The Tao Te Ching Part I


A Translation by Stan Rosenthal

( to part II )



1. THE EMBODIMENT OF TAO

Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself.
Even the finest name is insufficient to define it. Without words, the Tao can be experienced, and without a name, it can be known.

To conduct one's life according to the Tao,
is to conduct one's life without regrets;
to realize that potential within oneself
which is of benefit to all.

Though words or names are not required
to live one's life this way,
to describe it, words and names are used,
that we might better clarify
the way of which we speak,
without confusing it with other ways
in which an individual might choose to live.

Through knowledge, intellectual thought and words,
the manifestations of the Tao are known,
but without such intellectual intent
we might experience the Tao itself.

Both knowledge and experience are real,
but reality has many forms,
which seem to cause complexity.

By using the means appropriate,
we extend ourselves beyond
the barriers of such complexity,
and so experience the Tao.


2. LETTING GO OF COMPARISONS

We cannot know the Tao itself,
nor see its qualities direct,
but only see by differentiation,
that which it manifests.

Thus, that which is seen as beautiful
is beautiful compared with that
which is seen as lacking beauty;
an action considered skilled
is so considered in comparison
with another, which seems unskilled.

That which a person knows he has
is known to him by that which he does not have,
and that which he considers difficult
seems so because of that which he can do with ease.
One thing seems long by comparison with that
which is, comparatively, short.
One thing is high because another thing is low;
only when sound ceases is quietness known,
and that which leads
is seen to lead only by being followed.
In comparison, the sage,
in harmony with the Tao,
needs no comparisons,
and when he makes them, knows
that comparisons are judgements,
and just as relative to he who makes them,
and to the situation,
as they are to that on which
the judgement has been made.

Through his experience,
the sage becomes aware that all things change,
and that he who seems to lead,
might also, in another situation, follow.
So he does nothing; he neither leads nor follows.
That which he does is neither big nor small;
without intent, it is neither difficult,
nor done with ease.
His task completed, he then lets go of it;
seeking no credit, he cannot be discredited.
Thus, his teaching lasts for ever,
and he is held in high esteem.


3. WITHOUT SEEKING ACCLAIM

By retaining his humility,
the talented person who is also wise,
reduces rivalry.

The person who possesses many things,
but does not boast of his possessions,
reduces temptation, and reduces stealing.

Those who are jealous of the skills or things
possessed by others,
most easily themselves become possessed by envy.

Satisfied with his possessions,
the sage eliminates the need to steal;
at one with the Tao,
he remains free of envy,
and has no need of titles.

By being supple, he retains his energy.
He minimizes his desires,
and does not train himself in guile,
nor subtle words of praise.
By not contriving, he retains
the harmony of his inner world,
and so remains at peace within himself.

It is for reasons such as these,
that an administration
which is concerned
with the welfare of those it serves,
does not encourage status
and titles to be sought,
nor encourage rivalry.

Ensuring a sufficiency for all,
helps in reducing discontent.

Administrators who are wise
do not seek honours for themselves,
nor act with guile
towards the ones they serve.


4. THE UNFATHOMABLE TAO

It is the nature of the Tao,
that even though used continuously,
it is replenished naturally,
never being emptied,
and never being over-filled,
as is a goblet
which spills its contents
upon the ground.

The Tao therefore cannot be said
to waste its charge,
but constantly remains
a source of nourishment
for those who are not so full of self
as to be unable to partake of it.
When tempered beyond its natural state,
the finest blade will lose its edge.
Even the hardest tempered sword,
against water, is of no avail,
and will shatter if struck against a rock.
When untangled by a cutting edge,
the cord in little pieces lies,
and is of little use.

Just as the finest swordsmith
tempers the finest blade
with his experience,
so the sage, with wisdom, tempers intellect.
With patience, tangled cord may be undone,
and problems which seem insoluble, resolved.

With wise administrators, all can exist in unity,
each with the other,
because no man need feel that he exists,
only as the shadow of his brilliant brother.

Through conduct not contrived for gain,
awareness of the Tao may be maintained.
This is how its mysteries may be found.


