1. The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The
name that can be named is not the eternal name. Unnameable is
the essence. Naming is the beginning of ten thousand particular
things. Named are the manifestations. Nameless is the
2. Whenever there is beauty there is ugliness. Whenever
there is good there is bad. Long and short complete each other.
High and low support each other. Difficult and easy need each
other. Sound and silence fulfill each other. Front and back
follow each other. Form and space shape each other. Life and
death give birth to each other. Manifestations and Mystery come
from the same source.
3. Be one with the Tao. Act without forcing. Teach by
showing. Things come let them come. Things go let them go. Give
birth without possessing, achieve without expecting, create
without taking credit, work without needing praise. Complete
your work, then forget it. Your work lasts forever.
4. The Tao is like a fertile valley, filled with
creativity, Gateway of the Female, roots of Heaven and
5. The Tao is like a well, empty but inexhaustible, dark,
enduring, deep, ancestor of ten thousand things. However much
you use it, you never have to fill it. However much you use it,
you never use it up.
6. Edge without sharpness, knot without tangle, hole
without emptiness, door without opening. Soft glare. Clear fog.
Submerged, indistinct, motherless, older than the gods.
7. Thirty spokes, a rim, and a hub make a wheel. The hole
in the center moves the cart. Clay molds into a pot. The
emptiness inside holds the food. Roof, walls, and floor frame a
house. The space within is where we live. Existence gives the
form. Nonexistence gives the meaning.
8. Look for it and you cannot see it. Listen for it and
you cannot hear it. Reach for it and you cannot touch it. Grasp
at it and you cannot hold it. Approach it and it has no
beginning. Follow it and it has no end.
9. When the superior hear about the Tao, they immediately
endeavor to practice it. When the average hear about the Tao,
they try it part way. When the lesser hear about the Tao, they
laugh. That is why they are lesser, and the Tao is the
10. Seek, and with this you will find. If you have
committed wrongs, with this you will escape.
11. For the good, their treasure. For the bad, their
12. The Tao is impartial. It gives birth to both good and
evil. Be impartial. Use whatever life sends.
13. Heaven covers. Earth supports. Heaven and Earth
14. In living, honor the land. In thinking, be deep. In
speaking be truthful. In working, be skillful. In dealing with
others, be compassionate. In giving, be generous. In ruling be
fair. In acting, be timely.
15. The ten thousand things are female on one side and
male on the other. Using both creates vitality. Balancing both
16. Know the male but hold to the female. Know the white
but hold to the black. Know the peaks but hold to the valleys.
Know complexity but hold to simplicity. Know sound but hold to
silence. Know action but hold to stillness. Know knowledge but
hold to innocence. Know the manifestations but hold to the
17. Activity counters cold. Tranquility counters
18. The Tao is the Great Mother. The ten thousand things
are all her children. Know the Mother and you will know the
children. Know the children and you will know the
19. First we name. Then we describe. Then we compare.
Then we set one first, another last. As soon as we start to
name it is time to stop.
20. Fill yourself with utmost emptiness. Embrace internal
tranquility. The ten thousand things, see how they arise and
flow around you each one coming into being, growing, adapting,
changing, fulfilling, then returning to the source as you sit
in stillness in the center, watching.
21. Be aware, observe, notice. Appreciate the small. Find
flavor in the delicate.
22. Live wood is soft and tender. Dead wood is hard and
strong. The live leaf is supple. The dead leaf is brittle. The
army that is not flexible never wins a battle. The tree that
survives the storm is the one that bends in the wind.
23. Yield and prevail. If you can bend, you can be
preserved unbroken. If you can flex, you can be kept straight.
If you can be emptied, you can be filled. If you can be worn
out, you can be renewed. Those with little can receive much.
Those with much can be confused.
24. The Tao is like water. Water takes the lowest way. It
flows around obstacles. It has no projections, but it
penetrates that which has no crevices. It is the softest of all
things, but it grinds rock. It resists nothing, but is
irresistible. It asks for nothing, but nourishes everything. It
strives for nothing, but transforms everything.
25. One who is one with the Tao is like a newborn boy
child. His body is soft and pliant but his grasp is strong. He
does not yet know the union of male and female, but his organ
stands up. He can scream all day without getting hoarse or
sleep utterly peacefully. He does just what he should be doing
at each moment. He is completely natural.
