Tao te Ching Text
The Tao te Ching
The Tao that can be spoken of is not the constant Tao.
The name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of life.
It is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Remove your desires and you will see the mystery.
Be filled with desire
and you will see only the manifestation.
These two are the same
yet, they diverge in nature
as they issue forth.
Being the same, they are the source
but the source remains a mystery.
Mystery upon mystery,
the gateway of Tao's manifold secrets.
All people measure beauty
against what they know to be ugliness.
All announce that good is good
only because they reject what they think is bad.
Therefore, something and nothing produce each other.
The difficult and the easy compliment each other.
Long and short influence each other.
High and low arise from each other.
Notes and tone harmonize with each other.
Before and after follow one another.
Thus, one on the pathway of discovering te
acts without striving
and teaches without words.
Deny nothing to the ten thousand things.
Nourish them without claiming authority,
benefit them without demanding gratitude,
do the work, then move on.
And, the fruits of your labor will last forever.
Not seeking credit, the talented avoids rivalry.
Not seeking what can be owned
Not displaying desirable things
prevents the confusion of the heart.
Therefore, one of Tao governs by
emptying the heart of desire
and fills the belly with food,
and strengthens the bones.
If the people are simple and free from desire,
then the empire will be at peace
of its own accord.
Practice action without striving
and all will be in order.
Tao is like an empty vessel,
yet use will not drain it.
Never needing to be filled,
it is the deep and unfathomable source
of the ten thousand things.
Blunt the sharpness.
Untangle the knots.
Soften the glare.
Settle like dust.
Let your wheels move only along old ruts.
it only seems as if it were there.
I know not its name.
It existed before the ten thousand things.
I call it Tao.
Nature is indifferent to life.
It treats all creatures equally
without thought to what must pass.
The truly wise understand its ways.
The universe is like a bellows:
empty, yet quite full and never exhausted.
The more it works, the more comes out.
Many words lead to exhaustion.
Better to hold fast to emptiness.
Yin is like a valley that is always present.
It is the unknown first mother,
whose gate is the root of all things.
Dimly visible, it only seems as if it were there.
Draw from it all you wish;
it will never run dry.
The Yin and Yang are old and last forever.
It is because they are without distinction
that they endure.
The truly wise put the person last;
and find they are at the forefront.
What is not guarded will always be preserved.
One that is detached is one with all.
Without thought of the self
one still accomplishes their private ends.
Highest good is like water.
It benefits the ten thousand things without striving.
It settles in places that people avoid
and so is like Tao.
In choosing your home, look to the land.
In preparing the mind, go deep.
In associating with others, value gentleness.
In speaking, exhibit good faith.
In governing, provide good order.
In the conduct of business, be competent.
In action, be timely.
When there is no strife, there is nothing to be undone.
Rather than fill anything to the brim
it is better to have stopped in time.
You can sharpen a blade
but its sharpness will not last forever.
You can fill your house with precious jade
and you will be forced to guard it.
Demonstrate pride and arrogance
and you will invite your downfall.
Retire when the work is done.
That is the way of Tao.
While carrying on with life in your head
can you embrace its mystery in your arms,
and not let go?
While giving full expression to your vital force
can you make it pliable like that of a newborn babe?
While polishing your mysterious mirror
can you see the world without blemish?
While loving and leading the people
can you do so without interfering?
When the great gate opens and shuts
can you keep to the role of the female?
What is closed will always be made open.
While penetrating the four quarters with your insight
can you still remain simple?
Help all things grow and nourish them.
Yet lay no claim or authority.
Benefit others without seeking gratitude.
Guide them, yet do not control them.
This is the power of mysterious Virtue.
Thirty spokes share the hub of a wheel;
yet it is its center that makes it useful.
You can mould clay into a vessel;
yet, it is its emptiness that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows from the walls of a house;
but the ultimate use of the house
will depend on that part where nothing exists.
Therefore, something is shaped into what is;
but its usefulness comes from what is not.
The five colors interfere with seeing.
The five notes confuse the ear.
The five flavors dull the palate.
Searching always drives the heart wild with excitement.
Goods that are hard to obtain lead one astray.
Therefore, the truly wise
nourish what is for the belly and not the eye,
They reject the 'that' to lay hold of the 'this.'
The ordinary person seeks good fortune, and avoids misfortune,
cherishes success and avoids failure.
These distinctions are like the body.
Good fortune comes to startle as much as when it is taken away.
Those with misfortune cannot understand the reason for their loss.
The sage does not make distinctions,
embraces everything and remains open.