5. WITHOUT INTENTION

Nature acts without intent,
so cannot be described
as acting with benevolence,
nor malevolence to any thing.

In this respect, the Tao is just the same,
though in reality it should be said
that nature follows the rule of Tao.

Therefore, even when he seems to act
in manner kind or benevolent,
the sage is not acting with such intent,
for in conscious matters such as these,
he is amoral and indifferent.

The sage retains tranquility,
and is not by speech or thought disturbed,
and even less by action which is contrived.
His actions are spontaneous,
as are his deeds towards his fellow men.

By this means he is empty of desire,
and his energy is not drained from him.


6. COMPLETION

Like the sheltered, fertile valley,
the meditative mind is still,
yet retains its energy.

Since both energy and stillness,
of themselves, do not have form,
it is not through the senses
that they may be found,
nor understood by intellect alone,
although, in nature, both abound.

In the meditative state,
the mind ceases to differentiate
between existences,
and that which may or may not be.
It leaves them well alone,
for they exist,
not differentiated, but as one,
within the meditative mind.


7. SHEATHING THE LIGHT

When living by the Tao,
awareness of self is not required,
for in this way of life, the self exists,
and is also non-existent,
being conceived of, not as an existentiality,
nor as non-existent.

The sage does not contrive to find his self,
for he knows that all which may be found of it,
is that which it manifests to sense and thought,
which side by side with self itself, is nought.

It is by sheathing intellect's bright light
that the sage remains at one with his own self,
ceasing to be aware of it, by placing it behind.

Detached, he is unified with his external world,
by being selfless he is fulfilled;
thus his selfhood is assured.


8. THE WAY OF WATER

Great good is said to be like water,
sustaining life with no conscious striving,
flowing naturally, providing nourishment,
found even in places
which desiring man rejects.

In this way
it is like the Tao itself.

Like water, the sage abides in a humble place;
in meditation, without desire;
in thoughtfulness, he is profound,
and in his dealings, kind.
In speech, sincerity guides the man of Tao,
and as a leader, he is just.
In management, competence is his aim,
and he ensures the pacing is correct.

Because he does not act for his own ends,
nor cause unnecessary conflict,
he is held to be correct
in his actions towards his fellow man.


9. WITHOUT EXTREMES

The cup is easier to hold
when not filled to overflowing.

The blade is more effective
if not tempered beyond its mettle.

Gold and jade are easier to protect
if possessed in moderation.

He who seeks titles,
invites his own downfall.

The sage works quietly,
seeking neither praise nor fame;
completing what he does with natural ease,
and then retiring.
This is the way and nature of Tao.


10. CLEANING THE DARK MIRROR

Maintaining unity is virtuous,
for the inner world of thought is one
with the external world
of action and of things.

The sage avoids their separation,
by breathing as the sleeping babe,
and thus maintaining harmony.

He cleans the dark mirror of his mind,
so that it reflects without intent.
He conducts himself without contriving,
loving the people, and not interfering.

He cultivates without possessing,
thus providing nourishment,
he remains receptive
to changing needs,
and creates without desire.

By leading from behind,
attending to that
which must be done,
he is said to have attained
the mystic state.


11. THE UTILITY OF NON-EXISTENCE

Though thirty spokes may form the wheel,
it is the hole within the hub
which gives the wheel utility.

It is not the clay the potter throws,
which gives the pot its usefulness,
but the space within the shape,
from which the pot is made.

Without a door, the room cannot be entered,
and without windows it is dark.
Such is the utility of non-existence.


12. THE REPRESSION OF DESIRES

Through sight, the colours may be seen,
but too much colour blinds us.
Apprehending the tones of sound,
too much sound might make us deaf,
and too much flavour deadens taste.
When hunting for sport, and chasing for pleasure,
the mind easily becomes perplexed.
He who collects treasures for himself
more easily becomes anxious.

The wise person fulfills his needs,
rather than sensory temptations.


13. UNMOVED AND UNMOVING

The ordinary man seeks honour, not dishonour,
cherishing success and abominating failure,
loving life, whilst fearing death.
The sage does not recognise these things,
so lives his life quite simply.

