Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching


Lao Tzu: The Tao Te Ching / An English Translation, 1998© by Eiichi Shimomissé

The legend tells us that Lao Tzu was contemporary to Confucius and when he departed from one of the border passes, the chief guard noticed that it was Lao Tzu. He asked Lao Tzu to write down this basic thought. So he did it in two thousand words. Recent philological studies are more inclined to suggest that Tao Te Ching is written perhaps rather in the 4th or the 3rd century B.C. (later than Confucius) and is maybe not written by one author, but from many different origins including certain proverbs which were very likely prevalent around the time.

Contrary to this contention by the Chinese philologists, we would like to contend that Tao Te Ching was written by a single person, called Lao Tzu and he may be contemporary to Confucius rather than in a later period.

Tao Te Ching has a clear stylistic unity (in terms of the use of Chinese characters) and the only one use of the proper noun (the reference to Yang Tze River). A little later than when Tao Te Ching was written, the China was unified and many different dialects (particularly of different Chinese characters for the same sound) came to known to each other. In consequence, homonyms (many different characters for the same sound) were given a certain ordering such that differentiation of meanings took place around the 3rd century. A good example of the situation with this complexity may be found for example in Chuang Tzu. Thus, the style of Lao Tzu differs so totally from Chuang Tzu in terms of the use of exceedingly difficult and complicated Chinese characters used by Chuang Tzu. Needless to emphasize, there is also a very clear unity of philosophical thought in Tao Te Ching.

It is astonishing that Lao Tzu tells us at the very beginning of his work that the word, "Tao," is chosen to refer to this ultimate principle of all ten thousand entities of reality for their being (for them to exist), he clearly points out that the language is inappropriate to deal with his metaphysical inquiry and question, because language has been devised and extensively used for atriculating one another and showing preference of one over the other.

The Tao that is to be referred to is not what we call Tao in the language of the mundane everydayness. What is to be named can not be described by the mundane, everyday name based on the dualistic thinking.

Then, Lao Tzu declares form the beginning in Chapter 1, "Naming (the use of language) is the source of distinctions, namely, those of the so-called Ten Thousand Things."

Without all our desires is the only way in which this (unnameable and undistinguishable) Tao is immediately intuited. (Needless to say, this does not necessarily mean that we live in accordance with the Way of Tao).

With our desires, Tao’s appearances are only known, although these two possess different expressions (Tao and appearances), they are primarily one and the same.

This is the primordial truth, of all truths, which serves as the beginning of many other truths.

Here in this very short verse of the only 59 characters, Lao Tzu reveals that this so-called way or "Tao" is

    1. unnameable (ungraspable by the mundane language),
    2. the principle (mother) of all things for their being which can be known without desires and attachments to these distinctions,
    3. Through the distinctions enabled by language, and our desires based on such distinctions, the Ten Thousand Things or the appearances are known to us, and

this is the most profound, primordial truth.


The Tao that refers to here can never be the mundane tao.
The Name that is used here to designate is not a mundane name.
The Tao that is unnameable is the Source of the Heaven and the Earth.
The name, once introduced, becomes the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.
Without desires one sees its profound mystery revealed.
With desires one can always see its countless appearances.
They are primarily one and same and yet differ in names.
These two ways of revelation are indeed the oldest mystery of dark mysteries.
To understand this is the gate to all mysteries.


Lao Tzu starts elaborate what he said in Chapter 1. Namely, all these distinctions, all these Ten Thousand Things, are due to our mundane way of knowing things and due to our artificial distinctions. Thus, all the opposites, which seem to be absolute and undeniable, are indeed relative to each other, and they complement each other. Theus, the sage do not deal with distinctions, keeps oneself apart from desires, and clinging (wu-wei=no artificial action), nor does the sage teach his wisdom by words.

Therefore, Lao Tzu states,
In heaven and earth,
Beauty is attached as beauty by merely discerning it from ugliness.
Good is willed as good by merely distinguishing it from the evil.
Being and Nothing come from each other,
Difficult and Easy depend on each other,
Long and Short are shaped to each other.
High and Low are bent to each other.
Sound and Voice harmonize each other.
Front and Back follow each other.
Thus, the sage keeps himself in no-action (wu-wei),
He teaches his wisdom without words.
The Ten Thousand Things rise and fall.
Tao "creates" everything without possessing,
Accomplishes with no claim,
Thus, no adherence, no vanish.


