The grandest forms of active force From Tao come, their only
source. Who can of Tao the nature tell? Our sight it flies, our
touch as well. Eluding sight, eluding touch, The forms of things
all in it crouch; Eluding touch, eluding sight, There are their
semblances, all right. Profound it is, dark and obscure; Things'
essences all there endure. Those essences the truth enfold Of
what, when seen, shall then be told. Now it is so; 'twas so of
old. Its name--what passes not away; So, in their beautiful
array, Things form and never know decay.
How know I that it is so with all the beauties of existing
things? By this (nature of the Tao).
The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty,
full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets them;
he whose (desires) are many goes astray.
Therefore the sage holds in his embrace the one thing (of
humility), and manifests it to all the world. He is free from
self- display, and therefore he shines; from self-assertion, and
therefore he is distinguished; from self-boasting, and therefore
his merit is acknowledged; from self-complacency, and therefore
he acquires superiority. It is because he is thus free from
striving that therefore no one in the world is able to strive
That saying of the ancients that 'the partial becomes complete'
was not vainly spoken:--all real completion is comprehended
Abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity
of his nature. A violent wind does not last for a whole morning;
a sudden rain does not last for the whole day. To whom is it
that these (two) things are owing? To Heaven and Earth. If
Heaven and Earth cannot make such (spasmodic) actings last long,
how much less can man!
Therefore when one is making the Tao his business, those who are
also pursuing it, agree with him in it, and those who are making
the manifestation of its course their object agree with him in
that; while even those who are failing in both these things
agree with him where they fail.
Hence, those with whom he agrees as to the Tao have the
happiness of attaining to it; those with whom he agrees as to
its manifestation have the happiness of attaining to it; and
those with whom he agrees in their failure have also the
happiness of attaining (to the Tao). (But) when there is not
faith sufficient (on his part), a want of faith (in him) ensues
(on the part of the others).
He who stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm; he who
stretches his legs does not walk (easily). (So), he who displays
himself does not shine; he who asserts his own views is not
distinguished; he who vaunts himself does not find his merit
acknowledged; he who is self- conceited has no superiority
allowed to him. Such conditions, viewed from the standpoint of
the Tao, are like remnants of food, or a tumour on the body,
which all dislike. Hence those who pursue (the course) of the
Tao do not adopt and allow them.
There was something undefined and complete, coming into
existence before Heaven and Earth. How still it was and
formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching
everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)! It may be
regarded as the Mother of all things.
I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tao
(the Way or Course). Making an effort (further) to give it a
name I call it The Great.
Great, it passes on (in constant flow). Passing on, it becomes
remote. Having become remote, it returns. Therefore the Tao is
great; Heaven is great; Earth is great; and the (sage) king is
also great. In the universe there are four that are great, and
the (sage) king is one of them.
Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from
Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Tao. The law of the Tao is
its being what it is.
Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of
Therefore a wise prince, marching the whole day, does not go far
from his baggage waggons. Although he may have brilliant
prospects to look at, he quietly remains (in his proper place),
indifferent to them. How should the lord of a myriad chariots
carry himself lightly before the kingdom? If he do act lightly,
he has lost his root (of gravity); if he proceed to active
movement, he will lose his throne.
The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or
footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found
fault with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the
skilful closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has
shut will be impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or
knots, while to unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In
the same way the sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he
does not cast away any man; he is always skilful at saving
things, and so he does not cast away anything. This is called
'Hiding the light of his procedure.'
Therefore the man of skill is a master (to be looked up to) by
him who has not the skill; and he who has not the skill is the
helper of (the reputation of) him who has the skill. If the one
did not honour his master, and the other did not rejoice in his
helper, an (observer), though intelligent, might greatly err
about them. This is called 'The utmost degree of mystery.'
Who knows his manhood's strength, Yet still his female
feebleness maintains; As to one channel flow the many drains,
All come to him, yea, all beneath the sky. Thus he the constant
excellence retains; The simple child again, free from all
Who knows how white attracts, Yet always keeps himself within
black's shade, The pattern of humility displayed, Displayed in
view of all beneath the sky; He in the unchanging excellence
arrayed, Endless return to man's first state has made.
Who knows how glory shines, Yet loves disgrace, nor e'er for it
is pale; Behold his presence in a spacious vale, To which men
come from all beneath the sky. The unchanging excellence
completes its tale; The simple infant man in him we hail.
The unwrought material, when divided and distributed, forms
vessels. The sage, when employed, becomes the Head of all the
Officers (of government); and in his greatest regulations he
employs no violent measures.
If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to
effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The
kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active
doing. He who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it
in his grasp loses it.
The course and nature of things is such that What was in front
is now behind; What warmed anon we freezing find. Strength is of
weakness oft the spoil; The store in ruins mocks our toil.
Hence the sage puts away excessive effort, extravagance, and
He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Tao will
not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a
course is sure to meet with its proper return.
Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up. In
the sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.
A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He
does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and
complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on
his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in
consequence of it. He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he
strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery.
When things have attained their strong maturity they become old.
This may be said to be not in accordance with the Tao: and what
is not in accordance with it soon comes to an end.
Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen,
hateful, it may be said, to all creatures. Therefore they who
have the Tao do not like to employ them.
The superior man ordinarily considers the left hand the most
honourable place, but in time of war the right hand. Those sharp
weapons are instruments of evil omen, and not the instruments of
the superior man;--he uses them only on the compulsion of
necessity. Calm and repose are what he prizes; victory (by force
of arms) is to him undesirable. To consider this desirable would
be to delight in the slaughter of men; and he who delights in
the slaughter of men cannot get his will in the kingdom.
