(author: ,translated by ,2005)
The Way that can be spoken of
is not the changeless DAO.
The name that can be named
is not the changeless Name.
Namelessness: the blank that was before both heaven and earth.
Naming: the mother of all living things.
To understand the mysteries of DAO, empty yourself of all desire;
to understand its outward forms, fill yourself with all desire.
DAO and the world flow from the same source, but differ in name.
Their oneness is a mystery, a mystery upon a mystery,
the gateway to the essence of everything that is.
The whole world recognises what is beautiful
only because of ugliness.
The whole world recognises what is good
only because of sin.
Being and non-being have a common birth.
Hard and easy complement each other;
long and short off-set each other;
high and low are measured by each other;
text and voice harmonise with each other; *
before and after follow one another. **
Those who have attained enlightenment
act without acting
teach without speaking.
Ten thousand things arise; the enlightened make no claim on them;
they give them life without possessing them;
they nourish them without expecting gratitude;
they finish what they have to do without claiming recognition.
It is because they make no claim to recognition
that they are recognised for ever.
* yin sheng: text and voice
Although both yin and sheng have clear musical connotations, the exact contrast here is harder to establish. Yin has been variously translated as one/note/sound/pitch/treble? and sheng as oice/melody/mood/silence? Since the two terms must be in some kind of opposition to each other, given the immediately preceding contrasts, the difference between the written word (ext? and the sung or spoken word (oice? may offer a reasonable interpretation.
** qian hou xiang sui: before and after follow one another
qian and hou can also be translated as ront?and ack? or uture?and ast? Whichever rendering is preferred, the underlying image is of the unbroken cycle of a circle, where any moment of time, or any point in space, are simultaneously both before and after all other moments and points in the circle.
If status is not praised
people will not quarrel;
if treasures are not prized
people will not steal;
if objects of desire are not displayed
people hearts will not be troubled.
So those who are enlightened govern by
quietening the people hearts and filling up their bellies;
stilling their ambitiousness and strengthening their bones.
They show people how to live simply, without desires,
and ensure the cunning do not dare to act.
Do what needs no action, and order will prevail.
DAO is an emptiness
but to use it will not drain it.
DAO is fathomless
but is the origin of everything that is.
It blunts sharp edges
and merges with the dust of all the world.
Profoundly still, it has always been like this.
I do not know whose child it is.
It images the forefather of God.
Heaven and earth are never partial;
they treat all living things dispassionately. *
Those who are enlightened are never partial;
they treat all people equally.
The space between the heavens and the earth is like a bellows,
empty and yet inexhaustible.
The more it works, the more it makes come out.
Too many words will bring about exhaustion.
Better to hold fast to the centre within.
* chu gou: dispassionatelyqually
the literal meaning of chu gou is traw dogs? a reference to the ritual whereby a straw dog is treated with the greatest care and deference before being offered up in sacrifice, only to be discarded and trampled upon once it has served its purpose. The image conveys the sublime impartiality of heaven and earth, as well as of those who are enlightened, towards all living things.
The spirit of the valley never dies.
It is called the deep and hidden feminine.
The opening to the deep and hidden feminine
is called the root of heaven and earth.
Lingering like gossamer, it always seems to be.
Using it will never wear it out.
Heaven is eternal, and earth is everlasting.
They can endure because they do not generate themselves.
That is the reason why they last for ever.
Those who are enlightened put their person last
and it comes first;
reject their selfhood
and it survives.
Is it not because they are without thought of self
that they can thus fulfil themselves?
The greatest good is like water.
Water is of benefit to every living thing
and does not contend with them.
It flows in lowly places disdained by all mankind,
and so comes close to DAO.
In where you live, choose solid ground;
in how you think, go deep within your mind;
in your relationships, show loving-kindness;
in what you say, hold to the truth;
in governing, be just;
in how you work, do what is best;
in what you do, be timely.
What gives a house its value is where it is;
what gives a mind its value is its depth;
what gives relationship its value is its love;
what gives words their value is their truth;
what gives a government its value is its justice;
what gives work its value is its skill;
what gives action its value is its timeliness.
Do not fight, and there will be no blame.
To hold and fill a cup to over-flowing
is not as good as stopping in good time.
To whet a sword-blade to the sharpest edge
cannot prevent that sharpness being lost.
To fill a house with gold and jade
will mean no-one can guard it safe.
To have both wealth and status yet still be proud
will bring about catastrophe.
Complete your work and then stand back.
That is the way of DAO.
Can you enfold your body and your soul in the One
and then let go?
Can you control the breath of life in you
until you are as supple as a new-born child?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
so it is purified of stain?
Can you love the people and rule the state
in openness and humility?
As heaven gates open wide then close,
can you be like the mother bird?
As your bright discerning comprehends all things,
can you remain in innocence?
Giving birth and nurturing,
shaping things without possessing them,
acting without expectation of reward,
leading without domination ?br> this is the primal power of DE.
Thirty spokes come together in one hub;
it is that empty space that makes the wheel turn round.
Clay is shaped to make a bowl;
it is the empty space that makes the bowl of use.
Doors and windows are cut out to make a room;
it is the empty space that makes the room of use.
So benefit from what is here;
make use of what is not.
Too many colours will confuse the eye; *
too many notes will dull the ear;
too many tastes will numb the palate;
too much of the hunt and chase will make the heart go mad;
Precious things can hold back progress.
That is why those who are enlightened
care for what is inside themselves
not what they see outside.
