Taoism II - Tao Te Ching Part One.

               By Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo         

Reciting Tao Te Ching Chapter 1 ---- 乐诵 ( 道德经 ) 第一章


Tao Te Ching Part One

                                                Less and less do you need to force things,

                                                until finally you arrive at non-action.


                                                When nothing is done,

                                                nothing is left undone.

The meager history of Lao Tsu

Lao Tsu's surname was Li, his personal name was Erh and Tan. He was a native of Ch'u, a large state situated in the lower Yangtze valley. There was no exact date of his birth, but we know that he was an older contemporary of Confucius (551-479 B.C.). He was probably 50 years older. The meeting of these two giants had been described by many when Confucius asked Lao Tsu about a detail on rituals. Confucius asked Lao Tsu, “Please instruct me on the proper rites for behavior” Lao Tsu answered, “ A person may have all the outward appearances of a gentleman when times are good. But if he encounters hard times, will drift like the wind. A true gentleman hides his wealth; the man of superior virtue has the outward appearance of a fool! Throw away your arrogant rituals! None of them have any relevance to our true self. That is my advice to you!” Confucius was impressed. He said, “The dragon is beyond my knowledge; it ascends into the heaven on the cloud and the wind. Today I have seen Lao Tsu and he is like a dragon!”

Lao Tsu lived mostly in Loyang, the then capital of China. Tradition states that Lao Tsu was married and had a son called Tsung, who became a well-known soldier. Lao Tsu never started a proper school, but students came to him and he ended with a fair number of loyal disciples. It meant that he kept a busy life.

Tao Te Ching

Besides the Bible, this is the world's most translated classic. At the present moment there are at least more than 50 of them in English. Lao Tsu, two thousand six hundred years ago was the Custodian of the Imperial Archives during the reign of the Chou Dynasty. He was a gifted scholar, but he saw the disastrous political unrest during that period. China, in those days, was divided into several provinces, each with its own laws and leaders. There was a buildup of arms, and hostilities between the provinces were rife. The aggression engendered for political supremacy was met with equally aggressive hostility. This led to a war-torn China, which many thinking Chinese thought would end up in destruction as a wasteland.

Faced with this situation in this hopeless era, Lao Tsu retired from his position and was about to leave the civilized world for the mountains beyond. He was said to be more than ninety years old. Before he could pass through the gates of the capital, the Keeper of the Gate, insisted that Lao Tsu write down what he knew for the enlightenment of those he would leave behind. So Lao Tsu wrote the Tao Te Ching mainly for those in the position to guide others. These are employers, educators, princes and politicians. This small treatise is composed of 5,000 characters and is subdivided into 81 chapters. The first 37 chapters are about the Tao, and the remaining 44 chapters are about power and virtue, Te. What became of him afterward, nobody knew. Scholars both in China and elsewhere have long eyed the Tao Te Ching with grave suspicion, and many now regard Lao Tzu as a purely legendary figure. And yet the story of the Keeper of the Pass asking to write this piece for posterity is too vivid to dismiss.

Lao Tsu was very mystical and believed that the Tao is the source, the inner axis of the universe. The inner nature of the world is mysterious, prior to name and form. That which can be given a name is not Tao.

Lao Tsu's Tao Te Ching expresses concepts that interrelate systematically to give meaning and a basis for understanding. Forces create one another through chain reactions initiated by the energies of opposites. Events in the real world are the result of these forces. Even as a pattern comes into being, it vanishes. Being and non-being are only aspects of each other, mutually caused.

Tao is bottomless yet empty of life. Immortality is found in the emptiness. From emptiness, springs usefulness. The empty space within a cup is what makes a cup useful, for without any empty space within, a cup cannot be filled. Tao is the source, older than nature. Nature is rooted in Tao. Everything that we know in the world comes from the Tao, expressed as Yin and Yang. Thus anything we do will invariably create its own opposite. To succeed in life according to Lao Tsu, we should step back and permit this balancing to take place. The situations of life seem to be one way, but they quickly assert their dual nature. The sage encourages contentment by letting go of excess desires. Simplicity leads to freedom from desire.

