(ok gang- here's another classic by our old friend lao tzu: the tao te ching, arguably his best known and most influential work. for each selected chapter I'm going to present 5 different versions/translations one right after the other, in the following order: stephen mitchell's, hua-ching ni's, red pine's, victor h. mair's, and richard degen's. (my only editorial adjustment has been the observation of gender equality and the substitution from upper to lower case in most sentences.))
the ancient masters were profound and subtle.
their wisdom was unfathomable.
there is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.
they were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
courteous as a guest.
fluid as melting ice.
shapable as a block of wood.
receptive as a valley.
clear as a glass of water.
do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
can you remain unmoving
til the right action arises by itself?
the master doesn't seek fulfillment.
not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.
the ancient ones who knew how to live
with the subtle essence of the universe
were gentle and flexible, profound and indistinguishable.
they were too deep to be known,
thus we can only describe their appearance.
they did not rush into anything,
as if fording an icy stream in early winter.
they were retiring and hesitant, not assertive,
as if they were shy of people.
they were reverent in demeanor to everyone,
as if meeting honored guests.
they did not insist on imposing their views on others,
or interfering in worldly affairs,
as if they were passing travelers.
they adapted themselves to a circumstance
like melting ice.
simple and genuine, they were like virgin timber.
empty and receptive, they were like a huge cave.
comprehensive and unprejudiced,
they were equally kind to all things;
like the water of a stream flowing
down a mountain, they benefited all things.
who else could move constantly
from the gross and heavy to the light and pure?
who else could evolve steadily
from the inert and stagnant to everlasting life?
those who hold fast to the subtle essence of the universe
do not desire to extend themselves in climax.
because there is no climax to one's extension and expansion,
life is continually renewing itself.
the ancient masters of the way
aimed at the indiscernible
and penetrated the dark
you would never know them
and because you wouldn't know them
I describe them with reluctance
they were careful as if crossing a river in winter
cautious as if worried about neighbors
reserved like guests
ephemeral like melting ice
simple like uncarved wood
open like valleys
and murky like puddles
but a puddle becomes clear when it's still
and stillness becomes alive when it's roused
those who treasure the way
don't try to be full
not trying to be full
they can hide and stay hidden.
those of old who were adept in the way
were subtly profound and mysteriously perceptive,
so deep they could not be recognized.
now, because they could not be recognized,
one can describe their appearance only with effort:
hesitant, as though crossing a stream in winter;
cautious, as though fearful of their neighbors all around;
solemn, as though a guest in someone else's house;
shrinking, as ice when it melts;
plain, as an unhewn log;
muddled, as turbid waters;
expansive, as a broad valley.
if turbid waters are stilled,
they will gradually become clear;
if something inert is set in motion,
it will gradually come to life.
those who preserved this way did not wish to be full.
now, simply because they did not wish to be full,
they could be threadbare and incomplete.
the ancients who understood the way were subtle, introspective, profound, and acute, all of which resulted in an inscrutability that places limits on our knowledge of them. all we can do is describe their characteristics.
they were cautious, like people crossing a body of water in winter; attentive, like people sensing a hazard; constrained, like visitors; yielding, like ice giving way to water; plain, like a common scrap of wood; receptive, like a valley sitting below mountains; impenetrable, like dark water.
how many of you can do nothing until clarity of mind allows spontaneous action? who can then act without appearing to act? the fit person is calm while others seek and crave, and therefore avoids undue wear and fatigue.
stop thinking, and end your problems.
what difference between yes and no?
what difference between success and failure?
must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don't care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.
other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.
other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
other people have a purpose;
I alone don't know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.
I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the great mother's breasts.
in high truth, is there any difference between yes and no?
between good and evil, is there any absolute distinction?
must one fear what everyone fears?
it is still too early for the subtle truth
to dawn on those who are so self-assertive.
the people of this world run about excitedly as if
they were going to miss the yearly, royal, sacrificial feast,
or as if they were going to be the last one
to climb a high tower on a beautiful spring day.
I alone remain quiet and indifferent.
I anchor my being to that which existed
before heaven and earth were formed.
I alone am innocent and unknowing,
like a newborn babe.
unoccupied by worldly cares,
I move forward to nowhere.
the people of the world have more than enough.
I alone appear to have nothing.
the people of the world appear shrewd and wise.
I alone look foolish.
I like to be forgotten by the world and left alone.
indeed, I have the mind of a single person!
calm and self-contained, I am like a vast ocean.
free and seemingly aimless, I am like a gentle wind.
everyone seems so clever and self assured.
I alone appear unlearned and original,
insistent upon a different direction
than other people pursue.
I alone value taking sustenance
from my mother.
yes and no
aren't so far apart
lovely and ugly
aren't so unalike
what others fear
we too must fear
before the moon wanes
everyone is gay
as if they were at the great sacrifice
or climbing a tower in spring
I sit here and make no sign
like a child that doesn't smile
lost with no one to turn to
while others enjoy more
I alone seem forgotten
my mind is so foolish
others look bright
I alone seem dim
others are certain
I alone am confused
receding like the ocean
waxing without cease
everyone has a goal
I alone am dumb and backward
for I alone choose to differ
preferring still my mother's breast
between "yes sir" and "certainly not!"
how much difference is there?
between beauty and ugliness,
how great is the distinction?
he whom others fear,
likewise cannot but fear others.
there is no end to it all!
joyful are the masses,
as though feasting after the great sacrifice of oxen,
or mounting a terrace in spring.
motionless am I,
without any sign,
as a baby that has yet to gurgle.
as though having nowhere to return.
the masses all have more than enough;
I alone am bereft.
