Tao Te Ching is fundamental to both philosophical and religious Taoism and strongly influenced other schools, such as Legalism, Confucianism and Chinese Buddhism, which when first introduced into China was largely interpreted through the use of Daoist words and concepts. Many Chinese artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, and even gardeners have used the Daodejing(Tao Te Ching) as a source of inspiration. Its influence has also spread widely outside East Asia, and is amongst the most translated works in world literature.

Here is Tao Te Ching’s translation,translated by D. T. Suzuki and Dr. Paul Carus(Last updated 20 July 1995).

Tao Te Ching (D.T. Suzuki and Paul Carus)

Tao Te Ching (D.T. Suzuki and Paul Carus)

This booklet, The Canon of Reason and Virtue, is an extract from the author’s larger work, Lao-Tze’s Tao Teh King, and has been published for the purpose of making our reading public more familiar with that grand and imposing figure Li Er, who was honored with the posthumous title Poh-Yang, i. e., Prince Positive (representing the male or strong principle); but whom his countrymen simply call Lao-tze, the Old Philosopher.

Sze-Ma Chen, the Herodotus of China, who lived about 136-85 B. C., has left a short sketch of Lao-tze’s life in his Shi Ki (Historical Records) which is here prefixed as the most ancient and only well-attested account to be had of the Old Philosopher.

Born in 604 B. C., Lao-tze was by about half a century the senior of Confucius. He must have attained great fame during his life, for Confucius is reported to have sought an interview with him. But the two greatest sages of China did not understand each other, and they parted mutually disappointed.

Confucius’s visit to Lao-tze has been doubted. If it is not historical it certainly is ben trovato, for the contrast between these two leaders of Chinese thought remains to the present day. The disciples of Confucius, the so-called “literati,” are tinged with their master’s agnosticism and insist on the rules of propriety as the best methods of education, while the Tao Sze, the believers in the Tao, or divine Reason, are given to philosophical speculation and religious mysticism. The two schools are still divided, and have never effected a conciliation of their differences that might be attained on a common higher ground.

Chwang-tze, one of Lao-tze’s disciples, who lived about 330 B. C., has preserved another, an older and more elaborate, report of the meeting between Confucius and the Old Philosopher. Sze-Ma Chen (163-85 B. C.) is sometimes supposed to have derived his account from Chwang-tze, but Chwang-tze’s story bears traces of legendary elements which can not but be regarded as fiction, and it is difficult to believe that the historian should have taken his sober sketch from the fantastic tale of a poet-philosopher.

The names of Lao-tze’s birthplace, state, province and the locality of his life’s work might be considered as invented purposely because of their strange significance if they were not geographically existent. In the first edition of Lao-tze’s Tao Teh King we translated Cheu as “the State of Plenty,” and will only add that the word is made up of the characters “mouth” and “to use,” its original meaning being “to supply everywhere; to make a circuit all around or everywhere; and plenty.” The Cheu dynasty was so called because the emperor’s power reached all over the civilized world, according to Chinese notions. In the present edition we have preferred to translate the word Cheu by “the State of Everywhere.”

It would be easy to say that the Old Philosopher was a citizen of Everywhere, and was born in Good Man’s Bend to describe his innate character; that his home was situated in Thistle District of Bramble Province to indicate the poverty and difficulties with which his life was surrounded.

The plum-tree is the symbol of immortality, and the ear might signify the man who was willing to listen. Accordingly Lao-tze’s family name Li (plum) seems to be as much justified as his proper name Er (ear). What splendid material with which to change Lao-tze into a mythical figure! It is as good as the life of Napoleon of whom P made a solar hero, an Apollo, on account of his name and the several events of his career–his final sinking in the west and disappearance on an island in the Atlantic, the ocean of sunset. Nevertheless the historicity of Lao-tze and the authenticity of his book seem to be sufficiently well ascertained.

The historicity of Lao-tze’s writing has been doubted only once, but by so great an authority as H. A. Giles. We must, however, remember that the greater part of the Tao Teh King is preserved in quotations in the pre-Christian writings of Lieh-tze, Chwang-tze, and Hwai Nan-tze. (For details see the article in reply to Professor Giles in The Monist, XI, pp. 574-601.)

Lao-tze’s book on Reason and Virtue first bore the title Tao Teh. It was in all outward appearances a mere collection of aphoristic utterances, but full of noble morals and deep meditation. It met the reward which it fully deserved, having by imperial decree been raised to the dignity of canonical authority; hence the name King or “canon,” completing the title Tao Teh King, as now commonly used, which we translate “Canon of Reason and Virtue.”

Although Confucian philosophy has become the guiding star of the Chinese government Lao-tze has taken a firm hold on the hearts of the people, and in the progress of time his figure has grown in significance into the stature of a Christ-like superhuman personality. So it happened that later traditions added to Sze-Ma Chen’s brief report various details which became more and more fantastic. We learn that Yin Hi, the officer of the frontier, was warned beforehand by astrological science of the sage’s coming. He is further reputed to have accompanied his master into the deserts of the west, traveling in a car drawn by black oxen.

Still later legends add to these fables the story of Lao-tze’s miraculous conception through the influence of a star, and claim that he was the incarnation of the supreme celestial essence; that he had repeatedly been incarnate, once in the village of the state of Tz. This latter birth is represented in analogy with Buddha’s nativity, for his mother brought forth the divine child from her left side, and her delivery took place under a tree–in Lao-tze’s case it was a plum-tree. The infant at his very birth pointed to the tree saying, “I shall take my surname Li (plum) from this tree.” His head was white, and his countenance that of an aged man, whence it is said he derived his name Lao-tze, which not only means the Old Philosopher but also the Ancient Child. He is said to have wandered to the farthest extremities of the earth, including the countries Ta Tsn (which seems to have represented the Roman Empire) and Tu Ken, where he preached his doctrine and converted the people to the truth. In China he is reported to have helped Wu Wang, the founder of the famous Cheu dynasty, in the year 112 B. C.

Lao-tze’s various disciples developed more and more the mystical elements of Taoism, the practical application of which terminated in a belief in alchemy, especially in an elixir of life.

The Emperor Wu Ti and the emperors of the Tng dynasty were staunch believers in the Old Philosopher. When in the year 666 A. D. Emperor Kao Tsung canonized him he gave him a rank among the gods as the Great Supreme (Ti Shang), as the Emperor-God of the Dark First Cause. Hn Tsung honored him in 1013 A. D. with the title Ti Shang Lao Chi, the Great Exalted One, the Ancient Master.

We regret to say that the Taoism of China is a religion which, powerful though it is, little accords with the venerable old philosopher, and without danger of doing its priests an injustice may be branded as a system of superstitions and superstitious practices.

The Taoist church is governed by a Taoist pope who lives in the splendor of a palace surrounded by extensive parks near Lung Hu Shan, scarcely less beautiful than the garden of the Vatican at Rome.

Lao-tze’s Tao Teh King contains so many surprising analogies with Christian thought and sentiment, that were its pre-Christian origin not established beyond the shadow of a doubt, one would be inclined to discover in it traces of Christian influence. Not only does the term Tao (word, reason) correspond quite closely to the Greek term Logos, but Lao-tze preaches the ethics of requiting hatred with goodness. He insists on the necessity of becoming like unto a little child, of returning to primitive simplicity and purity, of non-assertion and non-resistance, and promises that the crooked shall be straight.

