Tao Te Ching
The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. Nameless, it is the origin of Heaven and Earth. Named, it is the Mother of all things.
Free yourself from all desire and you will see the mystery. Get caught in desire and you will only see its outward manifestations. As these two emerge they differ in name, but they're really two aspects of the same thing: The mystery of darkness, the deepest darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding.
In this world we all know beautiful things, and that's why there is ugliness too. We know good from bad because there is bad. Therefore, something and nothing give birth to one another. Difficult and easy accomplish each other. Long and short define each other. High and low arise from each other. Notes and tones harmonize with each other. Before and after follow each other.
That's why the sage acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything. He nurtures all things that come into being without claiming ownership or expecting rewards. When the work is done, he moves on. That is why it lasts forever.
Glorification of greatness leads to rivalry among people. Too much appreciation for expensive goods gives rise to theft. A display of desirable objects causes confusion of the heart.
Therefore, the wise rule by emptying minds and stuffing bellies, by weakening ambitions and strengthening bones. If the people lack knowledge and desire, then those who still have some will be discouraged to cause trouble. By acting without doing, that is, acting without any desire or care for the results, all things will be in order.
The Tao is a void, a vessel that is never fully filled. The unfathomable source of all things, like a highly honored ancestor.
Blunt the sharpness, unravel the knot. Dim your light and settle with the dust. How deep is the Tao! Hidden but always present. I don't know whose child it might have been, it must have existed before God.
The Tao doesn't take sides, it gives birth to both good and evil. The sage doesn't take sides, he welcomes both saints and sinners.
The space between Heaven and Earth is like a bellow, it appears empty yet it's never exhausted. The more it moves, the more it yields. Many words lead to exhaustion, it's better to take good care of your inner center.
The valley spirit never changes, never dies. It is the mystical Mother, whose gate is the root from which all worlds grow. Her power will be there forever, and she will never let you down.
Heaven is everlasting and Earth is enduring. The reason why they last so long is that they do not exist for themselves. Hence, they are long lived. The sage stays behind, and thus he's ahead. He is detached, and thus he's preserved. Through selflessness, he finds fulfillment.
The highest excellence is like water. Water benefits all things while occupying the lowest levels without striving. Thus it is closest to the Tao.
In choosing your home, find a suitable place. In thinking, find calm and peace of mind. In dealing with others, find gentleness. In speaking, find trustworthiness. In governing, find righteousness. In working, find competence. In action, find timelessness. If you are at peace with yourself and don't compare or compete, nobody will oppose you.
Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt. Fill your house with gold and jade, and no one can protect it. When wealth and status lead to arrogance, evilness and disaster are invited. Move on when the work is done and don't take credit for it. Such is the Tao of Heaven.
Can you keep your mind and body united? Can you care for your soul and become pliable like a newborn baby? Can you clean up your imagination and be without stain? Can a ruler really love his people and govern the country without imposing his will? While opening and closing the gates of heaven, can you sit still like a mother bird? While learning more every day, can you remain humble?
To give birth to all things and nourish them, to have all things without possessing anything, to act without expecting anything, to lead without dominating anything. That is what's called Te, the most profound of Virtues.
Thirty spokes connect to a wheel’s hub, yet what makes it useful is the hole in the center. Clay is molded into a pot, yet what makes it useful is emptiness. Doors and windows are made to create a room, yet what makes it useful is the space inside. That's how benefit comes from something, but usefulness comes from nothing.
The five colors blind the eye. The five tones deafen the ear. The five flavors numb the taste. Wild rides and hunting parties derange the mind. Rare and precious objects will lead you astray. Therefore the wise observe what comes from outside but prefer to be guided by what they see inside.
Both favor and disgrace bring fear. Both success and failure are physical conditions. What is meant by: “Both favor and disgrace bring fear”? Being favored can lead to the fear of falling into disgrace again. Accept being unimportant.
What is meant by: “Both success and failure are physical conditions”? It is the body that needs to succeed, without it there would be no fear of failure. Therefore, those who value their kingdom as much as they value themselves can be trusted with it. And to those who love the world as much as they love themselves, it can be left.
The Tao is called invisible, because it's beyond form. It's called inaudible, because it's beyond sound. It's called intangible, because it can't be grasped. These three are indefinable, which is why they are united in the One.
Its upper part is not bright, its lower part is not dark. Always acting, never named, It always returns to the realm of nothing. It's the formless form, the image without an image, indescribable and beyond imagination.