The ordinary person puts themselves
in the center of the universe;
the universe for the sage, is always at the center.
Thus, the sage views the world as their larger body
and are best suited to care for the world;
they love humanity as they love themselves
and can be entrusted with the world.
Look for Tao and it cannot be seen; it is invisible.
Listen and it cannot be heard; it is inaudible.
Reach for it, although it cannot be touched; it is intangible.
What is unfathomable can only be looked upon as One.
It rises like illumination, but does not dazzle.
It settles back down, but is not obscure.
It is without beginning, and end,
It is infinite, indefinable.
This is the form of the formless;
it exists in non-existence;
It is indefinable;
This is its greatest mystery.
Go up to it, and you will not see its beginning;
follow behind, and you will not see its end.
Hold close to the ancient Tao
and become the master of your present existence.
The ability to know the beginning of antiquity
is the thread running through the way.
The ancient masters of Tao:
So wise, so subtle, and profound.
So deep in their understanding,
that they were themselves misunderstood.
Tentative, like crossing a stream in winter;
Hesitant, like one aware of danger;
Courteous, like a visiting guest;
Subtle, like the melting of ice;
Simple, like the uncarved block;
Vacant, like a valley;
Obscure, like muddy water.
Who can be muddled and settling slowly
Who can remain still and stirring slowly
come to life?
Move too hastily and it becomes clouded again.
One who holds fast to the way
does not wish to be full.
Because one is never full
they are worn, and yet can be newly made.
Go to the end of emptiness.
Hold fast to the way of stillness.
The myriad things all rise together
and return to their separate roots.
Returning to your roots is called stillness.
Returning to stillness, reveals your nature.
Returning to your nature, you will discover the constant.
Knowing the constant is called enlightenment.
Not knowing the constant leads to difficulty.
Knowing the constant leads to openess.
Openess leads to impartiality.
Impartiality leads to kingliness.
Kingliness leads to the divine;
The divine leads back to Tao
and Tao to perpetuity.
and to the end of your days
you will meet with no danger.
The best of all rulers is but a shadow to the people.
The next best ruler is loved and praised by them.
Next is the ruler who is feared.
And finally, there is the ruler that the people despise.
Without trusting how can one be trusted?
The wise lead the people by following behind.
When the task is accomplished and the work done
the people all say:
"it happened to us naturally."
When the great Tao is forgotten
there is benevolence and justice.
When the people are wise
the great deception begins.
When family relationships are not in harmony,
filial piety and parental devotion are advocated.
When a country falls into chaos and disorder,
there is only the praise of loyal ministers.
Throw out wisdom and abandon knowledge;
The people will benefit a hundred times.
End benevolence; abandon righteousness
and the people return to filial praise.
End cunning; discard profit;
Robbers and thieves no longer exist.
These three things are external and inadequate.
People need what they can depend on:
reveal simplicity; embrace the natural;
control selfishness; reduce desires.
Give up learning and put an end to your troubles.
How much difference is there between yes and no?
How much difference is there between good and evil?
Should I fear what other people fear?
How very remote the actual occurrence!
The people of the world make merry
as though making a sacrifice or
ascending the hills in a springtime festival.
I alone am inactive and reveal no signs;
like a new-born babe who has not learned to smile,
Unattached, as though I have no home to go back to.
The people have more than enough.
I alone seem to have nothing.
Muddled, I remain indiscriminate and nebulous.
While others are full of knowledge.
I alone am simple and dull.
Most people see differences and are sharp.
I alone make no distinctions,
Calm, like the sea;
like a restless wind that never ceases.
People of the world all have a purpose.
I alone seem impractical and out of place.
I alone am different from others,
and value being fed by the Mother.
In every movement
one of great virtue follows Tao and Tao alone.
Tao is elusive and intangible.
Intangible and elusive, yet within it is an image.
Elusive and intangible, yet within it is a form.
Deep and obscure, yet within it is an essence.
The essence is very real, and therein,
is something that can be tested.
From the ancient times till now
its manifestations have never ceased.
It is that by which we may see the beginning of all things.
How do I know what is at the beginnings of all things?
Because of this.
Bowed down, you are preserved.
Sometimes bent, you are made straight.
When you are empty, you are made full.
When you are worn, you can be newly made.
When you have little, contentment is simple.
When you have too much, you are perplexed.
Therefore the wise embrace the One
and become an example to all.
They do not display themselves and are therefore visible.
They do not justify themselves and are therefore great.
They do not make claims and are therefore given merit.
They do not seek glory and can therefore endure.
Because they do not contend,
nothing contends with them.