The Tao Teh King is brief, but it is filled to the brim with suggestive thoughts.

Two issues of the author’s translation of Lao-Tze’s Tao Teh King have appeared and two editions of an extract entitled The Canon of Reason and Virtue. In the second issue of the first edition of Lao-Tze’s Tao Teh King attention has been called to misprints in the Chinese text, and alternative readings have been proposed in an additional chapter entitled “Emendations and Comments.”

The present edition is meant to be popular and is an enlargement of The Canon of Reason and Virtue. Of the larger edition entitled Lao-Tze’s Tao Teh King, it incorporates the main explanations and the Chinese text which in its revised form we hope is now quite reliable. A few variants which are important for the sense of the text have been added in footnotes. Thus the present little volume being a combination of the larger and the smaller editions, is practically a new work. It contains a comprehensive introduction and incorporates the results of the translator’s latest labors in revising and reconsidering the many difficult passages of the Tao Teh King. A number of new interpretations flashed upon him from time to time, and some of them will be deemed happy and probably be accepted as final. This certainly is true of the first paragraph of Chapter 2, and also of the second paragraph of Chapter 49.

I do not deem it necessary in this popular edition to introduce controversies or to criticize other translations; nor do I want to correct all the mistakes and misprints of my own former editions. I must be satisfied with offering the best results of my labors. My ideal has been to reproduce the original in a readable form which would be as literal as the difference of languages permits and as intelligible to English-speaking people as is the original to the educated native Chinese. While linguistic obscurities have been removed as much as possible, the sense has upon the whole not been rendered more definite than the original or the traditional interpretation would warrant. Stock phrases which are easily understood, such as “the ten thousand things,” meaning the whole world or nature collectively, have been left in their original form; but expressions which without a commentary would be unintelligible, such as “not to depart from the baggage wagon,” meaning to preserve one’s dignity (Chap. 26), have been replaced by the nearest terms that cover their meaning.

The versification of the quoted poetry is as literal as possible and as simple as in the original. No attempt has been made to improve its literary elegance. The translator was satisfied if he could find a rhyme which would introduce either no change at all in the words or such an indifferent change as would not in the least alter their sense.

The present edition contains also an introduction and comments in which my prior explanations of Lao-tze’s thought are restated in a condensed form together with some new observations which in their appropriate places have been incorporated.

The division into chapters as well as the chapter headings were not made by Lao-tze but are the work of later Chinese editors.

I have sought the advice of Mr. Ng Poon Chew, editor of the Chung Sai Yat Po, the Chinese daily paper of San Francisco, for the interpretation of some difficult words, and for doubtful passages I deemed a comparison with the Manchu translation desirable, for which purpose I have availed myself of the assistance of Dr. Berthold Laufer of the Field Museum of Chicago.

Prof. Paul Pelliot, of Paris, has recently published in the Tung Pao (1912, pp. 351-430) an account of a Sanskrit translation of the Tao Teh King made in the seventh century for King Kumara of Assam, vassal to the famous Harsha Ciladitya, king of Magadha. Unfortunately this version is lost.

For further information on Lao-tze the reader is referred to the author’s essays Chinese Philosophy (Religion of Science Library No. 30), Chinese Thought, “The Authenticity of the Tao Teh King” (The Monist, Vol. XI, pp. 574-601), written in reply to Prof. Herbert A. Giles, “Medhurst’s New Translation of the Tao Teh King” (The Open Court, XX, 174), and the former more complete edition of Lao-Tze’s Tao Teh King.

This our larger book, entitled Lao-Tze’s Tao Teh King, which contains a verbatim translation of the Chinese text, has not become entirely antiquated, but we warn students that it stands in need of a revision on the basis of the present emendated edition.

May this little book fulfil its mission and be a witness to the religious spirit and philosophical depth of a foreign nation whose habits, speech, and dress are strange to us. We are not alone in the world; there are others who search for the truth and are groping after it. Let us become better acquainted with them, let us greet them as brothers, let us understand them and appreciate their ideals!




A few comments on Lao-tze’s favorite expressions will help the reader to understand the drift of his thought.

The character tao being composed of the characters “moving on” and “head,” depicts a “going ahead.” The original meaning of the word is “way” in the same sense as in English, denoting both “path” and “method.”

The same association of ideas prevails in almost all languages. The Greek word methodos is a derivative of hodos “path” (combined with the preposition meta, “according to,” “after”) and so “method” too originally means “way” or rather “according to a way.” In the sense of method the word Tao acquires the significance of “principle, rationality, or reason,” then “the right way,” or “truth,” the Urvernunft of German mystics. Finally Tao comes to possess the meaning of “rational speech” or “word,” and in this sense it closely resembles the Greek Logos, for in addition to its philosophical significance the term Tao touches a religious chord in the souls of the Chinese just as did the word Logos among the Platonists and the Greek Christians. The term Tao denotes “word” and also “way” in the same religious sense in which they are used in the New Testament: the former in the first verse of the Fourth Gospel, “In the beginning was the word”; and the latter in the saying of Christ, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John xiv. 6). In both passages the word Tao is the right term by which to translate “word,” “way,” and “truth.”

The Tao of man, jan tao, is the process of ratiocination, and as such it is fallible; but there is an Eternal Reason, chng tao, also called ten tao, “Heaven’s Reason,” i. e., the world-order which shapes all things, and the burden of Lao-tze’s message is to let this Heaven’s Reason or Eternal Reason prevail. The man who is guided by the Eternal Reason is the master, chi; the superior thinker, chi tze; he is the holy man, shan jan; the man of Reason, yin tao che or tung y?tao che; and the man of truth, chen jan.

We translate Tao by “Reason,” and we capitalize the word in order to remind the reader that it is not the reason of the rationalist, nor the rationality of argument, but the universal world-order, or in other words, the eternal Reason of the divine dispensation, the Logos, to which man looks up with reverence.

The second word of the title, Teh, “virtue,” which, strange enough, Legge translates “attribute,” is made up of characters meaning “man,” “heart” and “straight.” It denotes man’s straightness of heart.

The favorite phrase of Lao-tze’s ethics, which furnishes a key to his mode of thought, reads wei wu wei, “act non-act,” and we have commonly translated the words by “act with non-assertion.”

The Chinese wei means not only “to do something,” but also “to act” as on the stage, or “‘to make a show, to show off, to pose, to parade oneself.” The phrase wei wu wei might be translated “to do without ado” or “to act without acting” (viz., without posing), were it not for the fact that the moral element is uppermost in Lao-tze’s mind. He denounces the vanity of self-display and egotism, and so we believe that wei wu wei is best rendered by “acting with non-assertion.” The meaning is clear through the context, and there is no need of interpreting Lao-tze’s words either in a mystical or a quietist sense.

