Tao Te Ching (Le Guin Translation): A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

By Laozi (Lao-Tzu)

Revolt Library Anarchism Tao Te Ching (Le Guin Translation)

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(571 BCE - )

Father of Taoism, Wu Wei (Non-Doing), and Anti-Political Recluse

Lao Tzu also rendered as Laozi (Chinese: 老子, commonly translated as "Old Master") was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the founder of philosophical Taoism, and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions. A semi-legendary figure, Lao Tzu is usually portrayed as a 6th-century BC contemporary of Confucius in the Spring and Autumn period. However, some modern historians consider him to have lived during the Warring States period of the 4th century BC. A central figure in Chinese culture, Laozi is claimed by both the emperors of the Tang dynasty and modern people of the Li surname as a founder of their lineage. Laozi's work has been embraced by both various anti-authoritarian movements and Chinese Legalism. Lao Tzu itself is a Chinese honorific title: 老 (Old rˤuʔ, "old, venerable") and 子 (Old tsəʔ, "master"). In traditiona... (From: Wikipedia.org.)

(1929 - 2018)

American Science Fiction Author and Anarchist Visionary

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin (/ˈkroʊbər lə ˈɡwɪn/; October 21, 1929 – January 22, 2018) was an American author best known for her works of speculative fiction, including science fiction works set in her Hainish universe, and the Earthsea fantasy series. She was first published in 1959, and her literary career spanned nearly sixty years, yielding more than twenty novels and over a hundred short stories, in addition to poetry, literary criticism, translations, and children's books. Frequently described as an author of science fiction, Le Guin has also been called a "major voice in American Letters", and herself said she would prefer to be known as an "American novelist". (From: Wikipedia.org.)


83 Chapters | 17,586 Words | 115,575 Characters

(477 Words / 2,821 Characters)
For A. L. K. and J. P. S. Introduction The Tao Te Ching was probably written about twenty-five hundred years ago, perhaps by a man called Lao Tzu, who may have lived at about the same time as Confucius. Nothing about it is certain except that it’s Chinese, and very old, and speaks to people everywhere as if it had been written yesterday. The first Tao Te Ching I ever saw was the Paul Carus edition of 1898, bound in yellow cloth stamped with blue and red Chinese designs and characters. It was a venerable object of mystery, which I soon investigated, and found more fascinating inside than out. The book was my father’s; he read in it often. Once I saw him making notes from it and asked what he was doing. He said he was marking which chapters he’d like to have read at his funeral. We did read those chapters at his memorial service. I have the book, now ninety... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The way you can go isn’t the real way. The name you can say isn’t the real name. Heaven and earth begin in the unnamed: name’s the mother of the ten thousand things. So the unwanting soul sees what’s hidden, and the ever-wanting soul sees only what it wants. Two things, one origin, but different in name, whose identity is mystery. Mystery of all mysteries! The door to the hidden. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Everybody on earth knowing that beauty is beautiful makes ugliness. Everybody knowing that goodness is good makes wickedness. For being and nonbeing arise together; hard and easy complete each other; long and short shape each other; high and low depend on each other; note and voice make the music together; before and after follow each other. That’s why the wise soul does without doing, teaches without talking. The things of this world exist, they are; you can’t refuse them. To bear and not to own; to act and not lay claim; to do the work and let it go: for just letting it go is what makes it stay. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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3. Hushing Not praising the praiseworthy keeps people uncompetitive. Not prizing rare treasures keeps people from stealing. Not looking at the desirable keeps the mind quiet. So the wise soul governing people would empty their minds, fill their bellies, weaken their wishes, strengthen their bones, keep people unknowing, unwanting, keep the ones who do know from doing anything. When you do not-doing, nothing’s out of order. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The way is empty, used, but not used up. Deep, yes! ancestral to the ten thousand things. Blunting edge, loosing bond, dimming light, the way is the dust of the way. Quiet, yes, and likely to endure. Whose child? born before the gods. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Heaven and earth aren’t humane. To them the ten thousand things are straw dogs. Wise souls aren’t humane. To them the hundred families are straw dogs. Heaven and earth act as a bellows: Empty yet structured, it moves, inexhaustibly giving. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The valley spirit never dies. Call it the mystery, the woman. The mystery, the Door of the Woman, is the root of earth and heaven. Forever this endures, forever. And all its uses are easy. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Heaven will last, earth will endure. How can they last so long? They don’t exist for themselves and so can go on and on. So wise souls leaving self behind move forward, and setting self aside stay centered. Why let the self go? To keep what the soul needs. