Laozi - Daodejing


( Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching )


Word by Word





Two Literal English Translations


One Simple, One Complex,


The Chinese Text and a Pinyin Transcription







by Bradford Hatcher


Copyright © 2007, Bradford Hatcher, All Rights Reserved




            With more than a hundred English translations of this little book in
print it has become customary to begin each new version with an apology
explaining the need for yet another English version. But this one may come
as a surprise to many readers: nobody has yet attempted a rigorously literal
translation of the Dao De Jing. Nobody has produced a stand-alone English
version wherein all of the Chinese words are represented by English counter-
parts. And nobody has yet attempted a translation which fully resists the
temptation to insert grammatical subjects and genders which do not exist in
the Chinese original.

         However a number of translators have demonstrated an admirable res-
pect for the original Chinese text and there exist many fine to passable trans-
lations, even if not strictly literal. My own favorites are highlighted in bold in
the Bibliography. Further, several versions have provided readers with Eng-
lish equivalents alongside each of the Chinese characters. These too are noted
in the bibliography. Unfortunately most do not mention which of the many
variations in the text are being used or point out places where other versions
differ. Typos are usually a problem with these as well.

         There are several reasons for such a confusion of books. The most ob-
vious is that there exists a large popular market for this book, while most of
the readers within this market know next to nothing about the Old Chinese
language. They seem to trust that publishing house editors, or the reviewers
quoted on the covers, are more knowledgeable. This is not the case. But there
is a still deeper source of confusion: the original work is not that much better
understood in Chinese than in English. Thousands of volumes of interpreta-
tion exist in the Chinese language, dating as far back as Wang Bi and
Heshang Gong in the third century ce. Interpretations tend to follow schools
of thought and the cumulative error that this often entails. Often systems of
thought which were in some way derived from Lao Zi are used retroactively
to interpret the meaning of the source text. The original’s language is terse,
ambiguous in places, and full of word play. The Old Chinese language itself
has no set parts of speech, no tense, gender, voice, mood, plurals, etc. In
many ways it resembles Tarot cards more than it does conventional language:
most words carry a large number of possible translations, in many parts of
speech, and intended meanings do not become clearer until studied in their
more limiting contexts. The fact that the original is rhymed is not as impor-
tant as some scholars seem to think: with only 411 syllables, rhyming in the
Chinese language is easy. But where the book makes effort to rhyme it often
makes the grammar less familiar. Finally, hundreds of older editions exist, and
rarely will two be found which agree word for word throughout. Choices
must be often be made between these.

         As the book began to be translated into languages other than Chinese,
 a few more interpretive problems entered the picture. The earliest editions
were authored by Christian missionaries. These formed a substratum of schol-
arship upon which most later work was built. But the phrase “full of precon-
ceptions” could almost stand in as a definition of the word “missionary.” To
give credit where due, their minds seemed more open than their less scholarly
brethren. But in their effort to save Lao Zi’s soul they made his words sound
almost as though Jesus might have spoken them, even unto the absurdity of
translating Dao as God. There were also a number of wrong assumptions
made about the impossibility of translating Chinese literally, particularly about
the need to insert non-existent subjects of non-existent genders. This assump-
tion continues, but I challenge it here.

         A great mass of speculation, set forth with great cleverness and erudi-
tion, has been done on what this little book says and means, often flying right
in the face of the many things that Lao Zi himself had to say on the difficul-
ties that we humans have due to cleverness and erudition. This is delightfully,
wickedly perverse. Lao Zi will say something like: “The five colors will make
the human eye blind.” Commentators will then rush to “enlighten” us, with
great detail, about what the five colors are, presumably so that we can watch
out for them.

         For the above reasons I perceived a need to return to the original text,
as best as this can be reconstructed, and plod word by word through this until
it made sense. It is after all the original, and neither a translation nor a com-
mentary, which has survived these two dozen centuries. And, as it turned out,
the book was able to speak for, and even introduce itself. In other words I
have tried to present Laozi’s Dao De Jing as a simple book with lots of com-
plex thoughts, and not as a Daoist text or even a philosophical work. Com-
mentary in this edition will be limited to a few footnotes on some of the more
obscure cultural references and passages where misinterpretation has been the
most common. Restraint has been the most difficult where refraining from
explaining such key Chinese terms as Dao (way, path, truth), De (character,
merit, virtue), Po (unworked wood, original nature, simplicity) and Wei (to
do, perform, make, become, regard as). For these the reader is referred to the
Glossary at the back of the book.

         Two different kinds of translations are given here. The first is familiar- a
linear representation of thoughts in one language given in another. Particu-
larly between these two languages, much is lost in translation. The original is
far too broad in implication to be fully captured by so narrow and specific
language as English. English words cannot be made as fat with meaning as
Chinese, unless they spread out in another direction or dimension. The second
translation addresses this problem by offering a multi-dimensional matrix
from which a practically infinite number of linear translations can be derived.
This offers an average of perhaps four to five different English options for
each Chinese word, and often demonstrates choices between different gram-
matical constructions. This may be so unfamiliar and so confusing to most
readers that it is best thought of as an intricate set of footnotes, or a demon-
stration of the thought processes by which the linear translation of each line
was derived. It can still be used to answer specific questions about the turning
of certain phrases and the (often deliberate) polysemy, ambiguities and double
entendres in the original.

         The combined speculation on Lao Zi’s history and the origin of this
book would fill hundreds of volumes in Chinese and dozens in English. If we
set aside all the speculation, this is what we have left: The Dao De Jing (Tao
Te Ching
) was written in China during either the late Spring and Autumn
Period or the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty, at some time be-
tween 550 and 350 bce, by one or more persons either named, writing un-
der the pen name of, or who came to be named Lao Zi (Lao Tzu). Two
things often said of Shakespeare apply also to Lao Zi: if the Dao De Jing was
not written by Lao Zi, it was by someone else of the same name; and if Lao
Zi did not write the Dao De Jing he most certainly missed the opportunity of
a lifetime. The name “Lao Zi,” which also stood for a few centuries as the
book’s title, could be a real name, meaning Elder Sir, or a pen name meaning
the Old Youngster. Sima Qian (Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, 145-86 bce), the Han Dy-
nasty historian, offered the most widely accepted - but still speculative - his-


Sima Qian shi ji, Lao Zi chuan

Sima Qian’s historical record, Lao Zi’s story


Si-ma Qian yue

Sima Qian writes:

Lao Zi zhe

Lao Zi was

Chu, Ku xian, Li xiang, Qu-ren li ren ye.

(A) Chu (Province), Ku district, Li county Quren hamlet resident.

Xing Li shi

Surnamed of the Li gentry

Ming Er

Proper name Er

Zi Dan

Styled Dan

Zhou shou cang shi zhi shi ye.

A Zhou official in charge of historical archives.

Kong Zi shi Zhou

Kong Zi [Confucius] went to Zhou

Jiang wen li yu Lao-zi

In order to confer with Lao Zi about ceremony

Lao Zi yue, zi, suo yan zhe

Lao Zi said, Sir, that of which (you) speak,

Qi ren yu gu jie yi xiu yi!

