Scholars of the highest class, when they hear about the Tao,
earnestly carry it into practice. Scholars of the middle class,
when they have heard about it, seem now to keep it and now to
lose it. Scholars of the lowest class, when they have heard
about it, laugh greatly at it. If it were not (thus) laughed at,
it would not be fit to be the Tao.
Therefore the sentence-makers have thus expressed themselves:--
'The Tao, when brightest seen, seems light to lack; Who progress
in it makes, seems drawing back; Its even way is like a rugged
track. Its highest virtue from the vale doth rise; Its greatest
beauty seems to offend the eyes; And he has most whose lot the
least supplies. Its firmest virtue seems but poor and low; Its
solid truth seems change to undergo; Its largest square doth yet
no corner show A vessel great, it is the slowest made; Loud is
its sound, but never word it said; A semblance great, the shadow
of a shade.'
The Tao is hidden, and has no name; but it is the Tao which is
skilful at imparting (to all things what they need) and making
The Tao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three;
Three produced All things. All things leave behind them the
Obscurity (out of which they have come), and go forward to
embrace the Brightness (into which they have emerged), while
they are harmonised by the Breath of Vacancy.
What men dislike is to be orphans, to have little virtue, to be
as carriages without naves; and yet these are the designations
which kings and princes use for themselves. So it is that some
things are increased by being diminished, and others are
diminished by being increased.
What other men (thus) teach, I also teach. The violent and
strong do not die their natural death. I will make this the
basis of my teaching.
The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the
hardest; that which has no (substantial) existence enters where
there is no crevice. I know hereby what advantage belongs to
doing nothing (with a purpose).
There are few in the world who attain to the teaching without
words, and the advantage arising from non-action.
Or fame or life, Which do you hold more dear? Or life or wealth,
To which would you adhere? Keep life and lose those other
things; Keep them and lose your life:--which brings Sorrow and
pain more near?
Thus we may see, Who cleaves to fame Rejects what is more great;
Who loves large stores Gives up the richer state.
Who is content Needs fear no shame. Who knows to stop Incurs no
blame. From danger free Long live shall he.
Who thinks his great achievements poor Shall find his vigour
long endure. Of greatest fulness, deemed a void, Exhaustion
ne'er shall stem the tide. Do thou what's straight still crooked
deem; Thy greatest art still stupid seem, And eloquence a
Constant action overcomes cold; being still overcomes heat.
Purity and stillness give the correct law to all under heaven.
When the Tao prevails in the world, they send back their swift
horses to (draw) the dung-carts. When the Tao is disregarded in
the world, the war-horses breed in the border lands.
There is no guilt greater than to sanction ambition; no calamity
greater than to be discontented with one's lot; no fault greater
than the wish to be getting. Therefore the sufficiency of
contentment is an enduring and unchanging sufficiency.
Without going outside his door, one understands (all that takes
place) under the sky; without looking out from his window, one
sees the Tao of Heaven. The farther that one goes out (from
himself), the less he knows.
Therefore the sages got their knowledge without travelling; gave
their (right) names to things without seeing them; and
accomplished their ends without any purpose of doing so.
He who devotes himself to learning (seeks) from day to day to
increase (his knowledge); he who devotes himself to the Tao
(seeks) from day to day to diminish (his doing).
He diminishes it and again diminishes it, till he arrives at
doing nothing (on purpose). Having arrived at this point of
non-action, there is nothing which he does not do.
He who gets as his own all under heaven does so by giving
himself no trouble (with that end). If one take trouble (with
that end), he is not equal to getting as his own all under
The sage has no invariable mind of his own; he makes the mind of
the people his mind.
To those who are good (to me), I am good; and to those who are
not good (to me), I am also good;--and thus (all) get to be
good. To those who are sincere (with me), I am sincere; and to
those who are not sincere (with me), I am also sincere;--and
thus (all) get to be sincere.
The sage has in the world an appearance of indecision, and keeps
his mind in a state of indifference to all. The people all keep
their eyes and ears directed to him, and he deals with them all
as his children.
Men come forth and live; they enter (again) and die.
Of every ten three are ministers of life (to themselves); and
three are ministers of death.
There are also three in every ten whose aim is to live, but
whose movements tend to the land (or place) of death. And for
what reason? Because of their excessive endeavours to perpetuate
But I have heard that he who is skilful in managing the life
entrusted to him for a time travels on the land without having
to shun rhinoceros or tiger, and enters a host without having to
avoid buff coat or sharp weapon. The rhinoceros finds no place
in him into which to thrust its horn, nor the tiger a place in
which to fix its claws, nor the weapon a place to admit its
point. And for what reason? Because there is in him no place of
All things are produced by the Tao, and nourished by its
outflowing operation. They receive their forms according to the
nature of each, and are completed according to the circumstances
of their condition. Therefore all things without exception
honour the Tao, and exalt its outflowing operation.
This honouring of the Tao and exalting of its operation is not
the result of any ordination, but always a spontaneous tribute.
Thus it is that the Tao produces (all things), nourishes them,
brings them to their full growth, nurses them, completes them,
matures them, maintains them, and overspreads them.
It produces them and makes no claim to the possession of them;
it carries them through their processes and does not vaunt its
ability in doing so; it brings them to maturity and exercises no
control over them;--this is called its mysterious operation.
(The Tao) which originated all under the sky is to be considered
as the mother of them all.
When the mother is found, we know what her children should be.