They renounce the latter, and choose what is within.
* wu seu yinu we: too many coloursotesastes
literally, wu means ive? Wu se [the five colours] are red, yellow, green, white, and black. Wu yin [the five notes] are the five notes of the Chinese musical scale (C, D, E, G, A, in Western notation). Wu we [the five tastes] are salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and pungent. By extension, wu also takes on a wider meaning of umerous/many/too many/all? which is the sense adopted here. The overall implication of the lines is that too much involvement with sensory experience will cause inner truth to atrophy.
Favour and disgrace both cause anxiety.
High rank, just like the body, causes great trouble. *
But what is meant by avour and disgrace both cause anxiety?
When favour is bestowed upon the lowly, it causes apprehension,
just as when it is withdrawn.
This is what is meant by avour and disgrace both cause anxiety.?br>
What is meant by igh rank, just like the body, causes great trouble?
The reason why we have great trouble is because we have a body.
Without a body, what great trouble could there be?
Whoever values the world as much as their body
can be trusted to care for the world.
Whoever loves the world as much as their body
can be trusted with its guardianship.
* chong ru ruo jing, gui da huan ruo shen: favour and disgrace both cause anxiety / High rank, just like the body, causes great troubles
These are some of the most difficult characters to translate in the entire text, which may itself be corrupt at this point. The absence of word-inflections, conjunctions, and auxiliary verbs in the original mean that chong ru, for example, can be construed as avour and disgrace? avour is a disgrace? ne should favour [i.e. welcome] disgrace? Similarly, gui da huan can be interpreted as igh rank and great trouble? igh rank is a great trouble? ne should rank great trouble highly [i.e. not minimise it]? The translation here attempts to present a reasonably coherent meaning, though the implications of the words still remain elusive.
You look at it but cannot see;
its name is formlessness.
You listen to it but cannot hear;
its name is soundlessness.
You reach out for it but cannot touch;
its name is intangibility.
These three things are indefinable,
and so they intermingle in a single unity.
The aspect that it shows is not dazzling;
the aspect that it hides is not obscure.
Stretching into boundlessness, it is unnameable,
returning once again to nothingness.
It is the formless form,
the image that is imageless.
It is the indefinable,
Go up to it; you will not see its face.
Follow it behind; you will not see its back.
Hold fast to the timelessness of DAO
so you may master the realities of here and now.
Understand the very first beginning,
which is the thread that runs through all of DAO.
The ancient ones who were well-versed in DAO
were subtle and mysterious, deep beyond all knowing,
so profound their minds could not be plumbed.
Because they were unfathomable,
all we can do is describe how they appeared:
watchful like someone crossing icy streams;
cautious like someone aware of danger;
considerate like a welcome guest;
yielding like a melting piece of ice;
simple like an uncarved block of wood;
spacious like an open valley;
murky like a muddied pool.
Who can take murky water and,
make it gradually come clear?
Who can take what is in stillness and,
by constant motion,
make it slowly come to life?
Those who embrace the DAO do not seek to be full.
It is because they are not full that they can grow old
and then be newly made.
So touch the utmost emptiness that there is,
hold steadfastly to stillness,
and you will see all things arise in unison
as they merge back to perfect emptiness.
All things will teem forth in their growth
each one returning to its root.
Returning to the root is to find tranquillity;
this is known as returning to one destiny.
Returning to one destiny is known as unchangingness.
To understand unchangingness is known as enlightenment.
Not to understand unchangingness leads to error and disaster.
Understanding the unchangingness that embraces everything
leads to dispassionateness.
Dispassionateness leads to nobility,
nobility to heaven,
heaven to the DAO,
the DAO to everlastingness.
You will be free from danger to the end of your life.
The best leaders are those whom people hardly know.
Next best are those who are both loved and praised.
Then worse are those who instil fear,
and worst of all are those who are despised.
When leaders do not trust enough,
they are themselves not trusted.
When they are quiet and choose their words with care,
they accomplish all their tasks, achieve their goals,
and everybody says, ook at what wee done ourselves.?br>
When the great DAO is lost to sight,
codes of goodness and morality appear.
When cleverness and shrewdness are produced,
massive hypocrisy appears.
When family relationships lose natural harmony,
ilial piety?and evoted parenthood?arise.
When there is strife and anarchy within the state,
Abandon sageliness, discard mere cleverness,
and people will benefit a hundredfold.
Discard morality and rectitude
and people will return to natural love.
Renounce all learnedness and ceremony
and people will not be anxious any more.
Root out craftiness and profiteering
and thieves and robbers will disappear.
Yet these four lessons are merely surface things. So let these other teachings follow:
embrace a natural purity;
have little thought of self;
temper your desire.
How far apart are es?and o?
How much alike are ood?and ad?
Must I fear what others fear?
My fear then would not have an end.
The people all are full of joy
as if partaking in a sacrificial feast,
or going on an outing in the spring.
I alone remain here calm. I show no sign,
like a baby who has yet to smile,
forlorn, with nowhere to go back to.
The people now have all they want, and more;
but I alone seem to be in need.
I am a fool. I am so muddled and confused. *
Ordinary people are so very bright;
I alone seem dull and dark.
Ordinary people are so very sharp;
I alone seem muddled and withdrawn.
The people all have things to do;
I alone seem stubborn and uncouth.
I alone am different from others,
suckling the Great Mother for my nourishment.