I have the heart of a fool.
the ordinary man is luminously clear,
I alone seem confused.
the ordinary man is searchingly exact,
I alone am vague and uncertsin.
as the ocean;
as though without boundary!
the masses all have a purpose,
I alone am stubborn and uncouth.
I desire to be uniquely different from others
by honoring the mother who nourishes.
avoid scholarship that makes endless distinctions instead of solving people's problems. in this regard, before making an issue out of something, ask yourself if it is substantial enough to even bother with and, if so, whether the opposite view might be equally valid. follow your instincts, not rigid rules imposed by others.
people seek the good life of feasting and traveling but I am meditative, like someone waiting for a message. to those who own too much or intellectualize too much, and therefore believe they have their lives in order, I give the impression of being untutored, unsophisticated, and without purpose.
I find sustenance not in superficial things but in the things that matter.
the great tao flows everywhere.
all things are born from it,
yet it doesn't create them.
it pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
it nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn't hold onto them.
since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
it isn't aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.
the subtle essence of the universe is omnipresent.
it may go to the left or the right.
all things derive their life from it,
and it holds nothing back from them,
yet it takes possession of nothing.
it accomplishes its purpose,
but claims no merit.
it clothes and feeds all,
but has no ambition to be master over anyone.
thus it may be regarded as "the small."
all things return to it, and it contains them,
yet it claims no authority over them.
thus it may be recognized as "the great."
the wise one who never attempts
to be emotionally great
and who accomplishes each small task with full devotion,
as if it were the greatest of tasks,
is naturally recognized as great.
the tao drifts
it can go left or right
everything lives by its grace
but it doesn't speak
when its work succeeds
it makes no claim
it has no desires
shall we call it small
everything turns to it
but it wields no control
shall we call it great
therefore the sage never acts great
thus he can do great things
rippling is the way, flowing left and right!
its tasks completed, its affairs finished,
still it does not claim them for its own.
the myriad creatures return to it,
but it does not act as their ruler.
eternally without desire,
it may be named among the small;
the myriad creatures return to it,
but it does not act as their ruler;
it may be named among the great.
for these reasons,
the sage can achieve greatness.
because he does not act great.
therefore, he can achieve greatness.
the way, being silent and nourishing, and having no need for recognition, flows in both the ordinary and the obscure. it does not demand, yet all obey, even though they do not know they have a ruler.
a fit person emulates the way and thus achieves greatness.
nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.
the soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.
therefore the master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
evil cannot enter her heart.
because she has given up helping,
she is people's greatest help.
true words seem paradoxical.
nothing in the world is softer or more yielding than water.
but, for wearing down the hard and strong,
there is nothing like it.
that yielding overcomes the strong
and softness overcomes the hard
is something that is known by all,
but practiced by few.
an ancient developed one said:
"he who can take the troubles
of the people of the world
is qualified to rule the world.
he who can tend to calamities for the sake of all beings
is the right person to be sovereign of the world."
indeed, truth seems paradoxical!
nothing in the world is weaker than water
but against the hard and the strong
nothing excels it
for nothing can change it
the soft overcomes the hard
the weak overcomes the strong
this is something everyone knows
but no one is able to practice
thus the sage declares
who accepts a country's disgrace
we call the lord of soil and grain
who accepts a country's misfortune
we call the king of all under heaven
upright words sound upside down
nothing under heaven is softer or weaker than water
and yet nothing is better
for attacking what is hard and strong,
because of its immutability.
the defeat of the hard by the soft,
the defeat of the strong by the weak-
this is known to all under heaven,
yet no one is able to practice it.
therefore, in the words of the sage, it is said:
"she who bears abuse directed against the state
is called 'director of the altars
for the gods of soil and grain';
she who bears the misfortunes of the state
is called 'queen of all under heaven.'"
true words seem contradictory.
water is the most benign and yielding of all substances, yet over time, and without itself being corrupted, it wears down everything that blocks its path because it is relentless.
like water, the flexible and yielding overcome the inflexible and unyielding. this idea comes as no surprise to people, yet they lack experience in applying it, so that they are puzzled when the fit person advises, "one who always assumes responsibility for failures while trying again and again to do the right thing will eventually succeed, and is the ideal leader."
fundamental things are invariably the most difficult to comprehend.
a good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
a good artist lets her intuition
lead her wherever it wants.
a good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
thus the master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
she is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
this is called embodying the light.
what is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
what is a bad man but a good man's job?
if you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
it is the great secret.
one who is good at running leaves no tracks.
one who is good at talking has no flaws in his speech.
one who is good at calculating
makes no use of counting tools.
one who is good at shutting things
makes no use of bolt and bar
yet no one can open what he has shut.
one who is good at tying
makes no use of cords and knots,
yet no one can untie what he has fastened.
one of natural, integral virtue
is good at helping all people impartially.
thus, no one is abandoned.
because he is good at protecting and preserving all things,
nothing is ever thrown away.
this is called "embodying the light of the subtle truth."
hence, the people on the universal integral way
are teachers of those off the way.
however, if the student does not value the teacher,
and the teacher does not tend the student well,
though they both may be intelligent enough,
this leads only to further separation.
good walking leaves no tracks
good talking reveals no flaws
good counting counts no beads
good closing locks no locks
and yet it can't be opened
good tying ties no knots
and yet it can't be undone
thus the sage is good at saving
and yet abandons no one
nor anything of use
this is called cloaking the light
thus the good instruct the bad
the bad learn form the good
not honoring their teachers
not cherishing their students
the wise alone are perfectly blind
this is called peering into the distance
she who is skilled at traveling
leaves neither tracks nor traces;
she who is skilled at speaking
is flawless in her delivery;
she who is skilled in computation
uses neither tallies nor counters;
she who is skilled at closing things tightly
has neither lock nor key,
but what she closes cannot be opened;
she who is good at binding
has neither cord nor string,
but what she binds cannot be untied.
