Translated by Charles Muller
December 20, 2015
Table of Contents
|1.||The Way that can be followed is not the eternal Way|
|2.||All in the world recognize the beautiful as beautiful|
|3.||If you do not adulate the worthy...|
|4.||The Way is so vast...|
|5.||Heaven and Earth are not humane...|
|6.||The valley spirit never dies...|
|7.||Heaven and Earth last forever...|
|8.||The highest goodness is like water...|
|9.||To hold until full is not as good as stopping...|
|10.||Pacifying the agitated material soul...|
|11.||Thirty spokes join together in the hub...|
|12.||The five colors blind our eyes...|
|13.||Accept humiliation as a surprise...|
|14.||Look for it, it cannot be seen...|
|15.||The ancient masters of the Way...|
|16.||Effect emptiness to the extreme...|
|17.||From great antiquity forth they have known and possessed it...|
|18.||When the great Way perishes...|
|19.||Get rid of “holiness”...|
|20.||Get rid of “learning”...|
|21.||The form of great virtue...|
|22.||The imperfect is completed...|
|23.||To speak little is natural...|
|24.||Standing on tiptoe, you are unsteady...|
|25.||There is something that is perfect in its disorder...|
|26.||Heaviness is the root of lightness...|
|27.||A good traveler leaves no tracks...|
|28.||Know the Masculine, cleave to the Feminine...|
|29.||If you want to grab the world and run it...|
|30.||If you used the Way as a principle for ruling...|
|31.||Sharp weapons are inauspicious instruments...|
|32.||The Way is always nameless...|
|33.||If you understand others you are smart...|
|34.||The Way is like a great flooding river...|
|35.||Holding to the Great Form...|
|36.||That which will be shrunk...|
|37.||The Way is always “not-doing”...|
|38.||Superior virtue is not virtuous...|
|39.||These in the past have attained wholeness...|
|40.||Return is the motion of the Way...|
|41.||When superior students hear of the Way...|
|42.||The Way produces one, one produces two...|
|43.||The softest thing in the world...|
|44.||Which is dearer, fame or your life?|
|45.||Great perfection seems flawed...|
|46.||When the Way prevails in the land...|
|47.||Without going out the door, knowing everything...|
|48.||In studying, each day something is gained...|
|49.||The sage has no fixed mind...|
|50.||Coming into life and entering death...|
|51.||Way gives birth to it...|
|52.||All things have a beginning, which we can regard as their Mother...|
|53.||If I had just a little bit of wisdom...|
|54.||The well-established cannot be uprooted...|
|55.||One who remains rich in virtuous power...|
|56.||One who knows does not speak...|
|57.||Use fairness in governing the state...|
|58.||When the government is laid back...|
|59.||In governing the country and serving Heaven...|
|60.||Governing a large country is like cooking a small fish...|
|61.||The great state should be like a river basin...|
|62.||The Way is hidden deeply in all things...|
|63.||Do without “doing”...|
|64.||That which is at rest is easy to grasp...|
|65.||The ancients who were skillful at the Way...|
|66.||The reason the river and sea can be regarded as...|
|67.||The reason everybody calls my Way great...|
|68.||The best warrior is never aggressive...|
|69.||Strategists have a saying...|
|70.||My words are easy to understand...|
|71.||There is nothing better than to know that you don't know...|
|72.||When the people do not fear your might...|
|73.||If you are courageous in daring you will die...|
|74.||If the people don't fear death...|
|75.||The reason people starve...|
|76.||When people are born they are gentle and soft...|
|77.||The Way of Heaven...|
|78.||Nothing in the world is softer than water...|
|79.||After calming great anger...|
|80.||Let there be a small country with few people...|
|81.||True words are not fancy...|
First Translation Completed 7/12/91
When citing please use the URL: http://www.acmuller.net/con-dao/daodejing.html
1. The Way that can be followed is not the eternal Way
The Way that can be followed is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth
While naming is the origin of the myriad things.
Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery
Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.
These two are the same—
When they appear they are named differently.
This sameness is the mystery,
Mystery within mystery;
The door to all marvels.
2. All in the world recognize the beautiful as beautiful
All in the world recognize the beautiful as beautiful.
Herein lies ugliness.
All recognize the good as good.
Herein lies evil.
Presence and absence produce each other.
Difficulty and ease bring about each other.
Long and short delimit each other.
High and low rest on each other.
Sound and voice harmonize each other.
Front and back follow each other.
Therefore the sage abides in the condition of wu-wei (unattached action).
And carries out the wordless teaching.
Here, the myriad things are made, yet not separated.
Therefore the sage produces without possessing,
Acts without expectations
And accomplishes without abiding in her accomplishments.
It is precisely because she does not abide in them
That they never leave her.
3. If you do not adulate the worthy...
If you do not adulate the worthy, you will make others non-contentious.
If you do not value rare treasures, you will stop others from stealing.
If people do not see desirables, they will not be agitated.
Therefore, when the sage governs,
He clears people's minds,
Fills their bellies,
Weakens their ambition and
Strengthens their bones.
If the people are kept without cleverness and desire
It will make the intellectuals not dare to meddle.
Acting without contrivance, there is no lack of manageability.
4. The Way is so vast...
The Way is so vast that when you use it, something is always left.
How deep it is!
It seems to be the ancestor of the myriad things.
It blunts sharpness
Softens the glare
Unifies with the mundane.
It is so full!
It seems to have remainder.
It is the child of I-don't-know-who.
And prior to the primeval Lord-on-high.
5. Heaven and Earth are not humane...
Heaven and Earth are not humane,
And regard the people as straw dogs.
The sage is not humane,
And regards all things as straw dogs.
The space between Heaven and Earth is just like a bellows:
Empty it, it is not exhausted.
Squeeze it and more comes out.
Investigating it with a lot of talk
Is not like holding to the center.
6. The valley spirit never dies...
The valley spirit never dies.