Stand before it and you will see no front, follow it and you will see no back. If you abide by the ancient Tao to master the presence, you will know this Origin and learn what the essence of wisdom is.
The ancient Tao masters had a subtle and profound knowledge of its mysteries. Their wisdom was unfathomable, all we can do is try to describe them. Careful, as if crossing an icy river. Uncertain, as if fearful of the surroundings. Courteous, like an honorable guest. Fluid, like melting ice. Unpretentious, like uncarved wood. Open-minded, like an empty valley. Opaque, like muddy waters.
Can you leave the water alone until the mud settles and it becomes clear again? Can you leave the world alone until all movement has stopped? Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfillment. Not full of themselves, they appear worn out and yet they are brand new.
Achieve the ultimate emptiness and let your mind come to a tireless rest. All things go through the same cycle. They flourish and then each of them returns to its root. Returning to the root is stillness, the way in which all things fulfill their destiny.
This is the law of eternal constancy. To know this law is to be enlightened, not knowing it leads to reckless behavior and misery.
When you realize where you come from, you naturally become generous and open-minded. Being open-minded, one will act royally. Being royal, one will attain the divine. Being divine is like being with the Tao. And even though the body eventually dies, the Tao will never pass away.
Since time immemorial, the best leaders are barely known by their people. The second best are loved and praised. The next ones are feared. The worst are despised and defied.
A leader who doesn't trust his people will not be trusted. Actions speak louder than words. When the work is done and their task is completed, the people will say: “We did it ourselves!”
When the great Tao was forgotten, benevolence and righteousness emerged. Then shrewdness and cleverness appeared, followed by great hypocrisy. When there was no peace within the family, filial piety arose. When the country was in turmoil, the sycophants appeared.
Throw away devotion and wisdom, everyone would be a hundred times better off. Throw away benevolence and righteousness, and the people would find each other again. Throw away schemes and profits, and robbers and thieves would disappear.
These three are only superficial, so they are insufficient in themselves. To cast off selfishness and temper desires, practice simplicity and let things go their own Way.
Give up learning and stop worrying. Is there a difference between yes and yeah? Is there a difference between good and evil? Do you have to fear what they all fear?
The others look happy, enjoying the sacrificial feast, or going up the terraces in spring. But I am alone, without a place to go. I am drifting, not knowing where I am, like a newborn babe before its first smile.
Others have more than they need, but I have nothing left. I am a fool, my mind is confused. Others are bright, but I am dim. Others are clever, but I am dumb. I drift like a wave on the ocean, with nowhere to go. Everyone is busy, while I appear dull and aimless. I am not the same. But, I am nourished by the Mother.
The Tao is intangible and unobservable, yet it is the source of all things. Although intangible and elusive, all forms are in it. Although elusive and intangible, all images are in it. It is the deepest darkness, the essence of nature, the essence of truth.
From ancient times to the present its name has never been forgotten. The Tao is eternal creation, through her the true beauty of nature is revealed.
Yield and overcome, bend and be straight. Empty and be full, wear out and be new. To gain peace of mind, let go of your desires.
The sage embraces the One and sets an example for all. He shines without putting on a display. Not boasting, he is distinguished. Without taking credits, he receives recognition. Never satisfied with it, his work endures. He has no competition because he does not compete.
The saying of the ancients, “Yield and Overcome,” is not an empty phrase: it is the Way to become One.
Speech is silver but silence is gold. A gale cannot blow all morning. A rainstorm doesn't last all day. What caused these events? Heaven and Earth. If even their actions are finite, what can we mortals do?
Those who conform to the Tao can attain it. Those who conform to Virtue can attain it. Those who conform to failure will be rewarded with it.
A lack of trust leads to a lack of credit.
He who stands on tiptoe isn't steady. He who strides doesn't go far. He who puts himself in the spotlight will not be enlightened. He who justifies himself will not be recognized. He who boasts will not be applauded. He who is arrogant will not reach a higher level.
From the point of view of the Tao, those are like spoiled food or a tumor on the body. Nobody likes them and followers of the Tao avoid them.
Something undefined, and yet complete, existed before the Universe was born. Quiet, immaterial, solitary, unchanging, infinite and inexhaustible it is the Mother of all things.
I don't know its name, so I call it the Tao. Or simply the Great. Great because its flow submerges everything, while all things emerge from it.