for these reasons,
the sage is always skilled at saving others
and does not abandon them,
nor does he abandon resources.
this is called "inner intelligence."
good men are teachers for the bad man,
bad men are foils for the good man.
he who values not his teacher
and loves not his foil,
though he be knowledgeable,
is greatly deluded.
this is called "the wondrous essential."
a fit person acts unobtrusively and does not leave tracks by demanding recognition; articulates advice clearly and does not cause confusion; renders to all what is due them so that no one feels cheated; locks no one out of knowledge of the way so none can claim to have been denied; binds no one through imposition of dogma yet secures minds through good example.
the fit thus have a duty to other people, and to other things, to do what is best for them. nothing can be abandoned, and in spite of any other awareness they may possess, those who would deem themselves fit lack true comprehension of the way things are if they do not understand this fact.
look, and it can't be seen.
listen, and it can't be heard.
reach, and it can't be grasped.
above, it isn't bright.
below, it isn't dark.
it returns to the realm of nothing.
form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.
approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end;
you can't know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
just realize where you came from:
this is the essence of wisdom.
look at it, but you cannot see it.
because it is formless, you call it invisible.
listen to it, but you cannot hear it.
because it is soundless, you call it inaudible.
grasp it, but it is beyond your reach.
because it is subtle, you call it intangible.
these three are indescribable and imperceptible,
but in the mystical moment
you see it, hear it, and grasp it.
the unseen, unheard, and unreachable
presents itself as the indefinable essence.
confront, it and you do not see its face.
follow it, and you do not see its back.
it does not appear bright when viewed at the zenith.
nor does it appear dark when viewed at the nadir.
there is noting that can make this subtle essence
of the universe distinct.
when you try to make it clear to yourself,
it evasively reverts to nothingness.
we look but don't see it
and call it indistinct
we listen but don't hear it
and call it faint
we reach but don't grasp it
and call it ethereal
three failed means to knowledge
we weave into one
with no light above
with no shade below
too fine to be named
returning to nothing
this is the formless form
the immaterial image
this is the waxing waning
we meet without seeing its face
we follow without seeing its back
holding onto this very way
we rule this very realm
and discover its ancient past
this is the thread of the way
we look for it but do not see it;
we name it "subtle."
we listen for it but do not hear it;
we name it "rare."
we grope for it but do not grasp it;
we name it "serene."
these three cannot be fully fathomed,
therefore, they are bound together to make unity.
its top is not distant,
its bottom is not blurred.
infinitely extended and unnameable,
it returns to nonentity.
this is called
"the form of the formless,
the image of nonentity."
this is called "the amorphous."
following behind it,
you cannot see its back.
approaching from the front,
you cannot see its head.
hold to the way of today
to manage the actualities of today,
thereby understanding the primeval beginning.
this is called "the thread of the way."
complete understanding of the way is beyond the power of mere senses such as sight, sound, and touch, so we simply speak of the original oneness, without really knowing what that means.
we are incapable of conceiving the beginning or end of things, cannot describe how each thing depends upon all others, and have difficulty accepting constant change.
but remembering how the ancient ones followed the way will add to our understanding.
the tao doesn't take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
the master doesn't take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.
the tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
the more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.
hold onto the center.
the subtle virtue of the universe is wholeness.
it regards all things as equal.
the virtue of the sage is wholeness.
he too regards all things as equal.
the universe may be compared to a bellows.
it is empty, yet it never fails to generate its products.
the more it moves, the more it brings forth.
many words lead one nowhere.
many pursuits in different directions bring only exhaustion.
rather, embrace the subtle essence within.
heaven and earth are heartless
treating creatures like straw dogs
heartless is the sage
treating people like straw dogs
between heaven and earth
how like a bellows
empty but inexhaustible
each movement produces more
talking only wastes it
better to keep it inside
heaven and earth are inhumane;
they view the myriad creatures as straw dogs.
the sage is inhumane;
he views the common people as straw dogs.
the space between heaven and earth,
how like a bellows it is!
empty but never exhausted,
the more it pumps, the more comes out.
hearing too much leads to utter exhaustion;
better to remain in the center.
the earth and the firmament go their own way irrespective of the human way; they are generous only to those who flow with them.
understanding this, the fit person will accept as natural whatever comes, whether it is initially considered good or bad, and will weigh all human rules against this higher order.
to be ready for whatever life brings be silent, be alert and avoid extremes.
when a superior man hears of the tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
when an average man hears of the tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
when a foolish man hears of the tao,
he laughs out loud.
if he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the tao.
thus it is said:
the path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.
the tao is nowhere to be found.
yet it nourishes and completes all things.
when people of the highest awareness
hear the subtle way of the universe,
they cultivate themselves diligently
in order to live in accord with it.
when mediocre people hear the subtle way
of the universe, they are unimpressed.
when people who are low hear the subtle way
of the universe, they break into loud laughter.
if it were not laughed at, it would not be
the subtle way of the universe.
thus there is a traditional saying that
he who understands the subtle way of the universe
seems dull of comprehension.
he who approaches the subtle way of the universe
seems to move away from it.
he who moves on the smooth path of the universe
seems to go up and down as if traveling a rough road.
the deeply virtuous are like an empty, receptive valley.
the innocent appear to be sullied.
the abundant appear to be deficient.
the perfect appear to be defective.
the honest appear to be corrupt.
hence, great space has no corners.
great talent ripens late.
great eloquence is silent.
great form is shapeless.
the subtle essence of the universe
is hidden and indefinable,
yet its benefit is always subtly bestowed.