* 20 ye zai!hao zhaoun hunha chaen men: indeed indeedright brightark darkharp sharpull dull
Chinese often conveys intensives by repeating words, as above. Since such repetition is not a natural English idiom, the intensives in these lines are translated either by o very?(rdinary people are so very bright? or by adding a closely related adjective ( alone seem dull and dark?.
The greatest virtue is to follow DAO, and DAO alone.
As a thing, the DAO is vague and indistinct.
Within it is a form, vague and indistinct.
Within it is a substance, vague and indistinct.
Within it is an essence, hidden and profound.
This essence is completely true; within it lies its proof.
From ancient times until today,
its name has never been forgotten.
By means of it, we see the origin of everything.
How do I know the origin of everything?
By means of it.
* yi ci: by means of it
the Chinese here (which is repeated in the final line of section 54) may appear particularly bald and gnomic, literally meaning y this? Several translators have attempted to clarify the uncertainty by various elaborations: y what is within me? y inward knowledge? y intuition? xactly by this phenomenon? y the nature of the DAO? and so forth. It may seem best, though, to retain the ambiguity. If the t?is indeed the DAO, it is after all unnameable.
Yield, and you will be preserved;
bend, and you will become straight;
be empty, and you will be filled;
grow old, and you will be renewed;
have little, and you will gather much;
have much, and you will lose your way.
Because of this, those who are enlightened embrace the primal unity
and offer up a model to the world.
They do not display themselves, and so shine bright;
they do not promote themselves, and so become illustrious;
they do not boast, and so gain recognition;
they are not arrogant, and so endure.
It is because they do not compete
that no-one in the world competes with them.
The ancient saying, ield, and you will be preserved?
is not just empty words.
Through them, that perfect wholeness can be restored to you.
Speaking sparingly is quite natural.
A whirlwind cannot last all morning;
a rainstorm cannot last all day.
What causes these? The heavens and the earth.
If heaven and earth can make them last for long,
then how much less mere humankind.
Follow the DAO in everything you do, and you will be one with DAO.
A person who is of the DAO identifies with DAO.
A person who is of the DE identifies with DE.
A person who is lost identifies with loss.
Whoever identifies with DAO will be welcomed by the DAO.
Whoever identifies with DE will be welcomed by the DE.
Whoever identifies with loss will be welcomed by loss.
If you do not trust, you won be trusted.
If you are on tiptoes, you cannot stand steady.
If you straddle something, you cannot walk.
Those who make a show will never shine.
Those who are assertive will never be illustrious.
Those who boast will never find achievement.
Those who wallow in conceit will never last.
To a person of the DAO, these things are like
too much food or useless action.
Everything disdains them, so those who seek the DAO
There was a thing unformed and yet complete
before the heavens and the earth were born.
Silent, depthless, it stood alone, unchangingly,
pervading everything that was, and inexhaustible.
It can be thought of as the mother of the world.
I do not know its name,
and so I call it DAO.
If forced to describe it, I can only call it hat is Great.?br> reat?means ver-flowing?
ver-flowing?means eaching far away?
eaching far away?means eturning to the source?
So DAO is great,
heaven is great,
the earth is great,
and humankind is also great.
There are four greatnesses in the universe,
and humankind is one of them. *
Human beings emulate the earth;
the earth emulates the heavens;
the heavens emulate the DAO;
the DAO emulates its self-becoming.
* ren: humankind
literally, ren means an? But an alternative character presented in some texts is wang, specifically meaning he king/royalty?but also, more broadly and figuratively, he best ofhe highest ofhe most representative? The denotation and connotations of the word umankind?may evoke the implications of both Chinese characters.
Gravity is the root of lightness;
serenity the master of unrest.
That is why those who are enlightened travel all day long
and never leave the laden baggage-cart. *
Though there may be glorious sights to see,
they stay calm and unconcerned.
How could the ruler of ten thousand chariots
behave light-heartedly towards the world?
Act light-heartedly, and the root is lost.
Act rashly, and the mastery is lost.
* zi zhong: the laden baggage-cart
almost certainly, the image here has a metaphorical resonance, suggestive of some unspecified inner resource or treasure. However heavy or burdensome it may be, it is to be preferred before the glories of the material world, and both protected and nourished.
Good travellers leave no track behind;
good speakers make no slips;
good counters need no abacus.
Good locks do not need bolts or bars,
yet no one can open them.
Good knots do not use rope or cord,
yet no one can loosen them.
Those who are enlightened are always good at tending humankind,
leaving nobody behind;
Those who are enlightened are always good at tending things,
leaving not a thing behind.
This is known as ollowing the Light.?br>
The good are teachers of the bad;
the bad provide the lesson for the good.
Not to value one teacher,
nor to care for one lessons,
may seem very clever but reveals great delusion.
This is an essential teaching of the DAO.
To know the male yet hold fast to the female
is to be a channel for the world.
If you are a channel for the world,
you are never separated from the path of DE
and so become just like a child again.
To know the white yet hold fast to the black
is to be a model for the world.
If you are a model for the world,
you never deviate from the path of DE
and so return again to what is infinite.
To know honour yet hold fast to humility
is to be a valley to the world.
If you are a valley to the world,
the DE will be enough;
you will return to the primal simplicity of uncarved wood.
When the uncarved block is broken up,
it is shaped into useful tools.
In the hands of those who are enlightened,
these tools become judges who endure.
The finest rulers do not mutilate.
If you try to seize the world
and shape it as you want,
I tell you that you won succeed.
The world is a sacred vessel,
and nothing can be done to it.
