The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging
Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and
(Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven
and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of
Always without desire we must be found, If its deep mystery we
would sound; But if desire always within us be, Its outer fringe
is all that we shall see.
Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as
development takes place, it receives the different names.
Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the
deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.
All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing
this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the
skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of)
what the want of skill is.
So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to
(the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the
one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion
out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height
and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other;
that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the
relation of one with another; and that being before and behind
give the idea of one following another.
Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and
conveys his instructions without the use of speech.
All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to
show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their
ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no
expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is
accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).
The work is done, but how no one can see; 'Tis this that makes
the power not cease to be.
Not to value and employ men of superior ability is the way to
keep the people from rivalry among themselves; not to prize
articles which are difficult to procure is the way to keep them
from becoming thieves; not to show them what is likely to excite
their desires is the way to keep their minds from disorder.
Therefore the sage, in the exercise of his government, empties
their minds, fills their bellies, weakens their wills, and
strengthens their bones.
He constantly (tries to) keep them without knowledge and without
desire, and where there are those who have knowledge, to keep
them from presuming to act (on it). When there is this
abstinence from action, good order is universal.
The Tao is (like) the emptiness of a vessel; and in our
employment of it we must be on our guard against all fulness.
How deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the Honoured
Ancestor of all things!
We should blunt our sharp points, and unravel the complications
of things; we should attemper our brightness, and bring
ourselves into agreement with the obscurity of others. How pure
and still the Tao is, as if it would ever so continue!
I do not know whose son it is. It might appear to have been
Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be
benevolent; they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are
dealt with. The sages do not act from (any wish to be)
benevolent; they deal with the people as the dogs of grass are
May not the space between heaven and earth be compared to a
'Tis emptied, yet it loses not its power; 'Tis moved again, and
sends forth air the more. Much speech to swift exhaustion lead
we see; Your inner being guard, and keep it free.
The valley spirit dies not, aye the same; The female mystery
thus do we name. Its gate, from which at first they issued
forth, Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth. Long
and unbroken does its power remain, Used gently, and without the
touch of pain.
Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long. The reason why
heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long is
because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how
they are able to continue and endure.
Therefore the sage puts his own person last, and yet it is found
in the foremost place; he treats his person as if it were
foreign to him, and yet that person is preserved. Is it not
because he has no personal and private ends, that therefore such
ends are realised?
The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence
of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its
occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place
which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the
The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the
place; that of the mind is in abysmal stillness; that of
associations is in their being with the virtuous; that of
government is in its securing good order; that of (the conduct
of) affairs is in its ability; and that of (the initiation of)
any movement is in its timeliness.
And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle
(about his low position), no one finds fault with him.
It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to
carry it when it is full. If you keep feeling a point that has
been sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.
When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep
them safe. When wealth and honours lead to arrogancy, this
brings its evil on itself. When the work is done, and one's name
is becoming distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way
When the intelligent and animal souls are held together in one
embrace, they can be kept from separating. When one gives
undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the
utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a (tender) babe. When
he has cleansed away the most mysterious sights (of his
imagination), he can become without a flaw.
In loving the people and ruling the state, cannot he proceed
without any (purpose of) action? In the opening and shutting of
his gates of heaven, cannot he do so as a female bird? While his
intelligence reaches in every direction, cannot he (appear to)
be without knowledge?
(The Tao) produces (all things) and nourishes them; it produces
them and does not claim them as its own; it does all, and yet
does not boast of it; it presides over all, and yet does not
control them. This is what is called 'The mysterious Quality'
(of the Tao).
The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty
space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends. Clay is
fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness,
that their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from
the walls) to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space
(within), that its use depends. Therefore, what has a (positive)
existence serves for profitable adaptation, and what has not
that for (actual) usefulness.
Colour's five hues from th' eyes their sight will take; Music's
five notes the ears as deaf can make; The flavours five deprive
the mouth of taste; The chariot course, and the wild hunting
waste Make mad the mind; and objects rare and strange, Sought
for, men's conduct will to evil change.
Therefore the sage seeks to satisfy (the craving of) the belly,
and not the (insatiable longing of the) eyes. He puts from him
the latter, and prefers to seek the former.
Favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared; honour and
great calamity, to be regarded as personal conditions (of the
What is meant by speaking thus of favour and disgrace? Disgrace
is being in a low position (after the enjoyment of favour). The
getting that (favour) leads to the apprehension (of losing it),
and the losing it leads to the fear of (still greater
calamity):--this is what is meant by saying that favour and
disgrace would seem equally to be feared.