Therefore: long live the Tao, long live the Heavens, long live Earth, long live the King. These are the four great powers. Man is subject to Earth, Earth to Heaven, Heaven to the Tao. But the Tao simply Is.
The heavy bears the light, the unmoved governs the moving. Although there are beautiful places to visit, a wise prince remains free from the desire to see them and is on a journey all day long without leaving home.
Why should a lord of ten thousand chariots make a fool of himself? If he wants to impress the people, he loses their respect. If he wants to control them, he loses his grip.
A good traveler leaves no tracks. A good speaker leaves no doubt. A good teller tells no stories. A good door needs no lock to always close. Good binding needs no knots to last forever.
In the same way, the sage takes care of all men and abandons no one. He takes care of all things and dismisses nothing.
Light travels light. A good man is a bad man's teacher, but a bad man is a good man's lesson. The students honor their teacher, but what would he be without them? High-grade mysteries confuse the intelligent observer.
The strength of a man, the power of a woman and the purity of a child together make one like the valley where the many rivers of Heaven flow into. Even knowing the white, he sticks to the black. Being an example of humility for all the world, he has returned to his essence, the infinite Tao.
Who knows both his honor and his disgrace? To be the valley of the Universe, return to the state of the uncarved block. When the block is carved, a function is formed. The best cutters cut the least, yet they are the ones who shape the world.
Do you think you can change the world? If you try, you will destroy it. The world is an illusion, you can't grasp it. If you try, it will slip through your fingers.
Nature, in all its simplicity, goes its own way. What was ahead is now behind. A warm breath turns into a chill. Strength becomes a sign of weakness, success results in costly failure. The sage takes things the way they come and avoids complacency or extravagance.
A ruler who wants the Tao to be his guide is well advised to lead his people without the use of arms, as they would turn against him. Where armies camp, thorn bushes flourish. Great campaigns only yield bad harvests.
A good commander does his duty and strikes the enemy with a decisive blow. But when his job is done, he is not taking advantage of his victory to gain more powers. He ends the campaign and avoids being proud, boastful or arrogant.
Force is followed by a loss of strength. That which is not in line with the Tao will come to an early end.
Weapons of war are magnificent tools of disaster. That's why they are detested by all creation, and a person of the Tao will not dwell upon them. The wise prefer the femininity and softness of the Moon, only in times of war do they honor the masculinity of the Sun.
Weapons are tools of fear; the wise use them only when there is no other way to achieve the peace and tranquility they yearn for. Victory is no cause for celebration. To rejoice in victory is to enjoy killing; those who enjoy killing cannot fulfill themselves.
On happy occasions, precedence is given to Yin, the side where the Moon resides. On sad occasions Yang, the sunny side, is honored. In the army, the general stands on the left and the commander-in-chief on the right, similar to the rituals observed at funerals. Because when so many people have been killed, they should be grieved in bitter sorrow. The victor must know that his place is on the right side.
The Tao is infinitely indefinable. Although it appears simple and small, it is inferior to nothing. If a lord or a king could harness it, all beings would submit to him. Heaven and Earth would unite and sweet dew would descend on all the people, living together in perfect harmony without one rule.
When a division occurs, a name is born. The wise avoid getting into trouble and leave it at that. After all, everything ends in the Tao, like rivers flowing into the sea.
Knowing others is intelligence, knowing yourself is wisdom. Overcoming others requires strength, overcoming yourself is almighty.
If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich. If you have the energy, you will find the power of will. If you act right, you will endure.
Once you're united with the Tao it will preserve you forever.
The Great Tao is everywhere. It flows to the left and to the right. All things depend upon it and it does not deny them anything. When it has accomplished its task it doesn't take credit for it. Without claiming anything it makes even the smallest things shine. Without controlling anything even the biggest things return to it. In the same way, the wise achieve greatness by being small.
He who embraces the One shall save the world. People who resort to him are safe and feel at ease.
Nice food and music can get a passer-by to spend some time. The teaching of the Tao, however, seems without flavor or substance. But although there's nothing to be seen or heard, it can never run out of anything.
What has to shrink must first expand. What has to weaken must first be strengthened. What has to fall must first be raised. What has to be taken must first be given.
Light travels light; the enlightened carry little luggage and do not want to convince anyone. They know that the soft and gentle will overcome the hard and strong. And like fish that want to stay in deep water, the tools of the state must remain hidden from the people.