It is called “the mysterious female.”
The opening of the mysterious female
Is called “the root of Heaven and Earth.”
Continuous, seeming to remain.
Use it without exertion.
7. Heaven and Earth last forever...
天長地久。天地所以能長且久者、以其不自生。故能長生 是以聖人、後其身而身先、外其身而身 電非以其無私邪。故能成其私。
Heaven and Earth last forever.
The reason that Heaven and Earth are able to last forever
Is because they do not give birth to themselves.
Therefore, they are always alive.
Hence, the sage puts herself last and is first.
She is outside herself and therefore her self lasts.
Is it not through her selflessness
That she is able to perfect herself?
8. The highest goodness is like water...
The highest goodness is like water.
Water easily benefits all things without struggle.
Yet it abides in places that men hate.
Therefore it is like the Way.
For dwelling, the Earth is good.
For the mind, depth is good.
The goodness of giving is in the timing.
The goodness of speech is in honesty.
In government, self-mastery is good.
In handling affairs, ability is good.
If you do not wrangle, you will not be blamed.
9. To hold until full is not as good as stopping...
持而盈之、不如其已。瑞而梲之、不可長保。 金玉滿堂、莫之能守。 富貴而驕、自遺其咎。 功遂身退、天之道。
To hold until full is not as good as stopping.
An oversharpened sword cannot last long.
A room filled with gold and jewels cannot be protected.
Boasting of wealth and virtue brings your demise.
After finishing the work, withdraw.
This is the Way of Heaven.
10. Pacifying the agitated material soul...
Pacifying the agitated material soul and holding to oneness:
Are you able to avoid separation?
Focusing your energy on the release of tension:
Can you be like an infant?
In purifying your insight:
Can you un-obstruct it?
Loving the people and ruling the state:
Can you avoid over-manipulation?
In opening and closing the gate of Heaven:
Can you be the female?
In illuminating the whole universe:
Can you be free of rationality?
Give birth to it and nourish it.
Produce it but don't possess it.
Act without expectation.
Excel, but don't take charge.
This is called Mysterious Virtue.
11. Thirty spokes join together in the hub...
Thirty spokes join together in the hub.
It is because of what is not there that the cart is useful.
Clay is formed into a vessel.
It is because of its emptiness that the vessel is useful.
Cut doors and windows to make a room.
It is because of its emptiness that the room is useful.
Therefore, what is present is used for profit.
But it is in absence that there is usefulness.
12. The five colors blind our eyes...
The five colors blind our eyes.
The five tones deafen our ears.
The five flavors confuse our taste.
Racing and hunting madden our minds.
Possessing rare treasures brings about harmful behavior.
Therefore the sage acts from his gut, and not from his eyes.
He lets go of that and chooses this.
13. Accept humiliation as a surprise...
Accept humiliation as a surprise.
Value great misfortune as your own self.
What do I mean by “Accept humiliation as a surprise”?
When you are humble
Attainment is a surprise
And so is loss.
That's why I say, “Accept humiliation as a surprise.”
What do I mean by “Value great misfortune as your own self”?
If I have no self, how could I experience misfortune?
Therefore, if you dedicate your life for the benefit of the world,
You can rely on the world.
If you love dedicating yourself in this way,
You can be entrusted with the world.
14. Look for it, it cannot be seen...
Look for it, it cannot be seen.
It is called the distant.
Listen for it, it cannot be heard.
It is called the rare.
Reach for it, it cannot be gotten.
It is called the subtle.
These three ultimately cannot be fathomed.
Therefore they join to become one.
Its top is not bright;
Its bottom is not dark;
Existing continuously, it cannot be named and it returns to no-thingness.
Thus, it is called the formless form,
The image of no-thing.
This is called the most obscure.
Go to meet it, you cannot see its face.
Follow it, you cannot see its back.
By holding to the ancient Way
You can manage present existence
And know the primordial beginning.
This is called the very beginning thread of the Way.
15. The ancient masters of the Way...
The ancient masters of the Way
Had subtle marvelous mystic penetration
A depth that cannot be known.
It is exactly because that they are unknowable
That we are forced to pay attention to their appearance.
Hesitant, like one crossing an ice-covered river.
Ready, like one afraid of his neighbors on all sides.
Dignified, like a guest.
Loose, like ice about to melt.
Straightforward, like an uncarved block of wood.
Open, like a valley.
Obscure, like muddy water.
Who can be muddled, and use clarity to gradually become lucid?
Who can be calm, and use constant application for eventual success?
The one who holds to this path does not crave fulfillment.
Precisely because he does not crave fulfillment
He can be shattered
And do without quick restitution.
16. Effect emptiness to the extreme...
Effect emptiness to the extreme.
Keep stillness whole.
Myriad things act in concert.
I therefore watch their return.
All things flourish and each returns to its root.
Returning to the root is called quietude.
Quietude is called returning to life.
Return to life is called constant.
Knowing this constant is called illumination.
Acting arbitrarily without knowing the constant is harmful.
Knowing the constant is receptivity, which is impartial.
Impartiality is kingship.
Kingship is Heaven.
Heaven is the Way
the Way is eternal.
Though you lose the body, you do not die.
17. From great antiquity forth they have known and possessed it...
From great antiquity forth they have known and possessed it.
Those of the next level loved and praised it.
The next were in awe of it.
And the next despised it.
If you lack sincerity no one will believe you.
How careful she is with her precious words!
When her work is complete and her job is finished,
Everybody says: “We did it!”
18. When the great Way perishes...
When the great Way perishes
There is humaneness and rightness.
When intelligence is manifest
There is great deception.
When the six relationships are not in harmony
There is filial piety and compassion.
When the country is in chaos
Loyal ministers appear.
19. Get rid of “holiness”...
Get rid of “holiness”and abandon “wisdom”and the people will benefit a hundredfold.