26. Be cautious, like one who fords a river in winter
careful, like one restrained in speaking formal, like a host
courteous, like a guest generous, like a fertile valley plain,
like uncarved wood natural, like a tree in the wilderness calm
and serene, like a still pool of deep water.
27. Be detached. Work with joy, without caring for the
achievement. Travel with joy, without focusing on the
28. On disaster good fortune perches. Beneath good
fortune disaster crouches. Straight becomes crooked, which
becomes straight again. Good gives rise to evil, which gives
rise to good again. There is no beginning or ending.
29. The bright way may seem dark. The straight way may
seem crooked. The smooth way may seem rough. The way forward
may seem to go backward. True love may seem heartless. True
integrity may seem dishonest. True fullness may seem empty. And
even the eternal may seem to change.
30. Sincere words may not be beautiful. Beautiful words
may not be sincere. The wise may not be learned. The learned
may not be wise. The good may not be rich. The rich may not be
good. Those who know may not speak. Those who speak may not
31. Success is as treacherous as failure. Praise is as
useless as blame. Fortune, fame, and favor are as dangerous as
disgrace. High status and position can bring you great
32. You can lose by gaining. You can gain by
33. Trapped in desires, you see only your desires.
Trapped in desires, you see surfaces. Free from desires, you
see the subtleties. Free from desires, you experience the
34. Look to achievement for satisfaction and you will
never be satisfied. Look to riches for contentment and you will
never be content. Look to possessions for happiness and you
will never be happy. Look to position for security and you will
never be secure. Appreciate what you have. Rejoice in how
things are. You lack nothing when you realize there is nothing
35. Practice non-knowing. You do not know what is good
and what is evil. So cleanse your mind of desire for particular
ends, and accept everything, and let everything happen, and
take joy in everything, and use everything that comes your
36. To know that you know not is sanity. To know not that
you know not is sickness. Be your own healer. Cure yourself of
37. Heal the people. Teach them non-knowing. When people
think they know, they can not be guided. When people know that
they do not know, they can find their own way.
38. Desire not to desire. Value what is everywhere. Learn
what to unlearn. Return to what the masses pass by.
39. Put yourself last and be first, put yourself below
and be above, give up personal desires and find all desires
satisfied, gives up self interest and find interests realized,
let go of everything and be one with everything, empty yourself
completely and be completely fulfilled.
40. In seeking knowledge, day by day something is added.
In following Tao, day by day something is dropped. Day by day
you do less and less deliberately. Day by day you do not do
more and more. You do less and less and do not do more and
more, until everything happens spontaneously. Then you act
without acting, and do without doing, and achieve without
forcing. And nothing is done. And nothing is left
41. Muddy water, when still, gradually becomes clear. Be
still. Let your mud settle and your mind clear. Wait quietly
until the right action comes naturally.
42. Grasp at something and lose it. Act with purpose and
defeat the purpose.
43. The soldier who goes out ready to die comes back with
life and victory. The soldier who goes out caring mostly for
living dies and is forgotten.
44. Heaven favors who knows what or why? Bravery may lead
to death and loss. Caution may lead to life and victory.
Without fighting you can be good at winning. Without speaking
you can be good at responding. Without deliberateness you can
be good at planning. No one summons the Tao. It comes on its
own. Heavens net is vast and cast wide, and nothing slips
45. Do not act on the ten thousand things. Simply help
them be themselves. Do not try to change the people. Simply
show them who they are. Lead them back to where they came from.
Lead them back to what they have always known.
46. Do not speak. Act. Do not teach. Show. When you rule,
people hardly know you are there. When your work is done,
people say, Look! We did this! All by ourselves!
47. Be impartial. Be good to the good. Be good to the
bad. Such is true good.
48. The good teach. The bad are the raw material. Cherish
the teacher and the raw material.
49. Insincere words can be bought and sold. Empty deeds
can be used as gifts. Things we see as bad should they ever be
rejected? People we see as bad should they ever be
50. Know the tally, but do not call for the rewards or
punishments. Those with virtue can do the accounting. Those
without virtue collect the taxes.
51. Accept everyone as children of the Tao, and treat
everyone with compassion, generosity, and understanding.
52. The world says I am great, but strange. If I were not
strange, I could not be great. If I were like everyone else, I
would be insignificant.
53. Something there is that formed out of Chaos pure and
deep and still standing alone, unchanging Mother of Heaven and
Earth. I do not know its name. I only call it Tao.