when a great person hears of the way
she follows it with devotion
when an average person hears of the way
she doesn't know if it's real or not
when a small person hears of the way
she laughs out loud
if she didn't laugh
it wouldn't be the way
hence these sayings arose
the brightest path seems dark
the quickest path seems slow
the smoothest path seems rough
the highest virtue low
the whitest white pitch-black
the greatest virtue wanting
the staunchest virtue timid
the truest truth uncertain
the perfect square lacks corners
the perfect tool does nothing
the perfect sound is hushed
the perfect form is shapeless
the tao is hidden and has no name
but because it's the tao
it knows how to start and how to finish
when the superior man hears the way,
he is scarcely able to put it into practice.
when the middling man hears the way,
he appears now to preserve it, now to lose it.
when the inferior man hears the way,
he laughs at it loudly.
if he did not laugh,
it would not be fit to be the way.
for this reason,
there is a series of epigrams that says:
"the bright way seems dim.
the forward way seems backward.
the level way seems bumpy.
superior integrity seems like a valley.
the greatest whiteness seems grimy.
ample integrity seems insufficient.
robust integrity seems apathetic.
plain truth seems sullied.
the great square has no corners.
the great vessel is never completed.
the great note sounds muted.
the great image has no form.
the way is concealed and has no name."
the way alone is good at beginning
and good at completing.
a person of potential, when informed of the way, looks to it for guidance. an ordinary person, when informed of the way, does not trust it completely. a fool, when informed of the way, treats it as a joke- and if a fool thought otherwise the way would in fact be a joke.
speaking of those who did not understand, the ancients said the following. to them, a lighted path is still not bright enough. to them, accomplishing is mistakenly viewed as withdrawing. to them, the art of flowing with the way things are seems ineffective. to them, the effort that would be needed to lead a virtuous life does not hold the prospect of an adequate payback. to them, the symmetry of a perfect system goes unrecognized. to them, true honesty seems changeable. to them, observation provides no lessons.
the way is winding in its course, noiseless in its method and murky in its outline, but it is by that which things must be started and completed.
some say that my teaching is nonsense.
others call it lofty but impractical.
but to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
and to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, and compassion.
these three are your greatest treasures.
simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
compassionate towards yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
the world may say that the subtle way of the universe
which I describe is great,
but that it has little bearing on worldly life.
Truly, it is just that it is not definable,
like the small ways of the world,
thus it is indeed great.
there are three treasures
which I embrace and follow closely:
the first is to be kind,
the second is to be simple,
the third is not to put one's own importance
first in the world.
because kindness and compassion
can produce courage,
simplicity can thus be broadened
to contain the world.
By not putting your own importance first in worldly affairs,
you will not impede the natural growth of all things.
if a person endeavors to be brave without first being kind,
great purposed, without first simplifying his life,
an authority, without first denying himself,
he cannot evolve freely from strife,
and is only courting destruction.
kindness can help to win a war.
kindness can help to defend a fortification.
kindness will invite the corresponding energy of
kindness from heaven through all the divine beings
who support and protect.
the world calls me great
great but useless
because I am great I am useless
if I were of use
I would have stayed small
but I possess three treasures
I treasure and uphold
first is compassion
second is austerity
third is reluctance to excel
because I am compassionate
I can be valiant
because I am austere
I can be extravagant
because I am reluctant to excel
I can be chief of all tools
if I renounced compassion for valor
austerity for extravagance
reluctance for supremacy
I would die
compassion wins every battle
and outlasts every attack
what heaven creates
let compassion protect
all under heaven say I am great,
great but unconventional.
precisely because I am unconventional,
I can be great.
if I were conventional,
I would long since have become a trifle.
I have always possessed three treasures
that I guard and cherish.
the first is compassion,
the second is frugality,
the third is not daring to be ahead of all under heaven.
because I am compassionate,
I can be brave;
because I am frugal,
I can be magnanimous;
because I dare not be ahead of all under heaven,
I can be a leader in the completion of affairs.
if, today, I were to
be courageous while forsaking compassion,
be magnanimous while forsaking frugality,
get ahead while forsaking the hindmost,
that would be death!
in war brings victory,
in defense brings invulnerability.
whomsoever heaven would establish,
it surrounds with a bulwark of compassion.
people say that the Way may be fine, but that it is not the normal way of people. but it is because it is not the normal way of people that it is the Way.
I treasure three qualities associated with the Way of daily affairs; note how they differ from the normal way of people.
I try to care for every person and every thing. The more I care, the less I fear, because I no longer think about myself so much. caring brings victory against opponents and defense against attacks, and is the instrument through which the Way protects.
I try to be simple and unpretentious in speech, deed and material matters, which enables me, without resistance, to share my beliefs and possessions with others for whom I care.
I try not to force myself into others' affairs and do not attempt to control them, unlike the determined and ambitious who have no such reluctance. I can then do what I do without contention.
in the beginning was the tao.
all things issue from it;
all things return to it.
to find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
when you recognize the the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.
if you close your mind in judgements
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
if you keep your mind from judging
and aren't led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.
seeing into darkness is clarity.
knowing how to yield is strength.
use your own light
and return to the source of light.
this is called practicing eternity.
all of creation has a common beginning.
this common beginning
is the mysterious mother of all.
if we know the mother, we may know her offspring.
know the offspring, yet stay with the mother,
and the essence of your life will never be exhausted,
even though your body be dissolved.
block the openings, shut the doors,
and to the end of your days, you will not be worn out.
unblock the openings, multiply your activities,
and to the end of your days,
you will be beyond remedy.
thus it is said:
to perceive the subtle is to have true vision.
to be soft is to be truly strong.
use the outer light, but return to the inner.
in this way, you will restore your integral virtue,
and be preserved from all harm.