Get rid of “humaneness”and abandon “rightness”and the people will return to filial piety and compassion.
Get rid of cleverness and abandon profit, and thieves and gangsters will not exist.
Since the above three are merely words, they are not sufficient.
Therefore there must be something to include them all.
See the origin and keep the non-differentiated state.
Lessen selfishness and decrease desire.
20. Get rid of “learning”...
絕學無憂。唯之與阿、相去幾何。善之與惡、相去若何。人之所畏、不可不畏。荒兮其未矣哉。衆人煕煕、如享太牢、如春登臺。我獨泊兮其未兆、如嬰兒之未孩。 儽儽 兮若無所歸。衆人皆有餘。而我獨若遺。我愚人之心也哉。沌沌兮。俗人昭昭。我獨昏昏。俗人察察。我獨悶悶。澹兮其若海、 飂 兮若無止。衆人皆有以。而我獨頑似部。我獨異於 人、而貴食母。
Get rid of “learning”and there will be no anxiety.
How much difference is there between “yes”and “no”?
How far removed from each other are “good”and “evil”?
Yet what the people are in awe of cannot be disregarded.
I am scattered, never having been in a comfortable center.
All the people enjoy themselves, as if they are at the festival of the great sacrifice,
Or climbing the Spring Platform.
I alone remain, not yet having shown myself.
Like an infant who has not yet laughed.
Weary, like one despairing of no home to return to.
All the people enjoy extra
While I have left everything behind.
I am ignorant of the minds of others.
While average people are clear and bright, I alone am dull and dim.
Average people know everything.
To me alone all seems covered.
Like the ocean.
It seems there is no place to rest.
Everybody has a goal in mind.
I alone am as ignorant as a bumpkin.
I alone differ from people.
I enjoy being nourished by the mother.
21. The form of great virtue...
The form of great virtue is something that only the Way can follow.
The Way as a “thing”is only vague and obscure.
How obscure! How vague! In it there is form.
How vague! How obscure! In it are things.
How deep! How dark! In it there is an essence.
The essence is so real—therein is belief.
From the present to antiquity, its name has never left it, so we can examine all origins.
How do I know the form of all origins?
22. The imperfect is completed...
The imperfect is completed.
The crooked is straightened.
The empty is filled.
The old is renewed.
With few there is attainment.
With much there is confusion.
Therefore the sage grasps the one and becomes the model for all.
She does not show herself, and therefore is apparent.
She does not affirm herself, and therefore is acknowledged.
She does not boast and therefore has merit.
She does not strive and is therefore successful.
It is exactly because she does not contend, that nobody can contend with her.
How could the ancient saying, “The imperfect is completed” be regarded as empty talk?
Believe in the complete and return to it.
23. To speak little is natural...
To speak little is natural.
Therefore a gale does not blow a whole morning
Nor does a downpour last a whole day.
Who does these things? Heaven and Earth.
If even Heaven and Earth cannot force perfect continuity
How can people expect to?
Therefore there is such a thing as aligning one's actions with the Way.
If you accord with the Way you become one with it.
If you accord with virtue you become one with it.
If you accord with loss you become one with it.
The Way accepts this accordance gladly.
Virtue accepts this accordance gladly.
Loss also accepts accordance gladly.
If you are untrustworthy, people will not trust you.
24. Standing on tiptoe, you are unsteady...
Standing on tiptoe, you are unsteady.
Straddle-legged, you cannot go.
If you show yourself, you will not be seen.
If you affirm yourself, you will not shine.
If you boast, you will have no merit.
If you promote yourself, you will have no success.
Those who abide in the Way call these
Leftover food and wasted action
And all things dislike them.
Therefore the person of the Way does not act like this.
25. There is something that is perfect in its disorder...
有物混成、先天地生。寂兮寥兮。獨立不改、周行而不殆。可以爲天下母。吾不知其名。字之曰道。強爲之名曰大。大曰逝。逝曰遠。遠曰反。故道大。天大。地 大。人亦大。域中有四大、而人居其一焉。人法地 地法天 天法道 道法自然。
There is something that is perfect in its disorder
Which is born before Heaven and Earth.
So silent and desolate! It establishes itself without renewal.
Functions universally without lapse.
We can regard it as the Mother of Everything.
I don't know its name.
Hence, when forced to name it, I call it “Way.”
When forced to categorize it, I call it “great.”
Greatness entails transcendence.
Transcendence entails going-far.
Going-far entails return.
Hence, the Way is great, Heaven is great, the Earth is great
And the human is also great.
Within our realm there are four greatnesses and the human being is one of them.
Human beings follow the Earth.
Earth follows Heaven
Heaven follows the Way
The Way follows things as they are.
26. Heaviness is the root of lightness...
Heaviness is the root of lightness.
Composure is the ruler of instability.
Therefore the sage travels all day
Without putting down his heavy load.
Though there may be spectacles to see
He easily passes them by.
This being so
How could the ruler of a large state
Be so concerned with himself as to ignore the people?
If you take them lightly you will lose your roots.
If you are unstable, you will lose your rulership.
27. A good traveler leaves no tracks...
善行無轍迹、善言無瑕謫、善數無用籌策。善閉無關 楗 、而不可開。善結無繩約、而不可解。是以聖人、 常善救人。故無棄人。常善救物。故無棄物。是謂襲明。故善人者、不善人之師、不善人者、善人之資、不貴其師、不愛其資。雖智大迷。是謂要妙。
A good traveler leaves no tracks.
Good speech lacks faultfinding.
A good counter needs no calculator.
A well-shut door will stay closed without a latch.
Skillful fastening will stay tied without knots.
It is in this manner that the sage is always skillful in elevating people.
Therefore she does not discard anybody.
She is always skillful in helping things
Therefore she does not discard anything.
This is called “the actualization of her luminosity.”
Hence, the good are the teachers of the not-so-good.
And the not-so-good are the charges of the good.