Tamper with it, and you will ruin it,
lay hold of it, and you will lose it.
In everything, you sometimes lead and sometimes follow.
You sometimes breathe gently and sometimes breathe hard.
You are sometimes strong and sometimes weak.
You sometimes overcome and sometimes are destroyed.
Those who are enlightened avoid extremes,
Whoever rules a people according to the DAO
will not use force against the world.
Such things soon turn on themselves.
Where armies once encamped,
thorns and brambles grow.
In the wake of mighty battles,
famines always follow.
Good commanders realise their aims, then stop.
They do not try then to intimidate.
They are resolved, but are not arrogant;
they are resolved, but do not boast;
they are resolved, but are not proud;
they are resolved, but in a natural way;
they are resolved, but do not overpower.
Whatever uses force will then decay,
for this is not an action of the DAO.
Whatever goes against the DAO
will soon come to an end.
Even fine weapons are instruments of evil,
loathed by everything.
Whoever follows the DAO spurns them.
When wise rulers are at home, they value the left and restful side;
but when they are at war, they value the right and active side.
Yet weapons are instruments of evil
and not the instruments that wise rulers use.
Only when essential will they resort to them.
Peace and quiet are best of all
and victory is no delight.
To delight in victory is to delight in people slaughter;
and whoever so delights will never gain
what they desire in the world.
In joyful times, the left side is preferred,
in mournful times, the right.
A second-in-command stands on the left,
a general upon the right;
this means a funeral is taking place.
When multitudes of people are killed, they should be mourned,
so that the victory itself becomes a funeral.
The DAO is forever nameless.
The simple, uncarved block of wood is small,
yet nothing in the world can master it.
If kings and lords would follow it,
all things would honour them.
Heaven and earth would join in harmony;
sweet rain would fall,
and people would find harmony, unenforced.
As soon as there are rules
the naming of things begins.
But when naming things begins,
we ought to know where it should stop.
When we know where it should stop,
we shall be free of danger.
The DAO is to the world
what great rivers and oceans
are to rivulets and streams.
Those who understand others are intelligent;
but those who understand themselves have true enlightenment.
Those who master others are strong;
but those who master what they are themselves have true power.
Those who know when they have had enough are rich;
those who persevere have inner strength;
those who stay where they belong endure;
those who die but are remembered gain immortality.
The great DAO flows everywhere
and reaches all things whether left or right.
Everything that lives depends on it,
and it does not refuse them life.
It accomplishes its purposes
but makes no claim to credit.
It clothes and feeds all living things
but does not want to master them.
Forever free from all desire, it might be called he Little?
and yet all living things return to it as home.
It does not want to master them,
and so it should be called he Great?
Because it never strives for greatness,
it achieves the great.
Grasp the image of the Great and the world will come to you,
will come unharmed
in overwhelming happiness.
Music and fine food may make a traveller pause;
yet words about the DAO
may seem bland and flavourless.
If you look for it, it is imperceptible.
If you listen for it, it is inaudible.
If you use it, it is inexhaustible.
If you want to shrink something,
you first must stretch it out.
If you want to weaken something,
you first must strengthen it.
If you want to abandon something,
you first must establish it.
If you want to take something,
you first must give it.
This is called the mystery of enlightenment.
The soft and weak will overcome the hard and strong.
Just as fish should not be taken from the deep,
a country weapons
should not be shown to anyone.
The DAO never acts, yet nothing is not done.
If rulers could hold fast to it,
all things upon the earth
would be transformed spontaneously.
If transformation should waken old desires,
they would be calmed by the nameless, uncarved block.
The nameless, uncarved block
is but freedom from desire.
Freedom from desire brings stillness, harmony,
and all the world is naturally at peace.
The greatest DE is not conscious of the DE,
and so is truly DE.
The lowest DE is always conscious of the DE,
and so is truly without DE.
The highest DE never acts,
yet nothing is not done.
The lowest DE is for ever acting,
yet everything remains undone.
Those of greatest kindliness act without ulterior intent.
Those of greatest rectitude act with ulterior intent.
Those of greatest propriety act, but when no one responds,
they bear their arms and use brute force.
When the DAO is lost, DE remains.
When DE is lost, kindheartedness remains.
When kindheartedness is lost, morality remains.
When morality is lost, only etiquette is left.
Etiquette is the veneer of loyalty and good faith
and the beginning of disaster.
Foresight is a flowery trapping of the DAO
and the beginning of folly.
Great people set their minds upon the substance, not the surface,
on the fruit and not the flower.
They reject the one and accept the other.
From ancient times, these things have attained a oneness with the DAO:
heaven attains oneness and becomes clear;
earth attains oneness and becomes serene;
spirits attain oneness and become strong;
valleys attain oneness and become full;
all things attain oneness and become alive;
rulers attain oneness and become just.
It is oneness that makes them what they are.
Without clarity, heaven would split;
without serenity, earth would sink;
without strength, spirits would dissolve;
without fullness, valleys would run dry;
without livingness, all things would be destroyed;
without justice, rulers would be toppled.
So greatness must have humility as its root,
the high must have the low as its foundation.
When rulers call themselves lone?or esolate?or orthless?
do they not make humility their root?
And so the ultimate renown is to be without renown;
do not seek to shine like jade, but to drop down like a stone.
The movement of the DAO is to return;
the way of the DAO is to yield.
Everything on earth is born of Being,
but Being is born of the nothingness of DAO.
When wise students hear about the DAO,
they follow it with care.