the world has a maiden
she becomes the world's mother
who knows the mother
understands the child
who understands the child
keeps the mother safe
and lives without trouble
who blocks the opening
who closes the gate
lives without toil
who unblocks the opening
who meddles in affairs
lives without hope
who sees the small has vision
who protects the weak has strength
who uses his light
who trusts his vision
lives beyond death
this is the hidden immortal.
everything under heaven has a beginning
which may be thought of as the mother
of all under heaven.
having realized the mother,
you thereby know her children.
knowing her children,
go back to abide with the mother.
to the end of your life,
you will not be imperiled.
stopple the orifices of your heart,
close your doors;
your whole life you will not suffer.
open the gate of your heart,
meddle with affairs,
your whole life you will be beyond salvation.
seeing what is small is called insight,
abiding in softness is called strength.
use your light to return to insight,
be not an inheritor of personal calamity.
this is called "following the constant."
the way is the mother of everything and to the extent you know the way you then know the things of the world, which are its children. conversely, those who know the children then understand more fully the mother. children who seek the protection of their mother sidestep trouble.
trouble diminishes to the extent you are not judgmental and aim for a simple life. trouble increases to the extent you insert yourself into the concerns of others and add complexity to your life. perception is achieved by taking notice of insignificant things. strength is attained by remaining flexible.
use such knowledge to enhance your recognition of the way, and thus avoid trouble.
the supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
it is content with the low places that people disdain.
thus it is like the tao.
in dwelling, live close to the ground.
in thinking, keep to the simple.
in conflict, be fair and generous.
in governing, don't try to control.
in work, do what you enjoy.
in family life, be completely present.
when you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.
one of universal nature is like water;
she benefits all things
but does not contend with them.
she unprotestingly takes the lowest position;
thus she is close to universal truth.
one of universal virtue chooses to live
in a suitable environment.
she attunes her mind to become profound.
she deals with others with kindness.
in her speech, she is sincere.
her rule brings about order.
her work is efficient.
her actions are opportune.
one of deep virtue does not contend with people;
thus she is above reproach.
the best are like water
bringing help to all
choosing what others avoid
hence approaching the tao
dwelling with earth
thinking with depth
helping with kindness
speaking with truth
governing with peace
working with skill
moving with time
and because they don't compete
they aren't maligned
the highest good is like water;
water is good at benefiting the myriad creatures
but also struggles
to occupy the place loathed by the masses.
it is near to the way.
the quality of an abode is in its location.
the quality of the heart is in its depths.
the quality of giving lies in trust,
the quality of correct governance lies in orderly rule,
the quality of an enterprise depends on ability,
the quality of movement depends on timing.
it is precisely because one does not compete
that there is no blame.
model all of your actions after those of water, which provides nourishment without controversy and which can be found in places people avoid. this is what makes water similar to the way.
live simply and close to the soil. dwell upon the essentials, not the frivolous. serve the interests of others. keep your promises. in leading, use restraint. in making a living, fully develop your skills. and always time your actions with awareness of the way things are and not as you might like them to be.
the reward for such a life is that you are not looked upon as the cause of controversy, and are free of blame.
if you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
if you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
if you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
this is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.
the soft overcomes the hard.
the slow overcomes the fast.
let your workings remain a mystery.
just show people the results.
if you hope to expand,
you should first contract.
if you hope to become strong,
you should first weaken yourself.
if your ambition is to be exalted,
humiliation will follow.
if you hold fast to something,
it will surely be taken away from you.
this is the operation of the subtle law of the universe.
the law of the universe is subtle,
but it can be known.
the soft and meek can overcome the hard and strong.
the strength of a country must not be displayed.
just as fish cannot leave the deep,
one must never stray from one's true nature.
what you would shorten
you should therefore lengthen
what you would weaken
you should therefore strengthen
what you would topple
you should therefore raise
what you would take
you should therefore give
this is called hiding the light
the weak conquering the strong
fish can't survive out of the deep
a state's greatest tool
is not meant to be shown
when you wish to contract something,
you must momentarily expand it;
when you wish to weaken something,
you must momentarily strengthen it;
when you wish to reject something,
you must momentarily join with it;
when you wish to seize something,
you must momentarily give it up.
this is called "subtle insight."
the soft and weak conquer the strong.
fish cannot be moved from the watery depths;
the profitable instruments of state
cannot be shown to the people.
expansion ends when over-extension occurs. power ends when the powerful abuse their power. wealth ends when the wealthy become decadent.
as awareness of a repugnant thing increases, so does resistance to it. this explains how the weak, through patience, overcome the strong and how oppressors and those who envy them trade places. it also explains the survival of those who do not cause awareness and resistance through control, coercion or overindulgence.
what is rooted is easy to nourish.
what is recent is easy to correct.
what is brittle is easy to break.
what is small is easy to scatter.
prevent trouble before it arises.
put things in order before they exist.
the giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
the journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.
rushing into action, you fail.
trying to grasp things, you lose them.
forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.
therefore the master takes action
by letting things takes their course.
she remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
she has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
what she desires is non-desire;
what she learns is to unlearn.
she simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
she cares about nothing but the tao.
thus she can care for all things.
tackle difficulties when they are easy.
accomplish great things when they are small.
handle what is going to be rough
when it is still smooth.
control what has not yet formed its force.
deal with a dangerous situation while it is safe.
manage what is hard while it is soft.
eliminate what is vicious before it becomes destructive.
this is called
"attending to great things at small beginnings."
a tree so big it can fill the span of a person's arms
grows from a tiny sprout.
a terrace nine stories high
rises from a shovelful of earth.
a journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step.
thus, one of integral virtue
never sets about grandiose things,
yet he is able to achieve great things.
lightly made promises inspire little confidence.
making light of things at the beginning,
one will meet with failure in the end.
being prepared for hardship,
one will not be overcome by it.
in handling their affairs, people often ruin them
just as they are on the verge of success.