These men, along with their bones, are all done with and decayed!

Du qi yan zai er

Only their words remain to be heard

Qie jun zi de qi shi ze jia

Now a nobleman who has his timing then rises

Bu de qi shi ze feng lei er xing

Failing to find his timing then drifts among involvements and

wanders about

Wu wen zhi:

This I hear:

Liang gu shen cang ruo xu

The good merchant is well guarded, (and) seems to be poor

Jun zi sheng de rong mao ruo yu

A nobleman full of character assumes a posture perhaps of


Qu, zi, zhi jiao qi, duo yu, tai se, yu yin zhi

Let go, Sir, of these proud airs, many desires, affected looks and

excessive ambitions

Shi jie wu yi yu, zi, zhi shen

This is all of no use, Sir, to life

Wu suo yi gao zi ruo shi er yi

This is what I intend to tell you about, Sir, and it is finished

Kong Zi qu

Kong Zi departed

Wei di zi yue:

(And) addressed the disciples, saying:

Niao wu zhi qi neng fei

(Of) birds, we know they can fly

Yu wu zhi qi neng you

(Of) fish, we know they can swim

Shou wu zhi qi neng zou

(Of) beasts, we know they can run

Zou zhe ke yi wei wang

For what runs, traps may be made

You zhe ke yi wei lun

For what swims, nets may be made

Fei zhe ke yi wei zeng

For what flies, arrows may be made

Zhi yu long

As to dragons

Wu bu neng zhi qi cheng feng yun er shang tian

We do not know how they ride the wind & clouds and ascend

to heaven

Wu jin mu jian Lao Zi

Today my eyes beheld Lao Zi

Qi you long ye?

Is he (not) like the dragon?

Lao Zi xiu dao de

Lao Zi cultivated the path (and) merit

Qi xue yi zi yin, wu ming, wei wu

His teachings concerned self-effacement, namelessness, the business

of doing.

Ju Zhou jiu zhi

Having dwelt long in Zhou

Jian Zhou zhi shuai nai sui qu

(He) foresaw the Zhou’s decline and consequently departed

Zhi guan

Coming to the frontier

Guan ling Yin Xi yue:

The customs house officer, Director Xi, said:

Zi, jiang yin yi

(You) Sir, about to retire,

Qiang wei wo zhu shu

Please, set down a document for my sake

Yu shi Lao Zi nai zhu shu shang xia pian

With this Lao Zi then wrote a book (in) upper and lower sections

Yan dao de zhi yi

Discussing the meaning of Dao and De

Wu qian yu yan er qu

(In) five thousand and more words and then departed

Mo zhi qi suo zhong

Nobody knows where he ended.


Sima Qian continues beyond this with a few more biographical anecdotes, but
these are much prefaced by “some say” and “perhaps,” and these stories
have led to some wild conclusions about Lao Zi’s great longevity. Even the
foregoing account makes the questionable claim that the Lao Zi we have
come to know and love as the Chinese Diogenes was a person who would be
consulted on subjects of ceremony, by the fussy Kong Zi no less. Unfortu-
nately most of recorded Chinese history (together with the earliest versions of
this book) was lost in the Qin dynasty when the tyrant Qin Shihuang burned
most of the books.



Lao Zi zhi Dao De Jing in Simple Translation


         The following is an attempt at a succinct and straightforward literal
translation of a carefully emended Chinese version of the Dao De Jing.

         The division of the work into two parts (Chapters 1-37 & 38-81) is a
convention which dates back to the Zhou Dynasty, but probably not to the
origin of the text. These are sometimes called the Dao Jing and the De Jing
respectively. The word Jing, which simply means classic, was a Han Dynasty
addition to a small number of revered texts and indicated canonization. The
book’s eighty-one chapters are numbered and given in the conventional order
here, even though these divisions came much later. The chapter divisions may
be thought of as little more than reference points. They are not particularly
meaningful in terms of dividing the subject matter into discrete themes. A
given chapter may as likely contain three subjects as half a subject, and in no
logical order either. Chapters are further broken down into itemized lines in-
dicating what is called “parsing,” roughly the division of a text into clauses
and phrases, not necessarily sentences. For the most part this parsing is not a
part of the original text either, but a matter of convenience and convention.
However breaks are sometimes indicated in the original by particles indicative
of the completion of a thought, a question, an exclamation or a pause.

         There were three objectives in this first version:

         1) To represent each Chinese term with an English counterpart (for the
particles, sometimes a punctuation mark) so that no part of the original idea
was left out of the text. In a few cases a single English word carried the
meaning of two or three Chinese words (much more often it would take two
or more English words to render a Chinese one). For example, tian xia, (all)
beneath the sky
, is sometimes rendered as nature or the world. Negatives
such as bu and wu are often translatable as a prefix or suffix such as un- or
–less (but not all words prefixed or suffixed thus in the translation are derived
in this way). Or zhong bu, to the end not, may translate as never. But this
simplification was done sparingly. Double negatives are far too important to
Lao Zi’s thought processes to render as simple positives. For example, Lao
Zi might have described the work to be done by human beings as “to stop
doing what does not work.” This is is entirely different from “doing only
what works.” Reiteratives are usually simplified by translators into single
words when they should instead be explored for the added breadth of mean-
ing they offer. One net result of this word for word discipline was to prevent
me from ignoring the little words and particles when they seemed inconven-
ient, as most translators and scholars have done. The assumption made here
was that, in a book this short and succinct, every stroke had meaning.

         2) To add as few words as possible, with no embellishment. Much of
the meaning of the Chinese text is implied by the position of the words within
a phrase, and often this implication includes the part of speech, as well as
tense, gender, plurality, voice and mood. Possessives and conjunctions are
often merely implied. If, when and where are often assumed, especially where
there is a then or there in the next clause. I often had the need to make these
implications explicit by adding words sparingly, in parentheses. An implied
and is rendered either as (and) or &. Occasionally an English expression was
allowed to stand alone as a sentence fragment. No apology is made for this.

         3) To preserve the original word order, wherever this could be render-
ed in a way which made sense. But this was not always possible or even de-
sirable. Prepositions, possessives and the word zhe (is, means or one who) are
probably the most often out of English sequence. Alterations of word order
are indicated only in the Part Two Matrix, by up and down arrows (^ v).

         The cost of implementing the above three objectives was surprisingly
light - there is the occasional awkwardness of a fragment or an unfamiliarity
in the turn of a phrase. But most of the few idioms used actually translate into
English fairly well. In the end, perhaps dozens of lines which have been poor-
ly understood in both Chinese and English have been cleared up here, not by
clever and intricate analysis but by the enforcement of simplicity and the
reining in of overcomplicated speculation. But it
should still be understood
that there was a cost. There are a lot of places where I could have departed
from my objective just a little bit and made the text sound prettier, or more
floral or lyrical. But I couldn’t sacrifice the meaning for that. That has been
done enough already.