There are three negatives in Chinese: pu, “not,” the simple negation; wu, “lacking in, non-existent, without”; and fei, “by no means.” Though we can not lay down a general rule about their distinctions, there are different shades of meaning according to the context which we have tried to bring out in our English version. Sometimes the meaning of the negated word, or the ironic sense in which it is used, influences the negative. In Chapter 49 pu shan, “ungoodness”, means “evil,” but in Chapter 38, pu teh, “unvirtue,” means that higher virtue which makes no show and does not even assume the name. In Chapter 57 wu shi, “non-diplomacy,” is that higher mode of statesmanship with which a good ruler will unostentatiously govern the empire. On the other hand Lao-tze speaks of both fei tao, i. e., “lack of reason” or “anti-reason” (Chapter 53) and pu tao (Chapters 30 and 55) “unreason,” which soon ceases, while “the reason that can be reasoned” (tao ko tao) is declared to be “by no means the eternal Reason (fei chng tao).”

The term wu, “non-existence” (Chapter 40), is not annihilation but denotes absence of concrete particularity or of materiality. It is intended to describe what we would call the purely formal, including purely formal thought, viz., the prototypes of things as well as ideals. Materiality makes things real but non-materiality, as set forth in Chapter 11, while giving shape to things by cutting away certain portions, renders them useful.

Lao-tze’s appreciation of oneness is to be expected of a philosopher of the Tao, of Divine Reason. He speaks of oneness 15 as giving character to things that are units (Chapter 39) and unity cannot be disintegrated (Chapter 10).

Lao-tze’s reference to trinity as begetting all things (Chapter 42) is, to say the least. curious, perhaps profound, and Christians will also be interested in the idea that the Son of Heaven as the High Priest of the people must bear the sins of mankind (Chapter 78).

Lao-tze’s style is characterized by paradox as in “do without ado” (commonly translated “act with non-assertion” as in Chapters 2, 3, 10, etc.); “know the unknowable,” “be sick of sickness” (Chapter 71); “practice non-practice,” “taste the tasteless” (Chapter 63); “marching without marching” (Chapter 69). Similarly the phrases “the form of the formless” and “the image of the imageless” (Chapter 14) etc. are used to describe what Kant calls “pure form,” i. e., non-material or ideal forms such as geometrical figures, and which corresponds to the Buddhist term arupo, “the formless,” in the sense of “the bodiless.”

Undoubtedly the best sayings of Lao-tze are: “Requite hatred with goodness” (Chapter 63); and “The good I meet with goodness; the bad I also meet with goodness . . . . The faithful I meet with faith, the faithless I also meet with faith” (Chapter 49).

Other remarkable ideas of Lao-tze are his preference for simplicity (Chapters 17, 28, 37, 57), for purity (Chapter 45), for emptiness (Chapters 3, 4, 5), for rest and peace (Chapter 31), for silence (Chapters 2, 23, 43, 56), for tenderness (Chapters 52, 76, 78), especially the tenderness of water (Chapter 78), for weakness (Chapters 36, 40) for compassion (Chapter 67), for lowliness or humility (Chapter 61), for thrift (Chapter 59), for returning home to the Tao (Chapters 25, 40), for spontaneity or lack of effort (Chapter 6), etc.

He is against restrictions and prohibitions as producing disorder (Chapter 57), against ostentation (Chapter 58), against learnedness as unwisdom (Chapter 81). He believes that the Tao when sought is found (Chapter 62), and he praises the state of a little child (Chapters 10, 28, 55). He compares himself to a babe (Chapter 20) and calls himself the child or son of the Tao and the Tao his mother (Chapter 52); on the other hand the sage looks upon the people as children (Chapter 49).

Heaven’s impartiality (Chapter 79) which shows no preference to favorites is expected of the sage by Lao-tze who praises the emptiness of heaven (Chapter 5), the lowliness of the valley (Chapters 32, 39, 41, 66), and the stretching of the bow which brings down the high and raises the low (Chapter 77), etc.

Though the Tao, being an abstract philosophical principle, seems to leave no room for a belief in God, Lao-tze refers repeatedly to God, first identifying God with Reason as “the arch-father of the ten thousand things,” (Chapter 4), and then he speaks of Reason as preceding even “the Lord” (Chapter 4). In Chapter 70 he calls the Tao “the ancestor of words” and “the master of deeds” which also personifies Reason. The passage where he speaks of “the father of the doctrine” (Chapter 42) may be doubtful, for the commentators explain it to mean “the foundation of the doctrine”; but the idea of calling the Tao the father of truth is not contrary to Lao-tze’s thought; for he speaks of the Tao twice as the “mother” (Chapters 20 and 52) and once as “the world’s mother” (Chapter 52). In Chapter 74, when referring to divine justice cutting short the lives of men, the Tao is compared to “the great carpenter who hews.” All these passages are figures of speech, but are not the Christian ideas of God as a Lord, as a father, as an architect (as the Freemasons have it), also allegories?


1.The Reason

1. The Reason that can be reasoned is not the eternal Reason. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The Unnamable is of heaven and earth the beginning. The Namable becomes of the ten thousand things the mother.
Therefore it is said:

2. “He who desireless is found
The spiritual of the world will sound.
But he who by desire is bound
Sees the mere shell of things around.”

3. These two things are the same in source but different in name. Their sameness is called a mystery. Indeed, it is the mystery of mysteries. Of all spirituality it is the door.

1. Everywhere it is obvious that if beauty makes a display of beauty, it is sheer ugliness. It is obvious that if goodness makes a display of goodness, it is sheer badness. For

2. “To be and not to be are mutually conditioned.
The difficult, the easy, are mutually definitioned.
The long, the short, are mutually exhibitioned.
Above, below, are mutually cognitioned.
The sound, the voice, are mutually coalitioned.
Before and after are mutually positioned.”

3. Therefore
The holy man abides by non-assertion in his affairs and conveys by silence his instruction. When the ten thousand things arise, verily, he refuses them not. He quickens but owns not. He acts but claims not. Merit he accomplishes, but he does not dwell on it.
“Since he does not dwell on it
It will never leave him.”


1. Not boasting of one’s worth forestalls people’s envy.
Not prizing treasures difficult to obtain keeps people from committing theft.

2. Not contemplating what kindles desire keeps the heart unconfused.

3. Therefore the holy man when he governs empties the people’s hearts but fills their stomachs. He weakens their ambition but strengthens their bones. Always he keeps the people unsophisticated and without desire. He causes that the crafty do not dare to act. When he acts with non-assertion there is nothing ungoverned.


1. Reason is empty, but its use is inexhaustible. In its profundity, verily, it resembleth the arch-father of the ten thousand things.

2. “It will blunt its own sharpness,
Will its tangles adjust;
It will dim its own radiance
And be one with its dust.”

3. Oh, how calm it seems to remain! I know not whose son it is. Apparently even the Lord it precedes.


1. But for heaven and earth’s humaneness, the ten thousand things are straw dogs. But for the holy man’s humaneness, the hundred families are straw dogs.

2. Is not the space between heaven and earth like unto a bellows? It is empty; yet it collapses not. It moves, and more and more comes forth. [But]

3. “How soon exhausted is
A gossip’s fulsome talk!
And should we not prefer
On the middle path to walk?”