Not valuing your teacher or not loving your students:
Even if you are smart, you are gravely in error.
This is called Essential Subtlety.
28. Know the Masculine, cleave to the Feminine...
Know the Masculine, cleave to the Feminine
Be the valley for everyone.
Being the valley for everyone
You are always in virtue without lapse
And you return to infancy.
Know the White, cleave to the Black
Be a model for everyone.
Being the model for everyone
You are always in virtue and free from error
You return to limitlessness.
Know Glory but cleave to Humiliation
Be the valley for everyone.
When your constancy in virtue is complete
You return to the state of the “uncarved block.”
The block is cut into implements.
If the sage uses it, he ends up being an official.
Therefore the great tailor does not cut.
29. If you want to grab the world and run it...
將欲取天下而爲之、吾見其不得已。天下神器。不可爲也。爲者敗之、執者失之。故物或行或隨、或歔或吹、或強或羸、或載或 隳 。是以聖人、去甚、去奢、去泰。
If you want to grab the world and run it
I can see that you will not succeed.
The world is a spiritual vessel, which can't be controlled.
Manipulators mess things up.
Grabbers lose it. Therefore:
Sometimes you lead
Sometimes you follow
Sometimes you are stifled
Sometimes you breathe easy
Sometimes you are strong
Sometimes you are weak
Sometimes you destroy
And sometimes you are destroyed.
Hence, the sage shuns excess
30. If you used the Way as a principle for ruling...
If you used the Way as a principle for ruling
You would not dominate the people by military force.
What goes around comes around.
Where the general has camped
Thorns and brambles grow.
In the wake of a great army
Come years of famine.
If you know what you are doing
You will do what is necessary and stop there, not daring to use force.
Accomplish but don't boast
Accomplish without show
Accomplish without arrogance
Accomplish without grabbing
Accomplish without forcing.
When things flourish they decline.
This is called non-Way
The non-Way is short-lived.
31. Sharp weapons are inauspicious instruments...
Sharp weapons are inauspicious instruments.
Everyone hates them.
Therefore the man of the Way is not comfortable with them.
In the domestic affairs of the gentleman
The left is the position of honor.
In military affairs the right is the position of honor.
Since weapons are inauspicious instruments, they are not the instruments of the gentleman
So he uses them without enjoyment
And values plainness.
Victory is never sweet.
Those for whom victory is sweet
Are those who enjoy killing.
If you enjoy killing, you cannot gain the trust of the people.
On auspicious occasions the place of honor is on the left.
On inauspicious occasions the place of honor is on the right.
The lieutenant commander stands on the left.
The commander-in-chief stands on the right.
And they speak, using the funerary rites to bury them.
The common people, from whom all the dead have come
Weep in lamentation.
The victors bury them with funerary rites.
32. The Way is always nameless...
道常無名 樸雖小、天下莫能臣也。侯王若能守之、萬物將自賓。天地相合、以降甘露。民莫之令而自均。始制有名。名亦旣有、夫亦將知止。知止所以不殆。譬道之在天下、猶川谷 之於江海。
The Way is always nameless.
And even though a sapling might be small
No one can make it be his subject.
If rulers could embody this principle
The myriad things would follow on their own.
Heaven and Earth would be in perfect accord
And rain sweet dew.
People, unable to deal with It on its own terms
And so you have the beginning of division into names.
Since there are already plenty of names
You should know where to stop.
Knowing where to stop, you can avoid danger.
The Way's existence in the world
Is like valley streams running into the rivers and seas.
33. If you understand others you are smart...
If you understand others you are smart.
If you understand yourself you are illuminated.
If you overcome others you are powerful.
If you overcome yourself you have strength.
If you know how to be satisfied you are rich.
If you can act with vigor, you have a will.
If you don't lose your objectives you can be long-lasting.
If you die without loss, you are eternal.
34. The Way is like a great flooding river...
The Way is like a great flooding river. How can it be directed to the left or right?
The myriad things rely on it for their life but do not distinguish it.
It brings to completion but cannot be said to exist.
It clothes and feeds all things without lording over them.
It is always desireless, so we call it “the small.”
The myriad things return to it and it doesn't exact lordship
Thus it can be called “great.”
Till the end, it does not regard itself as Great.
Therefore it actualizes its greatness.
35. Holding to the Great Form...
Holding to the Great Form
All pass away.
They pass away unharmed, resting in Great Peace.
It is for food and music that the passing traveler stops.
When the Way appears from its opening
It is so subtle, it has no taste.
Look at it, you cannot see it.
Listen, you cannot hear it.
You cannot exhaust it.
36. That which will be shrunk...
That which will be shrunk
Must first be stretched.
That which will be weakened
Must first be strengthened.
That which will be torn down
Must first be raised up.
That which will be taken
Must first be given.
This is called “subtle illumination.”
The gentle and soft overcomes the hard and aggressive.
A fish cannot leave the water.
The country's potent weapons
Should not be shown to its people.
37. The Way is always “not-doing”...
The Way is always “not-doing”
Yet there is nothing it doesn't do.
If the ruler is able to embody it
Everything will naturally change.
Being changed, they desire to act.
So I must restrain them, using the nameless “uncarved block (original mind).”
Using the nameless uncarved block
They become desireless.
Desireless, they are tranquil and
All-under-Heaven is naturally settled.
38. Superior virtue is not virtuous...
上德不德、是以有德。下德不失德、是以無德。上德無爲而無以爲、下德爲之而有以爲。上仁爲之而無以爲。上義爲之而有以爲。上禮爲之而莫之應、則攘臂而 扔 之。故失道而後、德。失德而後、仁。失仁而後、義。失義而後、禮。夫禮者、忠信之薄、而亂之首。前識者、道之華、而愚之始。是以大丈夫處其厚、不居其薄。處其實、不居其華。 故、去彼、取此。
Superior virtue is not virtuous
Therefore it has virtue.