         The choices which have been made here between the various versions
of the text are indicated only in the Part Two Matrix by underlining in the
first two columns. The alternative Chinese words (and in a few cases parsings)
are given at the end of the Matrix. I have generally followed the Wang Bi
version of the text, but there are dozens of cases where a preponderance of
the other versions disagree with Wang Bi while concurring amongst them-
selves. Particularly in cases where one or both of the Mawangdui texts and
the Guodian fragments stand united in agreement with the Heshang Gong or
the Fu Yi versions, I have felt little discomfort about siding with such a strong

         To find a particular chapter quickly, use the chapter number with the
Find command. This also works in the Big5 or Traditional Chinese text.

01      A path fit for travel

b       Is not an unvarying path*                           [See footnotes at the end of this

c        A name fit for calling                         chapter, especially this note]

d       Is not a generic name

e            “Nothing” names the origin of heaven and earth

f             “Being” names the mother of the myriad beings

g       And so, always be dispassionate

h       In order to see the mysteries

i        Always be passionate

j        In order to see the objectives

k            These two mean the same (when) emerging

l             While diverging in significance

m           The sameness tells of their mystery

n       Mystery leading to greater mystery

o       (Is) the gateway to every mystery


02      All under heaven know the beauty of things as beauty

b       So ugliness is already there

c        All know the good of things as the good

d       So the not-good is already there

e            And so being and nothingness beget each other

f             Difficult & easy complete each other

g            Lasting & brief contrast each other

h            High & low rely on each other

i             Tone & voice resonate with each other

j             Before & after follow each other

k       This is how wise ones abide without interfering with the work,

l        Practice without speaking their doctrine

m           A myriad beings emerge here, but without explanation

n            Are produced, but with no claims

o            Are developed, but with no expectations

p            Works are accomplished, but with no dwelling

q       Insofar as there is no dwelling

r        This means there is no departure

03      Not exalting worthies

b       Keeps the people from rivalry

c        Not prizing goods which are hard to obtain

d       Keeps the people from acting like thieves

e        Not displaying the desirable

f        Keeps the people’s hearts from confusion

g            This is how wise ones approach government

h            Emptying the hearts

i             (And) filling the bellies

j             Weakening the ambitions

k            (And) strengthening the bones

l        Always keeping the people free of sophistication, free of desires

m      So that even the clever ones will not presume to meddle at all

n       (Where) action does not take action

o       There nothing is out of order


04      The way (is) an emptiness, and in its use

b       Somehow there is nothing in excess

c        So deep -

d       As if ancestor to the myriad beings

e            Blunt in its sharpness

f             Resolved in its tangles

g            Shaded in its glare

h            One with this world

i        So deep & clear

j        Seeming as though seeming to exist

k       We do not know whose child this is

l        (But) imagine it divinity’s ancestor


05      Heaven & earth are not compassionate

b       Treating the myriad beings as straw dogs

c        Wise ones are not compassionate

d       Regarding the hundred families as straw dogs

e            The space between heaven & earth

f             How this is like bellows & flutes!

g            Empty, yet never exhausted

h            (When) moved then more is produced

i        Lots of words adds up to exhaustion,

j        (This is) never as good as holding the center

06      The spirit of the valley does not die

b       It may be known as the mysterious feminine

c        The gateway of the mysterious feminine

d       May be known as the source of heaven and earth

e            Endless, continuous, seeming to exist

f             To practice this is not effort


07      Heaven is eternal, earth endures

b       The reason why heaven & earth can continue and endure

              is this:

c        That their lives are not their own

d       In this way (they) can go on living

e            This is why wise ones put themselves last

f             And yet (their) being advances

g            Exclude themselves

h            And yet (their) being persists

i        Is it not because they have no self-interest?

j        Thus (they) can fulfill their self-interests


08      The highest good is like water

b       Water’s goodness benefits the myriad beings

c        And yet does not strive

d       Dwells in places which everyone else regards with contempt

e        And in this way is close to the way

f             In dwelling the good is place

g            In mind the good is depth

h            In relations the good is compassion

i             In speech the good is sincerity

j             In government the good is organization

k            In business the good is competence

l             In movement the good is timing

m               It is only when there is no contention

n                That there then is no resentment

09      To maintain but then overdo something

b       Is not as good as one’s showing restraint

c        To rough out but then (over)hone something

d       Does not help hold (the edge) long

e        (When) coins and jade fill the hall

f        Nobody can defend this

g       (Being) wealthy & honored and then being proud

h       The natural consequence is one’s own misfortune

i             (When) the work succeeds a body retires

j             Keeping to heaven’s path


10      (Are) shaping a soul & embracing union

b       Possible without separation?

c        (Are) concentrating the breath & attaining responsiveness

d       Possible (as a) newborn child?

e        (Are) cleansing & clearing the mystery’s vision

f        Possible without a stain?

g       (Are) caring for people & ruling a realm

h       Possible without interfering?

i        (Are) opening & closing the gates of heaven

j        Possible playing the woman?

k       (Are) clarifying & simplifying the four directions

l        Possible without knowledge?

m           Create things & care for them

n            Create but do not possess

o            Act but do not expect

p            Lead but do not rule

q            These may be called “mystical powers*”


11      Thirty spokes converge in one hub

b       Then depending upon what does not exist

                  is the vehicle’s usefulness

c        Mold clay in order to produce a vessel

d       Then depending upon what does not exist

                  is the vessel’s usefulness

e        Cut out doors and windows in order to make a dwelling

f        Then depending upon what does not exist

                  is the dwelling’s usefulness

g       Thus, the existence of something serves to make value

h       The lack of something serves to make utility

12      The five colors will make the human eye blind

b       The five tones will make the human ear deaf

c        The five flavors will make the human palate jaded

d       Racing for speed and hunting for sport

e        Will make the human heart go mad

f        Goods which are hard to obtain

g       Will bring human progress obstruction

h            This is why wise ones

i             Regard the belly instead of regarding the sight

j             And so dismiss That to choose This


13      Favor & disgrace are equally frightening

b       Exaltation and big trouble are the same as oneself

c            Why say that favor & disgrace are equally frightening

d            Favor sets up a downfall

e            To get it is the same as a warning

f             To lose it is the same as a warning

g            Which says that favor & disgrace are equally frightening

h       Why say that exaltation and big trouble

                  are the same as oneself?

i        This is the reason that we have big troubles:

j        Assuming that we are selves

k       As long as we are not selves

l        What troubles do we have?