The ordinary man seeks to make himself
the centre of his universe;
the universe of the sage is at his centre.
He loves the world, and thus remains unmoved
by things with which others are concerned.
He acts with humility, is neither moved nor moving,
and can therefore be trusted in caring for all things.


14. EXPERIENCING THE MYSTERY

The Tao is abstract,
and therefore has no form,
it is neither bright in rising,
nor dark in sinking,
cannot be grasped, and makes no sound.

Without form or image, without existence,
the form of the formless, is beyond defining,
cannot be described,
and is beyond our understanding.
It cannot be called by any name.

Standing before it, it has no beginning;
even when followed, it has no end.
In the now, it exists; to the present apply it,
follow it well, and reach its beginning.


15. THE MANIFESTATION OF THE TAO IN MAN


The sage of old was profound and wise;
like a man at a ford, he took great care,
alert, perceptive and aware.

Desiring nothing for himself,
and having no desire
for change for its own sake,
his actions were difficult to understand.

Being watchful, he had no fear of danger;
being responsive, he had no need of fear.

He was courteous like a visiting guest,
and as yielding as the springtime ice.
Having no desires, he was untouched by craving.

Receptive and mysterious,
his knowledge was unfathomable,
causing others to think him hesitant.

Pure in heart, like uncut jade,
he cleared the muddy water
by leaving it alone.

By remaining calm and active,
the need for renewing is reduced.


16. RETURNING TO THE ROOT

It is only by means of being
that non-being may be found.

When society changes
from its natural state of flux,
to that which seems like chaos,
the inner world of the superior man
remains uncluttered and at peace.
By remaining still, his self detatched,
he aids society in its return
to the way of nature and of peace.
The value of his insight may be clearly seen
when chaos ceases.

Being one with the Tao is to be at peace,
and to be in conflict with it,
leads to chaos and dysfunction.

When the consistency of the Tao is known,
the mind is receptive to its states of change.

It is by being at one with the Tao,
that the sage holds no prejudice
against his fellow man.
If accepted as a leader of men,
he is held in high esteem.

Throughout his life,
both being and non-being,
the Tao protects him.


17. LEADERSHIP BY EXCEPTION

Man cannot comprehend the infinite;
only knowing that the best exists,
the second best is seen and praised,
and the next, despised and feared.

The sage does not expect that others
use his criteria as their own.

The existence of the leader who is wise
is barely known to those he leads.
He acts without unnecessary speech,
so that the people say,
"It happened of its own accord".


18. THE DECAY OF ETHICS

When the way of the Tao is forgotten,
kindness and ethics need to be taught;
men learn to pretend to be wise and good.

All too often in the lives of men,
filial piety and devotion
arise only after conflict and strife,
just as loyal ministers all too often appear,
when the people are suppressed.


19. RETURNING TO NATURALNESS

It is better merely to live one's life,
realizing one's potential,
rather than wishing
for sanctification.

He who lives in filial piety and love
has no need of ethical teaching.

When cunning and profit are renounced,
stealing and fraud will disappear.
But ethics and kindness, and even wisdom,
are insufficient in themselves.

Better by far to see the simplicity
of raw silk's beauty
and the uncarved block;
to be one with onself,
and with one's brother.
It is better by far
to be one with the Tao,
developing selflessness,
tempering desire,
removing the wish,
but being compassionate.


20. BEING DIFFERENT FROM ORDINARY MEN

The sage is often envied
because others do not know
that although he is nourished by the Tao,
like them, he too is mortal.

He who seeks wisdom is well advised
to give up academic ways,
and put an end to striving.
Then he will learn that yes and no
are distinguished only by distinction.

It is to the advantage of the sage
that he does not fear what others fear,
but it is to the advantage of others
that they can enjoy the feast,
or go walking, free of hindrance,
through the terraced park in spring.

The sage drifts like a cloud,
having no specific place.
Like a newborn babe before it smiles,
he does not seek to communicate.
In the eyes of those
who have more than they need,
the sage has nothing, and is a fool,
prizing only that which of the Tao is born.