Is not the ancient saying true?
When you bow down, you are preserved.
Turning back, you are preserved to the end.
Nature says very little.
A strong wind does not last all morning,
and a downpour cannot last all day.
If even Nature's utterances do not last long,
how much less should be that of human beings?
That is why one follows the way of nature.
Those who know only the Way conform to the Way.
Those who know only virtue have virtue.
Those who know only loss conform to loss.
Those one with the Way are embraced by the Way.
Those one with the power of virtue take comfort in virtue.
Those one with the loss experience loss willingly.
If one has not learned to trust
how can they be trusted?
Those standing on tiptoe appear unsteady.
Those walking too hastily cannot maintain the pace.
Those who must explain themselves are not clear.
Those who make a show of themselves are not distinguished.
Those focused on only glory cannot be useful.
Those at one with Tao know that what is not useful does not endure.
Like food in the body, what is unnecessary is eliminated.
Thus, those who possess Tao have no use for that.
There is a thing confusedly formed;
Born before heaven and earth.
In the silence, it is the void.
Ever alone and unchanging,
goes round and round and does not weary.
It is the mother of all things.
I know not its name.
To speak of it, I call it 'Tao.'
Forced to describe it, I call it 'great.'
Being great, it is described as receding.
Receding, it is described as far away.
Being far away, it is described as turning back.
Therefore the Tao is great
What is above is great
What is below is great
The ruler is also great.
There are four greats in the universe
And the ruler counts only as one.
Humans follow the laws below;
What is below follows the laws of above.
What is above is orchestrated by Tao
and Tao is the law of nature.
The heavy is at the root of the light.
Stillness is the master of restlessness.
Therefore the sage, traveling all day,
does not lose sight of what is carried.
Though there is great beauty to be seen 'out there,'
they are unattached and ever composed 'in here.'
Why should the lord of ten thousand chariots
act lightly in the world?
To be light is to lose one's root;
To be restless is to lose one's sense of stillness.
When you are traveling, leave no tracks.
When you speak, know when to stop.
One who measures needs no counting rods.
The proper door needs no lock, yet cannot be opened.
The proper binding needs no knot, yet cannot be untied.
Therefore the sage cares for others,
And does not abandon anyone.
Caring for everything,
they abandon nothing.
This is the way of enlightenment.
Therefore the good is the teacher the bad learns from;
and the bad is the material the good works with.
Not to value the teacher
and to disregard the material,
One may be intelligent, though they are greatly confused.
This is called the essential mystery.
Know the male, but hold to the role of the female.
Be like water that nourishes the valley.
Being the watercourse for the world,
the endless virtue will not run dry
and you will return to the state of innocence.
Know purity, but hold to the role of darkness
and be an example to the world.
Being an example to the world,
the endless virtue is unwavering.
And you will return to the boundless and infinite.
Know honor, but keep to the role of the disgraced
and be the valley to the world.
Being the valley of the world
the endless virtue will be sufficient.
Return to being the uncarved block.
When it is carved, it becomes useful.
Because the sage is useful,
they become great leaders,
Thus the greatest cutting does not sever.
Can you take power over life and control it?
It cannot be done.
It is the composition of a sacred instrument,
and requires no improvement.
If you try to control it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
Some things lead and some things follow.
Like the breath, you cannot hold it.
Some things are hard and some things are supple.
Some things climb to take by force, only to fall.
Therefore the sage:
eliminates excess and arrogance.
If you would counsel a ruler on the way of Tao
teach how force is not necessary.
To conquer others only brings forward their resistance.
Where there is an army, brambles grow
and in the wake of a mighty army,
bad harvests follow without fail.
A good leader achieves success by knowing when to stop.
Achieves followers without the use of domination.
They know success, but do not brag;
They achieve results, but are not arrogant.
They achieve results because it is the natural way.
Results come by way of necessity
and not through force.
Force exhausts strength.
and is not the way of Tao.
That which goes against the way
will come to an early end.
Weapons are tools that destroy
and all things detest them.
Therefore, those who possess Tao do not need them.
The wise value turning back,
while others would push blindly forward.
Weapons are tools that destroy;
They are not the tools of the wise.
They are used when all else fails
and victory offers no cause for rejoicing.
Calm detachment can be more powerful.
Those who seek glory
may delight in the killing.
Those who delight in killing
will never know the value of life.
Auspicious events favor those who turn back;
Inauspicious events favor those who push blindly forward.
In the army, the lieutenant stands to the left,
while the general is positioned to the right.
This is how people stand at a funeral.