m           And so, to respect & regard as oneself

                  the workings of the world

n            Is the same as deserving to inhabit the world

o            To love & regard as oneself

                  the workings of the world

p            Is the same as deserving to be steward to the world

14      Looking for things not seen

b       Descriptions will tell of “the invisible”

c        Listening for things not heard

d       Descriptions will tell of “the inaudible”

e        Reaching for things not grasped

f        Descriptions will tell of “the intangible”

g            These three do not allow complete investigation

h            And so are confused and considered as one

i        What height is not bright

j        What depth is not dark

k       An unbroken continuity does not permit description -

l        A return home to non existence

m           And so this is called the form of the formless

n            The image of nothingness

o            It is called obscure  & elusive

p       When it is met its head is not seen

q       When it is followed its end is not seen

r            To grasp the path of the ancients

s            Is the way to master present existence

t             The capacity to comprehend the ancient beginnings

u            May be called the clue* to the way

15      The ancient gentlemen who were skilled at practice

b       Were subtle & mysterious, profound & penetrating

c        A depth not easy to fathom

d       Inasmuch as they were not easy to fathom

e        It is thus an effort to construct their appearance

f             So ready -

g            As if fording a stream in winter

h            So vigilant -

i             As if wary of (all) four neighbors

j             So dignified -

k            As though they were guests

l             So relenting -

m           Like ice which is about to melt

n            So artless -

o            As though they were of unworked wood

p            So expansive -

q            As though they were watersheds

r            So intermingled -

s            As though they were turbid streams

t        Who is able, (as) a turbid stream, to become still

                  and arrive by degrees at clarity?

u       Who is able, at peace, to become energetic

                  and arrive by degrees at lasting vitality?

v       Whoever preserves this path

w       Not longing for more than fullness

x       Only those not overfull

y       Can then stay obscure

                  and not begin to be finished

16      Attaining perfect emptiness

b       Remain patient & sincere

c            The myriad beings arise as one

d            Through this we observe the return

e            Of beings in numberless multitudes

f             Each coming home to its root

g       Return to the root means serenity

h       It may be called a return to a higher order

i        Return to higher order speaks of the enduring

j        To comprehend the enduring speaks of clarity

k       To not comprehend the enduring

l        Is to recklessly create suffering

m      To comprehend the enduring (is) tolerance

n       Tolerance becomes justice

o       Justice becomes sovereignty

p       Sovereignty becomes celestial

q       The celestial becomes the path

r        The path is then continuous

s        The death of self is nothing to fear


17      Great leaders’ subordinates know of their existence

b       Those next in order are loved and praised by them

c        Those next in order are feared by them

d       Those next in order are despised by them

e            If trust lacks basis here

f             There will be no trust here

g       So be careful - these are important words

h       Complete the task, follow through in the work

i        The hundred families all will declare

              “(It was) our natural course!”


18      (Where) the great path is abandoned

b       There appear benevolence & righteousness

c        (When) the learned & clever emerge

d       There appear great hypocrisies

e        (When) the six bonds of kinship are out of balance

f        There appear filial piety and parental affection

g       (When) countries & clans are in darkness & turmoil

h       There appear loyalty & public service

19      Cut out sanctimony, repudiate cleverness

b       The people will profit a hundred times over

c        Cut out benevolence, abandon righteousness

d       The people return to filial piety & parental affection

e        Cut out artfulness, abandon rewards

f        (Then) robbers and thieves have nothing to gain

g            These three may help to improve the culture

                  but (they) are not a foundation

h            So let there be purpose to build on:

i             Look to the ordinary & embrace original nature

j             Diminish self-interest & have fewer desires


20      Cut out the academics & avoid the anxieties

b       The (ready) yes, alongside the (obsequious) yea

c        What is the distance or nearness between them?

d       (Even) the good, next to the bad,

e        What is the difference or likeness between them?

f             (That) that which the others hold in awe

g            Will not permit less than awe -

h            What nonsense! There will never be an end to this, ever!

i        Everyone (else) is resplendent & festive

j        As if feasting on great sacrifices

k       As if in springtime & climbing up towers

l             I alone am unmoved here, one yet to give a sign

m           Like a newborn infant, one yet to smile

n            So worn & weary, as one with no home to come home to

o       Everyone (else) takes more than enough

p       While I alone seem forsaken

q       With only my simpleton’s mind!

r        So muddled & confused

s            The common folk are bright & sunny

t             I alone am in chaos & gloom

u            The common folk are alert & sharp

v            I alone am torpid & blunt

w       So placid - in this like the sea

x       So restless a wind - as if never to stop

y            Everyone else has purpose

z            While I alone am wayward, like a rustic

*       I alone am other than the others

*       Still enjoying mother’s meals

21      The bearing of true character

b       Is simply to follow a true path

c        If the way is regarded as an entity

d       It is only elusive, only vague

e            So vague & so elusive

f             (Yet) at its center there is shape

g            So elusive & so vague

h            (Yet) at its center there are beings

i             So arcane & so shadowy

j             (Yet) at its center there is seed

k       This seed is profoundly real

l        At its center there is truth

m           From the present back into antiquity

n            Its meaning does not fade

o            Through this is seen a common ancestry

p       How do we know that the common ancestry’s shape is thus?

q       By This


22      The yielding becomes whole

b       The bent becomes straight

c        The hollow becomes replenished

d       The worn becomes renewed

e        The diminished becomes endowed

f        The plentiful becomes doubtful

g            This is why wise ones embrace unity

h            Adopting nature as model

i        Without self-display

j        And thus clear

k       Without self-righteousness

l        And thus distinguished

m      Without self-assertion

n       And thus having merit

o       Without self-glorification

p       And thus enduring

q            It is only when there is no contending

r            That none in the world can contend against them

s        The ancient ones had reasons to claim

                  “The accommodating becomes whole”

t        Is this (just) empty talk now?

u       (When) wholeness is real then one has come home

23      Sparing are the speeches from nature

b       So the whirling winds do not last the morning

c        The storming rains do not last all day

d       What is it producing these?

e        Heaven and earth

f             (If) even heaven and earth are unable to persist

g            Then compare this (case) with humanity!

h       And so to attend to affairs of the path:

i        The path means an identity with the path

j        Character means an identity with character

k       Failure means an identity with failure

l             For those who identify with the path

m           The path, in turn, readily* accepts them

n            For those who identify with character

o            Character, in turn, readily accepts them

p            For those who identify with failure

q            Failure, in turn, readily accepts them

r        If truth has no basis here

s        There will be no truth here


24      Those who stand on tiptoe do not stand (firmly)

b       Those who stretch strides do not make progress

c        Those who display themselves are less than clear

d       Those who are self-righteous are less than distinguished

e        Those who assert themselves lack merit

f        Those who glorify themselves do not endure

g            To someone on the path here

h            These suggest excessive indulgence and irrelevant action

i             Things somehow wrong to have

j             So those who have the way do not linger

25      There was something in chaos (yet) complete

b       Before heaven & earth came to be

c        So silent, so remote

d       Standing alone without change

e        Acting everywhere and without limit

f        (It) may be regarded as mother to (all) under heaven

g            We do not know its name

h            A word for it speaks of a path

i             (If) pressed to develop its name speak of greatness

j             Greatness tells of journeying on

k            Journeying on tells of the far beyond

l             The far beyond tells of coming back

m      In this way the way is great

n       Heaven is great, earth is great

o       And sovereignty, too, is great

p       Between the horizons are four (kinds of) greatness

q       And sovereignty has its place as one among these

r            Humanity takes the earth as law

s            The earth takes heaven as law

t             Heaven takes the way as law

u            The way takes its own nature as law


26      The heavy serves as root to the light

b       Stillness serves as master to haste

c        And so it is that a noble one journeys all day

d       Without leaving the heavy supply wagon,

e        Although there are splendid vistas,

f        Calmly staying above it all

g       So how could the lord of a myriad chariots

h       Also conduct a frivolous life under heaven?