The sage may seem to be perplexed,
being neither bright nor clear,
and to himself, sometimes he seems
both dull and weak, confused and shy.
Like the ocean at night,
he is serene and quiet,
but as penetrating as the winter wind.


21. FINDING THE ESSENCE OF TAO

The greatest virtue is to follow the Tao;
how it achieves ! without contriving.

The essence of Tao is dark and mysterious,
having, itself, no image or form.
Yet through its non-being,
are found image and form.
The essence of Tao is deep and unfathomable,
yet it may be known by not trying to know.


22. YIELDING TO MAINTAIN INTEGRITY

Yield, and maintain integrity.
To bend is to be upright;
to be empty is to be full.

Those who have little have much to gain,
but those who have much
may be confused by possessions.

The wise man embraces the all encompassing;
he is unaware of himself, and so has brilliance;
not defending himself, he gains distinction;
not seeking fame, he receives recognition;
not making false claims, he does not falter;
and not being quarrelsome,
is in conflict with no one.

This is why it was said by the sages of old,
"Yield, and maintain integrity;
be whole, and all things come to you".


23. ACCEPTING THE IRREVOCABLE

Nature's way is to say but little;
high winds are made still
with the turn of the tide,
and rarely last all morning,
nor heavy rain, all day.
Therefore, when talking,
remember also
to be silent and still.

He who follows the natural way
is always one with the Tao.
He who is virtuous may experience virtue,
whilst he who loses the natural way
is easily lost himself.

He who is at one with the Tao
is at one with nature,
and virtue always exists for he who has virtue.

To accept the irrevocable
is to let go of desire.

He who does not have trust in others
should not himself be trusted.


24. EXCESS

He who stretches
beyond his natural reach,
does not stand firmly
upon the ground;
just as he
who travels at a speed
beyond his means,
cannot maintain his pace.

He who boasts
is not enlightened,
and he who is self-righteous
does not gain respect
from those who are meritous;
thus, he gains nothing,
and will fall into disrepute.

Since striving,
boasting and self-righteousness,
are all unnecessary traits,
the sage considers them excesses,
and has no need of them.


25. THE CREATIVE PRINCIPLE OF TAO

The creative principle unifies
the inner and external worlds.
It does not depend on time or space,
is ever still and yet in motion;
thereby it creates all things,
and is therefore called
'the creative and the absolute';
its ebb and its flow extend to infinity.

We describe the Tao as being great;
we describe the universe as great;
nature too, we describe as great,
and man himself is great.

Man's laws should follow natural laws,
just as nature gives rise to physical laws,
whilst following from universal law,
which follows the Tao.


26. CENTRING

The natural way is the way of the sage,
serving as his dwelling,
providing his centre deep within,
whether in his home or journeying.

Even when he travels far,
he is not separate
from his own true nature.
Maintaining awareness of natural beauty,
he still does not forget his purpose.

Although he may dwell in a grand estate,
simplicity remains his guide,
for he is full aware, that losing it,
his roots as well would disappear.
So he is not restless,
lest he loses the natural way.

Similarly, the people's leader
is not flippant in his role, nor restless,
for these could cause the loss
of the roots of leadership.


27. FOLLOWING THE TAO

The sage follows the natural way,
doing what is required of him.

Like an experienced tracker,
he leaves no tracks;
like a good speaker, his speech is fluent;
He makes no error, so needs no tally;
like a good door, which needs no lock,
he is open when it is required of him,
and closed at other times;
like a good binding, he is secure,
without the need of borders.

Knowing that virtue may grow from example,
this is the way in which the sage teaches,
abandoning no one who stops to listen.
Thus, from experience of the sage,
all might learn, and so might gain.

There is mutual respect twixt teacher and pupil,
for, without respect, there would be confusion.


28. RETAINING INTEGRITY

Whilst developing creativity,
also cultivate receptivity.
Retain the mind like that of a child,
which flows like running water.