Those who have been killed
are mourned with sadness.
Victory during war is like a funeral.
Tao is forever nameless and unformed.
In its simplicity, it cannot be grasped.
If you could harness it,
the ten thousand things would follow on their own.
What is above and what is below
move in harmony to bring about rain and dew.
Without the use of force,
all things are nurtured, but unaware.
When the whole is divided, it has names.
These names come to exist everywhere.
As soon as there are names,
you should know that it is time to stop.
Knowing when to stop,
you can be free of danger.
Tao is to the world,
like the stream to the valley
that always flows back to the sea.
Those who understand others are intelligent;
Those who understand themselves are enlightened.
Those who overcome others have force;
Those who overcome themselves are strong.
Those who know contentment are rich;
Those who persevere have purpose.
To remain still is to endure;
To die but not to perish is immortality.
The great Tao flows everywhere;
It can flow to the left or to the right.
The myriad of things depend on it, yet it claims no authority.
It achieves its work, but does not lay claim to merit.
It clothes and feeds the myriad of things, but makes no claim
of being their master.
Ever desiring nothing it might be called insignificant.
The myriad of things return to it, but it does not control them.
In this, it can be called great.
Because it does not seek greatness,
it succeeds in achieving greatness.
Have in your hold the great image,
and the empire will come to you.
Coming to you and meeting with no harm,
it will be safe and sound.
Music and food may induce the wayfarer to stop
but the way of Tao passes through the mouth
It cannot be seen
and cannot be heard;
Although you use it, it cannot be exhausted.
If you would have something shrink,
you must first stretch it.
If you would weaken something,
you must first strengthen it.
If you wish to lay something aside,
you must first set it up.
If you wish to take something,
you must first learn to give it.
This is called subtle clarity,
and seeing into the nature of things.
The soft and the weak overcome the hard and strong.
Just as the fish has no need to leave the deep water,
the sharpest weapon does not need to be displayed.
Tao invariably takes no action,
and yet, there is nothing that is left undone.
If a leader understands this,
the myriad of things will transform on their own.
After transformation, should desire raise its head,
they are restrained naturally,
by the weight of the nameless uncarved block.
The uncarved block is undefined simplicity,
and is the freedom from desire.
Without desire there is only stillness.
the empire will be at peace of its own accord.
Highest virtue is unaware of being virtuous.
Therefore, one has virtue.
Inferior virtue tries to be virtuous.
Therefore, one has lost their virtue.
Highest virtue never acts
yet, there is nothing left undone.
Inferior virtue is always doing something,
and yet, there is much that is left undone.
Highest benevolence means taking action
with no ulterior motive.
Highest righteousness strives to take action
but has an ulterior motive.
Highest discipline means taking action
but when there is no response,
rolls up the sleeves
and resorts to taking by force.
Therefore when the Way is lost,
virtue becomes important;
when virtue is lost, the way of benevolence rises;
when benevolence is lost, the way of morality rises;
when morality is lost, the way of ritual becomes important.
Now, ritual is a superficial expression
of the slow loss of loyalty and faithfulness,
and the beginning of disorder.
Those who see something on the horizon
may think that it is Tao flowering;
when it is actually the blossoming of folly.
Therefore the wise dwell in the thick
and not in the thin;
are nourished by the fruit, and not the flower.
The sage discards 'that' to take hold of 'this.'
Those that attained oneness since ancient times:
The sky attained oneness and thus became clear.
The earth attained oneness and thus became settled.
The gods attained oneness and thus became potent.
The valley attained oneness and thus abundance.
The myriad of things attained oneness and thus life.
The lords attained oneness and became rulers.
It is the One that makes these what they are.
The sky, lacking clarity, soon thunders apart.
The earth, lacking tranquility, is soon shaken.
The gods, lacking potency, soon wither away.
The valley, lacking water, soon dries up.
The myriad of things, lacking life, would perish.
The lords, lacking understanding, would soon fall.
Therefore, the superior must have the inferior as a root;
The high must have the low as a base.
Thus the rulers call themselves alone, desolate, and unworthy.
This is using the inferior as base? Is it not so?
Therefore, supreme praise is without praise:
Not wishing to be among others glittering like a precious jewel,
nor to be too aloof, like a piece of stone.
Turning back is how the way moves.
Weakness is the means the way employs.
The myriad of things in this world are born from 'something'
although 'something' comes from 'nothing.'
The wise hear of Tao and do there best
to practice it.
The average person hears of Tao and
they sometimes keep and sometimes lose it.
When the inferior person hears of Tao
they laugh out loud at it.