i             To be frivolous, would then be to lose the root

j             To be hasty would then be to lose the mastery

27      The able wanderer leaves no trail (or) trace

b       The able speaker is without fallacy (or) error

c        The able reckoner does not use counting devices

d       The best closure uses no barrier (or) bar

e        And yet is not easily opened

f        The best binding uses no cord (or) knot

g       And yet is not easily loosened

h            And so it is that wise ones

i             Are ever so skilled at making the most of others

j             That no person is forsaken

k            Are ever so skilled at making the most of situations

l             That no situation is wasted

m           This may be called “practical wisdom”

n       And so the able one is the less than able one’s teacher

o       The less than able one is the able one’s resource

p       To not value one’s teacher, to not care for one’s resource,

q       However “prudent” is greatly deluded

r        This may be called a “tactical mystery”

28      Know the masculine

b       (But) keep the feminine

c        Serve as a stream to the world

d       Serving as stream to the world

e        Consistent character will not depart

f        (But) return home again as the newborn child

g            Know the bright

h            (But) keep the dark

i             Serve as a model to the world

j             Serving as model to the world

k            Consistent character will not falter

l             (But) return home again as unlimited

m      Know the honored

n       (But) keep the humble

o       Serve as a valley to the world

p       Serving as valley to the world

q       Consistent character will then be enough

r        A return journey home to original nature

s            Original nature, cut up, is then made into artifacts

t             Wise ones, using such things,

u            Are then made into senior officials

v            And so the greatest governing does the least dividing


29      When taken by desire to take hold of nature

                  and reconstruct things

b       We notice that this (will) never reach closure

c        The world is a spirit vessel

d       Not suited to reconstruction at all

e            Those who interfere spoil things

f             Those who grab lose things

g       And so the beings sometimes go ahead, sometimes follow

h       Sometimes snort, sometimes puff

i        Sometimes are fit, sometimes are feeble

j        Sometimes oppress, sometimes are overthrown

k            This is why wise ones avoid the extremes

l             Avoid the superfluous

m           Avoid the extravagant

30      Those who use the way to help with human governance

b       Do not use arms (or) force on the world

c        Such efforts tend to recoil

d            (In) a place where an army has camped

e            Thorns and brambles grow now

f             A great army’s aftermath is sure to bring bad harvests

g       Those who are competent succeed and then stop

h       Not daring (or) thinking to take by force

i        Succeed but do not glorify

j        Succeed but with no aggression

k       Succeed but with no arrogance

l        Succeed even not having gained the end

m      Succeed but do not dominate

n            A being grown mighty will then grow frail

o            This may be called “off the path”

p            Off the path is soon finished

31      Even the finest weapons are tools of ill omen

b       Things somehow wrong to hold

c        So those who have the way do not linger

d            A noble one, when home, honors the left

e            When working with weapons, honors the right

f        Weapons are tools of ill omen

g       They are not a noble one’s tools

h       Failing to gain satisfaction and still using them

i        Calm indifference is best adopted

j             Even in triumph there is no beauty

k            And those who are attracted to this

                  are in fact delighting in the slaughter of others

l        Now those who delight in the slaughter of others

m      Are then ill suited for use

                  in achieving any goal in the world at all

n            Therefore, (in) auspicious affairs the left side is honored

o            (In) adverse affairs the right side is honored

p            An army’s lieutenant commander stays to the left

q            The army’s commander in chief stays to the right

r            A description of the funeral rites held at the end

s        Where the slaughter of others amounts to a multitude

t        Have compassion & lament & weep for them

u       (When) the battle is won

                  consider the funeral rites being held here

32      The way is continuous, without description

b       The original nature may be ordinary

c        But none in the world is able to master it all

d       If leaders & sovereigns were able to grasp this

e        The myriad beings would then submit naturally

f             (As) heaven and earth join together

g            Thus to let fall the sweet dew

h            Nobody has commanded this,

                  yet the harmony is natural

i        Begin with rules & definitions appear

j        And still more definitions are already assumed

k            Now, more than ever, prepare to learn restraint

l             Learning restraint is apt to be useful in avoiding trouble

m      Imagine the place of the path in nature

n       To be like the streams and valleys

                  reaching for rivers and ocean*


33      To know others means intelligence

b       To know oneself means clarity

c        To overcome others is to have strength

d       To overcome oneself is to be powerful

e        To know satisfaction means wealth

f        (To be) energetic in movement means to have purpose

g       To not forget one’s own place means enduring

h       To die and yet not perish means longevity


34      How the great way (is a) flood!

b       It is apt to go (both) left & right

c        The myriad beings trust this for life,

                  yet there are no explanations

d       Work is done (and) followed through without distinctions & claims

e        The myriad beings are clothed & cared for

                  yet there is no assumption of leadership

f        Ever dispassionate, (it) invites a reputation for commonness

g       (But) the myriad beings return here,

                  and still there is no acting as master

h       Inviting a reputation for greatness

i        Because it never regards itself as great

j        So it is able to establish its greatness

35      Grasp the big picture

b       (All) under heaven make progress

c        Make progress while doing no harm

d       Security and peace abound

e            (For) music along with fine food

f             The passing stranger will linger

g       (But) the way, as expressed in words

h       How insipid! It has no flavor

i        Look at it - there is nothing to satisfy the sight

j        Listen for it - there is nothing to satisfy the hearing

k       Use it – it will never be exhausted


36      When wanting to contract a thing

b       First be sure to expand it

c        When wanting to weaken a thing

d       First be sure to empower it

e        When wanting to abolish a thing

f        First be sure to promote it

g       When wanting to despoil a thing

h       First be sure to endow it

i        This may be called “subtle discernment”