1. “The valley spirit not expires,
Mysterious woman ’tis called by the sires.
The mysterious woman’s door, to boot,
Is called of heaven and earth the root.
Forever and aye it seems to endure
And its use is without effort sure.”


1. Heaven endures and earth is lasting. And why can heaven and earth endure and be lasting? Because they do not live for themselves. On that account can they endure.

2. Therefore
The holy man puts his person behind and his person comes to the front. He surrenders his person and his person is preserved. Is it not because he seeks not his own? For that reason he can accomplish his own.


1. Superior goodness resembleth water. The water’s goodness benefiteth the ten thousand things, yet it quarreleth not.

2. Water dwelleth in the places which the multitudes of men shun; therefore it is near unto the eternal Reason

3. The dwelling of goodness is in lowliness. The heart of goodness is in commotion. When giving, goodness showeth benevolence. In words, goodness keepeth faith. In government goodness standeth for order. In business goodness exhibiteth ability. The movements of goodness keep time.

4. It quarreleth not. Therefore it is not rebuked.


1. Grasp to the full, are you not likely foiled? Scheme too sharply, can you wear long? If gold and jewels fill the hall no one can protect it.

2. Rich and high but proud, brings about its own doom. To accomplish merit and acquire fame, then to withdraw, that is Heaven’s Way.

1. Who by unending discipline of the senses embraces unity cannot be disintegrated. By concentrating his vitality and inducing tenderness he can become like a little child. By purifying, by cleansing and profound intuition he can be free from faults.

2. Who loves the people when administering the country will practise nonassertion.
Opening and closing the gates of heaven, he will be like a mother-bird; bright, and white, and penetrating the four quarters, he will be unsophisticated. He quickens them and feeds them. He quickens but owns not. He acts but claims not. He excels but rules not. This is called profound virtue.

1. Thirty spokes unite in one nave and on that which is non-existent [on the hole in the nave] depends the wheel’s utility. Clay is moulded into a vessel and on that which is non-existent [on its hollowness] depends the vessel’s utility. By cutting out doors and windows we build a house and on that which is non-existent [on the empty space within] depends the house’s utility.

2. Therefore, existence renders actual but non-existence renders useful.

1. “The five colors [combined] the human eye will blind;
The five notes [in one sound] the human ear confound;
The five tastes [when they blend] the human mouth offend.”
2. “Racing and hunting will human hearts turn mad,
Treasures high-prized make human conduct bad.”
3. Therefore
The holy man attends to the inner and not to the outer. He abandons the latter and chooses the former.

1. “Favor bodes disgrace; it is like trembling.
Rank bodes great heartache. It is like the body.”

2. What means “Favor bodes disgrace; it is like trembling?”
Favor humiliates. Its acquisition causes trembling, its loss causes trembling. This is meant by “Favor bodes disgrace; it is like trembling.”

3. What means “Rank bodes great heartache, it is like the body?”
I suffer great heartache because I have a body. When I have no body, what heartache remains?
4. Therefore who administers the empire as he takes care of his body can be entrusted with the empire.

1. We look at Reason and do not see it; its name is Colorless. We listen to Reason and do not hear it; its name is Soundless. We grope for Reason and do not grasp it; its name is Bodiless.

2. These three things cannot further be analyzed. Thus they are combined and conceived as a unity which on its surface is not clear and in its depth not obscure.

3. Forever and aye Reason remains unnamable, and again and again it returns home to non-existence.

4. This is called the form of the formless, the image of the imageless. This is called the transcendentally abstruse.

5. In front its beginning is not seen. In the rear its end is not seen.

6. By holding fast to the Reason of the ancients, the present is mastered and the origin of the past understood. This is called Reason’s clue.

1. Those of yore who have succeeded in becoming masters are subtile, spiritual, profound, and penetrating. On account of their profundity they can not be understood. Because they can not be understood, therefore I endeavor to make them intelligible.

2. How cautious they are! Like men in winter crossing a river. How reluctant! Like men fearing in the four quarters their neighbors. How reserved! They behave like guests. How elusive! They resemble ice when melting. How simple! They resemble rough wood. How empty! They resemble the valley. How obscure! They resemble troubled waters.

3. Who by quieting can gradually render muddy waters clear? Who by stirring can gradually quicken the still?

4. He who cherishes this Reason is not anxious to be filled. Since he is not filled, therefore he may grow old; without renewal he is complete.

1. By attaining the height of abstraction we gain fulness of rest.

2. All the ten thousand things arise, and I see them return. Now they bloom in bloom but each one homeward returneth to its root.

3. Returning to the root means rest. It signifies the return according to destiny. Return according to destiny means the eternal. Knowing the eternal means enlightenment. Not knowing the eternal causes passions to rise; and that is evil.

4. Knowing the eternal renders comprehensive. Comprehensiveness renders broad. Breadth renders royal. Royalty renders heavenly. Heaven renders Reason-like. Reason renders lasting. Thus the decay of the body implies no danger.

1. Of great rulers the subjects do not notice the existence. To lesser ones people are attached; they praise them. Still lesser ones people fear, and the meanest ones people despise.

2. For it is said:
“If your faith be insufficient, verily, you will receive no faith.”

3. How reluctantly they [the great rulers] considered their words! Merit they accomplished; deeds they performed; and the hundred families thought: “We are independent.”


1. When the great Reason is obliterated, we have benevolence and justice. Prudence and circumspection appear, and we have much hypocrisy.

2. When family relations no longer harmonize, we have filial piety and paternal devotion. When the country and the clans decay through disorder, we have loyalty and allegiance.

1. Abandon your saintliness; put away your prudence; and the people will gain a hundredfold!

2. Abandon your benevolence; put away your justice; and the people will return to filial piety and paternal devotion.

3. Abandon smartness; give up greed; and thieves and robbers will no longer exist.

4. These are three things for which culture is insufficient. Therefore it is said:
“Hold fast to that which will endure,
Show thyself simple, preserve thee pure,
And lessen self with desires fewer.”

1. Abandon learnedness, and you have no vexation. The “yes” compared with the “yea,” how little do they differ! But the good compared with the bad, how much do they differ!

2. If what the people dread cannot be made dreadless, there will be desolation, alas! and verily, there will be no end of it.

3. The multitudes of men are happy, so happy, as though celebrating a great feast. They are as though in springtime ascending a tower. I alone remain quiet, alas! like one that has not yet received an omen. I am like unto a babe that does not yet smile.

4. Forlorn am I, O so forlorn! It appears that I have no place whither I may return home.

5. The multitude of men all have plenty and I alone appear empty. Alas! I am a man whose heart is foolish.

6. Ignorant am I, O, so ignorant! Common people are bright, so bright, I alone am dull.

7. Common people are smart, so smart, I alone am confused, so confused.

8. Desolate am I, alas! like the sea. Adrift, alas! like one who has no place where to stay.

9. The multitude of men all possess usefulness. I alone am awkward and a rustic too. I alone differ from others, but I prize seeking sustenance from our mother.


1. “Vast virtue’s form
Follows Reason’s norm.

2. “And Reason’s nature
Is vague and eluding.

3. “How eluding and vague
All types including!
How vague and eluding,
All beings including!
How deep and how obscure.
It harbors the spirit pure,
Whose truth is ever sure,
Whose faith abides for aye
From of yore until to-day.