Wisdom lies in not contending. Sensitive to inner nature of self and other, Lao Tsu's Way leads through mystery, by returning to the core of life. When you let be, circumstances stop being a problem. They go through their cycle. Allow matters to take their natural course, and the struggle of resistance lessens. Everything is then taken care of by its own patterns of activation and rest. Yin and yang represent the natural polarity that inevitably arises. By encouraging the natural, the sage permits Tao to become manifest. Thus, wisdom is found in silence, in quiet, in letting be.

Tao Te Ching's teaching is essentially this: Find out who you are. Gauge the atmosphere and the senses of the world directly around you. Hold that feeling deeply in your awareness. Do not depend on ideologies. Develop your own intuitive powers, which are a prerequisite for a leader. This intuitive power allows the leader to predict an oncoming change. Build up your personal power (Te) through your awareness and knowledge of the physical laws, as these laws operate both in the universe and in the minds of others (Tao). With this power (Te) you direct events without using force. Use attitude instead of action. Guide rather than rule. Manage them by allowing them to act on you and not the other way round. In this way they will feel that they are self-governing and you will enjoy their loyalty and cooperation. Practice simplicity and continue to grow.

Lao Tsu believed that the best way achieve the above is not to create resistance or elicit counter-reactions. As with the laws of nature, excessive force will inevitably give rise to an opposing force. So force cannot ensure a stabilizing social foundation. The leader must understand Tao, which is the way matter and energy function in the universe. Tao directly affects the ways that individual behave and the way society evolve. That means when a leader understands the Tao, it would give him the power (Te) to harmonize the world.

We are told to 'Do nothing, and do everything'. This is based on the fact that the Taoists realize that Man interfere too much in the natural course of events. This subsequently leads to chaos and ills of society. The result is mostly frustration of the cosmic order of things. We should not try to control events, but resign one's will to the Tao. In this way one returns to the Te of the Way (Tao).

The word 'Ching' generally means 'Classic. This word is authoritative coming from the sages and cannot be contradicted, but can be commented. It echoes the meaning of the Tao in that it is unwavering, unchanging and eternal. It also means 'essence'. So Tao Te Ching may be translated to “Classic of Tao and Te”.

Ching may also be translated as semen, which is one of the three essential life forces. The other two are breath or vital energy (chi) and the mind or consciousness (shen). These three forces must intermix in order to preserve life. The Taoist Ko Hung says:

“Man is in chi and chi is within each human being. Heaven and Earth and the ten thousand things all require chi to stay alive. A person that knows how to allow his chi to circulate (hsing-chi) will preserve himself and banish illnesses that might cause him harm.”

Tao is a metaphysical first principle that embraces and underlies all being, a vast Oneness that precedes and generates the endlessly diverse forms of the world. No language in the world can describe the Tao. One can only allude to it by similes and metaphors because it is quite ineffable. However one must sense its presence and movement so that one can bring one’s life into harmony with it. The text is to impart to the reader through hints, symbols and paradoxical poetry to obtain an intuitive grasp of the Tao and the vital ability to move with it rather than counter to it.

The second term, Te, denotes a moral power or virtue characteristic of a person who follows a correct course of conduct. Te is the virtue one acquires through being accord with the Tao, what one gets from the Tao.

The Tao Te Ching is unique in that it does not contain a single reference to history or personal names of any kind. Many passages of the Tao Te Ching are clearly meant to confute the teachings of the Confucians or the Legalists. The power of language in expounding its ideas, it comes closer to pure poetry than do any of the other philosophical texts.

Of all the versions of the Tao Te Ching that I have read, I like the translation of Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo best of all. This is the following version.

Tao Te Ching Part One

1.       Tao called Tao is not Tao.


Names can name no lasting name.


 Nameless: the origin of heaven and earth.

Naming: the mother of ten thousand things.


Empty of desire, perceive mystery.

Filled with desire, perceive manifestations.


These have the same source, but different names.

Call them both deep-----

Deep and again deep:


The gateway to all mystery.


None of the ways described by us, in which things happen, is the Taoist Way by which nature works. No word can disclose nature’s deepest secret. Creation began in an event, which is not identified and therefore has no name. All creatures, nevertheless, can be traced to a common matrix. Nature’s secret is disclosed only to those who can get rid of personal wishes or prejudices about it. One comes to this intuition by disregarding one’s own point of view. All things are separated only in the mind by imagination and abstraction. In nature they are invariably paired. This pairing is the yin and yang of the worldly manifestations. It is the basis of understanding of all existence.