j             The adaptable & gentle overcome the firm & strong

k            Fish are not adapted out of the depths

l             The sharp instruments of the state

m           Are not for the purpose of showing to others


37      The way always takes no action

b       Yet nothing remains undone

c        If leaders & sovereigns were able to grasp this

d       The myriad beings would evolve by themselves

e        Evolve and then want to flourish

f        We can then temper this

                  with the original nature of namelessness

g       (With) the original nature of namelessness

h       Then these too would be without ambition

i        Being free of ambition is the way to stillness

j        Nature will then arrange itself

38      The highest virtue is not virtuous

b       This is how to hold virtue

c            The inferior virtue will not let go of virtue

d            This is why virtue is lacking

e        The highest virtue takes no action and has no motive to act

f        The inferior virtue acts on things and then has motives to act

g       The highest benevolence acts on things

                  but has no motive for action

h       The highest righteousness acts on things

                  and also has motives for action

i        The highest propriety acts on things

                  and when nobody responds to it

j             Then rolls up the sleeves and throws things

k       And so, lose the way and then comes virtue

l        Lose virtue and then comes benevolence

m      Lose benevolence and then comes righteousness

n       Lose righteousness and then comes propriety

o            Now propriety is (but) the sham of loyalty & trust

p            And the beginning of confusion

q            Being ahead in knowledge (is but) the flower of the way

r            And the beginning of delusion

s        This is why those who are most mature

t        Keep to the substance

u       (And) do not dwell on the sham

v       Keep to the fruitful

w       (And) do not dwell on the flower

x       And so dismiss That to choose This

39      These things, from the beginning, have grasped wholeness:

b       Heaven attained the whole, becoming resolved

c        Earth attained the whole, becoming steady

d       Spirit attained the whole, becoming subtle

e        The valley attained the whole, becoming replenished

f        The myriad beings attained the whole, coming to life

g       Leaders & sovereigns attained the whole

                  as the way to attend to (all) under heaven

h       These things found it

i             Heaven, with no way to resolution,

                  would threaten to split apart

j             Earth, with no way to steadiness,

                  would threaten to open up

k            Spirit, with no way to subtlety

                  would probably perish

l             The valleys, with no way to replenishment,

                  would likely dry up

m           The myriad beings, with no way to life,

                  would likely be extinguished

n            Leaders and sovereigns,

                  with no way to dignity & prominence

                  would likely be toppled

o       In this way dignity regards the common as root

p       Prominence regards the humble as basis

q       This is why leaders & sovereigns refer to themselves

                  as orphaned & friendless, without worth

r            Does this not regard the common as root?

s            Not so?

t        Just as obtaining tallies of chariots

                  will not be (real) chariots

u       Do not long to dazzle & jingle like jade

v       Clunk & clatter like rocks


40      Reversal is the movement of the way

b       Yielding is the method of the way

c        The myriad beings in nature arose out of being

d       Being arose out of nothing

41      Superior students, hearing of the way,

b       Are diligent and practice it

c        Average students, hearing of the way,

d       Sometimes attend & sometimes forget

e        Inferior students, hearing of the way,

f        Laugh greatly about it

g       Without the laughter there would be no grounds

                  to regard this as the way

h       And so the established proverbs hold that:

i             Brightness, to the way, is as good as darkness

j             Advance, to the way, is as good as retreat

k            Evenness, to the way, is as good as roughness

l        The summit of character is as good as a valley

m      The greatest whiteness is as good as soiled

n            Abundant character seems inadequate

o            Established character seems furtive

p            The evident truth seems spurious

q       The greatest square has no corner

r        The greatest capacity is last to be realized

s            The greatest note is the rarest sound

t             The greatest image has no form

u       The way is hidden & nameless

v       (But) because way is good at acceptance

                  (it is) also fulfilling

42      The way begets the one*

b       The one begets the two

c        The two beget the three

d       The three beget the myriad beings

e            The myriad beings carry the shadow and embrace the light

f             Blending (these) vital breaths to make harmony

g       People have their reasons to truly dislike being

h       “Orphaned & friendless, without worth”

i        Yet sovereign & duke take (these) as titles

j        Since beings may sometimes lose something, and yet benefit

k       May sometimes gain something, and yet be diminished

l             What someone else has taught

m           I too come to teach:

n            Those who are forceful & hostile

                  do not meet their (natural) ends

o            I will regard (this) as a premise of the teaching


43      Nature at its most yielding

b       Quickly overcomes nature at its most firm

c        Non-being enters (where) there is no gap

d            This is how we know (that) inaction

                  comes to have such advantages

e        The doctrine which has no words

f        The benefits of taking no action -

g       Few in the world attain these


44      Reputation compared to life, which is dearer?

b       Life compared to property, which is (worth) more?

c        Gain compared to loss, which is (more) distressing?

d            It is a given that extreme affection

e            Entails great cost

f             Much stored up entails heavy loss

g       To understand sufficiency is no disgrace

h       To understand restraint avoids limits -

i        (This is) the right way to live long

45      A great achievement (may) seem deficient

b       But its function is not impaired

c        A great fulfillment (may) seem empty

d       But its function is never exhausted

e            Great straightforwardness (might) seem compromised

f             Great artfulness (might) seem clumsy

g            Great eloquence (might) seem to stammer

h       Restlessness overcomes cold

i        Stillness overcomes heat

j        Clarity & stillness act as measures to the world


46      When the world holds to the way

b       Retired racehorses are useful for manure

c        When the world loses the way

d       War horses breed throughout the frontier

e            There is no vice greater than submitting to greed

f             No suffering greater than never knowing sufficiency

g            No error greater than the hunger for gain

h       So to know that sufficiency is in itself sufficient

i        Is a truly durable sufficiency


47      Without going out the door

b       Comprehend (all) under heaven

c        Without peering out the window

d       Observe the way of heaven

e            The farther beyond one goes

f             One’s comprehension is by that much diminished

g       This is why wise ones (might) not move about, but still know

h       (Might) not witness, but still describe

i        (Might) not act, but still accomplish


48      The pursuit of learning (means) increasing daily

b       The pursuit of the way (means) decreasing daily

c        Decreasing things and then subtracting

d       In order to arrive at not doing

e        (When) nothing is done, then nothing remains undone

f             To capture the world, always apply the least effort

g            As soon as one has to make effort

h            (One is) no longer adequate to the purpose

                  of capturing the world

49      Wise ones have no set mind

b       Regarding the hundred families’ minds as “mind”

c        To those who are good we have good to extend

d       To those who are less than good we also have good to extend

e        To merit goodness

f        To those who are true we have truth to extend

g       To those who are less than true we also have truth to extend

h       To merit truth

i             Wise ones are in the world

j             Uniting, connecting, adopting the world

k            Merging with their hearts

l        The hundred families, as one, pay heed,

                   with their “hearkening” & “beholding”

m      The wise ones, as one, come to laugh like children*


50      Emerging in life (or) entering death

b       The companions of life will be three (in) ten*

c        The companions of death will be three (in) ten

d       And others whose lives & actions approach the domain of death

e        Will also be three (in) ten

f             Now why is this so?

g            Because these live life for its substance

h       Now hear of the one adept at sustaining life

i        Traveling the countryside, not meeting buffalo or tiger

j        Entering a battle, not carrying armor or weapons -

k       The buffalo finds no place to thrust its horns

l        The tiger finds no place to sink its claws

m      The weapon finds no place to admit its blade

n            Now why is this so?

o            Because in this one there is no place for death

51      The way gives things life

b       Character raises them

c        Existence shapes them

d       Conditions complete them

e            So it is that the myriad beings, without exception,

f             Ennoble the way and honor character

g       The way will be ennobled

h       Character will be honored

i        But nobody has to command this

                  as it always proceeds out of nature

j        In this way the way gives things life

k       Character raises them

l        Sustains them, brings them up

m      Shelters them, heals* them

n       Nurtures them, protects them

o            Creates but does not possess

p            Acts but does not expect

q            Leads but does not rule

r        These may be called “mystic powers”