Lao Tzu directs our attention to our all artificial contrivances and makes his reference to the famous wu-wei (no (artificial) action) by pointing out the sources of all the problems are artificial distinctions, artificial desires for them and their attachments:

Without boasting cleverness, there would be no quarrel among people.
Without treasuring precious wealth and utensils, there would be no theft by people.
Without knowing the objects of desires, there will be no dissatisfaction among people.
Therefore, the person in tune with Tao rules the people by emptying his/her mind and managing them to fulfill their basic needs and by weakening their ambition and strengthening their moral uprightness.
When people lack of knowledge of distinctions and desires for them,
Cleaver persons will not attempt to artificially interfere.
If no artificial things are done, nothing is unaccomplished.


Tao is an empty or unused vessel. How much it is employed, there will never be
Thus, it is the source (principle) of Ten Thousand Things.
Dull the sharpness, and untangle the not, curve the prominence, and share the dust, then it
is ever present in every depths.
And yet no one knows where it comes from.
It is indeed the principle of all principles.


Heaven and earth have no particular favor,
They see Ten Thousand Things as straw dogs (with indifference and equality).
The sage (the person in accordance with Tao) have no particular interest.
They see all people (equally) as straw dogs.
Between Heaven and earth, emptiness lies,
Shapes alter incessantly, while the void (=Tao) last forever.
The more it is bent, the more it will yield.
Plenty words conceals the ultimate reality,
and hold steadfast onto the hub.


This chapter is a rather difficult one, although Lao Tzu’s intention is clear in that he would like to point out the primordial strength of and the closeness to Tao.

The Valley spirit is immortal.
The Spirit is the Female, the Primal Mother.
Her ultimate gateway is the principle of heaven and earth.
The spirit is veiled and dim,
And yet when used, it requires no toil.


Heaven and earth endure forever.
Why are heaven and earth forever?
They are not generated.
Thus, they do last very long.
Therefore, the sage, the person in tune with Tao, stays behind others and yet is ahead of
them to endure.
Being detached, he is one with everybody.
Through egolessness, the sage accomplish its Way.


Those who are close to Tao well resembles to water.
Water well benefits Ten Thousand Things without any strife,
resides where most people hate to be.
Therefore, in dwelling, well reside the lower land,
In meditation, reach well the lowest depth,
Be well gentle to others,
Be well truthful in words,
Be well trustworthy in ruling.
Be well competent in doing things
Be well timed in action,
No strife, then no blame.


Better cease short than fill out completely.
The Sharper the blade is made, the more quickly it becomes dull.
When the house is filled with gold and jades, it is hard to guard them.
Arrogant of one’s own wealth and fame, one is ready to be disastered.
It is the way of heaven to quickly retire, once everything is well accomplished.


Carrying body and soul as well as embracing the One,
Can you escape from the distinction?
Attending fully and becoming supple,
Can you be a Newborn baby?
Washing and cleansing the ultimate truth,
Can you be without scar?
Caring of all people and ruling the country,
Can you be in non-action?
As the gate of heaven opens and closes,
Can you act a female?
Having Insight and opening to all things,
Can you be ignorant?
Generating and nourishing the Ten Thousand Things,
Giving birth to and yet being not possessive of them,
Accomplishing and yet not boasting,
Leading and yet not dominating,
This is the Primal Virtue of the sage.


Thirty spokes shares the wheel’s hub,
It is nothing (the center hole) that is of use as a wheel.
Shape clay into vessel,
It is nothing (the emptiness) that is of use as a vessel.
Open the door and frame the window,
It is nothing (the hollowness) that is of use as a room.
Beings are useful, because nothing is of use as beings.



The five colors bind the eye,
The five sounds deafen the ear.
The five flavors craze our taste,
Racing and hunting craze the mind,
The precious things disturb the human action.
Therefore, the sage of no action takes the basic needs and does not take the pleasures for
The sage let that go, and chooses this.


Each of us makes a big fuss about whether one is treasured or disgraced,
And worry about one’s own body as if it were a serious trouble.
What is this to make a big fuss about whether treasured or disgraced?
Ultimately it ought to be to take treasuring for disgrace, and vice versa,
And simply consider loss and gain the same.
It is a folly indeed to make a big fuss about whether treasured or disgraced.
What is this to worry one’s own body as if it were a serious trouble?
Because we possess our body, we worry about the loss of the invaluable.
Without possessing one’s own body, why worry?
Treasure the person who worries about the world as if it were his own body,
Entrust the world to him who considers the world as his own body.


See the invisible, Listen to the inaudible and grasp the intangible.
This invisible, inaudible and intangible is undefinable.
Thus unified, it is the One,
Nothing is brighter, nothing is dimmer,
Underminate, it is unnameable.
Ultimately it is Nothing.
This is the condition of the conditionless,
The form of the formless,
It is beyond all descriptions.
Welcome this invisible at the beginning,
Follow this invisible to the end.
Holding onto the Ancient Tao,
Still now is the principle of all beings,
Being aware of the Primordial “Beginning,” it is the Tao..