And what is meant by saying that honour and great calamity are
to be (similarly) regarded as personal conditions? What makes me
liable to great calamity is my having the body (which I call
myself); if I had not the body, what great calamity could come
Therefore he who would administer the kingdom, honouring it as
he honours his own person, may be employed to govern it, and he
who would administer it with the love which he bears to his own
person may be entrusted with it.
We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it 'the
Equable.' We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it
'the Inaudible.' We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it,
and we name it 'the Subtle.' With these three qualities, it
cannot be made the subject of description; and hence we blend
them together and obtain The One.
Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not obscure.
Ceaseless in its action, it yet cannot be named, and then it
again returns and becomes nothing. This is called the Form of
the Formless, and the Semblance of the Invisible; this is called
the Fleeting and Indeterminable.
We meet it and do not see its Front; we follow it, and do not
see its Back. When we can lay hold of the Tao of old to direct
the things of the present day, and are able to know it as it was
of old in the beginning, this is called (unwinding) the clue of
The skilful masters (of the Tao) in old times, with a subtle and
exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep
(also) so as to elude men's knowledge. As they were thus beyond
men's knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort
they appeared to be.
Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in
winter; irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them;
grave like a guest (in awe of his host); evanescent like ice
that is melting away; unpretentious like wood that has not been
fashioned into anything; vacant like a valley, and dull like
Who can (make) the muddy water (clear)? Let it be still, and it
will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of
rest? Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will
They who preserve this method of the Tao do not wish to be full
(of themselves). It is through their not being full of
themselves that they can afford to seem worn and not appear new
The (state of) vacancy should be brought to the utmost degree,
and that of stillness guarded with unwearying vigour. All things
alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see
them return (to their original state). When things (in the
vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see
each of them return to its root. This returning to their root is
what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness may be
called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.
The report of that fulfilment is the regular, unchanging rule.
To know that unchanging rule is to be intelligent; not to know
it leads to wild movements and evil issues. The knowledge of
that unchanging rule produces a (grand) capacity and
forbearance, and that capacity and forbearance lead to a
community (of feeling with all things). From this community of
feeling comes a kingliness of character; and he who is king-like
goes on to be heaven-like. In that likeness to heaven he
possesses the Tao. Possessed of the Tao, he endures long; and to
the end of his bodily life, is exempt from all danger of decay.
In the highest antiquity, (the people) did not know that there
were (their rulers). In the next age they loved them and praised
them. In the next they feared them; in the next they despised
them. Thus it was that when faith (in the Tao) was deficient (in
the rulers) a want of faith in them ensued (in the people).
How irresolute did those (earliest rulers) appear, showing (by
their reticence) the importance which they set upon their words!
Their work was done and their undertakings were successful,
while the people all said, 'We are as we are, of ourselves!'
When the Great Tao (Way or Method) ceased to be observed,
benevolence and righteousness came into vogue. (Then) appeared
wisdom and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy.
When harmony no longer prevailed throughout the six kinships,
filial sons found their manifestation; when the states and clans
fell into disorder, loyal ministers appeared.
If we could renounce our sageness and discard our wisdom, it
would be better for the people a hundredfold. If we could
renounce our benevolence and discard our righteousness, the
people would again become filial and kindly. If we could
renounce our artful contrivances and discard our (scheming for)
gain, there would be no thieves nor robbers.
Those three methods (of government) Thought olden ways in
elegance did fail And made these names their want of worth to
veil; But simple views, and courses plain and true Would selfish
ends and many lusts eschew.
When we renounce learning we have no troubles. The (ready)
'yes,' and (flattering) 'yea;'-- Small is the difference they
display. But mark their issues, good and ill;-- What space the
gulf between shall fill?
What all men fear is indeed to be feared; but how wide and
without end is the range of questions (asking to be discussed)!
The multitude of men look satisfied and pleased; as if enjoying
a full banquet, as if mounted on a tower in spring. I alone seem
listless and still, my desires having as yet given no indication
of their presence. I am like an infant which has not yet smiled.
I look dejected and forlorn, as if I had no home to go to. The
multitude of men all have enough and to spare. I alone seem to
have lost everything. My mind is that of a stupid man; I am in a
state of chaos.
Ordinary men look bright and intelligent, while I alone seem to
be benighted. They look full of discrimination, while I alone am
dull and confused. I seem to be carried about as on the sea,
drifting as if I had nowhere to rest. All men have their spheres
of action, while I alone seem dull and incapable, like a rude
borderer. (Thus) I alone am different from other men, but I
value the nursing-mother (the Tao).