When ordinary students hear about the DAO,
they sometimes believe in it, and sometimes doubt.
When foolish students hear about the DAO,
they laugh at it out loud.
If they did not laugh at it, it would not be the DAO.
There are these age-old sayings:
the brightest way seems dark;
the way forward seems like retreat;
the way that is smooth seems to be rough;
the highest goodness seems quite empty;
the purest whiteness seems to be soiled;
the vastest goodness seems insufficient;
the staunchest goodness seems to be frail;
the most solid reality seems to change.
The greatest square has no corners;
the greatest talents ripen late;
the greatest music has no sound;
the greatest images have no form.
The DAO is hidden, beyond all name;
and yet it is the DAO that nourishes and fulfils all things.
The DAO gave birth to One.
One gave birth to Two.
Two gave birth to Three.
Three gave birth to everything there is.
Everything there is carries on its back the shade of yin *
and in its arms the sun of yang;
and blends the vital breath of each
to achieve a harmony.
Nothing is more loathed by people than to be
alone, or desolate, or worthless.
Yet these are the very titles that
kings and princes give themselves.
By losing, one may gain.
By gaining, one may lose.
What others teach, I also teach:
he violent and strong will never die a natural death.?br> That is the basis of my teaching.
* fu yin er bao yang: carries on its back the shade of yin / and in its arms the sun of yang
the reference here is, of course, to the fundamental contrast and duality between yin, the negative, female principle, and yang, the active, male principle. A simple translation of the five Chinese characters would be arries yin but enfolds yang? However, such a baldly stated contrast can be effectively developed by drawing in two closely implied antitheses: hade?and un? and n its back?and n its arms? And so the version here reads, arries on its back the shade of yin / and in its arms the sun of yang?
The softest things in all the world
can overcome the hardest things in all the world.
Only Nothingness can penetrate spacelessness.
That is why I understand the benefit of not acting.
The teaching that is wordless, the benefit of not acting -
seldom in the world are these things understood.
Which is more precious, fame or self?
which is worth more, self or wealth?
which is more harmful, winning or losing?
The stronger your love, the greater the price;
the larger your hoard, the heavier the loss.
Knowing what is enough frees you from shame;
knowing when you should stop frees you from danger.
Only so can you live a long life.
The greatest perfection seems imperfect,
yet use will never wear it out.
The greatest fullness seems quite empty,
yet use will never drain it dry.
The greatest straightness looks like crookedness,
the greatest skill like clumsiness,
the greatest eloquence like stammering.
Restlessness defeats the cold,
but stillness overcomes the heat.
Serenity and calmness set the standard for the world.
When the world lives in accord with DAO,
galloping horses fertilise the fields.
When the world ignores the DAO,
horses for war breed in the countryside.
There is no greater curse than discontent,
no crueller curse than gaining your desires.
Know when enough is enough,
and you’ll always have enough.
Without stepping outside your door,
you can know the world.
Without looking out of your window,
you can see heaven.
The further you go, the less you will know.
So those who are enlightened know without going,
understand without seeing,
accomplish without acting.
Students of knowledge learn more each day;
students of the DAO do less each day.
Less and less is done until non-action is achieved.
When nothing is done,
there is nothing that is left undone.
To win the world, you must not interfere;
if you interfere, you will never win the world.
Those who are enlightened have no fixed heart or mind.
The hearts and minds of ordinary people
become their heart and mind.
Those who are good they treat as good;
those who are not good they also treat as good.
This is the true DE.
Those who are sincere they treat as sincere;
those who are not sincere they also treat as sincere.
This is the true DE.
Those who are enlightened live in the world harmoniously,
blending heart and mind into the world.
The people fix their eyes and ears on them.
To those who are enlightened, all are children.
Between their birth and death,
a third of people will be followers of life,
a third will be followers of death,
and a third will be just passing from life to death.
Why? Because they cling to life too much.
It is said that whoever excels in preserving their life
can wander through the land
and not meet tiger or wild buffalo,
can cross a battlefield
and not wear armour.
In them, a buffalo will find no place to thrust its horn,
a tiger no place to sink its claws,
a weapon no place to lodge its blade.
Why is this so? Because for them, there is no realm of death.
The DAO gives life to everything;
DE nurtures it;
the world of matter gives it shape;
circumstances make it complete.
So everything that is reveres the DAO
and honours DE.
But the DAO is revered and DE honoured,
not because of a command, but naturally.
So the DAO gives life to everything,
and DE nurtures it,
raises it, and brings it up,
matures and completes it,
feeds and shelters it.
To give life without possessing,
to act without expecting gratitude,
to foster growth without controlling it -
this is called the secret DE.
The world has a beginning,
which can be called the mother of the world.
Know the mother,
and you will know the child.
Know the child,
then go back and hold fast to the mother;
and until the end of life, you will not meet with harm.
Block up all the openings, *
bolt firm all the doors,
and throughout your life, you will never be exhausted.Unblock the openings,
be busy with your affairs,
and throughout your life, you will never be redeemed.
To see the small is called enlightenment.
To hold to gentleness is called strength.
Use the light to go home to enlightenment,
and you will be saved from harm.
This is known as following the changeless.
* se qui dui: block up all the openings
dui has the meaning of outh/opening/passage/aperture/hole? and in this context refers to the physical and metaphorical openings through which the senses operate. Dui is paralleled in the next line by men (gate/door), a similar image of the passage-way of the senses.
Had I the smallest grain of understanding,
I would follow the great DAO;
my only fear would be to stray from it.