The Ancient Master was subtle, mysterious, proud and responsive,
And its depth is unfathomable.
Because he is unfathomable,
What we can do is only to figuratively recount it.
More than careful like preparing to cross the large river in the winter,
Hesitant like attending the enemies in every direction,
Being gentle like a visiting guest,
Yielding like ice about to melt,
Simple like an uncarved block,
Empty like a cave,
Mixed with anything like muddy water.
Who can be so serene that makes gradually muddy water settle?
Who can let things grow through invisible motion?
The person in tue with Tao does not seek fulfillment,
And yet always recovers afresh from any exhaustion..



Should you empty yourself of everything,
In perfect serenity,
Then you may ultimately intuit,
The Ten Thousand things in flux,
Also return to the source ultimately.
The Ten Thousand things move in various ways,
Each returns to the source,
Returning is in serenity,
And this is called the Primordial ought.
This returning, the way of Tao, is called Constancy.
The one who is aware of Constancy are Wise.
Not knowing Constancy leads to disaster.
Awaken to Constancy, the one is understanding,
The understanding one is just,
To be just is the virtue of the ruler.
With the virtue of the rule, the universe is one with Tao,
Being one with Tao, there is eternity.
Even though One’s body dies,
Tao remains eternal.


The highest ruler is unknown to the people,
To the next comes the ruler whom the people love and honor.
Then the one whom people fear.
Then the one whom people despise.
He who does not trust enough is not be trusted.
When an accomplishment is achieved without words,
People say, “It is natural!”


When the Great Tao is out of use,
Kindness and morality arise.
When Smartness and intelligence are born,
The Great pretense begins.
When no peace is among the family,
Filial Piety and thoughtfulness arise.
When the country is confused and in disarray,
The royal minister appear.


Should the ruler eradicate holiness and renounce intelligence,
The people would benefit one hundred times.
Should the ruler exterminate benevolence and discard morality,
The people would return to the authentic filial piety and thoughtfulness.
Should cleverness be eradicated and asset-making decreased,
Bandits and thieves will disappear.
These three statements are not sufficient,
So let the following are to be complemented.
See the simplicity,
Have one’s original nature actualized,
Cast off selfishness,
And empty desires..


Should learning be exterminated, there would be no worry.
How far are “Yes” and “No” really apart from each other?
How far are “Good” and “Evil” really apart from each other?
What the people fear is not to be feared at all.
Endless are indeed the learning of distinctions and its complication.
People are cheerful as if they were invited to a great feast ,
And climbed on the view-tower in the Spring.
On the contrary, I alone am away from such spree,
And am cheerless, like a baby who has not yet learned to smile,
I am dreary , not knowing where to go like a homeless dog.
My mind is like a fool’s and it seems ignorant.
Other people show off their cleverness, while I alone appears dumb.
Others are clear and smart, while I alone looks uncertain,
As if the ocean wave were drifting,
And as if the restless wind blew without direction.
Others are competent, while I alone appears stubborn and lost.
I alone unique, holding dearly onto the great Mother.

In this Chapter, it is clearly declared that learning (of distinctions) is terminated. For the distinguished
opposites such as “yes” and “no,” “good” and “evil,” are in fact not so apart as we blindly believe in our everyday   position. It is also implied here that an attempt to learn (distinctions) is to overcome infinity (of distinctions) by the  finite human existence.

In this chapter, for the first time, Lao Tzu uses the pronoun, “I” to refer to himself and his own philosophy or the position of the authentic human existence. This “I” stands against the mundane everybody and is totally misunderstood as a fool by these masses..


The virtue of the sage is to follow Tao and Tao alone.
What Tao is indeed is elusive and evasive.
Evasive and elusive, and yet it has the image.
Elusive and evasive, and yet it has the essence.
Profound and dark, and yet therein is the spirit.
Extremely real is this spirit and therein lies the evidence.
From ancient till now, it is called Tao and is the principle of all things.
Being in tune with Tao, the sage is aware of the world as it actually is..


To yield is to be complete,
To be crooked is to be straight,
To empty is to abound,
To wear out is to be renewed,
To decrease is to achieve,
To have a lot is to be confused.
Therefore, the sage embraces the one,
and is exemplary to all,
Without showing off oneself,
He is enlightened,
Without asserting oneself,
He is blind.
Without bragging oneself,
Without boasting oneself,
He does endure.
Without quarrel and strife,
He is unequal to any one else.
Therefore, the ancients say, “Yielding, one complete one’s life.”
They are no empty words.
By truthfully yielding,
The sage returns to Tao.

