by Lao Tze
Printed in 1891
Tao Teh King (Tao Te Ching): Sacred Books of the East Vol. 39
The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and
unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared; honour and
great calamity, to be regarded as personal conditions (of the same
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.
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.
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.
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).<
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.
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.
When we renounce learning we have no troubles.
The (ready) 'yes,' and (flattering) 'yea;'—
What all men fear is indeed to be feared; but how wide and without end
Small is the difference they display.
But mark their issues, good and ill;—
What space the gulf between shall fill?
is the range of questions (asking to be discussed)!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of
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.'
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.
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
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.
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