52      The world had a beginning

b       Regarded as mother to the world

c        Having found this mother

d       Through this comprehend her children

e        Having comprehended her children

f        Return & attend to the mother

g       The death of self is nothing to fear

h            Close the passages

i             Secure the gates

j             (And) the rest of life is no trouble

k            Open the passages

l             Conclude the affairs

m           (And) the rest of life finds no salvation

n       To perceive in detail tells of clarity

o       To maintain flexibility tells of strength

p            Make use of what is illuminated

q            To return home again to the light

r        Do not abandon yourself to misfortune

s        This may be called “sustainable practice”

53      Let our resolve here be this: to be understanding

b       To travel upon the great way

c        (With) only distractions to fear

d            The great way is so very ordinary

e            And the people love the detours

f        The courts are so very well kept

g       The fields, so very weedy

h       The granaries, so very empty

i        The clothes, refined & elaborate

j             Sharp swords worn at the waist

k            A glut of drinking & feasting

l             Wealth & goods kept in heaps

m      This describes robbery & bombast

n       Surely not the way* at all


54      What is well established is not uprooted

b       What is well embraced is not taken away

c            Children & grandchildren, accordingly,

                  make offerings & sacrifice without fail

d       Cultivate this in the person

e        Its character grows true

f        Cultivate this in the family

g       Its character grows ample

h       Cultivate this in the community

i        Its character grows enduring

j        Cultivate this in the country

k       Its character grows bountiful

l        Cultivate this in the world

m      Its character grows universal

n            And so, use person to examine the person

o            With family, examine the family

p            With community, examine the community

q            With country, examine the country

r            With the world, examine the world

s        So how are we to know that the world

                  is really like this?

t        Through This

55      To embody virtue’s substance

b       Compares to the naked infant

c        Wasps & scorpions, vipers & serpents do not bite

d       Wild beasts do not seize

e        Birds of prey do not strike

f        The bones are flexible, the muscles are soft,

                  but the grip is sure

g       Not yet knowing the union of woman & man

h       But the penis is aroused

i        Essence is at its prime here!

j        Howling all day, but not getting hoarse

k       Harmony is at its prime here!

l             To comprehend harmony speaks of the continuous

m           To comprehend the continuous speaks of clarity

n       The enrichment of life may be called a “happy omen*”

o       The mind directing the breath may be called a “power*”

p       (But) beings grown mighty will then grow frail

q       This may be called “off the path”

r        Off the path is soon finished


56      To know does not mean to speak

b       To speak does not mean to know*

c        Close the passages

d       Secure the gates

e        Blunt the sharpness

f        Resolve the tangles

g       Shade the glare

h       Be one with the world

i        This may be called “mystic union*”

j             Such as may not be gained by affection

k                May not be gained by detachment

l                 May not be gained by favor

m               May not be gained by suffering

n                May not be gained by esteem

o                May not be gained by humility

p       And so becomes precious to (all) under heaven

57      Use principle to govern a country

b       Use tricks to wage a war

c        Use the least effort to capture the world

d            By what means do we know that things are really like this?

e            By This*

f        There are more taboos & restrictions in the world

g       But the people grow more impoverished

h       The people have more productive implements

i        (But) countries & clans grow more disturbed

j        (As) others get more clever & artful

k       Bizarre things happen more often

l        The more that matters of law are proclaimed

m      The more robbers & looters there will be

n            And so the wise ones will claim:

o            We do nothing

p            And humanity evolves on its own

q            We favor stillness

r            And humanity governs itself

s            We do not make an effort

t             And humanity enriches itself

u            We have no ambition

v            And humanity simplifies itself


58      (Where) their government is muted & dull

b       Its people are honest & sincere

c        (Where) their government is efficient & exacting

d       Its people are partial & wanting

e            Ah, suffering! That happiness has such things to rely on!

f             Ah, happiness! That suffering has such places to lurk!

g       Who comprehends their outcomes?

h       Are there no rules?

i        The rules go back to behaving strangely

j        The good return to acting ominously

k       Humankind has held its delusions

l        For such an entrenched length of days

m           This is why wise ones

n            Are direct but not divisive

o            Exacting but not hurtful

p            To the point but not tactless

q            Bright but not dazzling

59      (In) governing people (or) serving heaven

b       There is nothing quite like economy

c        Only one who is thrifty

d       May be deemed ahead of the task*

e        To be ahead of the task suggests there is

                  a great reserve of character

f        Given a great reserve of character

                  then nothing is impossible

g       When nothing is impossible

                  then nobody knows things to be limited

h       Nobody knowing things to be limited

                  is fit to claim the realm

i        (Now) claiming the realm’s mother

                  is fitness to endure a long time

j        This describes deep roots & solid foundations

k       The path of long life & enduring vision


60      Ruling a great country is like cooking a little fish

b       This is how the way manages (all) under heaven

c            (Whether) the ghosts lack spirit

d            Or the ghosts do not lack spirit

e            (Whether) the spirits avoid harming people

f             Or the spirits do not avoid harming people*

g            Wise ones still avoid harming people

h       Now as neither of these haunts the other

i        So virtue interacts & comes back home to them

61      The great realm is the one which flows beneath

b       A confluence to (all) under heaven

c        A woman to (all) under heaven

d       The feminine, ever through stillness, overcomes the male

e        Through stillness & playing submissive

f             And so a great realm, by submitting to a small realm,

g            Will then appropriate the small realm

h            A small realm, by submitting to a great realm,

i             Will then appropriate the great realm

j        And so the one submits, intending to appropriate

k       The other submits and gets taken in

l             (Where) the great realm has no greater ambition

                       than uniting & caring for others

m           (And) the small realm has no greater ambition

                       than joining & serving others

n            Then both of these each gets what it wants

o            (And) the great one should act to submit


62      The way is a sanctum to the myriad beings

b       A good person’s treasure

c        A less than good person’s place of refuge

d            Elegant speeches may be useful at market

e            Noble deeds may be useful for promoting someone

f             (But if) another has less ability

g            Why waste what they are?

h       So (when) enthroning the heir to heaven

i        (Or) installing the three high nobles

j        Though there be big jade platters in tribute

k       Drawn by teams of four horses

l        This is not as good as sitting still (and) offering this path

m           What purpose had the ancient ones in honoring this way?

n            Was it not claimed:

o            “To seek is to find

p            To claim error is to be forgiven”?