2.                  Recognize beauty and ugliness is born

Recognize good and evil is born


 Is and Isn’t produce each other.


 Hard depends on easy,

Long is tested by short,

High is determined by low,

Sound is harmonized by voice,

After is followed by before.


Therefore the Sage is devoted to non-action,

Moves without teaching,

Creates ten thousand things without instruction,

Lives but does not own,

Acts but does not presume,

Accomplish without taking credit.


When no credit is taken,

Accomplishment endures.



The palace rises in beauty only against the ugliness of the dwellings of the poor; man’s goodness is attended by his wickedness. So, generally, positive and negative, pleasant and unpleasant, good and bad, such qualities and values come in pairs. They are relative to human feelings; they arise from individual points of view. They do not appear in the Tao and its Virtue. So the king does nothing of himself; he is quiet, and lets the Tao act through him. He takes no pay in any form, neither fame, nor service, nor property, nor personal power, and since he does not, they all come to him.


3.                  Don’t glorify heroes,

And people will not contend.

Don’t treasure rare objects,

And no one will steal.

Don’t display what people desire,

And their hearts will not be disturbed.



The Sage rules

By emptying hearts and filling bellies,

By weakening ambitions and strengthening bones;

Leads people

Away from knowing and wanting;

Deters those who know too much

From going too far;

Practices non-action

And the natural order is not disrupted.



In emptying people’s hearts and minds means emptying them of concepts, judgments, and desires. Thus they can return to a state of childlike simplicity. Filling their bellies means he fills them with a sense of their of their original identity. Thus they can return to a state of joy. Weakening their ambitions means when they have no false self to nourish or defend, they find that greed, hatred and arrogance vanish by themselves. Strengthening their bones is to toughen their resolve or their innermost intention. They will then develop enough self-reliance to give up the idea of self.


4.                  Tao is empty---

Its use is never exhausted.


The origin of all things.


It blunts sharp edges,

Unties knots,

Softens glare

Becomes one with the dusty world.


Deeply subsistent----

I don’t know whose child it is.


It is older than the Ancestor.



Like “empty” space, the Tao contains everything and yet is never filled. Things come out of it as from a bottomless hole, as if they were begotten there.

The Tao has the quality of softening all harshness. Looking down into its unfathomable depths, I do not know who brought it to be but perhaps it is God’s arena.


5.                  Heaven and earth are not kind:

The ten thousand things are straw dogs to them.


Sages are not kind:

People are straw dogs to them.


Yet Heaven and Earth

And all the space between

Are like a bellows:

Empty but inexhaustible,

Always producing more.


Longwinded speech is exhausting.

Better to stay centered.



The Tao does not take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. Heaven and earth are impartial; they treat all things like straw dogs, as the sage treats all people like straw dogs. Straw dogs were ritual objects, venerated before the ceremony but afterward abandoned and trampled underfoot. The point here is not that the Tao is cruel to things, nor that the sage is ruthless with people, but they are impartial. The sage sees all beings arising from the same source, working out their karma (usually with great suffering), and returning to the source. And since people are in constant flux, the sage understands that at any moment they are capable of the most astonishing spiritual transformations. Why should the sage pin them motionless with a judgment of  “good” or “bad”?


6.                  The Valley Spirit never dies.

It is called the Mysterious Female.


The entrance to the Mysterious Female

Is called the root of Heaven and Earth,


Endless flow

Of inexhaustible energy.



There is a spirit that haunts the valleys that mystics know. It has the female characteristic of preferring to withdraw. It is like a gateway through which man attains heaven; and heaven reaches man when he is receptive to its nature and open to its influence. To be open and receptive to the Tao is to be useful without working at it.


7.                  Heaven is long, Earth enduring.


Long and enduring

Because they do not exist for themselves.


Therefore the Sage

Steps back, but is always in front,

Stays outside, but is always within.


No self-interest?

Self is fulfilled.



The impersonality of the visible world gives one the impression that it exists for ends beyond itself; these ends are eternal and so the world is eternal.

The king, being wise, will take a lesson from this. To be first among men, he must be last in his own calculations; and if he is last, he will be first. His salvation is in self-denial. He will find fulfillment as a man and king in being selfless.