If they did not laugh, it would not be worthy of being Tao.
Therefore we say the following:
The way that is brightest seems dull.
The way that leads forward seems to
The way which is even seems rough.
Highest virtue is like a valley.
Great purity appears sullied.
Far reaching virtue appears insufficient.
Active virtue seems inactive.
Solid virtue appears unsteady.
The great square has no corners.
The great vessel takes long to complete.
The great music is imperceptible in sound.
The great form has no shape.
Tao is hidden in being nameless.
Yet it is Tao alone, which excels in bestowing;
and brings all things to completion.
Tao is the One.
It produces the two: Yin and Yang.
The Two produce the three,
and the Three produce the ten thousand things.
The creatures carry on their back the unknown Yin,
that they may embrace in their arms, the essential Yang.
All things are the blending of the generative
forces of the two.
No creature wants to be thought of
as insignificant, powerless or unworthy.
Yet, the masters use these terms to describe themselves.
So with all things,
some things gain by being diminished
and other things diminish when they are added to.
What the ancients taught
I also teach:
'The use of force and violence brings a violent end.'
I will use this as the principal of my teaching.
The most submissive thing in the world
can ride roughshod over the hardest thing.
That which has no substance
enters into that which has no crevices.
From this I know the benefit of taking no action;
This is the teaching without words that few understand.
Which is dearer: the person or the title?
Which is more valuable: one's own life or wealth?
Which is worse: gain or loss?
Thus excessive desire leads to great spending.
Excessive holding leads to great loss.
One who knows contentment suffers no disgrace.
Knowing when to stop; you will meet with no danger.
Therefore, you can long endure.
Great perfection will always appear chipped,
but its usefulness will not wear it out.
Great fullness seems empty
but its usefulness is inexhaustible.
Great straightness seems bent.
Great skill seems clumsy.
Great eloquence seems inarticulate.
Restlessness always overcomes the cold
while stillness always overcomes the heat.
Without doing anything,
you can be the leader of the empire.
When Tao prevails in the world
fast horses are retired to plough the field.
When Tao does not prevail in the world,
warhorses give birth on the battlefield.
There is no greater crime than having too many desires.
There is no greater uneasiness than a lack of contentment.
There is no misfortune greater than greed.
If you are content,
you will always have enough.
Without going out the door, one can see the whole world.
Without looking out the window, one can see the way of Tao.
The further one goes,
the less one knows.
Therefore the sage
knows without going
Understands without looking
and accomplishes without taking action.
In the pursuit of learning, you learn more each day.
In the pursuit of the way, you do less each day.
You do less and less, until you take no unnatural action.
Even though no action is taken, nothing is left undone.
Order always returns to the world through non-interference.
The one who interferes is not qualified to be a leader.
The sages have no mind that remains their own,
they take the mind of the people as their mind.
Those who are good, are treated with goodness.
Those who are not good, are also treated with goodness.
Thus, goodness grows in the empire.
Those who are honest are treated honestly.
Those who do not know honesty are still treated honestly.
Thus, the virtue of honesty grows in the empire.
The sage, in an attempt to distract the mind of the people
will seek urgently to muddle them.
Giving them something to entertain their ears and eyes,
they are treated like children.
You come into life, and go out in death.
Three and ten are your companions in life.
Three and ten are your companions in death.
Three and ten are also those companions
that value life and so, bring death.
How is this so? Because these are the organs and orifices
that are worn out by the intensive striving after life.
I've heard that one who is good at preserving life
will not encounter wild buffalo and tigers.
And in fighting, will not try to escape the weapons of war.
The wild buffalo have no place to thrust its horns.
The tiger has no place to clasp its claws.
Weapons of war have nowhere to penetrate.
How is this so? Because there is no part of them
that is worn out by the intensive striving against death.
The way gives them life,
virtue raises them.
Things give them shape
and circumstances bring them to maturity.
Therefore all things respect Tao and value virtue.
They rely on Tao to develop virtue,
not because it is decreed.
They know that it is natural
that they should be cared for.
Thus the way gives them life,
virtue raises them.
Circumstances nourish them;
Tao protects them and brings them to maturity.
It gives them life
but does not possess them;
Benefits them without seeking gratitude.
Guides them, but does not rule over them.
This is called Mysterious Virtue.
The world has a beginning.
This beginning is like the mother of all things.
When you know the one as the mother
you will come to know her children,
in the myriad of things.
Knowing her children,
go back to holding fast to the mother,
and to the end of your days,
you will live without danger.
Close the mouth and eyes;
shut the doors of desire.