This may be one of the best chapters which describes the way of the sage and the authentic human


Inaudible speech is the way of nature.
Therefore, roaring wind does not endure the morning,
Drizzling rain does not last all day.
Who can accomplish this? Only heaven and earth can.
If heaven and earth can not even be eternal,
How is it possible for the human at all?
Therefore, he who follows Tao is one with Tao.
He who is after virtue is one with (Tao’s) virtue.
He who has lost Tao is lead astray.
He who is one with Tao is the one whom Tao does also welcome.
He who is one with virtue is the one whom virtue does also welcome.
He who is lost is the one whom the loss does also welcome.
He who is unworthy of trust is the one who can be trusted by no one..


He who tiptoes cannot stand long.
He who strides cannot walk afar.
He who shows oneself off cannot be enlightened.
He who asserts oneself is blind.
He who brags oneself has no power.
He who boasts oneself does not endure.
He who in tune with Tao once said,
“Leftover food and unnecessary lump!”
As they are loathed by some,
The follower of Tao stays away from them.


Molded from the chaos,
It is before the beginning of heaven and earth.
Silent and formless,
It is both independent and constant.
Everpresent and ceaselessly creative,
It should resemble the Mother of Ten Thousand Things.
I do not know its identify,
So it is called Tao,
I might dare to call it the Great.
Being Great, it flows.
It flows far and away, then it is the return to itself.
Therefore, Tao is great.
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
The ruler is great.
They are four great in the universe.
The ruler, the highest human follower of Tao, is one of them.
The humans follow the earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows Tao.
Tao follows what is natural.

Tao is often also called the Way of No action and what is natural. .


The heavy is the root of the light.
The stillness is the master of the motion.
Therefore, the sage, travelling all day,
Does not lose sight of the cart of provision.
Although there are beautiful sights,
He remains serene and unattached.
Why should the lord (the sage) of ten thousand chariots be frivolous?
To be frivolous is to lose one’s own nature.
To be restless is to lose one’s command of the state..


A good traveller leaves no traces.
A good speaker makes no slips.
A good counter needs no abacus.
A good closed gate needs no lock and cannot be opened.
A good tieing needs no knots and cannot be loosened.
Therefore, the sage is always of good avail and abandons no one.
He takes care of all things, and abandons no things.
This is so-called the sage’s enlightenment.
Therefore, the good person is the teacher for the no good (disciple).
The no good person (disciple) is of use for the good.
If one does not respect one’s teacher,
And if one does not care about one’s disciple,
How wise he might be, he is obscured.
This is the crux of the ultimate truth.

In this chapter, Lao Tzu starts to talk about the “good.” This “good” is not in opposition to and in
distinction from bad or evil. On the contrary, this good is what ought to be, how a person ought to be. In this sense,  this notion of “good” is a relative concept. The “wise” in the second line from the last may be “clever,” or “smart,” “intelligent.” However, in order to emphasize the importance of understanding and care, I dared to translate it “wise.”


If you know your masculinity,
And maintain yourself to be female,
You will become the Valley for heaven and earth.
If become the Valley for heaven and earth,
You will be inseparable with the constant virtue (potency),
And you will returns to a new born baby.
If you know the white,
And comprise the black,
You become exemplary for heaven and earth.
If you become exemplary for heaven and earth,
You will never be against the constant virtue,
And will return to the infinite principle.
If you know your honor,
And embrace your disgrace,
You will be the Valley of heaven and earth.
If you become the Valley of heaven and earth,
You will be filled with the constant virtue,
And will return to the uncarved block.
If the uncarved block is cut into pieces,
It will become a vessel (specialist).
The sage employs it merely for a provincial governor.
Thus the great severing cuts no pieces..


Do you intend to take over heaven and earth and govern it?
I do not think that you can not do so.
Heaven and earth is a divine vessel,
That you cannot govern.
Should you attempt to govern it,
You will ruin it.
Should you try to cling to it,
You will lose it.
Therefore, Some go ahead, while other are following.
Some breathe are easily, while other breathe hard.
Some are robust, while other are feeble.
Some collapse, while other become depraved.
Therefore, the sage eschews the extremes, extravagances and arrogance.


Anyone who advises a ruler with Tao,
He cautions not to conquer heaven and earth with force,
And recommends him to return the no (artificial) action.
For thorn bushes spring up wherever the army stations.
Famine always follows the big warfare.
As fruits gently ripen,
The good rule is done without no (artificial) action,
Never venture to conquer by force.
Things (of governing) are done without boasting,
Things are done without taking credit.
Things are done by following the inevitable,
Things are done without force.
The extravagance is soon taken over by the decline.
This is against the way of Tao,
Being against Tao comes to an untimely end.