8.                  Best to be like water,

Which benefits the ten thousand things

And does not contend.

It pools where humans disdain to dwell,

Close to the TAO.


            Live in a good place.

            Keep your mind deep.

            Treat others well.

            Stand by your word.

            Make fair rules.

            Do the right thing.

            Work when it’s time.


Only do not contend,

And you will not go wrong.



The highest goodness, like water, is characterized by humility. A good man or a good king is self-effacing like the Tao. Consequently, his object is peace; and the picture of peace consists of families secure on their land and the people thoughtful, kind and honest. It also requires orderly government and skillful business, with the king doing what is his to do at the appropriate times.


9.                  Hold and fill it----

Not as good as stopping in time.


Measure and pound it-----

It will not long survive.


When gold and jade fill the hall,

They cannot be guarded.


Riches and pride

Bequeath error.


Withdrawing when work is done:

Heaven’s TAO.



One can only guess that this bitter reproach was addressed to the nobility and palace sycophants. It could hardly have been aimed at the king, for it would have destroyed the illusion that he is the “Wise Man.” Imperial politics in the last centuries of the Chou dynasty was like placer mining; when the operation was finished, all the nuggets were extracted from the gravel.

10.              Can you balance your life force

And embrace the One

Without separation?


Can you control your breath


Like a baby?


Can you clarify

Your dark vision

Without blemish?


Can you love people

And govern the country

Without knowledge?


Can you open and close

The gate of heaven

Without clinging to earth?


Can you brighten

The four directions

without action?


Give birth and cultivate

Give birth and do not possess.

Act without dependence.

Excel but do not rule.

This is called dark TE.



Can you control your animal nature enough to be pure in heart, never distracted from the Tao? Are you capable of the personal disciplines that can enable you to love unselfishly, wield virtue and at last understand all, while denying yourself? Put life into your people without trying to own them. Depend on no one. Be their king but never the tyrant. This is what our mysticism requires of you.


11.              Thirty spokes join one hub.

The wheel’s use comes from emptiness.


Clay is fired to make a pot.

The pot’s use comes from emptiness.


Windows and doors are cut to make a room.

The room’s use comes from emptiness.



Having leads to profit,

Not having leads to use.



Is the Tao real? Does it exist? Can one isolate it and say, “This is it”? It is as real as the hole in the hub of a wheel where the axle rests. The hole is a void in the hub. It exists as a window exists when the part of the wall of a house is cut away. Similarly, the Tao is like the empty place in a bowl. The advantage of a bowl lies in it walls but its use depends on its emptiness. So with the Tao. It is functional. It cannot be isolated, but you cannot be without it.


12.              Five colors darken the eyes.

Five tones deaden the ears.

Five tastes jade the palate.

Hunting and racing madden the heart.

Exotic goods ensnarl human lives.


Therefore the Sage

Takes care of the belly, not the eye,

Chooses one, rejects the other.



Beware of sensual enjoyment and of pretty things that surround the king to seduce him from his real calling. The usual pursuits of the nobles and the luxury of the palaces will ruin the king.

The king, therefore, should follow his inward, private feelings about things; let him not be deluded by what his senses report. He must discriminate, selecting things as admissible and others as undesirable.


13.              Favor and disgrace are like fear.

Honor and distress are like the self.


What does this mean?


Favor debases us.

Afraid when we get it,

Afraid when we lose it.


The self embodies distress.

            No self

            No distress.


Respect the world as your self:

            The world can be your lodging.

Love the world as your self:

            The world can be your trust.



If high rank comes to one or leaves him, he will suffer for the egotism involved. Only those to whom high rank is a great trust and who love people are fit for government.


14.              Searching but not seeing, we call it dim.

Listening but not hearing, we call it faint.

Groping but not touching, we call it subtle.


These three cannot be fully grasped.

Therefore they become one.


Rising it is not bright; setting it is not dark.

It moves all things back to where there is nothing.


Meeting it there is no front,

Following it there is no back.


Live in the ancient TAO,

Master the existing present,

Understand the source of all things.

This is called the record of TAO.



The Tao is invisible, inaudible, and intangible and must be accepted as such. Its presence can never be put to a definite test, so that being present, it gives no light; being absent it leaves no darkness. It meets no human specifications.