54. I have three treasures I hold and cherish:
compassion, frugality, and not needing to be ahead of all under
heaven. Compassion gives me courage. Frugality allows
generosity. Not needing to be ahead lets me lead the
55. Other people are noisy and exuberant. I am silent
like something that has not yet given any sign like a baby who
has not yet smiled. Other people have many possessions. I have
nothing. Other people know where they are going and what they
are doing. I am ignorant. Other people judge things and make
many fine distinctions. I find everything subtle and complex.
Other people act with purpose. I drift and float. Formless am I
like the ocean shapeless, unmoving, unresting. I suck from the
breast of the Mother.
56. Heaven covers everything. Can you be as generous?
Earth supports everything. Can you be as tolerant?
57. Can you play the part of the female? Can you accept,
allow, adapt, flex, bend, change? Can you use everything that
comes your way?
58. Can you be natural and spontaneous? Can you be like a
59. Can you love the people? Can you teach and lead and
serve them? Can you love them without trying to change them?
Can you lead them and leave them free?
60. Can you embrace the One? Can you cleanse and polish
and purify the bright mirror of your soul? Can you concentrate
and focus your breath and energy? Can you step outside yourself
and understand all within the four reaches?
61. Give birth without owning. Love without possessing.
Teach without making dependent. Lead without trying to control.
Act by helping things happen naturally. Guide by helping things
grow naturally. Empty yourself, and let the Tao fill you and
move through you and use you as part of the pattern.
62. The Tao takes no action. Yet everything happens. If
leaders could hold to it, the world would transform
spontaneously. If, after the transformation, some wanted to
take action, I would calm them with nameless simplicity.
63. If I had just the smallest speck of wisdom, I could
walk on the Great Way, and the only fear I would have would be
of going astray. The Great Way is straight and smooth and easy
to follow. But people delight in the crooked and rough and
64. My words are easy to understand and easy to put into
practice. But few understand, and few put them into
65. If everyone understood, what use would I be? It is
because few understand that I can be of great value.
66. A few will stop to hear about the Tao. Everyone will
stop for food or music.
67. The light rests on the heavy. The mountain grows from
the valley. The noble is rooted in the common. Clear water
floats over mud. Know your roots. Love, understand, and honor
68. In expression, to be brief is natural. A whirlwind
does not last all morning. A cloudburst does not last all
69. Boasting and bragging are extra food and unnecessary
baggage. They impede traveling on the Way.
70. Self praise is no praise. When you describe an
imaginary carriage, dream as you wish, embellish as you want,
enumerate all the features as you will there is still no
71. A jade necklace shines brightly, displays itself for
everyone, jingles constantly. Be not like the jade. Just rumble
occasionally like a rock.
72. Give yourself to others, then be even greater. Use
what you have for others, then have even more. The Tao nurtures
everything and harms nothing. Help all and hurt none.
73. Give, but do not give yourself away. Serve, but serve
yourself first. The best commander is not killed or captured.
How could the armies prevail without the commander?
74. Travel all day without ever losing sight of your
baggage. When safely within a walled in hostel, relax and
transcends all cares.
75. Look for virtue and success, and you find them
everywhere. Look for failure and loss, and they constantly
76. Use the Way as the means, and the end will be one
with the Way. Follow the Way and the Way will be straight
77. Too much light causes blindness. Too much sound
causes deafness. Too much indulgence in physical pleasures
causes distraction and dissipation. Having too many possessions
impedes traveling on the Way.
78. Hold to the center. Dwell in the substance, not in
the surface, in the fruit, not in the flower, in reality, not
in appearances, in the essence, not in the ornament.
79. Fill your cup too full and it will spill. Sharpen
your knife too much and it will blunt. Acquire too much and you
will be unable to protect it. Climb too high and you will be
unable to maintain it. Too much pride brings on its own
disaster. Too much study leads to exhaustion. More words mean
less. Walk too far and you will pass your destination.
80. The skillful carver does little cutting. The skillful
traveler leaves few tracks and traces. The skillful binding
takes few knots, but does not come undone. The skillful speaker
uses few words.
81. Be sharp, but do not cut. Be pointed, but do not
pierce. Be straightforward, but not unrestrained. Be bright,
but do not dazzle.
82. The greatest mistake is desiring too much. The
greatest sorrow is not knowing when you have enough. The
greatest fault is needing to compete. The greatest defect is
not knowing when to stop.
