;
The liars I also believe;
That is the faith of Virtue.
The Sage dwells in the world peacefully, harmoniously.
The people of the world are brought into a community of heart,
And the Sage regards them all as his own children.
Out of life, death enters.
The companions (organs) of life are thirteen;
The companions (organs) of death are (also) thirteen.
What send man to death in this life are also (these) thirteen.
How is it so?
Because of the intense activity of multiplying life.
It has been said that the who is a good preserver of hi life
Meets no tigers or wild buffaloes on land,
Is not vulnerable to weapons in the field of battle.
The horns of the wild buffalo are powerless against him.
How is it so?
Because he is beyond death.
Tao gives them birth,
Teh (character) fosters them.
The material world gives them form.
The circumstances of the moment complete them.
Therefore all things of the universe worship Tao and exalt Teh.
Tao is worshipped and Teh is exalted
Without anyone’s order but is so of its own accord.
Therefore Tao gives them birth,
Teh fosters them,
Makes them grow, develops them,
Gives them a harbor, a place to dwell in peace,
Feeds them and shelter them.
It gives them birth and does not own them,
Acts (helps) and does not appropriate them,
Is superior, and does not control them.
– This is the Mystic Virtue.
There was a beginning of the universe
Which may be regarded as the Mother of the Universe.
From the Mother, we may know her sons.
After knowing the sons, keep to the Mother.
Thus one’s whole life may be preserved from harm.
Stop its apertures,
Close its doors,
And one’s whole life is without toil.
Open its apertures,
Be busy about its affairs,
And one’s whole life is beyond redemption.
He who can see the small is clear-sighted;
He who stays by gentility is strong.
use the light,
And return to clear-sightedness –
Thus cause not yourself later distress.
– This is to rest in the Absolute.
If I were possessed of Austere Knowledge,
Walking on the Main Path (Tao),
I would avoid the by-paths.
the Main path is easy to walk on,
Yet people love the small by-paths.
The (official) courts are spic and span,
(While) the fields go untilled,
And the (people’s) granaries are very low.
(Yet) clad in embroidered gowns,
And carrying find swords,
Surfeited with good food and drinks,
(They are) splitting with wealth and possessions.
– This is to lead the world toward brigandage.
Is this not corruption of Tao?
Who is firmly established is not easily shaken.
Who has a firm grasp does not easily let go.
From generation to generation his ancestral sacrifices
Shall be continued without fail.
Cultivated in the individual, character will become genuine;
Cultivated in the family, character will become abundant;
Cultivated in the village, character will multiply;
Cultivated in the state, character will prosper;
Cultivated in the world, character will become universal.
According to (the character of ) the individual,
judge the individual;
According to (the character of ) the family,
judge the family;
According to (the character of ) the village,
judge the village;
According to (the character of ) the state,
judge the state;
According to (the character of ) the world,
judge the world.
How do I know this is so?
Who is rich in character
Is like a child.
No poisonous insects sting him,
No wild beasts attack him,
And no birds of prey pounce upon him.
His bones are soft, his sinews tender, yet his grip is strong.
Not knowing the union of male and female, yet his organs are complete,
Which means his vigor is unspoiled.
Crying the whole day, yet his voice never runs hoarse,
Which means his (natural) harmony is perfect.
To know harmony is to be in accord with the eternal,
(And) to know eternity is called discerning.
(But) to improve upon life is called an ill-omen;
To let go the emotions through impulse is called assertiveness.
(For) things age after reaching their prime;
That (assertiveness) would be against Tao.
And he who is against Tao perishes young.
He who knows does not speak;
He who speaks does not know.
Fill up its apertures,
Close its doors,
Dull its edges,
Untie its tangles,
Soften its light,
Submerge its turmoil,
– This is the Mystic Unity.
Then love and hatred cannot touch him.
Profit and loss cannot reach him.
Honor and disgrace cannot affect him.
Therefore is he always the honored one of the world.
Rule a kingdom by the Normal.
Fight a battle by (abnormal) tactics of surprise.
Win the world by doing nothing.
How do I know it is so?
Through this: –
The more prohibitions there are,
The poorer the people become.
The more sharp weapons there are,
The greater the chaos in the state.
The more skills of technique,
The more cunning things are produced.
The greater the number of statutes,
The greater the number of thieves and
Therefore the sage says:
I do nothing and the people are reformed of themselves.
I love quietude and the people are righteous of themselves.
I deal in no business and the people grow rich by themselves.
I have no desires and the people are simple
and honest by themselves.
When the government is lazy and dull,
Its people are unspoiled;
When the government is efficient and smart,
Its people are discontented.
Disaster is the avenue of fortune,
(And) fortune is the concealment for disaster.
Who would be able to know its ultimate results?
(As it is), there would never be the normal.
But the normal would (immediately) revert to the deceitful.
And the good revert to the sinister.
Thus long has mankind gone astray!
Therefore the Sage is square (has firm principles),
but not cutting (sharp-cornered),
Has integrity but does not hurt (others),
Is straight, but not high-handed,
Bright, but not dazzling.
In managing human affairs, there is no better rule
than to be sparing.