Let the king be ever mindful of it. It is the first fact of the world, without which present government would be impossible. Study the way of the ancient rulers; what they did is your clue today.


15.              The ancients who followed TAO:

Dark, wondrous, profound, penetrating,


Deep beyond knowing.


Because they cannot be known,

They can only be described.



            Like crossing a winter stream.


            Like respecting one’s neighbors.


            Like a guest.


            Like ice about to melt.


            Like uncarved wood.


            Like a valley.

Mixing freely,

            Like muddy water.


Calm the muddy water,

            It becomes clear.

Move the inert,

            It comes to life.


Those who sustain TAO

            Do not wish to be full.


Because they do not wish to be full

            They can fade away

            Without further effort.



Mud stands for concepts, judgments, desires and expectations----anything that obscures and narrows reality. The master’s life is pure and placid: predictable like the seasons, obvious like the moon. When our mind/heart becomes transparent, the light of the TAO shines through.

When the ‘water is clear’ means: Our mind is like a glass of clear water. If we put salt into the water, it becomes salt water; sugar, it becomes sugar water; shit, it becomes shit water. But originally the water is clear. No thinking, no mind. No mind, no problem.


16.              Attains complete emptiness,

Holds fast to stillness.


The ten thousand things stir about;

I only watch for their going back.


Things grow and grow,

But each goes back to its root.

Going back to the root is stillness.

This means returning to what is.

Returning to what is

Means going back to the ordinary.


Understanding the ordinary:


Not understanding the ordinary:

            Blindness creates evil.


Understanding the ordinary:

            Mind opens.


Mind opening leads to compassion,

Compassion to nobility,

Nobility to heavenliness,

Heavenliness to TAO.


TAO endures.

Your body dies.


There is no danger.



Deep in all there is stillness, where the root of life is, and the root is Universal Consciousness, from which destiny proceeds. Without knowledge of that root, the eternal root, a man is blind and will therefore work evil.

When he knows that root, he will be of great stature as a man and king whose righteousness endows him with kingliness and makes him at last divine because the Tao is at work in him. Thus, the king may die but he will not perish.


17.              Great rising and falling-----

People only know it exists.

Next they see and praise.

Soon they fear.

Finally they despise.


Without fundamental trust

There is no trust at all.


Be careful in valuing words.

When work is done,

            Everyone says

We just acted naturally.



In the hierarchy of government, the king is only a name to the people; his deputy is loved and praised because the people want to have faith in someone high in government; the third in command is more familiar but still out of reach and so he is feared; the man in the fourth grade down from majesty is on the firing line and will be the target for all who are vexed.

But the king is aloof and the people never hear his voice. If he succeeds in embodying the Tao in his government, what all the people desire will come to pass and they will never know that it was not their own achievement.


18.              Great TAO rejected:

Benevolence and righteousness appear.


Learning and knowledge professed:

Great hypocrites spring up.


Family relations forgotten:

`Filial piety and affection arise.


The nation disordered:

Patriots come forth.



There was a time when men shared with all other creatures the balance of nature, its spontaneity and effortless change. Then the process of civilization set in with its inevitable constituents, kindness, morality, wisdom and intelligence. Their opposites came with them, unkindness, immorality, foolishness and stupidity. Then there was trouble everywhere. The six family relations (father and son, elder and younger brothers, husband and wife) are disturbed. The loyalty of public officers has become a pretence.


19.              Banish learning, discard knowledge:

People will gain a hundredfold.


Banish benevolence, discard righteousness:

People will return to duty and compassion.


Banish skill, discard profit:

There will be no more thieves.


These three statements are not enough.

One more step is necessary:


Look at plain silk; hold uncarved wood.

The self dwindles; desires fade.



In the latter part of the Chou era, there were too many professors of theories designed to mend the evil times. Their disputes bred confusion. It would be better to do away with them all and rely on the goodness and wisdom of the people themselves.


20.              Banish learning, no more grief.

Between Yes and No

How much difference?

Between good and evil

How much difference?

What others fear-----

How pointless!


People are wreathed in smiles

As if at a carnival banquet.

I alone am passive, giving no sign,

Like an infant who has not yet smiled.

Forlorn, as if I have no home.