83. Stop trouble before it starts. Make order before
there is chaos. Deal with the small before it is large. Deal
with the few before they are many. Begin the difficult while it
is easy. Approach the great work through a series of small
tasks. The largest evergreen grows from a tiny seedling. The
journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
84. If you rush into action, you may stumble. If you
stand on tiptoe you do not stand stable. Failure comes most
often near completion. Be as careful at the end as the
85. One who is one with the Tao acts without acting. One
who is less with the Tao acts with purpose. The greatest self
is not self conscious. The lesser self is always aware of
itself. The greatest integrity is spontaneous. The lesser
integrity is deliberate. The greatest virtue is unaware of
virtue. The lesser virtue never loses sight of virtue.
86. To know others is knowledge. To know Self is wisdom.
To control others shows power. To control Self is to be truly
powerful. To know when you have enough is to be rich. To know
when to act is to act appropriately. To know when to hold your
place is to endure. To live at one with the Tao is to live
87. You cannot get too close to the Tao. You cannot shun
the Tao. You can not help the Tao. You cannot harm the Tao. You
can not ennoble the Tao. You can not debase the Tao. The Tao is
the noblest thing under heaven.
88. The best leader is invisible. The next best is loved
and praised. The next is feared. The worst is ridiculed.
89. The best warrior is not warlike. The best fighter is
not aggressive. The best commander avoids combat. The best
ruler serves the people.
90. Ruling a large state is like frying a small fish.
Cook it too much and you ruin it. Poke at it too much and it
91. When government is weak and invisible, people are
open and honest. When government is powerful and interfering,
people are secretive and devious.
92. Too many taxes and the people starve. Too many rules
and regulations and the people chafe and fret. When there is
too much reward for success or too little room for succeeding,
people will compete desperately. When goods are priced too high
or wages too low, people will steal. When they are constantly
shown good things they cannot have, people will rebel.
93. When mansions are kept very clean, and rich people
wear fine clothes, and carry sharp swords, and gorge themselves
on expensive foods, and have luxurious possessions while the
fields of the poor are full of weeds, and in the villages, the
granaries are empty this is thievery! This is not the
94. When the Way is lost, there is virtue. When virtue is
lost there is humanity. When humanity is lost there is
righteousness. When righteousness is lost, there is propriety.
Propriety is the beginning of chaos. When people do not
respond, it rolls up its sleeves and uses force.
95. Killing people in place of the master executioner is
like cutting wood in place of the head carpenter. Cut wood in
place of the head carpenter, and you are likely to cut your own
96. When a nation loses the Way, weapons abound, and
warhorses are stabled in the suburbs.
97. Weapons are instruments of ill omen. They should
never be made into things of beauty. To worship weapons is to
glorify in killing.
98. Do not deal in violence. Violence rebounds. Do not
glorify in war. Use weapons only when there is no other choice.
After war the famines come. Where armies go, thorns and
99. The world is a sacred vessel. You cannot improve it.
Act on it to improve it and you ruin it. Try to control it and
you come to ruin.
100. The Way of Heaven is like the flexing of a bow. The
high is drawn down. The low is brought up. When the string is
pulled, all the parts move.
101. You do not need to leave home in order to see the
world. You do not have to look out your window in order to find
the way. The harder you search the less you find. The farther
you go the less you see.
102. See without looking, find without searching, and
arrive without going anywhere.
103. Build your foundation upon it. What is firmly
founded cannot be torn down. Embrace it. What is embraced
tightly will be held. Cultivate it in yourself. Nurture it in
your family. Practice it in your city. Express it in your
state. Spread it throughout the universe. Let it
104. Square without corners, vessel without walls,
soundless tone, formless image that is the shape of the Tao.
Accept, allow, adapt, flex, bend, change that is the method of
the Tao. Create, complete, fulfill, reverse, return, renew that
is the movement of the Tao.
105. Every particular thing is a manifestation of the
Tao. The Tao gives rise to all things. The Tao fulfills them.
To the Tao they return. That is why everything venerates the
Tao. That is why we find the Tao when we look inside
106. There is a time for living and a time for dying, a
time for planting and a time for reaping, a time for motion and
a time for stillness, a time for working and a time for
107. The Tao gives birth to all things, nourishes them,
shelters them, cares for them, comforts them, and in the end,
receives them back into itself.
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