Sharp weapons are instruments of curse.
People always despise them.
Therefore, the person who follows Tao does not come even near to them.
The wise person employs the left.
The person of war employs the right.
Weapons are instruments of curse and not the implements of the wise.
Only when there is no choice, the wise will use them.
No wise values victory.
If anyone values the victory,
Then, he will delights in killing.
If anyone delights in killing,
He cannot realize what he ought to do in heaven and earth.
At a happy occasion, the left is revered.
At an adverse occasion, the right is cherished.
In the army, the commander stands on the left,
The vice-commander stands on the right.
This means that the war is carried out like a funeral.
Because so many people are killed,
With sorrow, soldiers are set themselves in the battle ground,
Therefore, even if the victory is won, they perform the war like a funeral.

This chapter has been considered one of those in which their commentaries are mixed. It is repetitious, too explanatory.



Tao is forever of no name.
Small as it may be,
Tao as the uncarved block cannot be used by anyone in the universe.
If kings and lords could follow it well,
Ten Thousand Things will spontaneously obey them.
Heaven and earth would make love to each other,
Sweet dew will thereby fall gently.
With no decrees, people will be naturally ruled.
When the whole uncarved block is divided,
The pieces become instruments and in need of their names.
When there are already many names,
It is also necessary to know their limitations.
When their limitations are known,
There are no things in danger.
Tao is manifest in the universe,
Like the water flows from the rivers and the valleys into Yan Ze River and ocean.


To know others is to be wise,
To know oneself is to be enlightened.
To master others is to be powerful,
To master oneself is to be strong.
To know that one has enough is to be fertile.
To devote oneself to Tao is to be resolute.
To stay in one’s own place is to endure.
To die but not to perish is to be ever present.


The great Tao is omnipresent, both to the left or to the right.
Ten Thousand Things depend on it,
And yet it makes no speech.
The great Tao creates everything,
And yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes Ten Thousand Things,
And yet it does not call itself the master.
As it is ever desireless,
it may be called “small.”
As Ten Thousand Things ultimately return to it,
it may be called “great.”
It does not call itself great,
Therefore, it is genuinely great.


If one follows the great symbol (Tao) and resides in the universe,
There will be no harm.
There will be pleasantness, peace and no incidence.
Music and feast arrests the passer-by,
And yet Tao is too simple to have flavor.
It is invisible if anyone tries to see.
It is inaudible if anyone tries to listen.
It cannot be exhausted, how much it may be employed..


In order to shrink it, it is necessary to initially have it harden itself awhile.
In order to weaken it, it is necessary to initially have it strengthened a while.
In order to demolish it, it is necessary to initially have it prosper a while.
In order to acquire it, it is necessary to initially have it take a while.
This is the mysterious enlightenment.
That which is weak and yields overcome the hard and strong.
Just as the finish should not come out of the depth of water,
The sharp weapons should not be shown to people.


Tao always remains in no (artificial) action,
And yet nothing is left undone.
Should kings and lords follow Tao,
Ten Thousand Things would naturally mutate.
Should desires arise in their mutation,
I would be ready to pacify them with the uncarved block with no name.
Should they become the uncarved block with no name.
They would become desireless.
Should kings and loads pacify them with desirelessness,
The universe would spontaneously be one with peace.
Here the famous phrase, “Tao remains in no action and yet nothing is left


The person of superior virtue (=ability to be in tune with Tao) is not aware of one’s own
And has therefore the (genuine) virtue.
The person of inferior virtue is ready to lose one’s own virtue,
And has therefore no virtue.
The person of superior virtue is in no action,
And yet leaves nothing undone.
The person of inferior virtue attempts all actions,
And yet remains without accomplishments.
The person of superior kindness does something,
And yet leaves nothing undone.
The person of superior morality does something,
And yet is left with a lot to be done.
The person of superior rite does something,
And yet is left responded by no one,
And demands it by pulling his sleeves.
Therefore, when Tao is lost,
The virtue is called for.
When the virtue is lost,
The kindness is in demand.
When the kindness is lost,
The morality becomes imperative.
When morality is lost,
The ritual prevails.
The ritual is no other than the loss of trust and royalty, the beginning of tumult.
To try to know the future is the abortive flowering of Tao, the birth of folly.
Therefore, the great person dwells in the substance of virtue, and not in the shallow,
In the fruit, and not in the abortive flower.
Therefore, reject the other and hold onto this (Tao).