with heedfulness in the beginning
and all the way through to the end,
nothing is ruined.
it's easy to rule while it's peaceful
it's easy to plan before it arrives
it's easy to break while it's fragile
it's easy to disperse while it's small
act before it exists
govern before it rebels
a giant tree grows from the tiniest shoot
a great tower rises from a basket of dirt
a thousand-mile journey begins at your feet
but to act is to fail
to control is to lose
therefore the sage doesn't act
she thus doesn't fail
she doesn't control
she thus has nothing to lose
when people pursue a task
they always fail near the end
care at the end as well as the start
means an end to failure
the sage thus seeks what no one seeks
she doesn't prize hard-to-get goods
she studies what no one studies
she turns to what others pass by
to help all things be natural
she thus dares not act
what is secure is easily grasped,
what has no omens is easily forestalled,
what is brittle is easily split,
what is minuscule is easily dispersed.
act before there is a problem;
bring order before there is disorder.
a tree that fills the arms' embrace
is born from a downy shoot;
a terrace nine layers high
starts from a basketful of earth;
an ascent of a hundred strides
begins beneath one's foot.
who acts fails;
who grasps loses.
for this reason, the sage does not act.
therefore, he does not fail.
he does not grasp.
therefore, he does not lose.
in pursuing their affairs,
people often fail when they are close to success.
therefore, if one is cautious at the end
as at the beginning,
there will be no failures.
for this reason, the sage desires to be without desire
and does not prize goods that are hard to obtain;
he learns not to learn
and reverts to what the masses pass by.
thus, he can help the myriad creatures be natural,
but dares not act.
with only a little watchfulness, a situation that is not a problem need never become a problem. with little effort, weak things can be broken and small things can be diffused. act when an insignificant effort can eliminate a difficulty and do not wait until the situation has become unmanageable.
note how a large tree emerges from a single seed; how a tall tower arises from the simple act of laying brick upon brick; how a long journey begins with a single step. by the simple practice of attending to small things you eliminate the need for later grasping and intervention, and affect the end as much as the start.
the fir person, by avoiding cravings and extremes and wanting only simple, easily acquired things, teaches others how to return to the way and creates the conditions for the natural and spontaneous elaboration of all things.
in the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
in the practice of the tao,
every day something is dropped.
less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
when nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.
true mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
it can't be gained by interfering.
learning builds daily accumulation,
but the practice of the way of spiritual integration
with subtle essence of the universe
builds daily simplification.
simplify and simplify, until all contamination
from relative, contradictory thinking is eliminated.
then one does nothing, yet nothing is left undone.
one who wins the world
does so by not meddling with it.
one who meddles with the world loses it.
those who seek learning gain every day
those who seek the way lose every day
they lose and lose
until they find nothing to do
nothing to do means nothing not done
who rules the world isn't busy
if someone is busy
he can't rule the world
the pursuit of learning results in daily increase,
hearing the way leads to daily decrease.
decrease and again decrease,
until you reach non-action.
no action is left undone.
should one desire to gain all under heaven,
one should remain ever free of involvements.
for, just as surely as one becomes involved,
one is unfit for gaining all under heaven.
ordinary learning involves the daily accumulation of things that obscure the way. learning the way involves the daily elimination of artfulness, artifice, manipulation and other practices that interfere with a life of being effective without controlling and acting without seeming to act.
anything is possible when one does not strive.
as it acts in the world, the tao
is like the bending of a bow.
the top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
it adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
it takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn't enough.
those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the tao.
they take from those who don't have enough
and give to those who have far too much.
the master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
she acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn't think that she is better
than anyone else.
the subtle way of the universe:
is it not expressed in the stretching of a bow?
the high it presses down.
the low it lifts up.
the excessive it takes from.
the deficient it give to.
it is the nature of this subtle truth to take
from what is excessive and give to what is deficient.
the way of humans, however, is otherwise.
it takes from those in need
to give to those who already have more than enough.
only one of whole virtue
always has something to give to others.
therefore, one of whole virtue does things,
but does not keep them for himself;
accomplishes his tasks, but does not cling to them.
he has no desire to trade his virtue for people's worship.
the way of heaven
is like stringing a bow
pulling down the high
lifting up the low
shortening the long
lengthening the short
the way of heaven
takes from the long
and supplements the short
unlike the way of humans
taking from the short
and giving to the long
who can find the long
and give it to the world
only those who find the way
thus the sage does not presume on what she does
or claim what she achieves
thus she chooses to hide her skill
the way of heaven is like the bending of a bow-
the upper part is pressed down,
the lower part is raised up,
the part that has too much is reduced,
the part that has too little is increased.
therefore, the way of heaven
reduces surplus to make up for scarcity;
the way of humans
reduces scarcity and pays tribute to surplus.
who is there that can have a surplus
and take from it to pay tribute to heaven?
surely only one who has the way!
for this reason,
the sage acts but does not possess,
completes her work but does not dwell on it.
in this fashion,
she has no desire to display her worth.
the counterpoise of a drawn bow is a reflection of the way, which keeps everything in balance by raising the lowly, lowering the lofty, enhancing that which is lacking and reducing abundance.
those not in accord with the way could, by their acts, imitate the symmetry of the drawn bow. instead, they contribute to imbalance, taking the few things the powerless and poor have and enhancing the power and wealth of those who already enjoy those privileges.
through generosity, those in accord with the way can counter imbalances, even if the only thing they possess that can be shared with others is their understanding of the way. in so doing, remember that the power to restore balance will be impaired to the extent you disclose your efforts or expect appreciation.
every being in the universe
is an expression of the tao.
it springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
that is why every being
spontaneously honors the tao.
the tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
that is why love of the tao
is in the very nature of things.