4. “Its name is never vanishing,
It heeds the good of everything.”

5. Through what do I know that “it heeds the good of everything”? In this way, verily: Through IT.

1. “The crooked shall be straight,
Crushed ones recuperate,
The empty find their fill.
The worn with strength shall thrill;
Who little have receive,
And who have much will grieve.”

2. Therefore
The holy man embraces unity and becomes for all the world a model.
Not self-displaying he is enlightened;
Not self -approving he is distinguished;
Not self-asserting he acquires merit;
Not self-seeking he gaineth life.
Since he does not quarrel, therefore no one in the world can quarrel with him.

3. The saying of the ancients: “The crooked shall be straight,” is it in any way vainly spoken? Verily, they will be straightened and return home.

1. To be taciturn is the natural way. A hurricane: does not outlast the morning. A cloudburst does not outlast the day.

2. Who causes these events but heaven and earth? If even heaven and earth cannot be unremitting, will not man be much less so?

3. Those who pursue their business in Reason, men of Reason, associate in Reason. Those who pursue their business in virtue associate in virtue. Those who pursue their business in ill luck associate in ill luck. When men associate in Reason, Reason makes them glad to find companions. When men associate in virtue, virtue makes them glad to find companions. When men associate in ill luck, ill luck makes them glad to find companions.
“If your faith is insufficient, verily shall ye receive no faith.”

1. One on tiptoe is not steady;
One astride makes no advance.
Seff-displayers are not enlightened,
Self-asserters lack distinction,
Self-approvers have no merit,
And self-seekers stunt their lives.

2. Before Reason this is like surfeit of food; it is like a wen on the body with which people are apt to be disgusted.

3. Therefore the man of reason will not indulge in it.

1. There is a Being wondrous and complete. Before heaven and earth, it was. How calm it is! How spiritual!

2. Alone it standeth, and it changeth not; around it moveth, and it suffereth not; yet therefore can it be the world’s mother.

3. Its name I know not, but its nature I call Reason.

4. Constrained to give a name, I call it the great. The great I call the departing, and the departing I call the beyond. The beyond I call home.

5. The saying goes: “Reason is great, heaven is great, earth is great, and royalty also is great. [There are four things in the world that are great, and royalty is one of them.]

6. Man’s standard is the earth. The earth’s standard is heaven. Heaven’s standard is Reason. Reason’s standard is intrinsic.

1. The heavy is of the light the root, and rest is motion’s master.
2. Therefore the holy man in his daily walk does not depart from gravity. Although he may have magnificent sights, he calmly sits with liberated mind.
3. But how is it when the master of the ten thousand chariots in his personal conduct is too light for the empire? If he is too light he will lose his vassals. If he is too passionate he will lose the throne.

1. “Good travelers leave no trace nor track,
Good speakers, in logic show no lack,
Good counters need no counting rack.

2. “Good lockers bolting bars need not,
Yet none their locks can loose.
Good binders need no string nor knot,
Yet none unties their noose.”

3. Therefore the holy man is always a good saviour of men, for there are no outcast people. He is always a good saviour of things, for there are no outcast things. This is called applied enlightenment.

4. Thus the good man does not respect multitudes of men. The bad man respects the people’s wealth. Who does not esteem multitudes nor is charmed by their wealth, though his knowledge be greatly confused, he must be recognized as profoundly spiritual.

1. “Who his manhood shows
And his womanhood knows
Becomes the empire’s river.
Is he the empire’s river,
He will from virtue never deviate,
And home he turneth to a child’s estate.

2. “Who his brightness shows
And his blackness knows
Becomes the empire’s model.
Is he the empire’s model,
Of virtue ne’er shall he be destitute,
And home he turneth to the absolute.

3. “Who knows his fame
And guards his shame
Becomes the empire’s valley.
Is he the empire’s valley,
For e’er his virtue will sufficient be,
And home he turneth to simplicity.”

4. Simplicity, when scattered, becomes a vessel of usefulness. The holy man, by using it, becomes the chief leader; and truly, a great principle will never do harm.


1. When one desires to take in hand the empire and make it, I see him not succeed. The empire is a divine vessel which cannot be made. One who makes it, mars it. One who takes it, loses it.

2. And it is said of beings:
“Some are obsequious, others move boldly,
Some breathe warmly, others coldly,
Some are strong and others weak,
Some rise proudly, others sneak.”

3. Therefore the holy man abandons excess, he abandons extravagance, he abandons indulgence.

1. He who with Reason assists the master of mankind will not with arms strengthen the empire. His methods invite requital.

2. Where armies are quartered briars and thorns grow. Great wars unfailingly are followed by famines. A good man acts resolutely and then stops. He ventures not to take by force.

3. Be resolute but not boastful; resolute but not haughty; resolute but not arrogant; resolute because you cannot avoid it; resolute but not violent.

4. Things thrive and then grow old. This is called un-Reason. Un-Reason soon ceases.

1. Even victorious arms are unblest among tools, and people had better shun them. Therefore he who has Reason does not rely on them.

2. The superior man when residing at home honors the left. When using arms, he honors the right.

3. Arms are unblest among tools and not the superior man’s tools. Only when it is unavoidable he uses them. Peace and quietude he holdeth high.

4. He conquers but rejoices not. Rejoicing at a conquest means to enjoy the slaughter of men. He who enjoys the slaughter of men will most assuredly not obtain his will in the empire.

1. Reason, in its eternal aspect, is unnamable.

2. Although its simplicity seems insignificant, the whole world does not dare to suppress it. If princes and kings could keep it, the ten thousand things would of themselves pay homage. Heaven and earth would unite in dripping sweet dew, and the people with no one to command them would of themselves be righteous.

3. As soon as Reason creates order, it becomes namable. Whenever the namable in its turn acquires existence, one learns to know when to stop. By knowing when to stop, one avoids danger.

4. To illustrate Reason’s relation to the world we compare it to streams and creeks in their course towards rivers and the ocean.

1. One who knows others is clever, but one who knows himself is enlightened.

2. One who conquers others is powerful, but one who conquers himself is mighty.

3. One who knows contentment is rich and one who pushes with vigor has will.

4. One who loses not his place endures.

5. One who may die but will not perish, has life everlasting.

1. How all-pervading is the great Reason! It can be on the left and it can be on the right.

2. The ten thousand things depend upon it for their life, and it refuses them not. When its merit is accomplished it assumes not the name. Lovingly it nourishes the ten thousand things and plays not the lord. Ever desireless it can be classed with the small. The ten thousand things return home to it. It plays not the lord. It can be classed with the great.

3. Therefore

The holy man unto death does not make himself great and can thus accomplish his greatness.


1. “Who holdeth fast to the great Form,
Of him the world will come in quest:
For there we never meet with harm,
There we find shelter, comfort, rest.”

2. Music with dainties makes the passing stranger stop. But Reason, when coming from the mouth, how tasteless is it! It has no flavor. When looked at, there is not enough to be seen; when listened to, there is not enough to be heard. However, when used, it is inexhaustible.