This chapter is one of the basis for the inference that Lao Tzu must have known Confucius and even Mencius (e.g. the great man), so that Tao Te Ching was written much later. However, there are too much resemblances to Confucianistic writings as well as Chuang Tzu, Outer Volume. This may very well be the case that a commentary may be inserted here as the original text.



Those are in tune with the ancient One are:
Heaven becomes clear through one,
Earth becomes peaceful through one,
The spirit becomes vigorous through one,
The Valley becomes abounding through one,
Ten Thousand Things are born through one,
Kings and lords become leaders of the universe,
All these accomplishments are through one.
Unless heaven should become clear, it might fall apart.
Unless earth should become peaceful, it might be quaked.
Unless the spirit should become vigorous, it might be exhausted.
Unless the valley should become abounding, it might be draught.
Unless the Ten Thousand Things should are born, they might be extinct.
Unless kings and lords should become leaders, they might be destroyed.
Therefore, the noble is rooted in the humble,
The up is rooted in the down,
Therefore kings and lords call themselves “orphaned,” “widowed,” and “fruitless.”
Isn’t this to make the humbleness their roots? Isn’t it?
Too much honoring are no longer the honor,
They do not want to be dazzling like jade,
They want to be humble like stones.


Returning (to the basis) is the motion of Tao,
Yielding is the work of Tao,
The Ten Thousand Things in the universe are born of being,
Being is born of nothingness.


The superior person hears Tao and assiduously drills its way.
The mediocre person hears Tao and becomes skeptical.
The inferior person hears Tao and ridicules it.
Unless it should be ridiculed, it would be inappropriate to the genuine Tao.
Therefore, according to the words rooted in Tao:
The really bright way appears dim,
To advance appears to retreat.
To be easy appears hard,
The great virtue appears empty like a valley.
The great purity appears stained.
The broad virtue appears deficient.
The firm virtue appears transient.
The great square has no corners.
The great talent ripens late.
The great sound is inaudible.
The great form is formless.
Tao is hidden behind no name.
Tao alone magnanimously nourishes the Ten Thousand Things,
And keep making everything accomplished..


Tao begot one.
One begot two.
Two begot three.
And three begot the Ten Thousand Things.
The Ten Thousand Things carries yin and embrace yang.
Yin and Yang begot their individual unity.
Orphanedness, widowedness and worthlessness are things people hate.
And yet this is how kings and lords call themselves.
People always grows by emptying,
And empties by growth,
What others teach, I also teach:
A violent man will die an untimely death!”
Therefore, I will make this the root of my teaching.


The softest thing (water) in the universe freely controls the hardest thing (diamond).
Nothing filters through no space.
Herewith I realize the use of no action.
Teaching without words and the use of no action few understand in the universe.


Your fame or you own body, which matters more?
Your own body or wealth, which is more important?
Your gain or your loss, which is more concern?
Therefore, the more one attaches to things, the greater loss one suffers.
The more one stores, the greater misfortune one bears.
Being satisfied, one is not disgraced.
The one who knows when to stop is spared from danger.
Therefore, that person will forever endure.


The genuine perfection seems imperfect.
Its use is unwearable.
The genuine fullness seems empty,
Its use is inexhaustible.
The genuine straight seems bent.
The genuine mastery seems inept.
The genuine eloquence seems not fluent.
Moving around overcomes cold.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Stillness and tranquility straighten out the universe.


When Tao is present in the universe,
the race horses will be made to farm the fields.
When Tao is absent from the universe,
War horses are bred even outside the city.
No greater fault is than discontented desire,
No greater curse is than greed for gain.
Therefore, The enough to know enough is always enough.


Know the universe without going out of the door.
See the way of heaven without peeping through the window.
The farther you go out, the far less you know.
Therefore, the age knows without travelling,
And names without looking,
And accomplishes with no action.


The more you learn, the more you gain everyday.
The closer to Tao, the more you empty yourself everyday.
Empty oneself more and more, finally you reach no action.
Where there is no action, nothing is left undone.
To rule the universe is to do so without incident.
Should there happen an incident, you could not rule the universe.


The sage has always no mind of his own, but makes his own the minds of all.
The sage takes the good person for good for himself,
And even takes no good person for good for himself.
For his virtue is indeed good.
The sage takes the trustworthy person for trustworthy for himself,
And even takes the untrustworthy person for trustworthy for himself.
For his virtue is indeed trustworthy.
When the sage rules the universe, he will empty his own mind,
And make the people ignorant and desireless like the new born babies,
Even they want to heed the sage with listening and notice..