The great DAO is very smooth and straight,
and yet some people prefer the by-roads.
The royal court is kept immaculate,
and yet the fields are overgrown with weeds
and the granaries are empty.
They’re dressed in finery,
with fine swords at their side;
they gorge themselves on food and drink,
and have more wealth by far than they can use.
This is the arrogance of thieves. *
What could be further from the DAO?
* shi wei dao yu: this is the arrogance of thieves
there is a pun here on the word dao (or tao), which can mean obber?or hief? as well as the unnameable ay? The play on words occurs on three other occasions in the text (sections 3, 19 and 57), though arguably with a lesser emphasis than here.
What is firmly planted cannot be uprooted;
what is firmly held cannot slip loose.
Your children and your grand-children
will worship it for generations without end.
Cultivate the DE within yourself
and the DE will be genuine.
Cultivate it in your family
and the DE will overflow.
Cultivate it in your village
and the DE will long endure.
Cultivate it in your country
and the DE will then spread wide.
Cultivate it in the world
and the DE will be everywhere.
Look at yourself as a self,
your family as a family,
your village as a village,
your country as a country,
your world as a world.
How do I know the world is like this?
By means of it. *
* yi ci: by means of it
see section 21 above.
Whoever is filled with DE
is like a new-born child.
Wasps and scorpions will not sting it;
snakes and serpents will not bite it;
wild animals will not attack it;
birds of prey will not swoop down on it.
Its bones are soft, its muscles weak,
and yet its grip is firm.
It does not know of male and female union
and yet its organ stirs;
its vital energy is at its height.
It cries throughout the day
and yet is never hoarse;
its harmony is at its height.
To know harmony is to know the eternal.
To know the eternal is to know enlightenment.
To speed the growth of life is an omen of disaster; *
to control the breath by will-power is to overstrain it;
to grow too much is to decay.
All this is against the DAO
and whatever is against the DAO soon dies.
* xiang: an omen of disaster
xiang is particularly ambiguous character, since it can also mean the exact opposite of isaster? lessing/good omen/propitious/beneficial? All depends upon how the three characters immediately preceding (yi sheng yue) are translated. If positively (for example, o increase life? hat which is beneficial to life? mprovement in health?, the obvious choice of apposition is s a blessing? But if the characters are rendered negatively (o force the growth of things? o hasten life growth unnaturally? o benefit one own life?, then isaster?is the equally obvious conclusion. I view xiang in this latter light, since the immediately following lines focus upon different kinds of excess, which are viewed negatively, and which are explicitly said to be gainst the DAO?
Those who know do not speak of it;
those who speak do not know of it.
Those who know
keep their mouths closed,
shut all the doors, *
blunt every sharpness,
untangle the knots,
soften the glare,
become one with the dust,
and enter the mystery of oneness.
They can be neither courted nor shunned;
they can be neither helped nor harmed;
they can be neither honoured nor disgraced.
They are the most treasured people upon the earth.
* men: doors
as in section 51 above, men has metaphorical rather than literal force, indicating the doors or gates through which the senses operate.
Be straightforward in governing the nation;
be cunning in waging a war.
Conquer the world by not interfering.
How do I know that this should be so?
the more taboos and restrictions,
the poorer the people become;
the sharper the weapons,
the more fear in the land;
the more cunningness,
the more abnormal the events;
the more laws,
the greater the number of thieves.
Those who are enlightened say:
I do not act,
and people are transformed naturally;
I welcome stillness,
and people do what is right naturally;
I do not interfere,
and people prosper naturally;
I am without desire,
and people return to what is simple naturally.
When government is subdued and light,
people are simple and pure.
When government is sharp and prying,
people are cunning and mean.
It is on misfortune that good fortune rests;
it is in good fortune that misfortune hides.
Who knows the turning point, or where the standard lies?
The normal changes into abnormality;
the good changes into monstrosity.
Long indeed have people been confused.
Those who are enlightened
have sharp edges but do not cut,
have corners but do not jab,
are straight and true but do not over-reach,
shine radiantly but do not blind.
In governing the people and in serving heaven,
nothing surpasses moderation.
To be moderate
is to follow the DAO from early on;
to follow the DAO from early on
is to be filled to the brim with DE;
to be filled to the brim with DE
is to overcome all things;
to overcome all things
is to know all things are possible.
Whoever knows all things are possible
is fit to rule a country;
whoever guards a country as a mother would
will long endure.
This is called the DAO of deep roots and firm foundations,
a vision that is everlasting.
Governing a nation is like frying a small fish.
If the nation is governed according to the DAO,
dark spirits lose their power.
Not that the spirits lose their power
but that they do not harm the people.
Not only that they do not harm the people
but that those who are enlightened do not harm them either. *
If neither of them harms the other,
the DE in them will be united and restored.
* sheng ren yi bu shang ren: those who are enlightened do not harm them either
a problematic rendering, since it raises the question, hy should those who are enlightened ever be considered to harm people in the first place??The difficulty of answering this point has led some translators to follow hose who are enlightened?with a passive rather than an active voice: hose who are enlightened are not harmed either or are protected also? Why such a statement should be made at this point, though, is equally unclear.
A great country is like low-lying land
into which all rivers flow.
It is the meeting place of everything upon the earth,
the female of the world.
The female can always overcome the male by stillness,
by taking up a lower place.
And so by taking up a lower place,
a great country can win over a smaller one.
By taking up a lower place,
a small country can win over a greater one.