Others have enough and more,

I alone am left out.

I have the mind of a fool,

Confused, confused.


Others are bright and intelligent,

I alone am dull, dull,

Drifting on the ocean,

Blown about endlessly.


Others have plans,

I alone am wayward and stubborn,

I alone am different from others,

Like a baby in the womb.



This poem is a protest against the learning of catechism required of those who aspire to court life, where the difference between “yes” and “yea” is made to seem as important as the difference between good and evil.


21.               Great Te appears

Flowing from TAO


TAO in action----

Only vague and intangible.


Intangible and vague,

But within it are images.


Vague and intangible;

Within are entities.


Shadowy and obscure;

Within it there is life,


Life so real,

That within it there is trust.


From the beginning its name is not lost

But reappears through multiple origins.


How do I know these origins?


Like this.



There is a virtue, a power that issues from the Tao like a magnetic field around a magnet. As the magnet controls the shape of the field, so the Tao controls its virtue or power.

The Tao itself is impalpable, immaterial, and yet out of it are the issues of life.

From ancient times until now, the Beginning, the Tao, has been presented under an endless number of names. How may I know what it is? By what I have told about, my insights, my intuitions, my experiences with what is eternal, must always be so.


22.              Crippled becomes whole,

Crooked becomes straight,

Hollow becomes full,

Worn becomes new,

Little becomes more,

Much becomes delusion.


Therefore Sages cling to the One

            And take care of this world;

Do not display themselves

            And therefore shine;

Do not assert themselves

            And therefore stand out;

Do not praise themselves

            And therefore succeed;

Are not complacent

            And therefore endure;

Do not contend

            And therefore no one under heaven

               Can contend with them.


The old saying

Crippled becomes whole

Is not empty words.


It becomes whole and returns.



The Tao is the restorer and mender of inequities. This thought should prove attractive to the ruler of distressed people.

Let the ruler therefore embrace the One, the Tao, by his own quietness (inaction), and then, through him the Tao will take care of the needs of all.

Civilized society is contemplated as a result of the Tao’s virtue. The king would still be king and the wrongs of society righted.


23.              Spare words: nature’s way.


Violent winds do not blow all morning.

Sudden rain cannot pour all day.

What causes these things?

Heaven and Earth.


If Heaven and Earth do not blow and pour for long,

How much less should humans?


Therefore in following TAO:

            Those on the way become the way,

            Those who gain become the gain,

            Those who lose become the loss.


All within TAO:

            The wayfarer, welcome upon the ways,

            Those who gain, welcome within gain,

            Those who lose, welcome within loss.


Without trust in this,

There is no trust at all.



If the people are to put faith in the king, his faith in the Tao must be great. His hope for success lies in the Tao and its power; if he were once to abandon it, he himself would be abandoned indeed.


24.              On tiptoe; no way to stand.

Clambering: no way to walk.

Self-display: no way to shine.

Self-assertion: no way to succeed.

Self-praise: no way to flourish.

Complacency: no way to endure.


According to TAO,

     Excessive food,

     Extraneous activity

     Inspire disgust.


Therefore, the follower of TAO

Moves on.



The king will avoid temptations to stand “on tiptoe”, i.e., to ambition, special advantages, exhibitionism, boasting, dictatorship and pride.

There are always some persons around who, since they are with the Tao, will see these traits and be disgusted by them. To such people they will be like the surplus food, the poor food, prepared by a family to feed unwelcome human parasites, who attach themselves to the family on more or less public occasions, when to refuse them food would bring adverse comment from the guests.


25.              Something unformed and complete

Before heaven and earth were born,

Solitary and silent,

Stands alone and silent,

Stands alone and unchanging,

Pervading all things without limit.

It is like the mother of all under heaven,

But I don’t know its name----

     Better call it TAO.

     Better call it great.


Great means passing on.

Passing on means going far.

Going far means returning.



     TAO is great,

     And heaven,

     And earth

     And humans.


Four great things in the world.

Aren’t humans one of them?


Humans follow earth

Earth follows heaven

Heaven follows TAO.


TAO follows its own nature.



The first two stanzas are a restatement of poem 1. The Tao is really nameless; it is not a phenomenon, but the description in the second stanza once again suggests the lines of force in a magnetic field. They go out from one pole and return to the other.