Inferior virtue never fails to be virtuous
Therefore it has no virtue.
Superior virtue does not “act”
And has no intentions.
Inferior virtue “acts”
And always has intentions.
But has no intentions.
Superior rightness “acts”
But but has intentions.
Superior propriety “acts”and if you don't respond
They will roll up their sleeves and threaten you.
Thus, when the Way is lost there is virtue
When virtue is lost there is humaneness
When humaneness is lost there is rightness
And when rightness is lost there is propriety.
Now “propriety”is the external appearance of loyalty and sincerity
And the beginning of disorder.
Occult abilities are just flowers of the Way
And the beginning of foolishness.
Therefore the Great Person dwells in the substantial
And not in the superficial.
Rests in the fruit and not in the flower.
So let go of that and grasp this.
39. These in the past have attained wholeness...
These in the past have attained wholeness:
Heaven attains wholeness with its clarity;
The Earth attains wholeness with its firmness;
The Spirit attains wholeness with its transcendence;
The Valley attain wholeness when filled;
The Myriad Things attain wholeness in life;
The Ruler attains wholeness in the correct governance of the people.
In effecting this:
If Heaven lacked clarity it would be divided;
If the Earth lacked firmness it would fly away;
If the spirit lacked transcendence it would be exhausted;
If the valley lacked fullness it would be depleted;
If the myriad things lacked life they would vanish.
If the ruler lacks nobility and loftiness he will be tripped up.
Nobility has lowliness as its root
The High has the Low as its base.
Thus the kings call themselves “the orphan, the lowly, the unworthy.”
Is this not taking lowliness as the fundamental? Isn't it?
In this way you can bring about great effect without burden.
Not desiring the rarity of gems
Or the manyness of grains of sand.
40. Return is the motion of the Way...
Return is the motion of the Way.
Softening is its function.
All things in the cosmos arise from being.
Being arises from non-being.
41. When superior students hear of the Way...
上士聞道、勤而行之。中士聞道、若存若亡。下士聞道、大笑之。不笑不足以爲道。故建言有之。明道若昧。進道若退。夷道若 纇 。上德若谷。大白若辱。廣德若不足。建德若偸。 質眞若渝 大方無隅。大器晩成。大音希聲。大象無形。道隱無名 夫唯道、善貸且成。
When superior students hear of the Way
They strive to practice it.
When middling students hear of the Way
They sometimes keep it and sometimes lose it.
When inferior students hear of the Way
They have a big laugh.
But “not laughing”in itself is not sufficient to be called the Way, and therefore it is said:
The sparkling Way seems dark
Advancing in the Way seems like regression.
Settling into the Way seems rough.
True virtue is like a valley.
The immaculate seems humble.
Extensive virtue seems insufficient.
Established virtue seems deceptive.
The face of reality seems to change.
The great square has no corners.
Great ability takes a long time to perfect.
Great sound is hard to hear.
The great form has no shape.
The Way is hidden and nameless.
This is exactly why the Way is good at developing and perfecting.
42. The Way produces one, one produces two...
The Way produces one, one produces two.
The two produce the three and the three produce all things.
All things submit to yin and embrace yang.
They soften their energy to achieve harmony.
People hate to think of themselves as “orphan,”“lowly,” and “unworthy”
Yet the kings call themselves by these names.
Some lose and yet gain,
Others gain and yet lose.
That which is taught by the people
I also teach:
“The forceful do not choose their place of death.”
I regard this as the father of all teachings.
43. The softest thing in the world...
The softest thing in the world
Will overcome the hardest.
Non-being can enter where there is no space.
Therefore I know the benefit of unattached action.
The wordless teaching and unattached action
Are rarely seen.
44. Which is dearer, fame or your life?
Which is dearer, fame or your life?
Which is greater, your life or possessions?
Which is more painful, gain or loss?
Therefore we always pay a great price for excessive love
And suffer deep loss for great accumulation.
Knowing what is enough, you will not be humiliated.
Knowing where to stop, you will not be imperiled
And can be long-lasting.
45. Great perfection seems flawed...
Great perfection seems flawed, yet functions without a hitch.
Great fullness seems empty, yet functions without exhaustion.
Great straightness seems crooked,
Great skill seems clumsy,
Great eloquence seems stammering.
Excitement overcomes cold, stillness overcomes heat.
Clarity and stillness set everything right.
46. When the Way prevails in the land...
When the Way prevails in the land
Fine horses leisurely graze and fertilize the ground.
When the Way is lacking in the land
War horses are bred outside the city.
Natural disasters are not as bad as not knowing what is enough.
Loss is not as bad as wanting more.
Therefore the sufficiency that comes from knowing what is enough is an eternal sufficiency.
47. Without going out the door, knowing everything...
不出戶、知天下。不 闚 牑 、見天道。其出彌遠、其知彌少。是以聖人不行而知、不見而名、不爲而成。
Without going out the door, knowing everything,
Without peeking out the window shades, seeing the Way of Heaven.
The further you go, the less you know.
Hence the sage
Understands without having to go through the whole process.
Discerns 1 without looking.
Is perfected without striving.
48. In studying, each day something is gained...
In studying, each day something is gained.
In following the Way, each day something is lost.
Lost and again lost.
Until there is nothing left to do.
Not-doing, nothing is left undone.
You can possess the world by never manipulating it.
No matter how much you manipulate
You can never possess the world.
49. The sage has no fixed mind...
The sage has no fixed mind,
She takes the mind of the people as her mind.
I treat the good as good, I also treat the evil as good.
This is true goodness.
I trust the trustworthy, I also trust the untrustworthy.
This is real trust.
When the sage lives with people, she harmonizes with them
And conceals her mind for them.
The sages treat them as their little children.