the natural essence of the universe
gives life to all things.
virtue nurses them.
matter shapes them.
the natural environment brings them to maturity.
therefore, all beings without exception
revere the subtle essence and honor virtue.
though the subtle essence deserves reverence,
it does not demand it.
and though virtue ought to be honored,
it, too, does not demand it.
thus, it is the subtle essence
that gives life to all things,
and with its virtue nurses them, grows them,
fosters them, shelters them, comforts them,
nourishes them and embraces them.
it does all this, yet it claims no possession,
expects no gratitude, and desires no lordship.
this is called the subtle virtue of the universe.
the way begets them
virtue keeps them
matter shapes them
usage completes them
thus do all things honor the way
and glorify virtue
the honor of the way
the glory of virtue
are not conferred
but always so
the way begets and keeps them
cultivates and trains them
steadies and adjusts them
nurtures and protects them
but begets without possessing
acts without presuming
and cultivates without controlling
this is called dark virtue
the way gives birth to them and integrity nurtures them.
matter forms them and function completes them.
for this reason,
the myriad creatures respect the way and esteem integrity.
respect for the way and esteem for integrity
are by no means conferred upon them
but always occur naturally.
the way gives birth to them,
it gives birth but does not possess,
acts but does not presume,
rears but does not control.
this is what is called "mysterious integrity."
all things come into being with the way naturally inbred; it then nurtures, develops and protects them. in people, the way is retained and grows in awareness through the practice of the virtues.
unseen power is vested in those who nurture but then let go; who are caring but do not seek to be honored for their accomplishments; who help others but not with the expectation of designing their lives.
when people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
when people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
being and non-being create each other.
difficult and easy support each other.
long and short define each other.
high and low depend on each other.
before and after follow each other.
therefore the master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
things arise and she lets them come.
things disappear and she lets them go.
she has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
when her work is done, she forgets it.
that is why it last forever.
as soon as the world regards something as beautiful,
ugliness simultaneously becomes apparent.
as soon as the world regards something as good,
evil simultaneously becomes apparent.
in exactly the same manner,
existence and non-existence give birth to each other.
difficult and easy define each other.
high and low make each other distinguishable.
silence and sound make each other conspicuous.
front and back connect each other.
realizing this, one does not separate one's being
from the subtle essence of the universe.
one holds no preconceptions, and does things
without insisting on personal conditions.
one guides people by living in accord
with the essence of life.
one brings good things about,
but has no intention of possessing them.
one performs work,
but has no intention to acquire personal power.
when one's task is accomplished,
one lets go of it and seeks no reward or recognition.
because one does not claim credit for oneself,
one does not do any damage to oneself.
all the world knows beauty
but if "that" becomes beautiful
"this" becomes ugly
all the world knows good
but if "that" becomes good
"this" becomes bad
the coexistence of have and have not
the coproduction of hard and easy
the correlation of long and short
the codependence of high and low
the correspondence of note and noise
the coordination of first and last
thus the sage performs effortless deeds
and teaches wordless lessons
he doesn't start all the things he begins
he doesn't presume on what he does
he doesn't claim what he achieves
and because he makes no claim
he suffers no loss
when all under heaven know beauty as beauty
already there is ugliness;
when everybody knows goodness,
this accounts for badness.
being and nonbeing give birth to each other,
difficult and easy complete each other,
long and short form each other,
high and low fulfill each other,
tone and voice harmonize with each other,
front and back follow each other-
it is ever thus.
for these reasons,
the sage dwells in affairs of nonaction,
carries out a doctrine without words.
she lets the myriad creatures rise up
but does not instigate them;
she acts but does not presume;
she completes her work
but does not dwell on it.
now, simply because she does not dwell on them,
her accomplishments never leave her.
when virtue is flaunted you can be assured it is virtue's opposite you are witnessing. Everything has an opposite and is defined in relation to it.
interfering is easy; allowing things to take their course requires restraint. lecturing about virtue is easy; leading only by example requires patience. letting others know of your kindness is easy; assisting without recognition requires humility.
empty your mind of all thoughts.
let your heart be at peace.
watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.
each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
returning to the source is serenity.
if you don't realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
when you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
immersed in the wonder of the tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
attain the utmost unoccupiedness.
maintain the utmost stillness,
and do not interfere with all the things
that rush together in activity and grow luxuriantly.
then you can see how living things flourish
and renew themselves.
yet, they all must return to the root again,
each to its simple source.
knowing to return to the root is to be refreshed.
this is called subtle revitalization.
to restore one's vitality is to constantly renew oneself.
to know constant renewal is to have achieved clarity.
if one does not know constant self renewal
and thus acts foolishly,
disaster will soon occur.
knowing constancy in renewing oneself,
one can extend the duration of one's life.
if one can deeply understand the extension of life's duration,
one is able to contain all things within oneself.
let limits be empty
the center be still
ten thousand things rise
we watch them return
creatures without number
all return to their roots
return to their roots and be still
to be still to revive
to revive to endure
knowing how to endure is wisdom
not knowing is to suffer in vain
knowing how to endure is to be all-embracing
all-embracing means impartial
impartial means the king
the king mean heaven
heaven means the way
and the way means long life
life without trouble
attain utmost emptiness,
maintain utter stillness.
the myriad creatures arise side by side,
thus I observe their renewal.
heaven's creatures abound,
but each returns to its roots,
which is called "stillness."
this is termed "renewal of fate."
renewal of fate is perpetual-
to know the perpetual is to be enlightened;
not to know the perpetual is to be reckless-
recklessness breeds evil.
to know the perpetual is to be tolerant-
tolerance leads to ducal impartiality,
ducal impartiality to kingliness,
kingliness to heaven,
heaven to the way,
the way to permanence.