There are those who could live longer and yet hasten to death.
Those who can live long are three out of ten among the humans,
Those who die young are three of ten.
Those who could live and yet deliberately hasten to die are three out of ten.
Why is this?
Because they are too much attached to life.
According to a proverb,
Those who nourish their lives well travel on land
And do not encounter predators,
And do not (need) wear the armor.
The rhinoceros cannot find the place in them to thrust its horn,
The tiger cannot find the place to claw them.
Why is this?
Because there is no space in them for death to enter.


It is Tao that nourishes them (Ten Thousand Things),
It is its virtue that sustains them,
It is they that appear in (distinguished) forms.
It is its energy that creates them.
Therefore, none of the Ten Thousand Things does not esteem Tao,
Nor revere Virtue.
To esteem Tao and revere Virtue are not demanded,
But is their constant nature.
            Therefore, it is Tao which creates them,
And it is its virtue that sustains them,
Nourishes and raises them,
Secures and protects them.
Creating them without taking credit,
Nourishes them without controlling,
This is the Primal Virtue.


There is the beginning in the universe,
It is the Mother of all things,
Having secured the Mother, one also knows her children.
Having known her children, one holds onto their Mother.
Throughout one’s life, one is not in danger.
If one keeps one’s openings (of desire) shut,
And closes all the holes (of senses),
Throughout one’s life, one is not exhausted.
If one opens one’s openings of desire,
And is busy to fulfill desires,
Throughout one’s life, one is never liberated.
Having an insight into frailty is enlightenment,
Incessantly yielding is strength,
Using the ray of self-awareness is to return to enlightenment,
Then, one may be spared from calamity.
This is the practice of constancy (Tao)..


If I happen to have even slightest enlightenment,
I will walk on the great Tao (with no action),
And will only caution myself to not stray from it.
The great Tao (=way) is smooth,
People would like to detour from that way.
When the court is distracted by scandals,
The fields are full of weeds,
As the storage houses are empty,
Some clothe themselves extravagantly,
Wear sharp swords,
Indulge themselves in eating and drinking,
They bank up with more possessions than they can use.
They are indeed thieves and robbers.
This is certainly not the way (of Tao) at all.


That which is solidly established can hardly be uprooted,
That which is firmly embraced can hardly slip away.
This will incessantly be revered by posterity forever.
When one fosters the Tao in oneself,
Its virtue will be genuine.
When the family fosters its Tao,
Its virtue will abound.
When the village fosters its Tao,
Its virtue will last long.
When the state fosters its Tao,
Its virtue will be enriched.
When the universe is governed by its Tao,
Its virtue will be omnipresent.
Therefore, Measure oneself with one’s own Tao,
Measure the family with the Tao of the family,
Measure the village with the Tao of the village,
Measure the state with the Tao of the state,
Measure the universe with the Tao of the universe,
Why do I know that the universe is governed in this way?
Because I measure it by Tao itself..


The person charged with the virtue resembles to a new born baby.
Neither wasp, nor serpent, stings him.
No predator devours him.
No bird of prey strikes him.
His bones are still weak, his muscles are indeed yielding.
And yet he grips his hands firmly.
He has not yet known the union (love-making) between the male and the female,
And yet his penis is hard.
For he maintains full of energy,
And he screams all day without becoming hoarse.
This is due to perfect harmony (of Yin and Yang).
To be awakened to harmony is constancy.
To be awakened to constancy is enlightenment.
To contrive the extension of life is misfortune.
To worry about things is strain.
When people seek to be roborant,
That is because of the old age.
This is against Tao.
Whatever is against Tao does not last very long.


Those who know do not talk.
Those who talk do not know.
Shut the hole of the mouth (=the holes of senses, thus of desires),
And dull your sharpness, and dissolve its entanglement.
Dim your brightness and be one with the dirt.
This is called the Primal union.
Therefore, the those who are in tune with this Primal union
Are not friends of others, nor are alienated from them,
Neither profit them, nor harm them,
Neither honor them, nor disgrace them.
Therefore, they are the most inestimable in the universe.


To rule the state is with justice (the orthodox approach),
To wage a war is with surprise attack (the unorthodox tactics),
One becomes the master of the universe.
How do I know that this is so?
Because of this.
The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper weapons there are among people,
The more troubles there are in the state.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more weird things happen.
The more rules and regulations there are,
The more thieves and robbers are rampant.
Therefore, the sage says:
I take no action and people are well reformed.
I enjoy serenity and people become just.
I do nothing and people become wealthy.
I have no desires and people become uncarved block.