50. Coming into life and entering death...
出生、入死。生之徒十有三、死之徒十有三。人之生、動之死地亦十有三。夫何故。以其生生之厚。蓋聞、善攝攝生者、陸行不遇 兕 虎、入軍不被甲兵。 兕 無所投其角、虎無所措其爪、兵無所容其刃。夫何 故。以其無死地。
Coming into life and entering death,
The followers of life are three in ten.
The followers of death are three in ten.
Those whose life activity is their death ground are three in ten.
Why is this?
Because they live life grasping for its rich taste.
Now I have heard that those who are expert in handling life
Can travel the land without meeting tigers and rhinos,
Can enter battle without being wounded.
The rhino has no place to plant its horn,
The tiger has no place to place its claws,
Weapons find no place to receive their sharp edges.
Because he has no death-ground.
51. Way gives birth to it...
Way gives birth to it,
Virtue rears it,
Materiality shapes it,
Activity perfects it.
Therefore, there are none of the myriad things who do not venerate the Way or esteem its virtue.
This veneration of the Way and esteeming of its virtue is something they do naturally, without being forced.
Therefore, the Way gives birth.
Its virtue rears, develops, raises, adjusts and disciplines,
Nourishes, covers and protects,
Produces but does not possess,
Acts without expectation,
Leads without forcing.
This is called “Mysterious Virtue.”
52. All things have a beginning, which we can regard as their Mother...
All things have a beginning, which we can regard as their Mother.
Knowing the mother, we can know its children.
Knowing the children, yet still cleaving to the mother
You can die without pain.
Stop up the holes
Shut the doors,
You can finish your life without anxiety.
Open the doors,
Increase your involvements,
In the end you can't be helped.
Seeing the subtle is called illumination.
Keeping flexible is called strength.
Use the illumination, but return to the light.
Don't bring harm to yourself.
This is called “practicing the eternal.”
53. If I had just a little bit of wisdom...
If I had just a little bit of wisdom
I should walk the Great Path and fear only straying from it.
Though the Way is quite broad
People love shortcuts.
The court is immaculate,
While the fields are overgrown with weeds,
And the granaries are empty.
They wear silk finery,
Carry sharp swords,
Sate themselves on food and drink
Having wealth in excess.
They are called thieving braggarts.
This is definitely not the Way.
54. The well-established cannot be uprooted...
The well-established cannot be uprooted.
The well-grasped does not slip away.
Generation after generation carries out the ancestor worship without break.
Cultivate it in yourself and virtue will be real.
Cultivate it in the family and virtue will overflow.
Cultivate it in the town and virtue will be great.
Cultivate it in the country and virtue will abundant.
Cultivate it in the world and virtue will be everywhere.
Therefore, take yourself and observe yourself.
Take the family and observe the family.
Take the town and observe the town.
Take the country and observe the country.
Take the world and observe the world.
How do I know the world as it is?
55. One who remains rich in virtuous power...
含德之厚、比於赤子。蜂 蠆虺 蛇不螫、猛獸不據、攫鳥不持。骨弱筋柔而握固。 未知牝牡之合而全作。精之至也。終日號而不嗄。和之至也。知和曰常、知常曰明。益生曰祥、心使氣曰強。物壯則老、謂之不道。不道早已。
One who remains rich in virtuous power
Is like a newborn baby.
Bees, scorpions and venomous snakes do not bite it,
The wild beasts do not attack it,
Birds of prey do not sink their claws into it.
Though its bones are weak
And muscles soft,
Its grip is strong.
Without knowing of the blending of male and female
S/he is a perfect production,
The ultimate in vitality.
S/he cries all day without getting hoarse.
S/he is the ultimate in harmony.
Understanding harmony is called the Constant.
Knowing the Constant is called illumination.
Nourishing life is called blessing.
Having control of your breath is called strength.
After things blossom they decay, and
This is called the non-Way.
The non-Way expires quickly.
56. One who knows does not speak...
知者不言、言者不知。塞其兌 閉其門 挫其銳 解其紛 和其光 同其塵。是謂玄同。故不可得而親、不可得而疏。不可得而利、不可得而害。不可得而貴、不可得而賤。故爲天下貴。
One who knows does not speak.
One who speaks does not know.
Close your holes, shut your doors,
Soften your sharpness, loosen your knots.
Soften your glare and merge with the everyday.
This is called mysteriously attaining oneness.
Though you cannot possess it, you are intimate with it
And at the same time, distant.
Though you cannot possess it, you are benefitted by it,
And harmed by it.
You cannot possess it, but are esteemed through it
And humbled by it.
Therefore the world values you.
57. Use fairness in governing the state...
Use fairness in governing the state.
Use surprise tactics in war.
Be unconcerned and you will have the world.
How do I know it is like this?
The more regulations there are,
The poorer people become.
The more people own lethal weapons,
The more darkened are the country and clans.
The more clever the people are,
The more extraordinary actions they take.
The more picky the laws are,
The more thieves and gangsters there are.
Therefore the sages say:
I do not force my way and the people transform themselves.
I enjoy my serenity and the people correct themselves.
I do not interfere and the people enrich themselves.
I have no desires
And the people find their original mind.
58. When the government is laid back...
其政悶悶、其民淳淳。其政察察、其民缺缺。禍兮福之所倚、福兮禍之所伏。孰知其極。其無正。正復爲奇、善復爲妖。人之迷、其日固久。是以聖人方而不割、廉 而不 劌 、直而不肆、光而不耀。
When the government is laid back
The people are relaxed.
When the government is nitpicking
The people have anxiety.
Misfortune depends upon fortune.
Fortune conceals misfortune.
What has a definite delimitation?
The normal reverts to strangeness.
Goodness reverts to perversion.
People certainly have been confused for a long time.
Therefore the sage squares things without cutting.
Edges without separating.
Straightens without lining up.
Shines but does not glare.
59. In governing the country and serving Heaven...
In governing the country and serving Heaven
There is nothing like frugality.
Only by being frugal can you recover quickly.
When you recover quickly you accumulate virtue.