1. That which is about to contract has surely been expanded. That which is about to weaken has surely been strengthened. That which is about to fall has surely been raised. That which is about to be despoiled has surely been endowed.

2. This is an explanation of the secret that the tender and the weak conquer the hard and the strong.

3. As the fish should not escape from the deep, so with the country’s sharp tools the people should not become acquainted.

1. Reason always practises non-assertion, and there is nothing that remains undone.

2. If princes and kings could keep Reason, the ten thousand creatures would of themselves be reformed. While being reformed they might yet be anxious to stir; but I would restrain them by the simplicity of the Ineffable.

3. “The simplicity of the unexpressed
Will purify the heart of lust.
Is there no lust there will be rest,
And all the world will thus be blest.”

1. Superior virtue is unvirtue. Therefore it has virtue. Inferior virtue never loses sight of virtue. Therefore it has no virtue.

2. Superior virtue is non-assertion and without pretension. Inferior virtue asserts and makes pretensions.

3. Superior benevolence acts but makes no pretensions. Superior justice acts and makes pretensions.

4. Superior propriety acts and when no one responds to it, it stretches its arm and enforces its rules.

5. Thus one loses Reason and then virtue appears. One loses virtue and then benevolence appears. One loses benevolence and then justice appears. One loses justice and then propriety appears. The rules of propriety are the semblance of loyalty and faith, and the beginning of disorder.

6. Traditionalism is the flower of Reason, but of ignorance the beginning.

7. Therefore a great organizer abides by the solid and dwells not in the external. He abides in the fruit and dwells not in the flower.

8. Therefore he discards the latter and chooses the former.


1. From of old these things have obtained oneness:

2. “Heaven by oneness becometh pure.
Earth by oneness can endure.
Minds by oneness souls procure.
Valleys by oneness repletion secure.
“All creatures by oneness to life have been called.
And kings were by oneness as models installed.”
Such is the result of oneness.

3. “Were heaven not pure it might be rent.
Were earth not stable it might be bent.
Were minds not ensouled they’d be impotent.
Were valleys not filled they’d soon be spent.
When creatures are lifeless who can their death prevent?
Are kings not models, but on haughtiness bent,
Their fall, forsooth, is imminent.”

4. Thus, the nobles come from the commoners as their root, and the high rest upon the lowly as their foundation. Therefore, princes and kings call themselves orphaned, lonely, and unworthy. Is this not because they take lowliness as their root?

5. The several parts of a carriage are not a carriage.

6. Those who have become a unity are neither anxious to be praised with praise like a gem, nor disdained with disdain like a stone.

1. “Homeward is Reason’s course,
Weakness is Reason’s force.”

2. Heaven and earth and the ten thousand things come from existence, but existence comes from non-existence.

1. When a superior scholar hears of Reason he endeavors to practise it.

2. When an average scholar hears of Reason he will sometimes keep it and sometimes lose it.

3. When an inferior scholar hears of Reason he will greatly ridicule it. Were it not thus ridiculed, it would as Reason be insufficient.

4. Therefore the poet says:

5. “The Reason–enlightened seem dark and black,
The Reason–advanced seem going back,
The Reason–straight-levelled seem rugged and slack.

6. “The high in virtue resemble a vale,
The purely white in shame must quail,
The staunchest virtue seems to fail.

7. “The solidest virtue seems not alert,
The purest chastity seems pervert,
The greatest square will rightness desert.

8. “The largest vessel is not yet complete,
The loudest sound is not speech replete,
The greatest form has no shape concrete.”

9. Reason so long as it remains latent is unnamable. Yet Reason alone is good for imparting and completing.

1. Reason begets unity; unity begets duality; duality begets trinity; and trinity begets the ten thousand things.

2. The ten thousand things are sustained by Yin [the negative principle]; they are encompassed by Yang [the positive principle], and the immaterial breath renders them harmonious.

3. That which the people find odious, to be orphaned, lonely, and unworthy, kings and princes select as their titles. Thus, on the one hand, loss implies gain, and on the other hand, gain implies loss.

4. What others have taught I teach also.

5. The strong and aggressive do not die a natural death; but I will obey the doctrine’s father.

1. The world’s weakest overcomes the world’s hardest.

2. Non-existence enters into the impenetrable.

3. Thereby I comprehend of non-assertion the advantage. There are few in the world who obtain of non-assertion the advantage and of silence the lesson.


1. “Name or person, which is more near?
Person or fortune, which is more dear?
Gain or loss, which is more sear?

2. “Extreme dotage leadeth to squandering.
Hoarded wealth inviteth plundering.

3. “Who is content incurs no humiliation,
Who knows when to stop risks no vitiation,
Forever lasteth his duration.”

1. “Greatest perfection imperfect will be,
But its work ne’er waneth.
Greatest fulness is vacuity,
Its work unexhausted remaineth.”

2. “Straightest lines resemble curves;
Greatest skill like a tyro serves;
Greatest eloquence stammers and swerves.”

3. Motion conquers cold. Quietude conquers heat. Purity and clearness are the world’s standard.

1. When the world possesses Reason, race horses are reserved for hauling dung. When the world is without Reason, war horses are bred in the common.
2. No greater sin than yielding to desire. No greater misery than discontent. No greater calamity than greed.
3. Therefore, he who knows content’s content is always content.

1. “Without passing out of the gate
The world’s course I prognosticate.
Without peeping through the window
The heavenly Reason I contemplate.
The further one goes,
The less one knows.”

2. Therefore the holy man does not travel, and yet he has knowledge. He does not see things, and yet he defines them. He does not labor, and yet he completes.

1. He who seeks learnedness will daily increase. He who seeks Reason will daily diminish. He will diminish and continue to diminish until he arrives at non-assertion.

2. With non-assertion there is nothing that he cannot achieve. When he takes the empire, it is always because he uses no diplomacy. He who uses diplomacy is not fit to take the empire.

1. The holy man has not a heart of his own. The hundred families’ hearts he makes his heart.
2. The good I meet with goodness; the bad I also meet with goodness; that is virtue’s goodness. The faithful I meet with faith; the faithless I also meet with faith; that is virtue’s faith.
3. The holy man dwells in the world anxious, very anxious in his dealings with the world. He universalizes his heart, and the hundred families fix upon him their ears and eyes. The holy man treats them all like children.

1. Abroad in life, home in death.

2. There are thirteen avenues of life; there are thirteen avenues of death; on thirteen avenues men that live pass unto the realm of death.

3. Now, what is the reason? It is because they live life’s intensity.

4. Yea, I understand that one whose life is based on goodness, when traveling on land will not fall a prey to the rhinoceros or the tiger. When coming among soldiers, he need not fear arms and weapons. The rhinoceros finds no place wherein to insert its horn. The tiger finds no place wherein to put his claws. Weapons find no place wherein to thrust their blades. The reason is that he does not belong to the realm of death.

1. Reason quickens all creatures. Virtue feeds them. Reality shapes them. The forces complete them. Therefore among the ten thousand things there is none that does not esteem Reason and honor virtue.

2. Since the esteem of Reason and the honoring of virtue is by no one commanded, it is forever spontaneous.

3. Therefore it is said that Reason quickens all creatures, while virtue feeds them, raises them, nurtures them, completes them, matures them, rears them, and protects them.