To be sparing is to forestall;
To forestall is to be prepared and strengthened;
To be prepared and strengthened is to be ever-victorious;
To be ever-victorious is to have infinite capacity;
He who has infinite capacity is fit to rule a country,
And the Mother (principle) of a ruling country can long endure.
This is to be firmly rooted, to have deep strength,
The road to immortality and enduring vision.
Rule a big country as you would fry small fish.
Who rules the world in accord with Tao
Shall find that the spirits lose their power.
It is not that the spirits lose their power,
But that they cease to do people harm.
It is not (only) that they cease to do people harm,
The Sage (himself) also does no harm to the people.
When both do not do each other harm,
The original character is restored.
A big country (should be like) the delta low-regions,
Being the concourse of the world,
(And) the Female of the world.
The Female overcomes the Male by quietude,
And achieves the lowly position by quietude.
Therefore if a big country places itself below a small country
It absorbs the small country.
(And) if a small country places itself below a big country,
It absorbs the big country.
Therefore some place themselves low to absorb (others),
Some are (naturally) low and absorb (others).
What a big country wants is but to shelter
And what a small country wants is but
to be able to
come in and be sheltered.
Thus (considering) that both may have what they want,
A big country ought to place itself low.
Tao is the mysterious secret of the universe,
The good man’s treasure,
And the bad man’s refuge.
Beautiful saying can be sold at the market,
Noble conduct can be presented as a gift.
Though there be bad people,
Why reject them?
Therefore on the crowning of an emperor,
On the appointment of the Three Ministers,
Rather than send tributes of jade and teams of four horses,
Send in the tribute of Tao.
Wherein did the ancients prize this Tao?
Did they not say, “to search for the guilty ones and pardon them”?
Therefore is (tao) the treasure of the world.
Attend to no-affairs.
Taste the flavorless.
Whether it is big or small, many or few,
Requite hatred with virtue.
Deal with the difficult while yet it is easy;
Deal wit the big while yet it is small.
The difficult (problems) of the world
Must be dealt with while they are yet easy;
The great (problems) of the world
Must be dealt with while they are yet small.
Therefore the Sage by never dealing with great (problems)
He who lightly makes a promise
Will find it often hard to keep his faith.
He who makes light of many things
Will encounter many difficulties.
Hence even the Sage regards things as difficult,
And for that reason never meets with difficulties.
That which lies still is easy to hold;
That which is not yet manifest is easy to forestall;
That which is brittle (like ice) easily melts;
That which is minute easily scatters.
Deal with a thing before it is there;
Check disorder before it is rife.
A tree with a full span’s girth begins from a tiny sprout;
A nine-storied terrace begins with a clod of earth.
A journey of a thousand li beings at one’s feet.
He who acts, spoils;
He who grasps, lets slip.
Because the Sage does not act, he does not spoil,
Because he does not grasp, he does not let slip.
The affairs of men are often spoiled within an ace of
By being careful at the end as at the beginning
Failure is averted.
Therefore the Sage desires to have no desire,
And values not objects difficult to obtain.
Learns that which is unlearned,
And restores what the multitude have lost.
That he may assist in the course of Nature
And not presume to interfere.
The ancients who knew how to follow the Tao
Aimed not to enlighten the people.,
But to keep them ignorant.
The reason it is difficult for the people to leave in peace
Is because of too much knowledge.
Those who seek to rule a country by knowledge
Are the nation’s curse.
Those who seek not to rule a country by knowledge
Are the nation’s blessing.
Those who know these two (principles)
Also know the ancient standard,
And to know always the ancient standard
Is called the Mystic Virtue.
When the Mystic Virtue becomes clear, far-reaching,
And things revert back (to their source)
Then and then only emerges the Grand Harmony.
How did the great rivers and seas become the Lords
of the ravines?
By being good at keeping low.
That was how they became Lords of the Ravines.
Therefore in order to be the chief among the people,
One must speak like their inferiors.
In order to be foremost among the people,
One must walk behind them.
Thus it is that the Sage stays above,
And the people do not feel his weight;
Walks in front,
And the people do not wish him harm.
Then the people of the world are glad to uphold him forever.
Because he does not contend,
No one in the world can contend against him.
All the world says: my teaching (Tao) greatly resembles folly.
Because it is great; therefore it resembles folly.
If it did not resemble folly,
It would have long ago become petty indeed!
I have Three Treasures;
Guard them and keep them safe:
the first is Love.
The second is, Never too much.
The third is, Never be the first in the world.
Through Love, one has no fear;
Through not doing too much, one has amplitude
(of reserve power);
Through not presuming to be the first in the world,
One can develop one’s talent and let it mature.
If one forsakes love and fearlessness,
forsakes restraint and reserve power,
forsakes following behind and rushes in front,
He is doomed!
For love is victorious in attack,
And invulnerable in defense.
Heaven arms with love
Those it would not see destroyed.
The brave soldier is not violent;
The good fighter does not lose his temper;
The great conqueror does not fight (on small issues);
The good user of men places himself below others.
– This is the virtue of not-contending,
Is called the capacity to use men,
Is reaching to the height of being
Mated to Heaven, to what was of old.