To make sure that nothing is left undone, the Tao does not do a thing. If kings and lords observed this, all things would develop naturally. Any desire to interfere would be absorbed by the Unnamed. Free from all intentions, peace would come naturally.
Those who became aware of the Tao did not gain the insight by making a great show. Those who lost sight of the Tao were staring blindly at it.
In ancient times the wise did nothing, yet nothing was left undone. The foolish were always busy, yet much remained to be done. The benevolent were naturally good, the righteous were always right. If a moralist said something and no one responded, he would roll up his sleeves and start marching.
Now when the Tao is lost, there is Te. When Te is lost, virtue gives way to benevolence. When benevolence is lost, righteousness appears. When righteousness is lost, there is ritual. Ritual is the start of folly, it is faith and piety reduced to an empty shell.
The beauty of a flower says nothing about its roots. Therefore, the wise are concerned with the real and not the flimsy. They pick the fruit and leave the flower for what it is.
These are the things that have risen from the One: The purity of the sky, the steadiness of the Earth, the power of the spirit, the profoundness of the valley, the essence of life, the dignity of princes and kings. They all owe it to the Oneness of the Tao.
Because without its purity, the sky is terrifying. Without its steadiness, Earth falls apart. Without its power, the spirit is gone. Without its lows, the valley dries out. Without its spark, there is no life. Without the guidance of the Tao, even the greatest king gets lost in his kingdom.
Thus, nobility is rooted in humility. The high is founded on the low. Princes and kings are right to call themselves lonely orphans, or dysfunctional and unworthy. Isn't that knowing that their whole dignity is based upon humbleness?
Naming all the parts of a carriage will not tell you what its purpose is. Don't try to glitter like jade, but rather be rugged and common like stone.
To move ahead, the Tao returns. Yielding is the way of the Tao. All things are born of being, and being is born of nothing.
When a wise student hears of the Tao, he immediately begins to embody it. When an average student hears of the Tao, he practices it now and then. When a foolish student hears of the Tao, he laughs it away. If he hadn't roared with laughter, it would not have been the proper Tao.
So they say: The path into the light looks dark. Moving forward is like going back. The straight road is rough and rugged. True beauty appears tarnished. The highest Virtue comes from the deepest valley. Those who have it seem to possess nothing.
The power of the Tao is disguised as failure. The truth is never certain. The biggest square has no corners. The largest vessel is a void. The loudest noise is never heard. The greatest image is the shadow of a shade.
The Tao is hidden and has no name, and yet it is the Tao that gives all things their wholeness.
The Tao gives birth to One. One gives birth to two. Two gives birth to three. And three gives birth to all things. They come in from the dark and embrace the lights as the Moon goes down and the Sun goes up. Balanced by the flow of infinite emptiness like Yin and Yang.
People don't like to be an orphan, or dysfunctional and unworthy. But less is more, so this is precisely how a king describes himself. What others teach, I teach too: "Live by the sword, die by the sword." It's basically what my teaching is.
The softest of all things can overcome the toughest. Where there is no room, the immaterial enters. Where there is working without doing, benefit arises. Where there is teaching without words, wisdom is created.
Fame or life, what matters more? Life or wealth, what is more important? Gaining one at the expense of the other, what purpose does that serve?
If you cling to fame for fear of the unknown, or save money for fear of a loss, those concerns are justified. Be content with what you have and don't be afraid. If you know when you've had enough, you will stay out of trouble and live happily ever after.
Greatness comes from the humble, imperfect as it is. Fulfillment comes from the void, inexhaustible as it is. Great integrity finds itself crooked. Great intelligence finds itself dumb. Great eloquence finds itself awkward. Movement overcomes cold. Stillness overcomes heat. Let peace and purity rule the world.
When the Tao prevailed in the world, the horses used to work in the fields. When the Tao was lost, they were used to breed war horses on distant battlefields.
There is no greater sin than desire, no greater curse than discontent, no greater misfortune than greed. Those who know that enough is enough will always have enough.
Without leaving home, you may know the whole world. Without looking through the window, you may see the Tao of Heaven. The longer the journey, the less you understand.
To find the truth, the wise look inside. They don't need sights to see. Acting without doing, they have no purpose but to serve their purpose.
In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped. More and more, doing gives way to action.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. Let go of all desire, stop interfering, and the world will be yours.
The sage has no mind of his own, he is minding the people. Kind to those who are kind, but also to those who are not. In that way, kindness is spread. Trusting people who are trustworthy, but also those who are not. In that way, trust is spread.