And all that you need will never run dry.
Open the mouth and eyes;
meddle with your desires.
And all that you take will not fulfill you.
Seeing what is small is called enlightenment.
Being submissive, you find strength.
Utilize the light
but give up discernment.
and thereby avoid calamity.
This is called following the constant.
If I had but little knowledge
I should, when walking on the broad way,
fear only the paths that lead astray.
The great way is easy,
yet people prefer the by-paths
The courts are exceedingly splendid,
The fields are barren with weeds.
The granaries are exceedingly empty;
Yet some are dressed in fineries.
They carry swords at their sides,
have their fill of food and drink.
Possessed of wealth, they are extravagant
this is called taking the lead in the robbery.
This is indeed not the way of Tao!
That which is firm cannot be uprooted.
That which is strongly held cannot be taken.
From generation to generation, they will commemorate it forever.
Cultivate it in your person; its virtue will be genuine.
Cultivate it in the family; its virtue will be overflowing.
Cultivate it in the community; its virtue will be lasting.
Cultivate it in the country; its virtue will be abundant.
Cultivate it in the world; and its virtue will be universal.
Therefore, to understand the person, observe what they cultivate.
Observe the family by what it cultivates.
Observe the community by what it cultivates.
Observe the country by what it cultivates.
Observe the world by what they cultivate.
How can I know the world?
By means of this.
Those who have virtue in abundance
are similar to a newborn babe.
Poisonous insects do not sting them;
Wild beasts do not claw them.
Birds of prey do not attack them;
Their bones are weak, their tendons are soft
But their grasp is firm.
They do not know of sexual union but can manifest arousal.
When your essence is at its height,
you can roar all day and not become hoarse.
This is because your natural harmony is unobstructed.
Knowing harmony is said to be the constant.
Knowing the constant will lead to clarity.
Trying to avoid one's vitality will lead to danger;
A mind overusing the vital force becomes aggressive.
If it reaches its height it can be exhausted
although being exhausted is contrary to Tao.
Therefore, that which goes against the way
will come to an early end.
Those who know do not speak.
Those who speak do not know.
Block the openings;
Shut the doors.
Blunt the sharpness;
Untangle the knots.
Soften the glare;
become one with the dusty world,
and let your wheels move along old ruts.
This is called Mysterious sameness.
To be like this:
Others can neither be intimate nor indifferent to you.
Others can neither benefit nor harm you.
No one can honor or disgrace you.
Therefore, you are honored by the way.
Govern with upright integrity and correctness.
You deploy the military with surprise tactics
but you would have the world by not meddling.
How do I know this is so?
The more taboos and restrictions there are in the world,
the poorer will be the people.
The more sharp weapons are given to the people
the more troubled the empire will be.
The more cunning and skill the people possess,
the more vicious these things will appear.
The more the laws are posted in the city,
the more robbers and thieves will exist.
Therefore the sage says:
I take no action, and the people of themselves are transformed.
I prefer stillness, and the people of themselves find solutions.
I do not interfere, and the people of themselves become prosperous.
I have no desires, and the people of themselves become simple.
They remain simple, like an uncarved block.
When the government is complicated
the people become simple.
When government searches and scrutinizes,
the people become shrewd and crafty.
Misfortune is what fortune perches upon;
Beneath fortune, misfortune is hiding.
Who knows where one ends and the other begins?
They have no determined outcome or limit.
Rightness reverts to become crafty.
Goodness reverts to become wicked.
The people have not been perplexed
for many long days.
Therefore the sage is:
Straight like the square that does not scrape.
Incorruptible as a blade that does not cut.
Extending out, but not at the expense of others.
Shines bright, but does not dazzle.
In governing and serving
Only by conserving do things recover quickly.
Recovering quickly means one is following the way.
Accumulating virtue means there is nothing one cannot overcome.
When there is nothing that one cannot overcome
no one knows the limits.
The limitations being unknown, one can possess greatness.
In possession of Tao, one can endure.
This is called the way of deep roots and a firm stem.
It is the Tao of longevity and lasting vision.
Ruling a large country is like
the special care required to cook a small fish.
Apply the subtleness of Tao to rule the empire,
with similar care that does not harm.
Not that one remains powerless,
but since it is good , it does not harm the people.
Not only does the good not harm the people
the sage also does not harm people.
They both do no harm to one another
and each receives the merit of the other's virtue.
The large country is like the lower part of a river.
It is the converging point of many streams
and the place where things unite.
The female always overcomes the male with softness.
Being yielding, she takes her place beneath him.