When one knows that he is his mother's child, and proceeds to
guard (the qualities of) the mother that belong to him, to the
end of his life he will be free from all peril.
Let him keep his mouth closed, and shut up the portals (of his
nostrils), and all his life he will be exempt from laborious
exertion. Let him keep his mouth open, and (spend his breath) in
the promotion of his affairs, and all his life there will be no
safety for him.
The perception of what is small is (the secret of clear-
sightedness; the guarding of what is soft and tender is (the
secret of) strength.
Who uses well his light, Reverting to its (source so) bright,
Will from his body ward all blight, And hides the unchanging
from men's sight.
If I were suddenly to become known, and (put into a position to)
conduct (a government) according to the Great Tao, what I should
be most afraid of would be a boastful display.
The great Tao (or way) is very level and easy; but people love
Their court(-yards and buildings) shall be well kept, but their
fields shall be ill-cultivated, and their granaries very empty.
They shall wear elegant and ornamented robes, carry a sharp
sword at their girdle, pamper themselves in eating and drinking,
and have a superabundance of property and wealth;--such
(princes) may be called robbers and boasters. This is contrary
to the Tao surely!
What (Tao's) skilful planter plants Can never be uptorn; What
his skilful arms enfold, From him can ne'er be borne. Sons shall
bring in lengthening line, Sacrifices to his shrine.
Tao when nursed within one's self, His vigour will make true;
And where the family it rules What riches will accrue! The
neighbourhood where it prevails In thriving will abound; And
when 'tis seen throughout the state, Good fortune will be found.
Employ it the kingdom o'er, And men thrive all around.
In this way the effect will be seen in the person, by the
observation of different cases; in the family; in the
neighbourhood; in the state; and in the kingdom.
How do I know that this effect is sure to hold thus all under
the sky? By this (method of observation).
He who has in himself abundantly the attributes (of the Tao) is
like an infant. Poisonous insects will not sting him; fierce
beasts will not seize him; birds of prey will not strike him.
(The infant's) bones are weak and its sinews soft, but yet its
grasp is firm. It knows not yet the union of male and female,
and yet its virile member may be excited;--showing the
perfection of its physical essence. All day long it will cry
without its throat becoming hoarse;--showing the harmony (in its
To him by whom this harmony is known, (The secret of) the
unchanging (Tao) is shown, And in the knowledge wisdom finds its
throne. All life-increasing arts to evil turn; Where the mind
makes the vital breath to burn, (False) is the strength, (and
o'er it we should mourn.)
When things have become strong, they (then) become old, which
may be said to be contrary to the Tao. Whatever is contrary to
the Tao soon ends.
He who knows (the Tao) does not (care to) speak (about it); he
who is (ever ready to) speak about it does not know it.
He (who knows it) will keep his mouth shut and close the portals
(of his nostrils). He will blunt his sharp points and unravel
the complications of things; he will attemper his brightness,
and bring himself into agreement with the obscurity (of others).
This is called 'the Mysterious Agreement.'
(Such an one) cannot be treated familiarly or distantly; he is
beyond all consideration of profit or injury; of nobility or
meanness:--he is the noblest man under heaven.
A state may be ruled by (measures of) correction; weapons of war
may be used with crafty dexterity; (but) the kingdom is made
one's own (only) by freedom from action and purpose.
How do I know that it is so? By these facts:--In the kingdom the
multiplication of prohibitive enactments increases the poverty
of the people; the more implements to add to their profit that
the people have, the greater disorder is there in the state and
clan; the more acts of crafty dexterity that men possess, the
more do strange contrivances appear; the more display there is
of legislation, the more thieves and robbers there are.
Therefore a sage has said, 'I will do nothing (of purpose), and
the people will be transformed of themselves; I will be fond of
keeping still, and the people will of themselves become correct.
I will take no trouble about it, and the people will of
themselves become rich; I will manifest no ambition, and the
people will of themselves attain to the primitive simplicity.'
The government that seems the most unwise, Oft goodness to the
people best supplies; That which is meddling, touching
everything, Will work but ill, and disappointment bring.
Misery!--happiness is to be found by its side!
Happiness!--misery lurks beneath it! Who knows what either will
come to in the end?
Shall we then dispense with correction? The (method of)
correction shall by a turn become distortion, and the good in it
shall by a turn become evil. The delusion of the people (on this
point) has indeed subsisted for a long time.
Therefore the sage is (like) a square which cuts no one (with
its angles); (like) a corner which injures no one (with its
sharpness). He is straightforward, but allows himself no
license; he is bright, but does not dazzle.
For regulating the human (in our constitution) and rendering the
(proper) service to the heavenly, there is nothing like
It is only by this moderation that there is effected an early
return (to man's normal state). That early return is what I call
the repeated accumulation of the attributes (of the Tao). With
that repeated accumulation of those attributes, there comes the
subjugation (of every obstacle to such return). Of this
subjugation we know not what shall be the limit; and when one
knows not what the limit shall be, he may be the ruler of a
He who possesses the mother of the state may continue long. His
case is like that (of the plant) of which we say that its roots
are deep and its flower stalks firm:--this is the way to secure
that its enduring life shall long be seen.
Governing a great state is like cooking small fish.
Let the kingdom be governed according to the Tao, and the manes
of the departed will not manifest their spiritual energy. It is
not that those manes have not that spiritual energy, but it will
not be employed to hurt men. It is not that it could not hurt
men, but neither does the ruling sage hurt them.
When these two do not injuriously affect each other, their good
influences converge in the virtue (of the Tao).