The one wins by becoming low,
the other wins by remaining low.
A great country wants nothing more
than to unite and feed its people.
A small country wants nothing more
than to come and serve its people.
Both get what they desire,
but it is fitting that the greater should abase itself.
The DAO is the hidden source of everything,
a treasure for the good,
a refuge for the bad.
Beautiful words can be marketed,
and honourable deeds can gain respect.
Even if people wander from goodness,
that is no reason to abandon them.
When an emperor is enthroned
or the three ministers installed, *
let others offer precious jade
and teams of horses.
This cannot equal sitting still
and offering the DAO.
Why was the DAO so valued from on old?
Was it not because, in the DAO,
those who seek will find,
and those who sin will be forgiven?
That is why it is the treasure of the world.
* zhi san gong: the three ministers installed
the three ministers, according to Star [see Further Reading and Links section], were the grand tutor, the grand preceptor, and the grand protector.
Act without acting;
do without doing;
taste without tasting.
Make the small big;
make the few many;
repay hatred with goodness.
Prepare for the difficult while it is still easy;
take care of the great while it is still small.
The difficult things in the world arise from the easy;
the great things in the world arise from the small.
And so, by never attempting great things,
those who are enlightened accomplish them.
Those who make rash promises rarely keep their word;
those who think things easy always find them hard.
That is why those who are enlightened treat everything as difficult,
so never meet with problems in the end.
It is easy to hold on to things at rest;
it is easy to plan for things not yet seen;
it is easy to shatter things that are fragile;
it is easy to scatter things that are small.
Deal with things before they arise;
set things in order before they are troubled.
A tree as big as one’s embrace grows from a tiny shoot;
a tower nine storeys high rises from a heap of earth;
a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Act, and you will ruin it;
seize hold of it, and you will lose it.
Those who are enlightened never act and therefore ruin nothing;
they never try to seize and therefore lose nothing.
In handling their affairs, people often fail just before success;
be as careful at the end as at the start, and there will be no failure.
Those who are enlightened
desire to be without desire,
do not value precious things,
learn to unlearn their learning,
redeem their fellow beings’ faults.
And so they help all living things find their true selves,
without presuming to interfere.
In days gone by, those who knew how to follow the DAO
did not seem enlightened but ignorant.
The reason why people are hard to govern
is because they know too much. *
And so to use knowledge to govern a country
is to be its curse.
Not to use knowledge to govern a country
is to be its blessing.
There are two primal principles,
and to understand them always brings the deepest DE.
How hidden, deep and far-reaching DE is.
It makes all things return to their source
and so attain oneness.
* qi zhi duo: because they know too much
zhi here has the sense of formal, mental, academic knowledge, rather than knowledge derived from the emotions or from life itself.
The reason why the sea
is king of all the valleys and the streams
is because it lies beneath them,
and so can act as king.
So anyone who wants to rule the people
must speak humbly to them;
Anyone who wants to lead the people
must follow them as if behind.
Those who are enlightened stand above the people,
and yet the people do not feel weighed down.
Those who are enlightened stand in front of the people,
and yet the people do not feel obstructed.
The whole world joyfully supports those who are enlightened
and never tires of doing so.
Because those who are enlightened contend with no one,
no one contends with them.
The whole world says my DAO
is vast and seems like nothing else.
It is its very vastness
that makes it seem like nothing else.
If it had seemed like something,
it long ago would have disappeared.
I have three treasures to hold and guard:
the first is love;
the second moderation;
the third humility.
With love, you can be courageous;
with moderation, you can open wide your arms;
with humility, you can be leader of the world.
Yet to be courageous without love,
to open wide one’s arms without moderation,
to lead without humility -
is sure to end in death.
So fight in love, and you will win the battle;
defend in love, and you will keep your strength.
Heaven will protect all those
who show such love.
A skilled soldier never is aggressive;
a skilled fighter never is enraged.
A skilled conqueror is never vengeful;
a skilled manager is never proud.
This is called the DE of non-contention;
this is called employing others’ strengths;
this is called a harmony with the highest point of heaven.
Among soldiers, there is a saying:
do not be the one to first attack, *
but rather take up the defence.
Do not advance an inch,
but rather withdraw a foot.
This is known as stepping forward without moving,
seizing without bearing arms,
confronting without direct attack,
carrying arms without a weapon.
There is no disaster greater than to underestimate your enemy;
underestimate your enemy and you may lose your treasure.
Yet when opposing armies meet in battle,
it is the one which yields that wins.
* wu bu gan wei zhu er wei ke: do not be the one to first attack, / but rather take up the defence
the basic meaning of zhu and ke in these lines is ost?and uest? The sense of a ost?as active and energising, and of a uest?as passive and receiving, leads by extension of meaning to the contrast between attacker and defender.
My words are very easy to understand,
and very easy to practise.
Yet no one in the world can understand them
or put them into practice.
My words have an ancient source;
my actions have a master.
It is because they do not know these things
that people do not understand me.
Those who do understand are rare;
but those who follow me I treasure.
Those who are enlightened dress in rough clothes,
but hide precious jade beneath.
Far better to know, yet think one does not know;
to think one knows, and not to know, is a disease.
You must become sick of your sickness
before you cease to be sick.
Those who are enlightened are not sick.
It is because they are sick of their sickness
that they are not sick.
When people cease to fear mere worldly power,
a greater power will come.
Do not confine the homes where people live *
or place burdens on their livelihood.
Only when you do not burden them
will they not be wearied by your burden.