The sage is humble and detached from the world, to which it seems confusing. Yet all eyes are on him, as if he were their Mother.
Between birth and death, three out if ten people are dedicated to life, three out of ten are dedicated to death, and those just passing from birth to death also number three out of ten. Why is this so? Because they are too greedy about life.
They say that someone who is in control of his life can travel through the wilderness without fear of rhinos or tigers. Or go into battle without worrying about weapons and shields. There is no place for the rhinoceros to thrust its horns, there is no place for the tiger to put its claws, there is no place for a weapon to pierce.
How can that be? Because there is no place for death to enter.
All things arise from the Tao, and Te nurtures them. They are formed by their nature and shaped by their environment. Therefore, all things venerate the Tao and honor its Virtue spontaneously.
Thus, the Tao gives birth to all thing and Virtue nurtures, grows, develops, supports, and protects them. And yet it doesn't claim any ownership or merit. It brings them to maturity but leaves them free. This is what is called the mystery of Te.
The Tao is the mother of all things in the Universe. To know the Mother, is to know her children. To be her child and recognize the Mother is to be free from the fear of death.
Remain silent, guard the senses, and life will be a gift that keeps giving. Open your mouth, always be busy, and all hope will be lost.
Real insight is seeing the small. Real strength is knowing how to yield. Don't lose sight of the Way, let its light illuminate you and save you from harm.
If I were to gain a little insight, I would live my life in harmony with the Great Tao. All I would have to be afraid of is boastful display. Because even though the road ahead seems straight and simple, people always love to go sideways.
Thus, the palaces are well-kept but the fields are full of weeds and the granaries stand empty. The princes wear fine clothes, carry a sharp sword and indulge themselves in good food and drinks. Their greed is never satisfied. They are robbers and thieves! They have lost their way, the way of the Tao.
What is planted in the Tao cannot be uprooted. What is firmly grasped cannot slip away. It is passed on from generation to generation.
When cultivated in the self, Virtue will be true. When cultivated in the household, it will overflow. When cultivated in the neighborhood, it will thrive. When cultivated in the nation, it will abound. When cultivated in the world, Virtue will be universal.
Therefore, observe your self. Observe your family, observe your village, observe your country, observe your world. How can you be sure? Observe the Tao.
A person who is filled with Te is like a newborn child. Poisonous insects will not sting. Birds of prey will not attack. Wild beasts will stay put. Her bones are soft and her muscles weak, but her grip is firm. She is not yet aware of the union of man and woman, but in essence all is there. She cries all day without becoming hoarse. That's what perfect harmony is.
To know what harmony is, is to know the Everlasting. To know the Everlasting is to be enlightened. Overprotecting one’s life brings bad luck. Controlling one's breath causes strain.
When things have been pushed to their peak they will soon start to decline. Because what goes against the Tao, will never last long.
Those who know don't talk. Those who talk don't know. The sage remains silent and guards his senses. He softens his sharpness and untangles his knots. He knows the mystery of evenness and dims his brightness to become one with the dust.
Those who have achieved this cannot be enclosed nor kept at a distance. They are unconcerned with friends and enemies, with harm and blessing, with honor and disgrace. Therefore, they are the noblest in the world.
Govern a nation justly, fight a battle cunningly. But to rule the world, let go of all intentions and purposes. How can I be so sure?
The more restrictions there are, the poorer the people become. The more weapons are used, the less safe the world becomes. The more ingenious people are, the stranger their devices become. The more rules and regulations there are, the more people become thieves and frauds.
An old sage once said: "The people correct themselves if I remain silent. The people transform themselves if I act without doing. The people become naturally rich if I don't claim anything for myself. The people return to simplicity if I let go of my ambitions."
When a government seems lacking, people are simple and sincere. When a government interferes with everything, it all goes wrong. Happiness is rooted in misery. Misery lurks beneath happiness.
Who knows what the future holds? As the saying goes: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Thus, the wise are like a square without a corner to cut. Strict with themselves but forgiving to others. Right without being righteous.
Moderation is the best way to govern the people and serve the Heavens. It's through moderation that we can begin to return to the Tao and accumulate Te. With enough Virtue, nothing is impossible. If nothing is impossible, then there are no limits. Without any limits, a man can be a king. If he knows who his real Mother is, he may endure.
That is what we call well rooted and firmly founded. The way to live a long and fulfilling life.