Everything in the universe takes its greatness from the Tao, and of this the king is the human symbol. He is the Man who, through the earth and the heavens, connects all of us with the Tao.


26.              Gravity is the root of lightness,

Stillness is the master of passion.


The Sage travels all day

But does not leave the baggage-cart;

When surrounded by magnificent scenery

Remains calm and still.


When a lord of ten thousand chariots

Behaves lightly in this world,

Lightness loses its root,

Passion loses its master.



The people who are light of fancy must have a master who is not easily moved. The king should never allow himself to be distracted from his mission. He is not free to relax his attention form affairs of state as other people are. Most important, he must be quiet, unmoved, if he is to be master of those who do the governing.

The ‘chariots’ were the ancient equivalent of modern army tanks. Ten thousand chariots would indicate formidable military power.


27.              Good travelers leave no tracks.

Good words leave no trace.

Good counting needs no markers.


Good doors have no bolts

            Yet cannot be forced.

Good knots have no rope

            But cannot be untied.


In this way the Sage

            Always help people

            And rejects none,

            Always helps all beings,

             And rejects none.

This is called practicing brightness.


Therefore the good person

            Is the bad person’s teacher,

And the bad person

            Is the good person’s resource,


            Not to value the teacher,

            Not to love the resource,

Causes great confusion even for the intelligent.


This is called the vital secret.



A good walker leaves no traces or tracks. A good speaker makes no slips or errors. A good calculator needs no counting-sticks or tallies. A good locksmith uses no blots or keys, yet no one can open it. A good binder uses no ropes or cords, yet no one can loosen. A Sage always helps people and rejects no one because he is not attached to his own ideas.


28.               Know the male, maintain the female,

Become the channel of the world.


Become the channel of the world,

And TE will endure.


            Return to infancy.


Know the white, sustain the black,

Become the pattern of the world


Become the pattern of the world ,

And TE will not falter.


            Return to the uncarved block.


Know honor, sustain disgrace,

Become the valley of the world

And TE will prevail.


            Return to simplicity.


Simplicity divided becomes utensils

That are used by the Sage as high official.

But great governing does not carve up



You are masculine; but if the Tao is to work through you, you must be passive, as if feminine. This takes practice and in the end you will be rewarded with childlikeness. The Virtue of the Tao will come into you when you are empty like a valley or canyon, and therefore receptive to it. You will then be sensitive equally to good and bad as they concern you and will be able to test everything for its worth; in the end you will come to terms with the effortless worth that is located in the distant past.

You will take glory in your stride but keep your shame too; in the end you will be like the valley, which is the favorite resort of the Tao and its Virtue. You will then revert to ‘the Virginal Block,’ the primal simplicity. When the king has men who are fresh as children, he can make good officials out of them. This is his skill.


29.              Trying to control the world?

I see you won’t succeed.


The world is a spiritual vessel

And cannot be controlled.


Those who control, fail.

Those who grasp, lose.


Some go forth, some are led,

Some weep, some blow flutes,

Some become strong, some superfluous,

Some oppress, some are destroyed.


Therefore the Sage

            Casts off extremes,

            Casts off excess,

            Casts off extravagance.




The world is not to be owned and tinkered by any man; it belongs to God and those who try to usurp his right will fail.

Things generally have their own individual characteristics and cannot be made to submit to the whims of one person.

The king will, therefore, avoid the temptation to try to make everything in the world conform to his plan and serve his vanity.


30.              Use TAO to help rule people.


This world has no need for weapons,

Which soon turn on themselves.

Where armies camp, nettles grow;

After each war, years of famine.


The most fruitful outcome

Does not depend on force,

But succeeds without arrogance

            Without hostility

            Without pride

            Without resistance

            Without violence.


If things prosper and grow old,

This is called not-TAO.

Not-TAO soon ends.



He is asked not to force issues, which are allowed to resolve themselves.


31.              Fine weapons are ill-omened tools.

They are hated.

Therefore the old Taoist ignores them.


At home, honor the left.

In war, honor the right.


Weapons are ill-omened tools,

Not proper instruments,

When their use can’t be avoided,

Calm restraint is best.


Don’t think they are beautiful.

Those who think they are beautiful

Rejoice in killing people.