When considering any thing,
do not lose its opposite.
When thinking of the finite,
do not forget infinity;

Act with honour, but retain humility.
By acting according to the way of the Tao,
set others an example.

By retaining the integrity
of the inner and external worlds,
true selfhood is maintained,
and the inner world made fertile.


29. TAKING NO ACTION

The external world is fragile,
and he who meddles with its natural way,
risks causing damage to himself.
He who tries to grasp it,
thereby loses it.

It is natural for things to change,
sometimes being ahead, sometimes behind.

There are times when even breathing
may be difficult,
whereas its natural state is easy.

Sometimes one is strong,
and sometimes weak,
sometimes healthy,
and sometimes sick,
sometimes is first,
and at other times behind.

The sage does not try
to change the world by force,
for he knows that force results in force.
He avoids extremes and excesses,
and does not become complacent.


30. A CAVEAT AGAINST VIOLENCE

When leading by the way of the Tao,
abominate the use of force,
for it causes resistance, and loss of strength,
showing the Tao has not been followed well.
Achieve results but not through violence,
for it is against the natural way,
and damages both others' and one's own true self.

The harvest is destroyed in the wake of a great war,
and weeds grow in the fields in the wake of the army.

The wise leader achieves results,
but does not glory in them;
is not proud of his victories,
and does not boast of them.
He knows that boasting is not the natural way,
and that he who goes against that way,
will fail in his endeavours.


31. MAINTAINING PEACE

Weapons of war are instruments of fear,
and are abhorred by those who follow the Tao.
The leader who follows the natural way
does not abide them.

The warrior king leans to his right,
from whence there comes his generals' advice,
but the peaceful king looks to his left,
where sits his counsellor of peace.

When he looks to his left, it is a time of peace,
and when to the right, a time for sorrow.

Weapons of war are instruments of fear,
and are not favoured by the wise,
who use them only when there is no choice,
for peace and stillness are dear to their hearts,
and victory causes them no rejoicing.

To rejoice in victory is to delight in killing;
to delight in killing is to have no self-being.

The conduct of war is that of a funeral;
when people are killed, it is a time of mourning.
This is why even victorious battle
should be observed without rejoicing.


32. IF THE TAO WERE OBSERVED

The Tao is eternal, but does not have fame;
like the uncarved block, its worth seems small,
though its value to man is beyond all measure.
Were it definable, it could then be used
to obviate conflict, and the need
to teach the way of the Tao;
all men would abide in the peace of the Tao;
sweet dew would descend to nourish the earth.

When the Tao is divided,
there is a need for names,
for, like the block which is carved,
its parts then are seen.

By stopping in time
from torment and conflict,
strife is defeated, and danger averted.
The people then seek the wisdom of Tao,
just as all rivers flow to the great sea.


33. WITHOUT FORCE: WITHOUT PERISHING

Knowledge frequently results
from knowing others,
but the man who is awakened,
has seen the uncarved block.

Others might be mastered by force,
but to master one's self
requires the Tao.

He who has many material things,
may be described as rich,
but he who knows he has enough,
and is at one with the Tao,
might have enough of material things,
and have self-being as well.

Will-power may bring perseverance;
but to have tranquility is to endure,
being protected for all his days.

He whose ideas remain in the world,
is present for all time.


34. WITHOUT CONTRIVING

All things may act, without exclusion,
according to the natural way,
which fulfills its purpose silently,
and with no claim.
Being an aspect of natural order,
it is not the ruler of any thing,
but remains the source of their nourishment.
It cannot be seen; it has no intention,
but all natural things rely on its presence.
When all things return to it,
it does not enslave them,
so unmanifested, its greatness prevails.

Modelling himself upon the Tao,
he who is wise, does not contrive,
but is content with what he achieves.


35. THE BENEVOLENT HOST

The wise man acts at one with the Tao,
for he knows it is here that peace is found.
It is for this reason that he is sought.

Whilst guests enjoy good music and food,
as these are supplied by a benevolent host,
a description of Tao seems without form,
for it cannot be heard and cannot be seen.
But when the music and food are all ended,
the taste of the Tao still remains.

 

Tao Te Ching part II