Ruling a great empire is like frying small fish. But center the nation around the Tao and the demons will lose their power. Or rather, they will not use them to harm people, nor will people harm them. Their Virtues will be united in the One.
A great country is like a river valley to which the streams of all nations flow. The Moon overcomes the Sun through its peacefulness. That's why she practices humbleness.
In the same way, a great country wins over a small country by occupying the lows. Similarly, by knowing its place, the small country wins over the great country.
Thus, both countries end up with what they are entitled to. If a great country wants to rule the world, it must conquer the low lands first.
Tao is the essence of all things. It is a treasure for the good, and a refuge for the bad. Good words are appreciated, but respect is gained with good deeds.
Therefore on the day the emperor is crowned, or the three officers of state installed, do not send a large piece of jade or a span of four horses. Instead, humbly offer a teaching of the Tao.
Why did the ancients value the Tao so much? Was it not because they could find forgiveness for their sins through it? That is why the Tao is considered the most valuable thing to have ever existed.
The way of the Tao is acting without doing, working without striving, tasting without sensing. To consider the small as large, the few as many and to confront the unkind with kindness.
Handle the difficult while it's still easy. Cultivate the great while it's still small. All complicated things started simply, all big things were once small. In this way, the wise achieve great accomplishments without making big plans.
Those who promise the world are little trusted. Those who always consider things easy will keep running into difficulties. By anticipating them in advance, the wise prevent problems from occurring at all.
It is easier to keep the peace when things are still at rest. It is easier to deal with problems before they become a problem. The brittle is easily shattered; the small is easily scattered. Take action before issues arise. Secure order before disorder begins.
A tree too large to embrace grows from a tiny sprout. A nine-story high terrace is built from a pile of earth. A journey of a thousand miles begins under your feet.
Those who act to gain results lose their fortune. Those who grab things lose their grip. The wise do not strive and therefore they do no harm. They don't grab anything and therefore they don't drop anything. Most people fail when they are on the verge of success. If they were as careful at the end as at they were at the beginning, they would not fail.
Thus the wise pursue what others don't seek and prize what others don't value. They learn what others forget and pick up what others leave behind. Free from desire, to benefit all things they let nature run its course.
The ancients who practiced the Tao, did not aim to enlighten the people, but rather to help them gain simplicity. Why is it so hard to govern? It's because the people are clever and witty. Therefore, those who rule a nation with clever ideas will do it harm. Those who rule it with simplicity are a nation’s blessing.
To know these principles is to understand the far-reaching mystery of profound Virtue. The mystery that conducts all things, and makes them live in great harmony with the One.
Why do all streams flow to the sea? Because it lies below them. Humility makes it the king of all waters. To govern his people, a wise king places himself below them. To lead his people, he must learn how to follow them.
Thus, when he rules over his people, they do not feel him as a burden. When he leads in front of his people, they do not feel threatened. That is why the world never gets tired of cheering him. Because he competes with no one, he faces no competition.
The whole world says my Tao is great, yet it seems to be of little substance. That's because the greater something is, the smaller it appears. If it were like any other word, it would never have been anything else but small.
Nevertheless, I have three treasures that I highly value and hold on to. The first is love, the second is austerity and the third is the courage to be humble. Because of love, I can be courageous. Because of austerity, I can be generous. Because of humbleness, I can be great.
Nowadays, people forsake love yet attempt to be courageous. They forsake austerity, yet attempt to be generous. They forsake humbleness, yet attempt to be the best.
This can only lead to death. Love conquers all, even on the battlefield, and what Heaven guards, it arms with the power of love.
A skilled warrior is not warlike. A skilled fighter is not angry. A skilled victor does not seek submission. A skilled leader does not place himself on top. Call it the virtue of non-competition, call it the power of unity, or call it the wisdom of the ancients.
The old soldier has a saying: "I do not dare to be the host but prefer to be the guest. Rather than advancing an inch, I pull back a foot."
This is called marching without moving, rolling up the sleeves without showing your arms, advancing without attacking, grasping the enemy without grabbing a weapon.
There is no disaster greater than thinking lightly of war. When two forces of equal value engage in battle, victory goes to the one that is most capable of loving.
My words are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. Yet no one in the world understands them or knows how to put them into practice.
My words are of ancient origin, my actions are governed by the Tao. It's because people are not aware of this that they do not understand me. Those who understand me are few, but I live happily that way. That's why the wise wear homespun clothes and carry their jade treasures underneath, close their heart.