Those who are enlightened
know, but do not flaunt, themselves;
love, but do not exalt, themselves.
They choose what is within, not without.
* wu xia qi suo ju: do not confine the homes where people live
often interpreted as political advice to a ruler, these lines have also been construed figuratively, either as a metaphor for the body (i.e. o not limit your identity to your mere physicality? or for the heart (i.e. o not limit your heart? o not withhold your humanity from others?.
Reckless bravery leads to death;
careful bravery leads to life.
One leads to good, the other harm.
Heaven hates what it hates:
who knows the reason?
Not even those who are enlightened know why.
The DAO of heaven
does not contend yet overcomes with ease,
does not speak yet communicates with ease,
does not summon yet attracts things naturally,
seems unhurried yet plans with ease.
The net of Heaven is vast.
Its meshes may be wide,
but not a thing slips through.
If people are not afraid of death,
how can they be threatened by it?
But if they always live in fear of death,
and still continue in their lawlessness,
we can arrest and kill them.
Who then would dare?
And yet there is a Lord of Death whose charge it is to kill.
To take his place and kill would be
like carving wood in place of the master carpenter.
Few would escape without injuring their hands.
Why are the people starving?
Because their rulers devour too much in taxes.
That’s why they starve.
Why are the people rebellious?
Because their rulers can’t stop interfering.
That’s why they rebel.
Why do the people make light of death?
Because they are intent on life.
That’s why they make light of death.
Yet those who do not strive to live
are wiser than those who value life.
We are born soft and weak;
we die stiff and hard.
All things – the grass, the trees -
are soft and delicate in life,
but dried and withered when they die.
And so the stiff and hard are friends of Death;
the soft and weak are friends of Life.
An army that cannot yield will be destroyed.
A tree that cannot bend will crack and fall.
And so the mighty and unyielding will be laid low;
the soft and weak will overcome.
The DAO of heaven is like the stretching of a bow.
If it is too high, it is pulled down;
if too low, it is raised up.
If it overshoots, it is cut back;
if it undershoots, it is made longer.
The DAO of heaven takes away from what is overmuch
and gives to what is not enough.
The way of humankind is different:
they take away from those who do not have enough
and offer it to those who have too much.
Who could offer to the world all that they have, and more?
Only a follower of DAO.
Those who are enlightened
act but do not expect reward,
complete the task but do not stop there,
have no wish to flaunt their worthiness.
There is nothing in the world
as soft and weak as water.
But to erode the hard and strong,
nothing can surpass it;
nothing can be a substitute.
The weak can overcome the strong;
the soft can overcome the hard.
There is no-one in the world who does not know this,
but there is no-one who can put it into practice.
Those who are enlightened say:
those who bear a nation’s disgrace
will become lords of its shrines to earth and grain; *
those who bear a nation’s misfortune
will become kings under heaven.
True words often seem a paradox. **
* she ji zhu: lords of its shrines to earth and grain
the phrase she ji zhu has been variously phrased by translators (ord of the community? ods of millet and earth? aster of the Altar of Soil and Grain? ord of its soil shrines? ord of the earth sacrifices? ord of every offering?. The version here seeks to evoke both the religious (hrine? and the physical (arth?and rain? aspects of the position.
** zheng yan ruo fan: true words often seem a paradox
not for the first time in the text, this line seems unconnected with the rest of the section, although its actual meaning is acknowledged throughout the Daode jing. Some interpreters have either moved the line to section 41 or 45, or eliminated it altogether.
When peace is made between great enemies,
some residue of enmity is sure to remain.
What can be done for the good?
Those who are enlightened
mind what they owe others,
not what others owe them. *
People of DE keep their promises;
those lacking DE insist on payment.
The DAO of heaven is impartial,
but it is always in accord with what is good.
* zhi zuo qi: mind what they owe others
literally, zhi zuo qi means olds the left-hand side of the contract? a reference to the ancient Chinese practice of recording a loan of money. The sum involved was drawn on a bamboo stick, which was then broken in half lengthwise, so creating two pieces that interlocked with each other. The left-hand side marked the side of the debtor, the right-hand the side of the creditor.
Countries should be small,
their people few.
If they have devices by the hundred, *
they should not use them.
They should be mindful of death,
and not migrate to far-off places.
Even if they have boats and carriages,
they should have no reason to ride in them.
Even if they have armour and weapons,
they should have no reason to display them.
Let the people return to tying knots in ropes
and using them for counting.
Let them delight in their food,
find their clothes beautiful,
be content with their homes,
rejoice in their everyday lives.
Even if neighbouring countries
are in sight of each other,
and barking dogs and crowing cocks
let the people grow old and die
without needing to go and visit.
* shi you shi bo zhi: even if they have devices by the hundred
the character zhi here is ambiguous, and has been variously interpreted as evoking a domestic level (mplements? tensils? essels?, more military connotations (ools? achines? eapons?, to high human ability (eople of enormous talent?. The choice of evices?here may be thought to occupy a middle ground between the extremes and, in its generalised meaning, to retain the ambiguity of the original.
Truthful words are not fine-sounding;
fine-sounding words are never true.
Good people are not quarrelsome;
quarrelsome people are not good.
Those who understand are not learn;
learn people do not understand.
Those who are enlightened do not hoard.
The more they do for others,
the fuller they are themselves.
The more they give to others,
the richer they become.
The DAO of Heaven never harms, but helps.
The DAO of those who are enlightened
is to act and be in harmony.