4. To quicken but not to own, to make but not to claim, to raise but not to rule, this is called profound virtue.

1. When the world takes its beginning, Reason becomes the world’s mother.

2. As one knows his mother, so she in turn knows her child; as she quickens her child, so he in turn keeps to his mother, and to the end of life he is not in danger. Who closes his mouth, and shuts his sense-gates, in the end of life he will encounter no trouble; but who opens his mouth and meddles with affairs, in the end of life he cannot be saved.

3. Who beholds his smallness is called enlightened. Who preserves his tenderness is called strong. Who uses Reason’s light and returns home to its enlightenment does not surrender his person to perdition. This is called practising the eternal.

1. If I have ever so little knowledge, I shall walk in the great Reason. It is but expansion that I must fear.
2. The great Reason is very plain, but people are fond of by-paths.
3. When the palace is very splendid, the fields are very weedy and granaries very empty.
4. To wear ornaments and gay clothes, to carry sharp swords, to be excessive in drinking and eating, to have a redundance of costly articles, this is the pride of robbers.
5. Surely, this is un-Reason.

1. “What is well planted is not uprooted;
What’s well preserved can not be looted!”

2. By sons and grandsons the sacrificial celebrations shall not cease.

3. Who cultivates Reason in his person, his virtue is genuine.
Who cultivates it in his house, his virtue is overflowing.
Who cultivates it in his township, his virtue is lasting.
Who cultivates it in his country, his virtue is abundant.
Who cultivates it in the world, his virtue is universal.

4. Therefore,
By one’s person one tests persons.
By one’s house one tests houses.
By one’s township one tests townships.
By one’s country one tests countries.
By one’s world one tests worlds.

5. How do I know that the world is such? Through IT.


1. He who possesses virtue in all its solidity is like unto a little child.

2. Venomous reptiles do not sting him, fierce beasts do not seize him. Birds of prey do not strike him. His bones are weak, his sinews tender, but his grasp is firm. He does not yet know the relation between male and female, but his virility is strong. Thus his metal grows to perfection. A whole day he might cry and sob without growing hoarse. This shows the perfection of his harmony.

3. To know the harmonious is called the eternal. To know the eternal is called enlightenment.

4. To increase life is called a blessing, and heart-directed vitality is called strength, but things vigorous are about to grow old and I call this un-Reason.

5. Un-Reason soon ceases!

1. One who knows does not talk. One who talks does not know. Therefore the sage keeps his mouth shut and his sense-gates closed.

2. “He will blunt his own sharpness, His own tangles adjust; He will dim his own radiance, And be one with his dust.”

3. This is called profound identification.

4. Thus he is inaccessible to love and also inaccessible to enmity. He is inaccessible to profit and inaccessible to loss. He is also inaccessible to favor and inaccessible to disgrace. Thus he becomes world-honored.

1. With rectitude one governs the state; with craftiness one leads the army; with non-diplomacy one takes the empire. How do I know that it is so? Through IT.

2. The more restrictions and prohibitions are in the empire, the poorer grow the people. The more weapons the people have, the more troubled is the state. The more there is cunning and skill, the more startling events will happen. The more mandates and laws are enacted, the more there will be thieves and robbers.

3. Therefore the holy man says: I practise non-assertion, and the people of themselves reform. I love quietude, and the people of themselves become righteous. I use no diplomacy, and the people of themselves become rich. I have no desire, and the people of themselves remain simple.

1. Whose government is unostentatious, quite unostentatious, his people will be prosperous, quite prosperous. Whose government is prying, quite prying, his people will be needy, quite needy.

2. Misery, alas! rests upon happiness. Happiness, alas! underlies misery. But who foresees the catastrophe? It will not be prevented!

3. What is ordinary becomes again extraordinary. What is good becomes again unpropitious. This bewilders people, and it happens constantly since times immemorial.

4. Therefore the holy man is square but not sharp, strict but not obnoxious, upright but not restraining, bright but not dazzling.


1. To govern the people is the affair of heaven and there is nothing like thrift.
Now consider that thrift is said to come from early practice.

2. By early practice it is said that we can accumulate an abundance of virtue. If one accumulates an abundance of virtue then there is nothing that can not be overcome.

3. When nothing can not be overcome then no one knows his limit. When no one knows his limit one can have possession of the commonwealth.

4. Who has possession of the commonwealth’s mother [thrift] may last and abide.

5. This is called the possession of deep roots and of a staunch stem. To life, to everlastingness, to comprehension, this is the way.

1. Govern a great country as you would fry small fish: [neither gut nor scale them.]

2. If with Reason the empire is managed, its ghosts will not spook. Not only will its ghosts not spook, but its gods will not harm the people. Not only will its gods not harm the people, but neither will its holy men harm the people. Since neither will do harm, therefore their virtues will be combined.

1. A great state, one that lowly flows, becomes the empire’s union, and the empire’s wife.

2. The wife always through quietude conquers her husband, and by quietude renders herself lowly.

3. Thus a great state through lowliness toward small states will conquer the small states, and small states through lowliness toward great states will conquer great states.

4. Therefore some render themselves lowly for the purpose of conquering; others are lowly and therefore conquer.

5. A great state desires no more than to unite and feed the people; a small state desires no more than to devote itself to the service of the people; but that both may obtain their wishes, the greater one must stoop.

1. The man of Reason is the ten thousand creatures’ refuge, the good man’s wealth, the bad man’s stay.

2. With beautiful words one can sell. With honest conduct one can do still more with the people.

3. If a man be bad, why should he be thrown away? Therefore, an emperor was elected and three ministers appointed; but better than holding before one’s face the jade table [of the ministry] and riding with four horses, is sitting still and propounding the eternal Reason.

4. Why do the ancients prize this Reason? Is it not, say, because when sought it is obtained and the sinner thereby can be saved? Therefore it is world-honored.
1. Assert non-assertion.
Practise non-practice.
Taste the tasteless.
Make great the small.
Make much the little.

2. Requite hatred with virtue.

3. Contemplate a difficulty when it is easy. Manage a great thing when it is small.

4. The world’s most difficult undertakings necessarily originate while easy, and the world’s greatest undertakings necessarily originate while small.

5. Therefore the holy man to the end does not venture to play the great, and thus he can accomplish his greatness.

6. Rash promises surely lack faith, and many easy things surely involve in many difficulties.

7. Therefore, the holy man regards everything as difficult, and thus to the end encounters no difficulties.

1. What is still at rest is easily kept quiet. What has not as yet appeared is easily prevented. What is still feeble is easily broken. What is still scant is easily dispersed.

2. Treat things before they exist. Regulate things before disorder begins. The stout tree has originated from a tiny rootlet. A tower of nine stories is raised by heaping up [bricks of] clay. A thousand miles’ journey begins with a foot.

3. He that makes mars. He that grasps loses.
The holy man does not make; therefore he mars not. He does not grasp; therefore he loses not. The people when undertaking an enterprise are always near completion, and yet they fail.