True knowledge is knowing that we don't know anything. Pretending to know while being ignorant is a terrible disease. The diagnosis of this sickness is also the medicine. The wise are aware of this disease and know that prevention is better than cure, that's why they don't suffer from it.
When the people don't fear what they should fear, disaster will descend upon them. Do not interfere with the people’s livelihood. Don't tire them too much, or they will soon get tired of you.
Therefore, the wise know themselves, but they don't display themselves. They love themselves, but they don't consider themselves any better. That is the proper way to arrive at the right choices.
Those whose courage lies in daring will come to an early end. Those whose courage lies in not daring will live. Of these two, which is the right choice?
Who knows why Heaven favors one over the other at one moment, then changes its mind the next moment? Even the wise run into difficulties if they try to understand the ways of Nature.
The Tao of Heaven is not to compete but to overcome, not to speak but to be answered, not to advertise but to be sought after, not to strive but to accomplish. Its net spans the whole Universe and though its meshes are wide, nothing slip through.
The people do not fear death, so why would we threaten them with it? If the people were always afraid of death and if those who did wrong would always be arrested and put to death, why would anyone still do wrong?
There is always the Lord Executioner. Trying to take his place is like cutting wood while pretending to be a master carpenter: It will be almost impossible to avoid injuries.
The people are starving because their rulers levy too many taxes. They leave nothing for the people and eat all there is. The people are difficult to govern because their rulers interfere too much. They control everything and don't give any freedom to the people. Because their rulers make life so hard, the people treat death lightly. Having little to live on, they are aware of the true value of life.
A new born baby is supple and soft. At death one is stiff and hard. Grass and trees are soft and pliant when living, but dry and brittle when they are dead.
Therefore the stiff and hard are the accomplices of death, the soft and yielding are the accomplices of life. Thus, flexibility wins from flexing muscles.
When the tree is high and mighty, the ax is soon going to fall. Therefore, the hard and strong belong below with the soft and yielding on top.
The Tao of Heaven is like the bending of a bow. The high end is pulled down and the low end is raised up. The excessive is diminished and the deficient is supplemented.
It is the Way of Heaven to take where there is too much, in order to give where there is not enough. The way of humans is rather different. They take where there is not enough and bring it to where there is already too much.
Who will take from their own surpluses and give it to all under Heaven? Only those who honor the Tao. Therefore, the wise do their work and move on. They benefit, yet they claim no reward and don't feel the need to show themselves off.
Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for attacking the hard and stiff, nothing can beat it. Everyone knows that the soft overcomes the hard and the weak overcomes the strong. Yet no one is able to carry this out in practice.
Therefore, an old sage once said: "He who takes upon himself the country's humiliation, is a leader worthy of ruling the nation. He who is there to serve the people, is a leader worthy of ruling the Universe."
The truth is often paradoxical.
Even though after a bitter quarrel a treaty was reached, some resentment is bound to remain. What can be done about that?
The wise hold on to the left part of the contract as a debtor that is not demanding anything. Hence, a person of Virtue acts as if he were the debtor. And a person without Virtue acts as if he were the creditor that demands only from others.
For the Tao of Heaven there is no good or bad; but for the good, it is never bad.
If a country is small and governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. They enjoy the labor of their hands and don't waste time inventing labor-saving machines.
Since they love their life so much, they are not interested in traveling. There may be a few wagons and boats, but these don't go too far. There may be armor and weapons, but nobody ever uses them.
Those people keep the traditional ways of writing in honor. They enjoy simple food and don't like to dress up. Peace reigns in their modest dwellings where they live their simple and happy lives. And even though the next country is so close that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking, they are content to die of old age without ever going there.
True words aren't nice, nice words aren't true. Those who know don't argue, those who argue don't know. More knowledge does not always mean more wisdom.
The wise keep nothing for themselves. They know that the more you give, the more you have.
The Tao of Heaven is to be sharp without doing harm. The Tao of the wise is to act without doing.
The Tao Te Ching is a foundational text of Taoism. The text's authorship and date of composition are debated, but it's usually credited to sage Lao Tzu, who lived in 6th century BC China.
The Chinese characters in the title are:
道 Dao or Tao ("way", or "the Way": the essential, unnamable process of the Universe)
德 De or T ("Virtue" or "Value")
經 Jing or Ching ("Ancient Book")