Having accumulated virtue,
There is nothing you can't overcome.
When there is nothing you can't overcome
Who knows the limits of your capabilities?
These limits being unfathomable
You can possess the country.
The Mother who possesses the country can be long-living.
This is called “planting the roots deeply and firmly.”
The way to long life and eternal vision.
60. Governing a large country is like cooking a small fish...
Governing a large country is like cooking a small fish.
When you govern people with the Way
Demons will have no power.
Not that they don't have power,
But their power will not harm people.
Not only does their power not harm people:
The sage also doesn't harm people,
Since the two do not harm each other.
They share in each other's virtue.
61. The great state should be like a river basin...
The great state should be like a river basin.
The mixing place of the world,
The feminine of the world.
The feminine always overcomes the masculine by softness
Because softness is lesser.
Therefore if a large state serves a small state
It will gain the small state.
If a small state serves a large state
It will gain the large state.
Therefore some serve in order to gain
And some gain despite their servitude.
The large state wants nothing more
Than to unite and feed its people.
The small state wants nothing more
Than to enter into the service of the right person.
Thus both get what they want.
Greatness lies in placing oneself below.
62. The Way is hidden deeply in all things...
The Way is hidden deeply in all things.
It is the treasure of the good
And the refuge of the not-so-good.
With skillful words you can be successful.
With honorable actions you can be included.
People may not be so good, but how can you deny them?
Therefore, even though there are great jewels brought in by teams of horses at the coronation of the emperor and the installation of the three princes,
This is not as good as staying where you are
And advancing in this Way.
Why did the ancients so value the Way?
You can't say that it was for seeking gain
Or to have punishments to deter crime.
Therefore it is the most prized in the world.
63. Do without “doing”...
Do without “doing.”
Get involved without manipulating.
Taste without tasting.
Make the great small,
The many, few.
Respond to anger with virtue.
Deal with difficulties while they are still easy.
Handle the great while it is still small.
The difficult problems in life
Always start off being simple.
Great affairs always start off being small.
Therefore the sage never deals with the great
And is able to actualize his greatness.
Now light words generate little belief,
Much ease turns into much difficulty.
Therefore the sage treats things as though they were difficult,
And hence, never has difficulty.
64. That which is at rest is easy to grasp...
其安易持、其未兆易謀、其脆易 泮 、其微易散。爲之於未有、治之於未亂。合抱之木、生於毫末。九層之臺、起於累土。千里之行、始於足下。爲者敗之、執者失之。是以聖人、無爲、故無敗。無執、故無失。民之從事、常於幾成而敗之。愼終如 始、則無敗事。是以聖人欲不欲、不貴難得之貨。學不學、復衆人之所過。以輔萬物之自然、而不敢爲。
That which is at rest is easy to grasp.
That which has not yet come about is easy to plan for.
That which is fragile is easily broken.
That which is minute is easily scattered.
Handle things before they arise.
Manage affairs before they are in a mess.
A thick tree grows from a tiny seed.
A tall building arises from a mound of earth.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.
Contriving, you are defeated;
Grasping, you lose.
The sage doesn't contrive, so she isn't beaten.
Not grasping, she doesn't lose.
When people are carrying out their projects
They usually blow it at the end.
If you are as careful at the end
As you were at the beginning,
You won't be disappointed.
Therefore the sage desires non-desire,
Does not value rare goods,
Studies the unlearnable
So that she can correct the mistakes of average people
And aid all things in manifesting their true nature
Without presuming to take the initiative.
65. The ancients who were skillful at the Way...
The ancients who were skillful at the Way
Did not illuminate the people
But rather kept them simple.
When the people are difficult to rule
It is because of their cleverness.
If you use cleverness to rule the state
You are a robber of the state.
If you don't use cleverness to rule the state
You are a blessing to the state.
If you understand these two points, you know the proper norm for governing.
To be continuously understanding the proper norm is called Mysterious Virtue.
How deep and far-reaching Mysterious Virtue is!
It makes all return
Until they reach the Great Norm.
66. The reason the river and sea can be regarded as...
The reason the river and sea can be regarded as
The rulers of all the valley streams
Is because of their being below them.
Therefore they can be their rulers.
So if you want to be over people
You must speak humbly to them.
If you want to lead them
You must place yourself behind them.
Thus the sage is positioned above
And the people do not feel oppressed.
He is in front and they feel nothing wrong.
Therefore they like to push him front and never resent him.
Since he does not contend
No one can contend with him.
67. The reason everybody calls my Way great...
天下皆謂我道大似不肖。夫唯大、故似不肖。若肖、久矣、其細也夫。我有三寶、持而保之。一日慈、二日儉、三日不敢爲天下先。慈、故能勇。儉、故能廣。不敢 爲天下先、故能成器長。今舍慈且勇、舍儉且廣、舍後且先、死矣。夫慈以戰則勝、以守則固 天將救之、以慈衞之。
The reason everybody calls my Way great
Is because there is nothing quite like it.
It is exactly because it isgreat
That there is nothing quite like it.
If there were something that were consistently like it
How could it be small?
I have three treasures thatI hold and cherish.
The first is compassion,
The second is frugality,
The third is not daring to put myself ahead of everybody.
Having compassion, I can be brave.
Having frugality, I can be generous.
Not daring to put myself ahead of everybody
I can take the time to perfect my abilities.
Now if I am brave without compassion
Generous without frugality, or
Go to the fore without putting my own concerns last,
I might as well be dead.
If you wage war with compassion you will win.
If you protect yourself with compassion you will be impervious.
Heaven will take care of you,
Protecting you with compassion.
68. The best warrior is never aggressive...
The best warrior is never aggressive.
The best fighter is never angry.
The best tactician does not engage the enemy.
The best utilizer of people's talents places himself below them.
This is called the virtue of non-contention.
It is called the ability to engage people's talents.
It is called the ultimate in merging with Heaven.