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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True goodness is like water. Water’s good for everything. It doesn’t compete. It goes right to the low loathsome places, and so finds the way. For a house, the good thing is level ground. In thinking, depth is good. The good of giving is magnanimity; of speaking, honesty; of government, order. The good of work is skill, and of action, timing. No competition, so no blame. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Brim-fill the bowl, it’ll spill over. Keep sharpening the blade, you’ll soon blunt it. Nobody can protect a house full of gold and jade. Wealth, status, pride, are their own ruin. To do good, work well, and lie low is the way of the blessing. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Can you keep your soul in its body, hold fast to the one, and so learn to be whole? Can you center your energy, be soft, tender, and so learn to be a baby? Can you keep the deep water still and clear, so it reflects without blurring? Can you love people and run things, and do so by not doing? Opening, closing the Gate of Heaven, can you be like a bird with her nestlings? Piercing bright through the cosmos, can you know by not knowing? To give birth, to nourish, to bear and not to own, to act and not lay claim, to lead and not to rule: this is mysterious power. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Thirty spokes meet in the hub. Where the wheel isn’t is where it’s useful. Hollowed out, clay makes a pot. Where the pot’s not is where it’s useful. Cut doors and windows to make a room. Where the room isn’t, there’s room for you. So the profit in what is is in the use of what isn’t. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The five colors blind our eyes. The five notes deafen our ears. The five flavors dull our taste. Racing, chasing, hunting, drives people crazy. Trying to get rich ties people in knots. So the wise soul watches with the inner not the outward eye, letting that go, keeping this. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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To be in favor or disgrace is to live in fear. To take the body seriously is to admit one can suffer. What does that mean, to be in favor or disgrace is to live in fear? Favor debases: we fear to lose it, fear to win it. So to be in favor or disgrace is to live in fear. What does that mean, to take the body seriously is to admit one can suffer? I suffer because I’m a body; if I weren’t a body, how could I suffer? So people who set their bodily good before the public good could be entrusted with the commonwealth, and people who treated the body politic as gently as their own body would be worthy to govern the commonwealth. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Look at it: nothing to see. Call it colorless. Listen to it: nothing to hear. Call it soundless. Reach for it: nothing to hold. Call it intangible. Triply undifferentiated, it merges into oneness, not bright above, not dark below. Never, oh! never can it be named. It reverts, it returns to unbeing. Call it the form of the unformed, the image of no image. Call it unthinkable thought. Face it: no face. Follow it: no end. Holding fast to the old Way, we can live in the present. Mindful of the ancient beginnings, we hold the thread of the Tao. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Once upon a time people who knew the Way were subtle, spiritual, mysterious, penetrating, unfathomable. Since they’re inexplicable I can only say what they seemed like: Cautious, oh yes, as if wading through a winter river. Alert, as if afraid of the neighbors. Polite and quiet, like houseguests. Elusive, like melting ice. Blank, like uncut wood. Empty, like valleys. Mysterious, oh yes, they were like troubled water. Who can by stillness, little by little make what is troubled grow clear? Who can by movement, little by little make what is still grow quick? To follow the Way is not to need fulfillment. Unfulfilled, one may live on needing no renewal. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Be completely empty. Be perfectly serene. The ten thousand things arise together; in their arising is their return. Now they flower, and flowering sink homeward, returning to the root. The return to the root is peace. Peace: to accept what must be, to know what endures. In that knowledge is wisdom. Without it, ruin, disorder. To know what endures is to be openhearted, magnanimous, regal, blessed, following the Tao, the way that endures forever. The body comes to its ending, but there is nothing to fear. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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True leaders are hardly known to their followers. Next after them are the leaders the people know and admire; after them, those they fear; after them, those they despise. To give no trust is to get no trust. When the work’s done right, with no fuss or boasting, ordinary people say, Oh, we did it. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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In the degradation of the great way come benevolence and righteousness. With the exaltation of learning and prudence comes immense hypocrisy. The disordered family is full of dutiful children and parents. The disordered society is full of loyal patriots. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Stop being holy, forget being prudent, it’ll be a hundred times better for everyone. Stop being altruistic, forget being righteous, people will remember what family feeling is. Stop planning, forget making a profit, there won’t be any thieves and robbers. But even these three rules needn’t be followed; what works reliably is to know the raw silk, hold the uncut wood. Need little, want less. Forget the rules. Be untroubled. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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How much difference between yes and no? What difference between good and bad? What the people fear must be feared. O desolation! Not yet, not yet has it reached its limit! Everybody’s cheerful, cheerful as if at a party, or climbing a tower in springtime. And here I sit unmoved, clueless, like a child, a baby too young to smile. Forlorn, forlorn. Like a homeless person. Most people have plenty. I’m the one that’s poor, a fool right through. Ignorant, ignorant. Most people are so bright. I’m the one that’s dull. Most people are so keen. I don’t have the answers. Oh, I’m desolate, at sea, adrift, without harbor. Everybody has something to do. I’m the clumsy one, out of place. I’m the different one,... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The greatest power is the gift of following the Way alone. How the Way does things is hard to grasp, elusive. Elusive, yes, hard to grasp, yet there are thoughts in it. Hard to grasp, yes, elusive, yet there are things in it. Hard to make out, yes, and obscure, yet there is spirit in it, veritable spirit. There is certainty in it. From long, long ago till now it has kept its name. So it saw the beginning of everything. How do I know anything about the beginning? By this. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Be broken to be whole. Twist to be straight. Be empty to be full. Wear out to be renewed. Have little and gain much. Have much and get confused. So wise souls hold to the one, and test all things against it. Not showing themselves, they shine forth. Not justifying themselves, they’re self-evident. Not praising themselves, they’re accomplished. Not competing, they have in all the world no competitor. What they used to say in the old days, “Be broken to be whole,” was that mistaken? Truly, to be whole is to return. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Nature doesn’t make long speeches. A whirlwind doesn’t last all morning. A cloudburst doesn’t last all day. Who makes the wind and rain? Heaven and earth do. If heaven and earth don’t go on and on, certainly people don’t need to. The people who work with Tao are Tao people, they belong to the Way. People who work with power belong to power. People who work with loss belong to what’s lost. Give yourself to the Way and you’ll be at home on the Way. Give yourself to power and you’ll be at home in power. Give yourself to loss and when you’re lost you’ll be at home. To give no trust is to get no trust. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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You can’t keep standing on tiptoe or walk in leaps and bounds. You can’t shine by showing off or get ahead by pushing. Self-satisfied people do no good, self-promoters never grow up. Such stuff is to the Tao as garbage is to food or a tumor to the body, hateful. The follower of the Way avoids it. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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There is something that contains everything. Before heaven and earth it is. Oh, it is still, unbodied, all on its own, unchanging, all-pervading, ever-moving. So it can act as the mother of all things. Not knowing its real name, we only call it the Way. If it must be named, let its name be Great. Greatness means going on, going on means going far, and going far means turning back. So they say: “The Way is great, heaven is great, earth is great, and humankind is great; four greatnesses in the world, and humanity is one of them.” People follow earth, earth follows heaven, heaven follows the Way, the Way follows what is. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Heavy is the root of light. Still is the master of moving. So wise souls make their daily march with the heavy baggage wagon. Only when safe in a solid, quiet house do they lay care aside. How can a lord of ten thousand chariots let his own person weigh less in the balance than his land? Lightness will lose him his foundation, movement will lose him his mastery. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Good walkers leave no track. Good talkers don’t stammer. Good counters don’t use their fingers. The best door’s unlocked and unopened. The best knot’s not in a rope and can’t be untied. So wise souls are good at caring for people, never turning their back on anyone. They’re good at looking after things, never turning their back on anything. There’s a light hidden here. Good people teach people who aren’t good yet; the less good are the makings of the good. Anyone who doesn’t respect a teacher or cherish a student may be clever, but has gone astray. There’s a deep mystery here. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Knowing man and staying woman, be the riverbed of the world. Being the world’s riverbed of eternal unfailing power is to go back again to be newborn. Knowing light and staying dark, be a pattern to the world. Being the world’s pattern of eternal unerring power is to go back again to boundlessness. Knowing glory and staying modest, be the valley of the world. Being the world’s valley of eternal inexhaustible power is to go back again to the natural. Natural wood is cut up and made into useful things. Wise souls are used to make into leaders. Just so, a great carving is done without cutting. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Those who think to win the world by doing something to it, I see them come to grief. For the world is a sacred object. Nothing is to be done to it. To do anything to it is to damage it. To seize it is to lose it. Under heaven some things lead, some follow, some blow hot, some cold, some are strong, some weak, some are fulfilled, some fail. So the wise soul keeps away from the extremes, excess, extravagance. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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A Taoist wouldn’t advise a ruler to use force of arms for conquest; that tactic backfires. Where the army marched grow thorns and thistles. After the war come the bad harvests. Good leaders prosper, that’s all, not presuming on victory. They prosper without boasting, or domineering, or arrogance, prosper because they can’t help it, prosper without violence. Things flourish then perish. Not the Way. What’s not the Way soon ends. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Even the best weapon is an unhappy tool, hateful to living things. So the follower of the Way stays away from it. Weapons are unhappy tools, not chosen by thoughtful people, to be used only when there is no choice, and with a calm, still mind, without enjoyment. To enjoy using weapons is to enjoy killing people, and to enjoy killing people is to lose your share in the common good. It is right that the murder of many people be mourned and lamented. It is right that a victor in war be received with funeral ceremonies. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The way goes on forever nameless. Uncut wood, nothing important, yet nobody under heaven dare try to carve it. If rulers and leaders could use it, the ten thousand things would gather in homage, heaven and earth would drop sweet dew, and people, without being ordered, would be fair to one another. To order, to govern, is to begin naming; when names proliferate it’s time to stop. If you know when to stop you’re in no danger. The Way in the world is as a stream to a valley, a river to the sea. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Knowing other people is intelligence, knowing yourself is wisdom. Overcoming others takes strength, overcoming yourself takes greatness. Contentment is wealth. Boldly pushing forward takes resolution. Staying put keeps you in position. To live till you die is to live long enough. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The Great Way runs to left, to right, the ten thousand things depending on it, living on it, accepted by it. Doing its work, it goes unnamed. Clothing and feeding the ten thousand things, it lays no claim on them and asks nothing of them. Call it a small matter. The ten thousand things return to it, though it lays no claim on them. Call it great. So the wise soul without great doings achieves greatness. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Hold fast to the great thought and all the world will come to you, harmless, peaceable, serene. Walking around, we stop for music, for food. But if you taste the Way it’s flat, insipid. It looks like nothing much, it sounds like nothing much. And yet you can’t get enough of it. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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What seeks to shrink must first have grown; what seeks weakness surely was strong. What seeks its ruin must first have risen; what seeks to take has surely given. This is called the small dark light: the soft, the weak prevail over the hard, the strong. Fish should stay underwater: the real means of rule should be kept dark. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The Way never does anything, and everything gets done. If those in power could hold to the Way, the ten thousand things would look after themselves. If even so they tried to act, I’d quiet them with the nameless, the natural. In the unnamed, in the unshapen, is not wanting. In not wanting is stillness. In stillness all under heaven rests. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Great power, not clinging to power, has true power. Lesser power, clinging to power, lacks true power. Great power, doing nothing, has nothing to do. Lesser power, doing nothing, has an end in view. The good the truly good do has no end in view. The right the very righteous do has an end in view. And those who act in true obedience to law roll up their sleeves and make the disobedient obey. So: when we lose the Way we find power; losing power we find goodness; losing goodness we find righteousness; losing righteousness we’re left with obedience. Obedience to law is the dry husk of loyalty and good faith. Opinion is the barren flower of the Way, the beginning of ignorance. So great-minded people abide in the kernel not the husk, in the fruit not the flower, letting the... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Those who of old got to be whole: Heaven through its wholeness is pure; earth through its wholeness is steady; spirit through its wholeness is potent; the valley through its wholeness flows with rivers; the ten thousand things through their wholeness live; rulers through their wholeness have authority. Their wholeness makes them what they are. Without what makes it pure, heaven would disintegrate; without what steadies it, earth would crack apart; without what makes it potent, spirit would fail; without what fills it, the valley would run dry; without what quickens them, the ten thousand things would die; without what authorizes them, rulers would fall. The root of the noble is in the common, the high stands on what’s below. Princes and kings call themselves “orphans, widowers, beggars,” to get themselves rooted in th... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Return is how the Way moves. Weakness is how the Way works. Heaven and earth and the ten thousand things are born of being. Being is born of nothing. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Thoughtful people hear about the Way and try hard to follow it. Ordinary people hear about the Way and wander onto it and off it. Thoughtless people hear about the Way and make jokes about it. It wouldn’t be the Way if there weren’t jokes about it. So they say: The Way’s brightness looks like darkness; advancing on the Way feels like retreating; the plain Way seems hard going. The height of power seems a valley; the amplest power seems not enough; the firmest power seems feeble. Perfect whiteness looks dirty. The pure and simple looks chaotic. The great square has no corners. The great vessel is never finished. The great tone is barely heard. The great thought can’t be thought. The Way is hidden in its namelessness. But only the Way begins, sustains, fulfills. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The Way bears one. The one bears two. The two bear three. The three bear the ten thousand things. The ten thousand things carry the yin on their shoulders and hold in their arms the yang, whose interplay of energy makes harmony. People despise orphans, widowers, outcasts. Yet that’s what kings and rulers call themselves. Whatever you lose, you’ve won. Whatever you win, you’ve lost. What others teach, I say too: violence and aggression destroy themselves. My teaching rests on that. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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What’s softest in the world rushes and runs over what’s hardest in the world. The immaterial enters the impenetrable. So I know the good in not doing. The wordless teaching, the profit in not doing— not many people understand it. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Which is nearer, name or self? Which is dearer, self or wealth? Which gives more pain, loss or gain? All you grasp will be thrown away. All you hoard will be utterly lost. Contentment keeps disgrace away. Restraint keeps you out of danger so you can go on for a long, long time. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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What’s perfectly whole seems flawed, but you can use it forever. What’s perfectly full seems empty, but you can’t use it up. True straightness looks crooked. Great skill looks clumsy. Real eloquence seems to stammer. To be comfortable in the cold, keep moving; to be comfortable in the heat, hold still; to be comfortable in the world, stay calm and clear. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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When the world’s on the Way, they use horses to haul manure. When the world gets off the Way, they breed warhorses on the common. The greatest evil: wanting more. The worst luck: discontent. Greed’s the curse of life. To know enough’s enough is enough to know. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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You don’t have to go out the door to know what goes on in the world. You don’t have to look out the window to see the way of heaven. The farther you go, the less you know. So the wise soul doesn’t go, but knows; doesn’t look, but sees; doesn’t do, but gets it done. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Studying and learning daily you grow larger. Following the Way daily you shrink. You get smaller and smaller. So you arrive at not doing. You do nothing and nothing’s not done. To run things, don’t fuss with them. Nobody who fusses is fit to run things. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The wise have no mind of their own, finding it in the minds of ordinary people. They’re good to good people and they’re good to bad people. Power is goodness. They trust people of good faith and they trust people of bad faith. Power is trust. They mingle their life with the world, they mix their mind up with the world. Ordinary people look after them. Wise souls are children. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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To look for life is to find death. The thirteen organs of our living are the thirteen organs of our dying. Why are the organs of our life where death enters us? Because we hold too hard to living. So I’ve heard if you live in the right way, when you cross country you needn’t fear to meet a mad bull or a tiger; when you’re in a battle you needn’t fear the weapons. The bull would find nowhere to jab its horns, the tiger nowhere to stick its claws, the sword nowhere for its point to go. Why? Because there’s nowhere in you for death to enter. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The Way bears them; power nurtures them; their own being shapes them; their own energy completes them. And not one of the ten thousand things fails to hold the Way sacred or to obey its power. Their reverence for the Way and obedience to its power are unforced and always natural. For the Way gives them life; its power nourishes them, mothers and feeds them, completes and matures them, looks after them, protects them. To have without possessing, do without claiming, lead without controlling: this is mysterious power. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The beginning of everything is the mother of everything. Truly to know the mother is to know her children, and truly to know the children is to turn back to the mother. The body comes to its ending but there is nothing to fear. Close the openings, shut the doors, and to the end of life nothing will trouble you. Open the openings, be busy with business, and to the end of life nothing can help you. Insight sees the insignificant. Strength knows how to yield. Use the way’s light, return to its insight, and so keep from going too far. That’s how to practice what’s forever. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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If my mind’s modest, I walk the great way. Arrogance is all I fear. The great way is low and plain, but people like shortcuts over the mountains. The palace is full of splendor and the fields are full of weeds and the granaries are full of nothing. People wearing ornaments and fancy clothes, carrying weapons, drinking a lot and eating a lot, having a lot of things, a lot of money: shameless thieves. Surely their way isn’t the way. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Well planted is not uprooted, well kept is not lost. The offerings of the generations to the ancestors will not cease. To follow the way yourself is real power. To follow it in the family is abundant power. To follow it in the community is steady power. To follow it in the whole country is lasting power. To follow it in the world is universal power. So in myself I see what self is, in my household I see what family is, in my town I see what community is, in my nation I see what a country is, in the world I see what is under heaven. How do I know the world is so? By this. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Being full of power is like being a baby. Scorpions don’t sting, tigers don’t attack, eagles don’t strike. Soft bones, weak muscles, but a firm grasp. Ignorant of the intercourse of man and woman, yet the baby penis is erect. True and perfect energy! All day long screaming and crying, but never getting hoarse. True and perfect harmony! To know harmony is to know what’s eternal. To know what’s eternal is enlightenment. Increase of life is full of portent: the strong heart exhausts the vital breath. The full-grown is on the edge of age. Not the Way. What’s not the Way soon dies. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Who knows doesn’t talk. Who talks doesn’t know. Closing the openings, shutting doors, blunting edge, loosing bond, dimming light, be one with the dust of the way. So you come to the deep sameness. Then you can’t be controlled by love or by rejection. You can’t be controlled by profit or by loss. You can’t be controlled by praise or by humiliation. Then you have honor under heaven. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Run the country by doing what’s expected. Win the war by doing the unexpected. Control the world by doing nothing. How do I know that? By this. The more restrictions and prohibitions in the world, the poorer people get. The more experts the country has the more of a mess it’s in. The more ingenious the skillful are, the more monstrous their inventions. The louder the call for law and order, the more the thieves and con men multiply. So a wise leader might say: I practice inaction, and the people look after themselves. I love to be quiet, and the people themselves find justice. I don’t do business, and the people prosper on their own. I don’t have wants, and the people themselves are uncut wood. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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When the government’s dull and confused, the people are placid. When the government’s sharp and keen, the people are discontented. Alas! misery lies under happiness, and happiness sits on misery, alas! Who knows where it will end? Nothing is certain. The normal changes into the monstrous, the fortunate into the unfortunate, and our bewilderment goes on and on. And so the wise shape without cutting, square without sawing, true without forcing. They are the light that does not shine. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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In looking after your life and following the way, gather spirit. Gather spirit early, and so redouble power, and so become invulnerable. Invulnerable, unlimited, you can do what you like with material things. But only if you hold to the Mother of things will you do it for long. Have deep roots, a strong trunk. Live long by looking long. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Rule a big country the way you cook a small fish. If you keep control by following the Way, troubled spirits won’t act up. They won’t lose their immaterial strength, but they won’t harm people with it, nor will wise souls come to harm. And so, neither harming the other, these powers will come together in unity. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The polity of greatness runs downhill like a river to the sea, joining with everything, woman to everything. By stillness the woman may always dominate the man, lying quiet underneath him. So a great country submitting to small ones, dominates them; so small countries, submitting to a great one, dominate it. Lie low to be on top, be on top by lying low. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The way is the hearth and home of the ten thousand things. Good souls treasure it, lost souls find shelter in it. Fine words are for sale, fine deeds go cheap; even worthless people can get them. So, at the coronation of the Son of Heaven when the Three Ministers take office, you might race out in a four-horse chariot to offer a jade screen; but wouldn’t it be better to sit still and let the Way be your offering? Why was the Way honored in the old days? Wasn’t it said: Seek, you’ll find it. Hide, it will shelter you. So it was honored under heaven. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Do without doing. Act without action. Savor the flavorless. Treat the small as large, the few as many. Meet injury with the power of goodness. Study the hard while it’s easy. Do big things while they’re small. The hardest jobs in the world start out easy, the great affairs of the world start small. So the wise soul, by never dealing with great things, gets great things done. Now, since taking things too lightly makes them worthless, and taking things too easy makes them hard, the wise soul, by treating the easy as hard, doesn’t find anything hard. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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It’s easy to keep hold of what hasn’t stirred, easy to plan what hasn’t occurred. It’s easy to shatter delicate things, easy to scatter little things. Do things before they happen. Get them straight before they get mixed up. The tree you can’t reach your arms around grew from a tiny seedling. The nine-story tower rises from a heap of clay. The ten-thousand-mile journey begins beneath your foot. Do, and do wrong; Hold on, and lose. Not doing, the wise soul doesn’t do it wrong, and not holding on, doesn’t lose it. (In all their undertakings, it’s just as they’re almost finished that people go wrong. Mind the end as the beginning, then it won’t go wrong.) That’s why the wise want not to want, care nothing for hard-won treasur... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Once upon a time those who ruled according to the Way didn’t use it to make people knowing but to keep them unknowing. People get hard to manage when they know too much. Whoever rules by intellect is a curse upon the land. Whoever rules by ignorance is a blessing on it. To understand these things is to have a pattern and a model, and to understand the pattern and the model is mysterious power. Mysterious power goes deep. It reaches far. It follows things back, clear back to the great oneness. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Lakes and rivers are lords of the hundred valleys. Why? Because they’ll go lower. So they’re the lords of the hundred valleys. Just so, a wise soul, wanting to be above other people, talks to them from below and to guide them follows them. And so the wise soul predominates without dominating, and leads without misleading. And people don’t get tired of enjoying and praising one who, not competing, has in all the world no competitor. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Everybody says my way is great but improbable. All greatness is improbable. What’s probable is tedious and petty. I have three treasures. I keep and treasure them. The first, mercy, the second, moderation, the third, modesty. If you’re merciful you can be brave, if you’re moderate you can be generous, and if you don’t presume to lead you can lead the high and mighty. But to be brave without compassion, or generous without self-restraint, or to take the lead, is fatal. Compassion wins the battle and holds the fort; it is the bulwark set around those heaven helps. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The best captain doesn’t rush in front. The fiercest fighter doesn’t bluster. The big winner isn’t competing. The best boss takes a low footing. This is the power of noncompetition. This is the right use of ability. To follow heaven’s lead has always been the best way. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The expert in warfare says: Rather than dare make the attack I’d take the attack; rather than dare advance an inch I’d retreat a foot. It’s called marching without marching, rolling up your sleeves without flexing your muscles, being armed without weapons, giving the attacker no opponent. Nothing’s worse than attacking what yields. To attack what yields is to throw away the prize. So, when matched armies meet, the one who comes to grief is the true victor. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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My words are so easy to understand, so easy to follow, and yet nobody in the world understands or follows them. Words come from an ancestry, deeds from a mastery: when these are unknown, so am I. In my obscurity is my value. That’s why the wise wear their jade under common clothes. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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To know without knowing is best. Not knowing without knowing it is sick. To be sick of sickness is the only cure. The wise aren’t sick. They’re sick of sickness, so they’re well. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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When we don’t fear what we should fear we are in fearful danger. We ought not to live in narrow houses, we ought not to do stupid work. If we don’t accept stupidity we won’t act stupidly. So, wise souls know but don’t show themselves, look after but don’t prize themselves, letting the one go, keeping the other. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Brave daring leads to death. Brave caution leads to life. The choice can be the right one or the wrong one. Who will interpret the judgment of heaven? Even the wise soul finds it hard. The way of heaven doesn’t compete yet wins handily, doesn’t speak yet answers fully, doesn’t summon yet attracts. It acts perfectly easily. The net of heaven is vast, vast, wide-meshed, yet misses nothing. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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When normal, decent people don’t fear death, how can you use death to frighten them? Even when they have a normal fear of death, who of us dare take and kill the one who doesn’t? When people are normal and decent and death-fearing, there’s always an executioner. To take the place of that executioner is to take the place of the great carpenter. People who cut the great carpenter’s wood seldom get off with their hands unhurt. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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People are starving. The rich gobble taxes, that’s why people are starving. People rebel. The rich oppress them, that’s why people rebel. People hold life cheap. The rich make it too costly, that’s why people hold it cheap. But those who don’t live for the sake of living are worth more than the wealth-seekers. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Living people are soft and tender. Corpses are hard and stiff. The ten thousand things, the living grass, the trees, are soft, pliant. Dead, they’re dry and brittle. So hardness and stiffness go with death; tenderness, softness, go with life. And the hard sword fails, the stiff tree’s felled. The hard and great go under. The soft and weak stay up. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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The Way of heaven is like a bow bent to shoot: its top end brought down, its lower end raised up. It brings the high down, lifts the low, takes from those who have, gives to those who have not. Such is the Way of heaven, taking from people who have, giving to people who have not. Not so the human way: it takes from those who have not to fill up those who have. Who has enough to fill up everybody? Only those who have the Way. So the wise do without claiming, achieve without asserting, wishing not to show their worth. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Nothing in the world is as soft, as weak, as water; nothing else can wear away the hard, the strong, and remain unaltered. Soft overcomes hard, weak overcomes strong. Everybody knows it, nobody uses the knowledge. So the wise say: By bearing common defilements you become a sacrificer at the altar of earth; by bearing common evils you become a lord of the world. Right words sound wrong. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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After a great enmity is settled some enmity always remains. How to make peace? Wise souls keep their part of the contract and don’t make demands on others. People whose power is real fulfill their obligations; people whose power is hollow insist on their claims. The Way of heaven plays no favorites. It stays with the good. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Let there be a little country without many people. Let them have tools that do the work of ten or a hundred, and never use them. Let them be mindful of death and disinclined to long journeys. They’d have ships and carriages, but no place to go. They’d have armor and weapons, but no parades. Instead of writing, they might go back to using knotted cords. They’d enjoy eating, take pleasure in clothes, be happy with their houses, devoted to their customs. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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True words aren’t charming, charming words aren’t true. Good people aren’t contentious, contentious people aren’t good. People who know aren’t learned, learned people don’t know. Wise souls don’t hoard; the more they do for others the more they have, the more they give the richer they are. The Way of heaven profits without destroying. Doing without outdoing is the Way of the wise. The next little country might be so close the people could hear cocks crowing and dogs barking there, but they’d get old and die without ever having been there. (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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Concerning This Version This is a rendition, not a translation. I do not know any Chinese. I could approach the text at all only because Paul Carus, in his 1898 translation of the Tao Te Ching, printed the Chinese text with each character followed by a transliteration and a translation. My gratitude to him is unending. To have the text thus made accessible was not only to have a Rosetta Stone for the book itself, but also to have a touchstone for comparing other English translations one with another. If I could focus on which word the translators were interpreting, I could begin to understand why they made the choice they did. I could compare various interpretations and see why they varied so tremendously; could see how much explanation, sometimes how much bias, was included in the translation; could discover for myself that several English meanings might lead me back to the same Chinese word. And, finally, for all my ignorance of the language... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)


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