The less severe the ruler becomes,
the better governed people are.
The more severe the ruler becomes,
The more impoverished people become.
Calamity is nest to the good fortune,
It is hidden in the fortuity,
No one knows where its limit is.
There is no justice.
There is no uprightness.
Uprightness becomes bizarre,
Goodness becomes sorcery.
People’s disarray is nothing new.
Therefore, the sage is just to oneself and yet compassionate to others.
He is unblemished and yet does not hurt others.
He is tolerant and yet not too forgiving to others.
He is full of light and yet not dazzling.


To rule people and serve heaven, nothing is better than compliant.
To be compliant is to readily return to Tao.
To readily return to Tao is to hoard its virtue.
To hoard its virtue is to have nothing undone.
To have nothing undone is to have limitless strength (=Tao).
To have limitless strength is to be fit to become a ruler.
The Mother of ruling is forever.
This is called the Tao of having deep and firm roots,
the long and eternal life.


Ruling a large state is like cooking a small fish (=no action).
If one steers the universe with Tao, then the evil spirit will have no might.
Not that the evil spirit has no might, but its might does not harm people.
Not only its might does not harm people, but the sage will not harm them.
Neither the evil spirit, nor the sage, does harm people,
Virtues after virtues flock together.


A large state is the lower portion of a river.
It is a place where the universe meets with each other,
It is the female that the universe is in love with.
The female always overcomes the male with permanence,
Being indeed compliant in permanence.
Therefore, the large state is compliant to the small state,
And the small state will assure its reliance.
The small state is compliant to the large state,
And the large state will assure its reliance.
Therefore, either being compliant in one case will assure its reliance,
or being compliant in the other will earn its reliance.
The large state would like noting but to nourish more people,
The small state would like nothing but to earn assurance from the other.
Therefore, in order that both states fulfills their needs,
The large state is simply to be first compliant.


Tao is the ultimate principle of the Ten Thousand Things,
It is the inestimable to the good people,
It is also the refuge to the not good people.
Beautiful words can earn the high position,
Good deeds can furnish others.
How can the not good people be abandoned (as sustained by Tao)?
Therefore, When the emperor is crowned and three officers are chosen,
To be busy with presenting a gift of jade and four horsed cart,
Cannot be compared to being still and offering Tao.
Why did the Ancient people esteem Tao so much?
You can have what you seek,
And are not forgiven even if you are a criminal.
Therefore, this is what the universe holds indispensable.


Make no action, Initiate no incident, and taste no flavor.
Give the great to the small, the plenty to the little ,
And respond the indignant with the virtuous.
Work on the hard while it’s easy ,
And take care of the large while it’s small.
The hard things in the universe necessarily arise from the easy matter,
And the serious matters of the universe necessarily arise from the trivial.
Therefore, the sage never attempts to make the great action,
And yet nothing is undone.
An undertaker of smooth talk cannot be trusted,
The more easy things there appear, the more there arise difficult matters.
Therefore, the sage considers that the easy things are hard,
And never meets the hard things.


The stable peace is easily maiintained,
The problem is manageable before manifestation,
The Brittle is easily shattered,
The tiny is easily scattered.
Deal with it before indication,
Calm it before uprising.
The tree with an armful trank starts with a tiny shoot,
The nine story high tower rises from a pile of earth.
The trip of 1000 li begins with the first step.
To spuriously act necessarily defeats itself,
To adhere necessarily loses.
The sage makes no action (wu-wei), thus he does never defeat.
He does not adhere, thus he does not loses.
Poeple are alwasys defeated when their foot verges on completion.
Give the same care at the end as at the beginning, then no defeat will come.
The sage pursues the ffeedom of desires,
He does not treasure precious things,
He learns no learning,
He recovers people from their failure.
Thus he assistes ten thousand things to find their nature,
and he initiates no action.


The Ancient person well intuned with Tao,
Tried to not enlighten the people with sagacity,
But endeavored to keep them in the ignorance.
It is difficult to govern the populace,
Because they think that they posses wisdom.
To govern the state by sagacity is the enemy of the state,
To govern the state with no sagacity is the blessing of the state.
It is the principle of governing to know these two alternatives.
To be aware of this principle is the primordial virtue.
The primordial virtue is profound and immense,
It is indeed the denial of the mundane sagacity.
Through this denial, to be the great oneness with Tao ensures..


——this section states that by taking an analogy in water, the significnce of passivity,
negativity, to be low and acceptance.

Why are the Great Yan Ze River* or the Great Ocean
Kings of handred valleys and streams? Because they lie way below.
Those who are able lie way below are
Kings of handred valleys and streams.
To rule over the people,
Lower onself below them with humble words,
To lead the people, Put onself behind them.
To lead the people, the sage does not repress them,
To be behind people, he doe not impede them.
The people of the world are happy to support him and dislike him.
Because he is not combative,
No one will be odds with him.