Tao Te Ching

by Lao Tze

Printed in 1891. Tao Teh King (Tao Te Ching): Sacred Books of the East Vol. 39


The classic Taoist text translated in Pinyin by nineteenth century sinologist, James Legge.


  • 1

    The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and

    unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and

    unchanging name.

  • 2

    All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing

    this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill

    of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the

    want of skill is.

  • 3

    Not to value and employ men of superior ability is the way to

    keep the people from rivalry among themselves; not to prize articles

    which are difficult to procure is the way to keep them from becoming

    thieves; not to show them what is likely to excite their desires is

    the way to keep their minds from disorder.

  • 4

    The Tao is (like) the emptiness of a vessel; and in our

    employment of it we must be on our guard against all fulness. How

    deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the Honoured Ancestor of

    all things!

  • 5

    Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be

    benevolent; they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are dealt

    with. The sages do not act from (any wish to be) benevolent; they

    deal with the people as the dogs of grass are dealt with.

  • 6

    The valley spirit dies not, aye the same;

    The female mystery thus do we name.

    Its gate, from which at first they issued forth,

    Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth.

    Long and unbroken does its power remain,

    Used gently, and without the touch of pain.

  • 7

    Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long. The reason

    why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long is

    because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how they are

    able to continue and endure

  • 8

    The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence

    of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying,

    without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men

    dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao.

  • 9

    It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to

    carry it when it is full. If you keep feeling a point that has been

    sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.

  • 10

    When the intelligent and animal souls are held together in one

    embrace, they can be kept from separating. When one gives undivided

    attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of

    pliancy, he can become as a (tender) babe. When he has cleansed away

    the most mysterious sights (of his imagination), he can become without

    a flaw.

  • 11

    The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty

    space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends. Clay is

    fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that

    their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from the walls)

    to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space (within), that its

    use depends. Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for

    profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness.

  • 12

    Colour’s five hues from th’ eyes their sight will take;

    Music’s five notes the ears as deaf can make;

    The flavours five deprive the mouth of taste;

    The chariot course, and the wild hunting waste

    Make mad the mind; and objects rare and strange,

    Sought for, men’s conduct will to evil change.

  • 13

    Favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared; honour and

    great calamity, to be regarded as personal conditions (of the same


  • 14

    We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it ‘the

    Equable.’ We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it ‘the

    Inaudible.’ We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we

    name it ‘the Subtle.’ With these three qualities, it cannot be made

    the subject of description; and hence we blend them together and

    obtain The One.

  • 16

    The (state of) vacancy should be brought to the utmost degree,

    and that of stillness guarded with unwearying vigour. All things

    alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see them

    return (to their original state). When things (in the vegetable

    world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them

    return to its root. This returning to their root is what we call the

    state of stillness; and that stillness may be called a reporting that

    they have fulfilled their appointed end.

  • 17

    In the highest antiquity, (the people) did not know that there

    were (their rulers). In the next age they loved them and praised

    them. In the next they feared them; in the next they despised them.

    Thus it was that when faith (in the Tao) was deficient (in the rulers)

    a want of faith in them ensued (in the people).<

  • 18

    When the Great Tao (Way or Method) ceased to be observed,

    benevolence and righteousness came into vogue. (Then) appeared wisdom

    and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy.

  • 19

    If we could renounce our sageness and discard our wisdom, it

    would be better for the people a hundredfold. If we could renounce

    our benevolence and discard our righteousness, the people would again

    become filial and kindly. If we could renounce our artful

    contrivances and discard our (scheming for) gain, there would be no

    thieves nor robbers.

  • 20

    When we renounce learning we have no troubles.

    The (ready) ‘yes,’ and (flattering) ‘yea;’—

    Small is the difference they display.

    But mark their issues, good and ill;—

    What space the gulf between shall fill?

    What all men fear is indeed to be feared; but how wide and without end

    is the range of questions (asking to be discussed)!

  • 21

    The grandest forms of active force

    From Tao come, their only source.

    Who can of Tao the nature tell?

    Our sight it flies, our touch as well.

    Eluding sight, eluding touch,

    The forms of things all in it crouch;

    Eluding touch, eluding sight,

    There are their semblances, all right.

    Profound it is, dark and obscure;

    Things’ essences all there endure.

    Those essences the truth enfold

    Of what, when seen, shall then be told.

    Now it is so; ’twas so of old.

    Its name—what passes not away;

    So, in their beautiful array,

    Things form and never know decay.

  • 22

    The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty,

    full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets them; he

    whose (desires) are many goes astray.

  • 15

    The skilful masters (of the Tao) in old times, with a subtle

    and exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep

    (also) so as to elude men’s knowledge. As they were thus beyond men’s

    knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort they

    appeared to be.

  • 23

    Abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity

    of his nature. A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a

    sudden rain does not last for the whole day. To whom is it that these

    (two) things are owing? To Heaven and Earth. If Heaven and Earth

    cannot make such (spasmodic) actings last long, how much less can man!

  • 24

    He who stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm; he who stretches

    his legs does not walk (easily). (So), he who displays himself does

    not shine; he who asserts his own views is not distinguished; he who

    vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged; he who is

    self-conceited has no superiority allowed to him. Such conditions,

    viewed from the standpoint of the Tao, are like remnants of food, or a

    tumour on the body, which all dislike. Hence those who pursue (the

    course) of the Tao do not adopt and allow them.

  • 25

    There was something undefined and complete, coming into

    existence before Heaven and Earth. How still it was and formless,

    standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in

    no danger (of being exhausted)! It may be regarded as the Mother of

    all things.

  • 26

    Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of


  • 27

    The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or

    footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault

    with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the skilful

    closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has shut will be

    impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or knots, while to

    unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In the same way the

    sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he does not cast away any

    man; he is always skilful at saving things, and so he does not cast

    away anything. This is called ‘Hiding the light of his procedure.’

  • 28

    Who knows his manhood’s strength,

    Yet still his female feebleness maintains;

    As to one channel flow the many drains,

    All come to him, yea, all beneath the sky.

    Thus he the constant excellence retains;

    The simple child again, free from all stains.

  • 29

    If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to

    effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The

    kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He

    who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp

    loses it

  • 30

    He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Tao will

    not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a course

    is sure to meet with its proper return.