Therefore if a great country gives way to a smaller country,
it will conquer the smaller country.
And if a small country submits to a great country,
it can conquer the great country.
Therefore, those that would conquer must yield,
snd those that conquer, accomplish by being yielding.
A great nation wants to take the other under its wing;
and the smaller country wants its services to be accepted.
So that each gets what it wants and finds the proper place,
it is correct that a great nation yield and take the lower position.
Tao is the treasure house of all things.
It is the treasure of the kind person
and the place where the bad finds refuge.
Admirable words might win you respect;
Admirable actions can raise you above all others.
Even if one is bad,
should they be abandoned?
Therefore, when crowning the Emperor
and installing the three ministers,
although there is the offering of jade before four horses
why not kneel and be seated in Tao?
Why did the ancients value Tao so much?
Did they not say: "those who seek always find;
And those with guilt can find freedom?"
Therefore, it is the greatest value in the world.
Do that which consists in taking no action;
Pursue that which will not be meddlesome.
Savor what cannot be described by flavor.
Make what is small, big; what is few, many and
respond to hatred with virtue.
Approach the difficult while it is still easy.
Deal with the big while it is still small.
The difficult tasks of the world
must be handled by starting what is easy.
Great undertakings must always start with what is small.
Therefore, the sage never strives for the great,
thus they achieve greatness.
One who makes promises lightly does not have faith.
One who takes things too easy may encounter much difficulty.
Therefore, the sage regard things as difficult,
and therefore, encounters no difficulty.
What is still in transition, is easy to change.
When it shows no signs, it is easy to mould.
When it is still fragile, it is easy to break.
When it is still small, it is easy to dissolve.
Deal with something while it is still nothing;
Keep it in order before disorder sets in.
A tree as big as a man's embrace
grows from a tiny shoot.
A tower of nine levels
starts from a heap of earth.
A journey of a thousand miles
begins and ends beneath one's feet.
The one who meddles with the way will ruin it,
The one who holds fast to the way, will lose it.
Therefore, the sage does nothing and nothing is ruined.
By not laying hold of anything, nothing is lost.
People, in handling affairs
often come close to completion and fail.
If they were as careful in the end as in the beginning,
then they would not have failed.
Therefore, the sage desires not to desire.
They do not value goods that are hard to acquire.
They learn to unlearn;
They redeem the faults of the people
to assist in bringing their nature forward,
but do not interfere.
In ancient times, those who practiced Tao well
used it not to enlighten the people
but to return them to simplicity.
The difficulty in governing people
comes when they have been excessively trained.
Therefore, one knows that knowledge can become
the robber of enlightenment.
One that can lead the people
with something beyond knowledge,
will be a blessing to the state.
Know that these two are both standards.
Always knowing these standards
is called profound and secret Virtue.
Virtue is deep and far-reaching!
When all things return to their natural state
it turns back with them.
Only then is harmony reached.
Rivers and oceans can take from mountain rivers
because they naturally stay below.
So they can be the kings of a hundred valleys.
Thus if the sage wishes to lead the people
they must, in their words,
place themselves below.
If they wish to be in front of people
they must, in their person, follow behind them.
Thus the sage is positioned above
but the people do not feel burdened.
They are positioned in front
but the people feel no obstruction.
Thus Tao pushes them forward tirelessly.
Because they do not contend
so the world does not contend with them.
Everyone in the world says that my Tao is vast
and resembles nothing.
It is because it is vast that it
resembles nothing; if it resembled anything
it would have, long ago, become small.
I have three treasures,
which I hold and protect:
The first is called compassion;
The second is being malleable like an uncarved block;
The third is not daring to take the lead in the empire.
Being compassionate, one can afford to be courageous.
Being malleable, one is able to extend oneself outward.
Not daring to take the lead in the empire,
one is able to become a leader.
Now if one has courage but discards compassion;
Reaches widely but discards being malleable;
Goes ahead but discards being behind,
this is fatal.
Through compassion, one can triumph in attack
and be impregnable in defense.
What the way provides during times of need,
it protects with the gift of compassion.
The greatest warrior is not formidable;
The skillful fighter has no need to get angry.
Those who are good at achieving victory, have no need to engage.
Those who are good at managing people place themselves below.
This is called the virtue of non-contention.
It is called strength.
This is the ultimate sublimity of Tao.
The strategists say:
I dare not play the host, but prefer to be the guest.
I dare not advance an inch, but prefer to withdraw a foot.
This is called marching forward when there is no road.
Rolling up the sleeve, where there is no arm.
Dragging the adversary about when there is no adversary;
it is like holding weapons when there are no weapons.