Those who rejoice killing people

Cannot achieve their purpose in this world.


Good omens honor the left.

Bad omens honor the right.

The lieutenant on the left,

The general on the right,

As in funeral ceremonies.


When many people are killed

We feel sorrow and grief.


A great victory

Is a funeral ceremony.



It reflects bitter experience with internecine strife. It compares the protocol of military life with that of funerals. Even when a soldier is successful, his success is a matter for grief.


32.              TAO endures without a name.

Though simple and slight,

No one under heaven can master it.


If kings and lords could possess it,

All beings would become their guests.

Heaven and earth together

Would drip sweet dew

Equally on all people

Without regulation.


Begin to make order, and names arise.

Names lead to more names---

And to knowing when to stop.


Know when to stop:

Avoid danger.


TAO’s  presence in this world

Is like valley streams

Flowing into rivers and seas.



The Tao, by nature, is sui generies, unique, and there is no name that applies to it. The bit of untouched substance, symbolized by the Virgin Block of wood, has untold possibilities in it; whereas the world is limited because it is an accomplished fact. If the king and nobles could hold on to the possibilities for good in what they control, they could rule the world, and heaven and earth would conspire to bring down peace for all people alike.

From the beginning of the ordered world, the possibility of repose made all creatures secure.


33.              Knowing others is intelligent.

Knowing yourself is enlightened.


Conquering others takes force.

Conquering yourself is true strength,


Knowing what is enough is wealth.

Forging ahead shows inner resolve.


Hold your ground and you will last long.

Die without perishing and your life will endure.




The mystic praises self-knowledge, self-mastery, quietude, and acceptance of one’s place in the scheme of nature.

The Tao gives life and the Tao gives death: who will object? Certainly not one who knows himself, or is master of himself, or who has learned contentment. Such a person knows his place in nature and keeps it. He accepts death as he accepts life and, accordingly, does not perish; for he belongs to the eternal scheme of things. Of sentient creatures, it is only man who needs to learn this wisdom.


34.              Great Tao overflows

To the left        To the right.


All beings owe their life to it

And do not depart from it.

It acts without a name.

It clothes and nourishes all beings

But does not become their master.


Enduring without desire,

It may be called slight.

All beings return to it,

But it does not become their master.


It may be called immense.

By not making itself great,

It can do great things.



It is characteristic of the Tao that, while it is everything, giving life to all,

it is never coercive or possessive. The Tao is without desire, and yet, this is the measure of its greatness. It is also the measure of greatness of the Wise Man, the king, who conforms to it.


35.              Hold the elephant

---The great image---

And the world moves.

Moves without danger

In safety and peace.


Music and sweets

Make passing guests pause,

But the TAO emerges

Flavorless and bland



            You won’t see it.


            You won’t hear it.

Use it -----

            You will never use it up.



When the sage is at great peace, she can give herself fully till it hurts. The Tao emerges without obstruction and it has no flavor at all. As you can’t see it or hear it, you also will never use it up.


36.               To collect, first scatter.

To weaken, first strengthen.

To abolish, first establish.

To conclude, first initiate.


This is called subtle illumination.


          Soft and weak overcome stiff and strong.

          Fish cannot escape the deep pond.

          A country’s sharpest weapons

          Cannot be displayed.



Let the king know that it is common knowledge that a building up is necessary before a fall. He must also understand that gentleness is stronger than harshness. A king should not advertise himself or his powers. As fish should not get out of the pools, the wise man (the king) should keep out of sight.

37.              TAO endures without a name,

Yet nothing is left undone.

If kings and lords could possess it,

All beings would transform themselves.


Transformed, they desire to create;

I quiet them through nameless simplicity.

Then there is no desire.


No desire is serenity,

And the world settles of itself.



The Tao accomplishes everything that happens without itself doing anything (Wei wu wei). It is the unmoved mover. If the king and nobles could rest in the Tao, without interfering in anything, the world they govern would be a very different place.

But if, when the Tao had done its work in all things, they still showed restlessness. There is a natural simplicity, which obtained in the world under the first rulers, when the virtues of disinterest, stillness and order were achieved. This is the goal.


Before this essay gets too long, I should stop here and continue the Tao Te Ching (chapters 38---81) in another article. The references will appear at the end of the next article..