There is the maxim of military strategists;
I dare not be the first to invade, but rather be the invaded.
Dare not press forward an inch, but rather retreat a foot.
That is, to march without formations,
To roll up the sleeves,
To charge not in frontal attacks,
To arm without weapons.
There is no greater catastrophe than to underestimate the enemy.
To underestimate the enemy might entail the loss of my treasures.
Therefore when two equally matched armies meet,
It is the man of sorrow who wins.
My teachings are very easy to understand
and very easy to practice,
But no one can understand them and
no one can practice them.
In my words there is a principle.
In the affairs of men there is a system.
Because they know not these,
They also know me not.
Since there are few that know me,
Therefore I am distinguished.
Therefore the Sage wears a coarse cloth on top
And carries jade within his bosom.
Who knows that he does not know is the highest;
Who (pretends to) know what he does not know is sick-minded.
And who recognizes sick-mindedness as sick-mindedness
is not sick-minded.
The Sage is not sick-minded.
Because he recognizes sick-mindedness as sick-mindness,
Therefore he is not sick-minded.
When people have no fear of force,
Then (as is the common practice) great force descends
Despise not their dwellings,
Dislike not their progeny.
Because you do not dislike them,
You will not be disliked yourself.
Therefore the Sage knows himself, but does not show himself,
Loves himself, but does not exalt himself.
Therefore he rejects the one (force) and
accepts the other (gentility).
Who is brave in daring (you) kill,
Who is brave in not daring (you) let live.
In these two,
There is some advantage and some disadvantage.
(Even if) Heaven dislikes certain people,
Who would know (who are to be killed and) why?
Therefore even the Sage regards it as a difficult question.
Heaven’s Way (Tao) is good at conquest without strife,
Rewarding (vice and virtue) without words,
Making its appearance without call,
Achieving results without obvious design.
The heaven’s net is broad and wide.
With big meshes, yet letting nothing slip through.
The people are not afraid of death;
Why threaten them with death?
Supposing that the people
are afraid of death,
And we can seize and kill the unruly,
Who would dare to do so?
Often it happens that the executioner is killed.
And to take the place of the executioner
Is like handling the hatchet for the master carpenter.
He who handles the hatchet for the master carpenter
seldom escapes injury to his hands.
When people are hungry,
It is because their rulers eat too much tax-grain.
Therefore the unruliness of hungry people
Is due to the interference of their rulers.
That is why they are unruly.
The people are not afraid of death,
Because they are anxious to make a living.
That is why they are not afraid of death.
It is those who interfere not with their living
That are wise in exalting life.
When man is born, he is tender and weak;
At death, he is hard and stiff.
When the things and plants are alive, they are soft
When they are dead, they are brittle and dry.
Therefore hardness and stiffness are the companions of
And softness and gentleness are the companions of life.
Therefore when an army is headstrong, it will lose in a battle.
When a tree is hard, it will be cut down.
The big and strong belong underneath.
The gentle and weak belong at the top.
The Tao (way) of Heaven,
Is it not like the bending of a bow?
The top comes down and the bottom-end goes up,
The extra (length) is shortened, the insufficient (width)
It is the way of Heaven to take away from those that have too much
And give to those that have not enough.
Not so with man’s way:
He takes from those that have not
And gives it as tribute to those that have too much.
Who can have enough and to spare to give to the entire world?
Only the man of Tao.
Therefore the Sage acts, but does not possess,
Accomplishes but lays claim to no credit,
Because he has no wish to seem superior.
There is nothing weaker than water
But none is superior to it in overcoming the hard,
For which there is no substitute.
That weakness overcomes strength
And gentleness overcomes rigidity,
No one does not know;
No one can put into practice.
Therefore the Sage says:
“Who receives unto himself the calumny of the world
Is the preserver of the state.
Who bears himself the sins of the world
Is king of the world.”
Straight words seem crooked.
Patching up a great hatred is sure to leave some hatred behind.
How can this be regarded as satisfactory?
Therefore the Sage holds the left tally,
And does not put the guilt on the other party.
the virtuous man is for patching up;
The vicious is for fixing guilt.
But “the way of Heaven is impartial;
It sides only with the good man.”
(Let there be) a small country with a small population,
Where the supply of goods are tenfold or hundredfold,
more than they can use.
Let the people value their lives and not migrate far.
Though there be boats and carriages,
None be there to ride them.
Though there be armor and weapons,
No occasion to display them.
Let the people again tie ropes for reckoning,
Let them enjoy their food,
Beautify their clothing,
Be satisfied with their homes,
Delight in their customs.
The neighboring settlements overlook one another
So that they can hear the barking of dogs and crowing
of cocks of their neighbors,
And the people till the end of their days shall never
have been outside their country.
True words are not fine-sounding;
Fine-sounding words are not true.
A good man does not argue;
he who argues is not a good man.
the wise one does not know many things;
He who knows many things is not wise.
The Sage does not accumulate (for himself).
He lives for other people,
And grows richer himself;
He gives to other people,
And has greater abundance.
The Tao of Heaven
Blesses, but does not harm.
The Way of the Sage
Accomplishes, but does not contend.
Translation by Lin Yutang