69. Strategists have a saying...
用兵有言、吾不敢爲主而爲客、不敢進寸而退尺。是謂行無行、攘無臂、 扔 無敵、執無兵。禍莫大於輕敵。輕敵幾喪吾寶。故 抗兵相如、哀者勝矣。
Strategists have a saying:
I prefer to be able to move, rather than be in a fixed position
I prefer to retreat a foot rather than advancing an inch.
This is called progress without advancing;
Preparing without showing off;
Smashing where there is no defense;
Taking him without a fight.
There is no greater danger than under-estimating your opponent.
If I under-estimate my opponent
I will lose that which is most dear.
When opponents clash
The one who is sorry about it will be the winner.
70. My words are easy to understand...
My words are easy to understand
And easy to practice.
Yet nobody understands them or practices them.
My words have an origin;
My actions have a principle.
It is only because of your not understanding this
That you do not understand me.
Since there are few who understand me
I am valued.
Therefore the sage wears coarse clothes.
Yet hides a jewel in his bosom.
71. There is nothing better than to know that you don't know...
There is nothing better than to know that you don't know.
Not knowing, yet thinking you know—
This is sickness.
Only when you are sick of being sick
Can you be cured.
The sage's not being sick
Is because she is sick of sickness.
Therefore she is not sick.
72. When the people do not fear your might...
When the people do not fear your might
Then your might has truly become great.
Don't interfere with their household affairs.
Don't oppress their livelihood.
If you don't oppress them they won't feel oppressed.
Thus the sage understands herself
But does not show herself.
But does not prize herself.
Therefore she lets go of that
And takes this.
73. If you are courageous in daring you will die...
勇於敢則殺、勇於不敢則活。此兩者或利、或害。天之所惡、孰知其故。是以聖人猶難之。天之道不爭而善勝、不言而善應、不召而自來、 繟 然而善謀。天網恢恢、疏而不失。
If you are courageous in daring you will die.
If you are courageous in not-daring you will live.
Among these two, one is beneficial and the other is harmful.
Who understands the reason why Heaven dislikes what it dislikes?
Even the sage has difficulty in knowing this.
The Way of Heaven is to win easily without struggle.
To respond well without words,
To naturally come without special invitation,
To plan well without anxiety.
Heaven's net is vast.
It is loose.
Yet nothing slips through.
74. If the people don't fear death...
民不畏死、奈何以死懼之。若使民常畏死、而爲奇者、吾得執而殺之、執敢。常有司殺者殺。夫代司殺者殺、是謂代大匠 斵 。夫代大匠斷者、希有不傷其手矣。
If the people don't fear death
How will you scare them with death?
If you make the people continuously fear death
By seizing anybody who does something out of the ordinary
And killing them,
Who will dare to move?
There is always an official executioner to handle this.
If you play the role of the official executioner
It is like cutting wood in the capacity of Master Carpenter.
There are few who will not cut their hands.
75. The reason people starve...
The reason people starve
Is because their rulers tax them excessively.
They are difficult to govern
Because their rulers have their own ends in mind.
The reason people take death lightly
Is because they want life to be rich.
Therefore they take death lightly.
It is only by not living for your own ends
That you can go beyond valuing life.
76. When people are born they are gentle and soft...
When people are born they are gentle and soft.
At death they are hard and stiff.
When plants are alive they are soft and delicate.
When they die, they wither and dry up.
Therefore the hard and stiff are followers of death.
The gentle and soft are the followers of life.
Thus, if you are aggressive and stiff, you won't win.
When a tree is hard enough, it is cut. Therefore
The hard and big are lesser,
The gentle and soft are greater.
77. The Way of Heaven...
The Way of Heaven
Is like stretching a bow.
The top is pulled down,
The bottom is pulled up.
Excess string is removed
Where more is needed, it is added.
It is the Way of Heaven
To remove where there is excess
And add where there is lack.
The way of people is different:
They take away where there is need
And add where there is surplus.
Who can take his surplus and give it to the people?
Only one who possesses the Way.
Therefore the sage acts without expectation.
Does not abide in his accomplishments.
Does not want to show his virtue.
78. Nothing in the world is softer than water...
Nothing in the world is softer than water,
Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.
This is because nothing can alter it.
That the soft overcomes the hard
And the gentle overcomes the aggressive
Is something that everybody knows
But none can do themselves.
Therefore the sages say:
The one who accepts the dirt of the state
Becomes its master.
The one who accepts its calamity
Becomes king of the world.
Truth seems contradictory.
79. After calming great anger...
After calming great anger
There are always resentments left over.
How can this be considered as goodness?
Therefore the sage keeps her part of the deal,
And doesn't check up on the other person.
The virtuous ascertain the content of the contract itself;
Those without virtue are concerned about it's being exacted. 2
The Heavenly Way has no favorites:
It always raises up the Good.
80. Let there be a small country with few people...
Let there be a small country with few people,
Who, even having much machinery, don't use it.
Who take death seriously and don't wander far away.
Even though they have boats and carriages, they never ride in them.
Having armor and weapons, they never go to war.
Let them return to measurement by tying knots in rope.
Sweeten their food, give them nice clothes, a peaceful abode and a relaxed life.
Even though the next country can be seen and its doges and chickens can be heard,
The people will grow old and die without visiting each other's land.
81. True words are not fancy...
True words are not fancy.
Fancy words are not true.
The good do not debate.
Debaters are not good.
The one who really knows is not broadly learned,
The extensively learned do not really know.
The sage does not hoard,
She gives people her surplus.
Giving her surplus to others she is enriched.
The way of Heaven is to help and not harm.
The way of the Sage is to act without wrangling.
1. The commentarial tradition reads 名 as meaning 明.
2. The interpretation of 司契 and 司徹 here varies considerably among translators. Cf. the translations by D.C. Lau, Richard Llynn, Ellen Chen, John Wu, and others.