4. Remain careful to the end as in the beginning and you will not fail in your enterprise.

5. Therefore the holy man desires to be desireless, and does not prize articles difficult to obtain. He learns, not to be learned, and seeks a home where multitudes of people pass by.

6. He assists the ten thousand things in their natural development, but he does not venture to interfere.

1. The ancients who were well versed in Reason did not thereby enlighten the people; they intended thereby to make them simple-hearted.

2. If people are difficult to govern, it is because they are too smart. To govern the country with smartness is the country’s curse. To govern the country without smartness is the country’s blessing. He who knows these two things is also a model [like the ancients]. Always to know the model is called profound virtue.

3. Spiritual virtue, verily, is profound. Verily, it is far-reaching. Verily, it is to everything reverse. But then it will procure great recognition.

1. That rivers and oceans can of the hundred valleys be kings is due to their excelling in lowliness. Thus they can of the hundred valleys be the kings.
2. Therefore the holy man, when anxious to be above the people, must in his words keep underneath them. When anxious to lead the people, he must with his person keep behind them.
3. Therefore the holy man dwells above, but the people are not burdened. He is ahead, but the people suffer no harm.
4. Therefore the world rejoices in exalting him and does not tire. Because he strives not, no one in the world will strive with him.

1. All in the world call me great; but I resemble the unlikely. Now a man is great only because he resembles the unlikely. Did he resemble the likely, how lasting, indeed, would his mediocrity be!

2. 1 have three treasures which I cherish and prize. The first is called compassion. The second is called economy. The third is called not daring to come to the front in the world.

3. The compassionate can be brave; the economical can be generous; those who dare not come to the front in the world can become perfect as chief vessels.

4. Now, if people discard compassion and are brave; if they discard economy and are generous; if they discard modesty and are ambitious, they will surely die.

5. Now, the compassionate will in attack be victorious, and in defence firm. Heaven when about to save one will with compassion protect him.

1. He who excels as a warrior is not warlike. He who excels as a fighter is not wrathful. He who excels in conquering the enemy does not strive. He who excels in employing men is lowly.

2. This is called the virtue of not-striving. This is called utilizing men’s ability. This is called complying with heaven-since olden times the highest.

1. A military expert used to say: ‘I dare not act as host [who takes the initiative] but act as guest [with reserve]. I dare not advance an inch, but I withdraw a foot.”

2. This is called marching without marching, threatening without arms, charging without hostility, seizing without weapons.

3. No greater misfortune than making light of the enemy! When we make light of the enemy, it is almost as though we had lost our treasure–[compassion].

4. Thus, if matched armies encounter one another, the one who does so in sorrow is sure to conquer.

1. My words are very easy to understand and very easy to practise, but in the world no one can understand, no one can practise them.

2. Words have an ancestor; Deeds have a master [viz., Reason]. Since he is not understood, therefore I am not understood. Those who understand me are few, and thus I am distinguished.

3. Therefore the holy man wears wool, and hides in his bosom his jewels.

1. To know the unknowable, that is elevating. Not to know the knowable, that is sickness.

2. Only by becoming sick of sickness can we be without sickness.

3. The holy man is not sick. Because he is sick of sickness, therefore he is not sick.

1. If the people do not fear the dreadful, the great dreadful will come, surely.

2. Let them not deem their lives narrow. Let them not deem their lot wearisome. When it is not deemed wearisome, then it will not be wearisome.

3. Therefore the holy man knows himself but does not display himself. He holds himself dear but does not honor himself. Thus he discards the latter and chooses the former.

1. Courage, if carried to daring, leads to death; courage, if not carried to daring, leads to life. Either of these two things is sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful.

2. “Why ’t is by heaven rejected,
Who has the reason detected?”
Therefore the holy man also regards it as difficult.

3. The Heavenly Reason strives not, but it is sure to conquer. It speaks not, but it is sure to respond. It summons not, but it comes of itself. It works patiently, but is sure in its designs.

4. Heaven’s net is vast, so vast. It is wide-meshed, but it loses nothing.

1. If the people do not fear death, how can they be frightened by death? If we make people fear death, and supposing some would [still] venture to rebel, if we seize them for capital punishment, who will dare?

2. There is always an executioner who kills. Now to take the place of the executioner who kills is taking the place of the great carpenter who hews. If a man takes the place of the great carpenter who hews, he will rarely, indeed, fail to injure his hand.

1. The people hunger because their superiors consume too many taxes; therefore they hunger. The people are difficult to govern because their superiors are too meddlesome; therefore they are difficult to govern. The people make light of death on account of the intensity of their clinging to life; therefore they make light of death.

2. He who is not bent on life is worthier than he who esteems life.

1. Man during life is tender and delicate. When he dies he is stiff and stark.

2. The ten thousand things, the grass as well as the trees, while they live are tender and supple. When they die they are rigid and dry.

3. Thus the hard and the strong are the companions of death. The tender and the delicate are the companions of life.
Therefore he who in arms is strong will not conquer.

4. When a tree has grown strong it is doomed.

5. The strong and the great stay below. The tender and the delicate stay above.

1. Is not Heaven’s Reason truly like stretching a bow? The high it brings down, the lowly it lifts up. Those who have abundance it depleteth; those who are deficient it augmenteth.

2. Such is Heaven’s Reason. It depleteth those who have abundance but completeth the deficient.

3. Man’s Reason is not so. He depleteth the deficient in order to serve those who have abundance.

4. Where is he who would have abundance for serving the world?

5. Indeed, it is the holy man who acts but claims not; merit he acquires but he does not dwell upon it, and does he ever show any anxiety to display his excellence?

1. In the world nothing is tenderer and more delicate than water. In attacking the hard and the strong nothing will surpass it. There is nothing that herein takes its place.

2. The weak conquer the strong, the tender conquer the rigid. In the world there is no one who does not know it, but no one will practise it.

3. Therefore the holy man says:
“Him who the country’s sin makes his,
We hail as priest at the great sacrifice.
Him who the curse bears of the country’s failing.
As king of the empire we are hailing.”

4. True words seem paradoxical.

1. When a great hatred is reconciled, naturally some hatred will remain. How can this be made good?

2. Therefore the sage keeps the obligations of his contract and exacts not from others. Those who have virtue attend to their obligations; those who have no virtue attend to their claims.

3. Heaven’s Reason shows no preference but always assists the good man.

1. In a small country with few people let there be aldermen and mayors who are possessed of power over men but would not use it. Induce people to grieve at death but do not cause them to move to a distance. Although they had ships and carriages, they should find no occasion to ride in them. Although they had armours and weapons, they should find no occasion to don them.

2 Induce people to return to [the old custom of] knotted cords and to use them [in the place of writing], to delight in their food, to be proud of their clothes, to be content with their homes, and to rejoice in their customs: then in a neighboring state within sight, the voices of the cocks and dogs would be within hearing, yet the people might grow old and die before they visited one another.

1. True words are not pleasant; pleasant words are not true. The good are not contentious; the contentious are not good. The wise are not learned; the learned are not wise.
2. The holy man hoards not. The more he does for others, the more he owns himself. The more he gives to others, the more will he himself lay up an abundance.
3. Heaven’s Reason is to benefit but not to injure; the holy man’s Reason is to accomplish but not to strive.

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