There is no greater disaster than believing in enemies
this almost made me lose my treasure.
So when two sides raise their arms against each other
it is the one that is sorrow-stricken who will win.
My words are easy to understand and easy to practice.
There are few who can understand and practice them.
My words have an ancient beginning.
and my actions stem from principles.
People do not understand this.
Therefore they do not understand me.
Those who know me are few;
thus I am highly sought.
Therefore the sage, while dressed in plain clothes
conceals his person like a valuable piece of jade.
To know but to think you don't know is best.
To not know but think you know leads to difficulty.
By being aware of difficulty, one can avoid it.
The sage meets with no difficulty.
Being aware of difficulty,
nothing is difficult.
When people lack a sense of awe,
often calamity falls upon them.
Do not intrude into their places.
Do not upset their livelihood.
Because you do not interfere,
they will follow naturally.
Therefore the sage:
Knows but does not glorify themselves.
Respects but does not praise themselves.
Thus they discard the one
to take hold of the other.
The bold in daring will be killed
The bold in not daring will survive.
Of these two, one brings benefit, the other brings harm.
Who knows why Heaven dislikes what it dislikes?
Even the sage finds this a difficult question.
The way of Tao:
It does not contend and yet excels in winning.
It does not speak and yet excels in responding.
It does not summon and yet attracts.
It is unstructured and yet excels in planning.
The net of heaven is cast wide,
though the mesh is not fine, nothing slips through.
People do not fear death.
How can they be threatened with death?
If people are made to constantly fear death
then those who act unlawfully
might be captured and killed,
but who would dare?
There exists a master executioner that kills.
To undertake killing for the master executioner
is like substituting for the great carpenter to cut.
Those who substitute for the great carpenter to cut,
it is rare that they do not injure their own hands.
The people's hunger
is due to the excess of their ruler's taxation
so they starve.
The people's difficulty in being governed
is due to the meddling of their ruler,
so they are difficult to govern.
The people's disregard for death
comes from the way the ruler pursues life so vigorously.
It is only those that do not seek after life
that excel in making life valuable.
While alive, the body is soft and pliant.
When dead, it is hard and rigid.
All living things, grass and trees,
while alive, are soft and supple
When dead, they become dry and brittle.
Thus that which is hard and rigid
is on the pathway of death.
That which is soft and yielding
is the follower of life.
Therefore, an inflexible army will not win.
A strong tree will not suffer the axe.
The big and forceful occupy a lowly position
while the soft and pliant occupy a higher place.
Is not the way of heaven
like the stretching of a bow?
The high it brings down
the low it lifts up;
It takes from what is in excess,
in order to make good of what is deficient.
The way of heaven
reduces what is in excess,
in order to give
to what is deficient.
The Tao of the people is not so.
They reduce further those that are lacking,
and offer more to those who already have.
Who can offer to others what they have in excess?
Only those who have the Tao.
Therefore the sage benefits, but seeks no gratitude,
gives but without taking credit.
They do not wish to display their virtue
and still their virtue shines forth.
Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water.
Yet nothing is better than water
at overcoming the hard and strong.
For this reason, it has no substitute.
That the weak overcomes the strong
and the soft overcomes the hard,
everybody in the world knows
but cannot put into practice.
Therefore the sage knows:
The one who accepts the humiliation of the state
can be its master.
The one who accepts calamity in the state
becomes its ruler.
Straightforward words seem paradoxical.
After settling a great dispute
there must be remaining resentments.
How can this be considered good?
Therefore the sage holds the due part of the contract
but does not demand payment from the other person.
Those who have virtue hold to a contract.
Those without virtue hold to collections.
The way of Tao has no favorites.
It is always on the side of the good.
If you make the country small and
give out many weapons
with no need to use them;
the people will be reluctant to migrate to other lands
because they know that death is no light matter.
Although they have boats and chariots
they have no need to use them.
Although they have armor and weapons
they have no need to display them.
Let the people return to using the knotted rope,
savoring their food, admiring their clothes,
content in their homes, happy in their customs.
Neighboring countries see one another,
hear the sounds of roosters and dogs from nearby lands.
The people, until they grow old and die
have no need to go to the other.
Truthful words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
Good words need no persuasion.
Persuasive words are not good.
One who knows has no extensive knowledge;
One broad of knowledge does not know.
The sage does not hoard.
Even while bestowing everything to others,
there is yet even more.
Although they give everything to others,
they are richer still.
The Tao of heaven
benefits and does not harm.
The Tao of the sage
is bountiful and does not contend.