On occasions of festivity to be on the left hand is the prized
position; on occasions of mourning, the right hand. The second
in command of the army has his place on the left; the general
commanding in chief has his on the right;--his place, that is,
is assigned to him as in the rites of mourning. He who has
killed multitudes of men should weep for them with the bitterest
grief; and the victor in battle has his place (rightly)
according to those rites.
The Tao, considered as unchanging, has no name.
Though in its primordial simplicity it may be small, the whole
world dares not deal with (one embodying) it as a minister. If a
feudal prince or the king could guard and hold it, all would
spontaneously submit themselves to him.
Heaven and Earth (under its guidance) unite together and send
down the sweet dew, which, without the directions of men,
reaches equally everywhere as of its own accord.
As soon as it proceeds to action, it has a name. When it once
has that name, (men) can know to rest in it. When they know to
rest in it, they can be free from all risk of failure and error.
The relation of the Tao to all the world is like that of the
great rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.
He who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is
intelligent. He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes
himself is mighty. He who is satisfied with his lot is rich; he
who goes on acting with energy has a (firm) will.
He who does not fail in the requirements of his position,
continues long; he who dies and yet does not perish, has
All-pervading is the Great Tao! It may be found on the left hand
and on the right.
All things depend on it for their production, which it gives to
them, not one refusing obedience to it. When its work is
accomplished, it does not claim the name of having done it. It
clothes all things as with a garment, and makes no assumption of
being their lord;--it may be named in the smallest things. All
things return (to their root and disappear), and do not know
that it is it which presides over their doing so;--it may be
named in the greatest things.
Hence the sage is able (in the same way) to accomplish his great
achievements. It is through his not making himself great that he
can accomplish them.
To him who holds in his hands the Great Image (of the invisible
Tao), the whole world repairs. Men resort to him, and receive no
hurt, but (find) rest, peace, and the feeling of ease.
Music and dainties will make the passing guest stop (for a
time). But though the Tao as it comes from the mouth, seems
insipid and has no flavour, though it seems not worth being
looked at or listened to, the use of it is inexhaustible.
When one is about to take an inspiration, he is sure to make a
(previous) expiration; when he is going to weaken another, he
will first strengthen him; when he is going to overthrow
another, he will first have raised him up; when he is going to
despoil another, he will first have made gifts to him:--this is
called 'Hiding the light (of his procedure).'
The soft overcomes the hard; and the weak the strong.
Fishes should not be taken from the deep; instruments for the
profit of a state should not be shown to the people.
The Tao in its regular course does nothing (for the sake of
doing it), and so there is nothing which it does not do.
If princes and kings were able to maintain it, all things would
of themselves be transformed by them.
If this transformation became to me an object of desire, I would
express the desire by the nameless simplicity.
Simplicity without a name Is free from all external aim. With no
desire, at rest and still, All things go right as of their will.
(Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the
Tao) did not (seek) to show them, and therefore they possessed
them (in fullest measure). (Those who) possessed in a lower
degree those attributes (sought how) not to lose them, and
therefore they did not possess them (in fullest measure).
(Those who) possessed in the highest degree those attributes did
nothing (with a purpose), and had no need to do anything. (Those
who) possessed them in a lower degree were (always) doing, and
had need to be so doing.
(Those who) possessed the highest benevolence were (always
seeking) to carry it out, and had no need to be doing so. (Those
who) possessed the highest righteousness were (always seeking)
to carry it out, and had need to be so doing.
(Those who) possessed the highest (sense of) propriety were
(always seeking) to show it, and when men did not respond to it,
they bared the arm and marched up to them.
Thus it was that when the Tao was lost, its attributes appeared;
when its attributes were lost, benevolence appeared; when
benevolence was lost, righteousness appeared; and when
righteousness was lost, the proprieties appeared.
Now propriety is the attenuated form of leal-heartedness and
good faith, and is also the commencement of disorder; swift
apprehension is (only) a flower of the Tao, and is the beginning
Thus it is that the Great man abides by what is solid, and
eschews what is flimsy; dwells with the fruit and not with the
flower. It is thus that he puts away the one and makes choice of
The things which from of old have got the One (the Tao) are--
Heaven which by it is bright and pure; Earth rendered thereby
firm and sure; Spirits with powers by it supplied; Valleys kept
full throughout their void All creatures which through it do
live Princes and kings who from it get The model which to all
All these are the results of the One (Tao).
If heaven were not thus pure, it soon would rend; If earth were
not thus sure, 'twould break and bend; Without these powers, the
spirits soon would fail; If not so filled, the drought would
parch each vale; Without that life, creatures would pass away;
Princes and kings, without that moral sway, However grand and
high, would all decay.
Thus it is that dignity finds its (firm) root in its (previous)
meanness, and what is lofty finds its stability in the lowness
(from which it rises). Hence princes and kings call themselves
'Orphans,' 'Men of small virtue,' and as 'Carriages without a
nave.' Is not this an acknowledgment that in their considering
themselves mean they see the foundation of their dignity? So it
is that in the enumeration of the different parts of a carriage
we do not come on what makes it answer the ends of a carriage.
They do not wish to show themselves elegant-looking as jade, but
(prefer) to be coarse-looking as an (ordinary) stone.
The movement of the Tao By contraries proceeds; And weakness
marks the course Of Tao's mighty deeds.
All things under heaven sprang from It as existing (and named);
that existence sprang from It as non-existent (and not named).