to the end of his days,
he will not be imperiled.
quiet your mind and watch living things grow and die. you will then realize that death means rest and that death makes room for more life. knowledge of this cycle permits perception of the way things are.
it is ignorance to acknowledge only your life and not your death, for this gives rise to the frustration of unlimited cravings.
by expanding your outlook and seeing beyond self and the fate of your body you will be able to sense the way, unimpeded by distractions.
do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.
the world is sacred.
it can't be improved.
if you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
if you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.
there is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe;
a time for being in danger.
the master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
she lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
those who want to conquer the world
and make it conform to their own desires
will never have success,
for the sovereignty of the world is a subtle thing.
he who tries to shape it spoils it.
he who tries to hold it loses it.
the things of the world are constantly changing.
there is a time for things to move ahead,
and a following time for things to retreat;
a time to withdraw internally,
and a following time to expand externally;
a time to grow luxuriantly,
and a following time to decay;
a time to rise up,
and a following time to sink down low.
therefore, one who does not separate her being
from the deep nature of the universe
avoids all extremes, extravagance, and excess.
trying to govern the world with force
I see this not succeeding
the world is a spiritual thing
it can't be forced
to force it is to harm it
to control it is to lose it
sometimes things lead
sometimes they follow
sometimes blow hot
sometimes blow cold
therefore the sage avoids extremes
of those who wish to take hold of all-under-heaven
and act upon it,
I have seen that they do not succeed.
all-under-heaven is a sacred vessel,
not something that can be acted upon;
who acts upon it will be defeated,
who grasps it will lose it.
some march forward, other follow behind;
some are shiveringly silent, others are all puffed up;
some are strong, others are meek;
some pile up, others collapse.
for these reasons,
the sage rejects extremes,
experience confirms that when a person disregards the way and acts as if decency was a quality yet to be discovered, that person does not succeed. all that person does, before succumbing, is to upset the balance temporarily and create insurmountable resistance. the way represents perfection and cannot be improved upon.
conduct of the unfit seems to be inappropriate and unnatural: either disdainful or cringing; either hotheaded or too deliberate; either domineering or fragile; either self-satisfied or sheepish.
the fit person avoids extremes.
in harmony with the tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
when humans interfere with tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.
the master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
his constant practice is humility.
he doesn't glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.
since ancient times, there have been those
who have attained the subtle essence of the universe
and thus become what they are.
heaven attained the subtle essence of the universe
and became clear.
earth attained the subtle essence of the universe
and became stable.
divine spirits attained the subtle essence of the universe
and became powerful.
the valley of the universe attained
the subtle essence of the universe
and became productive.
the myriad things attained the subtle essence
of the universe and became prosperous.
the sages attained the subtle essence
of the universe and became wise.
all became what they are
by attaining the subtle essence of the universe
and hence their true nature.
extinction happens to one who violates his true nature.
without being pure, heaven would cease to be.
without being stable, earth would burst into bits.
without maintaining their potency, spirits would disperse.
without being productive,
the vast valley of the universe
would become exhausted.
without being reproductive,
the myriad things would perish.
without fortifying themselves with integral virtue,
sages would stumble and fall.
greatness is rooted in plainness,
just as the low forms the foundation of the high.
realizing this, the ancient sovereigns
were content to style themselves as
desolate, unworthy, needy.
therefore, one who does not separate her being
from the nature of the universe follows the integral way.
she has no wish to sound like jingling jade pendants
in order to court a good name,
nor like the rumbling of a stone rolling from a cliff
in order to create a bad name.
each one should work
on one's own subtle spiritual integration
with the subtle essence of the universe.
of things that became one in the past
heaven became one and was clear
earth became one and was still
spirits became one and were active
streams became one and were full
kings became one and ruled the world
but by implication
heaven would crack if it were always clear
earth would crumble if it were always still
spirits would fail if they were always active
streams would dry up if they were always full
kings would fall if they were always high and noble
thus the noble is based on the humble
the high is founded on the low
thus do kings refer to themselves
as orphaned widowed and destitute
but is this the basis of humility
counting a carriage or no carriage at all
not wanting to clink like jade
they clunk like rocks
in olden times, these attained unity:
heaven attained unity,
and thereby became pure.
earth attained unity,
and thereby became tranquil.
the spirits attained unity,
and thereby became divine.
the valley attained unity,
and thereby became full.
feudal lords and kings attained unity,
and thereby all was put right.
yet, pushed to the extreme,
it implies that if heaven were ever pure,
it would be likely to rend.
it implies that if earth were ever tranquil,
it would be likely to quake.
it implies that if the spirits were ever divine,
they would be likely to dissipate.
it implies that if the valley were ever full,
it would be likely to run dry.
it implies that if feudal lords and kings were ever noble
and thereby exalted, they would be likely to fall.
it is necessary to be noble,
and yet take humility as a basis.
it is necessary to be exalted,
and yet take modesty as a foundation.
now, for this reason,
feudal lords and kings style themselves
"orphaned," "destitute," and "hapless."
is this not because they take humility as their basis?
striving for an excess of praise,
one ends up without praise.
desire not to be jingling as jade
nor solid as stone.
the fit who preceded us saw linkage and thus wholeness reflected in the sparkling firmament, the bountiful earth, fit intellects, fertile valleys, myriad creatures, model leaders. they understood that when any of these parts fail, things are thrown out of balance.
model leaders serve as an example. they have always grown out of the masses of the humble and lowly, just as things grow out of a root; this is why such leaders call themselves unworthy. but when a leader becomes vain and the root is forgotten, the give and take that is necessary between the leader and the led is broken, just as separated wagon parts are no longer a wagon.
a fit person understands linkage and thus never forgets the root, even in the face of flattery or rejection.
(more chapters forthcoming)