q            So (this) becomes precious to (all) under heaven

63      Act without acting

b       Work without working

c        Savor without tasting

d            Greatness is ordinary, much is little

e            Repay ill will with virtue

f        Plan for the complicated while it is simple

g       Develop the great while it is small

h       The difficult tasks under heaven

i        Always begin in simplicity

j        The greatest tasks under heaven

k       Always begin as minutiae

l             This is why wise ones never assume greatness

m           And so can achieve such greatness

n       Those who lightly promise will surely be less trusted

o       Much ease is surely much difficulty

p            This is why wise ones look for things to get complicated

q            And so in the end have no complications at all

64      What is secure is easy to hold

b       What has yet to begin is easy to plan for

c        What is thin is easy to break up

d       What is minute is easy to scatter

e            Attend to things before they come to be

f             Arrange things before they entangle

g       A tree which fills the joined embrace

h       Has grown from a slender shoot

i        A tower which reaches nine stories

j        Begins as a basket of earth

k       A journey of a thousand li*

l        Begins from beneath the feet

m           Those who interfere spoil things

n            Those who grab lose things

o       This is why wise ones do not interfere and so do not spoil

p       Do not grab and so do not lose

q            People in their pursuits & affairs

                  (are) ever on the verge of achieving and still ruin things

r            Take care at the end as well as at the beginning

s            And then there will be no ruined affairs

t        This is why wise ones desire to have no desires

u       Do not prize goods which are hard to obtain

v       Learn to unlearn

w       And return to what everyone else has passed by

x            Thus helping the myriad beings to realize themselves

y            While not presuming to interfere

65      Those ancients skilled at practicing the way

b       Did not try to enlighten the people

c        (But) would have tried to simplify them

d            The difficulties of governing the people

e            Are due to their great cleverness

f             And so to use cleverness in governing a realm

g            Is an injury to the realm

h            To avoid using cleverness in governing a realm

i             Is a favor to the realm

j        Those who comprehend both of these

k       Also examine for patterns

l        Always to know to look for patterns

m      May be called a mystic power

n       A mystic power so deep & so far reaching

o       (As) to help creation to turn itself around

p       Natural succession then reaches perfect harmony


66      What is the reason why the rivers and ocean

                  can serve as sovereign to the hundred valleys?

b            Because they are so well below them

c            In this way (they) can act as sovereign

                  to the hundred valleys

d       Applying this, in desiring to rise above the people,

e        Always in expression be subordinate to them

f        In desiring to go ahead of the people

g       Always regard yourself as behind them

h       This is how wise ones remain above

i        And yet the people are not burdened

j        Remain ahead

k       And yet the people are not obstructed

l             So it is that (all) under heaven readily come forward

                  and never weary

m           Because such as these will never contend

n            So none under heaven can contend against them

67      Everyone in the world admits our way is great

b       (And) resembles no likeness

c        It is insofar as it is great

d       That it resembles no likeness

e            Had it a likeness

f             Surely after so long

g            It might have diminished a little*

h       Here I have three treasures

i        Take and keep them safe:

j        The first, call compassion

k       The second, call economy

l        The third, call never presuming to act as the world’s leader

m           Compassion confers a capacity for courage

n            Economy confers a capacity for breadth

o            Never presuming to act as the world’s leader

                  confers a capacity to develop enduring talents

p       To right away set aside compassion

                  in order to be more courageous

q       To set aside economy in order to be more expansive

r        To set aside following in order to be more advanced

s        Is truly deadly

t             Now compassion used in combat means triumph

u            Used in defense means security

v       Those whom heaven would redeem

w       With compassion it protects them


68      The student skilled at action is not aggressive

b       The one skilled at combat is not angry

c        The one at besting opponents does not participate

d       The one skilled at employing others behaves as their subordinate

e        This may be styled the “virtue of not contending”

f        It may be styled “applying another’s power”

g       It may be styled “siding with heaven,”

h       The consummation of antiquity

69      Military strategists have a saying:

b       “I will not dare to act as host,

c        But rather, act as guest,

d       Will not presume to advance an inch,*

e        But rather, retreat a foot*”

f             This may be called “to move without movement,

g            To roll up sleeves without baring arms,

h            To depose without a fight

i             To capture without force”

j        There is no danger greater than underestimating a foe

k       Underestimate a foe will risk losing what we value*

l        And so when opposing forces equal each other

m      The one sympathetic will truly succeed


70      My words are very easy to understand

b       Very easy to practice

c        (But) nobody in the world can understand

d       Nobody can practice

e            Expressions presume a lineage

f             Endeavors presume a master

g       Insofar as these are unknown

h       So it is that we are not known

i        Those who know me are few

j        Accordingly I am valued

k            This is why wise ones wear common cloth

l             Concealing jade in the heart


71      To know without knowledge is best

b       To not understand knowledge is affliction*

c        Now (it is) because afflictions afflict

d       That there is a way to avoid affliction

e            Wise ones avoid disease

f             Because they are made ill by illness

g            This is the way to avoid the disease

72      (When) the people do not heed the imposing

b       Then great impositions come to pass

c        Do not crowd their dwelling places

d       Do not overtax their means of living

e        Only when there is no oppressing

f        Will there then be no oppression

g            This is how wise ones know themselves

h            Without displaying themselves

i             Love themselves

j             Without venerating themselves

k       And so dismiss That to choose This


73      Courage atop presumption suggests dying

b       Courage in avoiding presumption suggests survival

c        (Yet) either of these may be sometimes beneficial,

                  other times harmful

d       That which heaven holds in contempt -

e        Who knows as to the reasons?

f             This is why wise ones watch for things to get complicated

g       Heaven’s way does not compete, yet skillfully overcomes

h       Does not speak, yet skillfully replies

i        Does not summon, yet naturally attracts

j        Is above all of this, yet skillfully arranges*

k       Heaven’s net is vast & encompassing

l        Loosely meshed, and yet nothing escapes


74      (If) the people never fear death

b       Then why use death to intimidate them?

c        Suppose it were so that the people always feared death

d       And still they behaved perversely

e        (When) we seized, detained and executed them

f        Who would be bold?

g            There will always be a master executioner to do the killing

h            Now to take the place of the master executioner

                  & do the killing

i             May be likened to taking the place of the master carpenter

                  in hewing

j        Now (of) those who take the place of the master carpenter

                  in hewing

k       Few indeed will not harm their own hands!

75      The hunger of the people

b       Is from their superiors eating up so much of their tax grain

c        This is behind the hunger

d       The difficulties in governing the people

e        Are due to their superiors having to take action

f        This is behind the difficulties in government

g       The people come to take death lightly

h       Because they pursue life’s riches

i        This is behind their taking death lightly

j        Only when one does not think life a performance

k       Will there be skill in valuing life


76      People, while they live, are adaptable & soft

b       When they are dead, are hard & stiff

c        The myriad beings, the plants and the trees,

                  while they live, are supple & delicate

d       When they are dead, are weathered & tough

e            And so the hard & inflexible are companions to death

f             The adaptable & soft are companions to life

g       This is why the unbending military will not,

                  in due course, be triumphant

h       The rigid tree is then struck down

i             The strong & great belong underneath

j             The adaptable & soft belong above

77      Heaven has its path

b       Compare it to the drawing of a bow

c        What is high comes to be lowered

d       What is lowly comes to be raised

e        What has abundance will be diminished

f        What is incomplete will be added to

g            Heaven’s way decreases where there is surplus

h            And adds to what is insufficient

i        Humanity’s path is normally not like this,

j        Decreasing what is not enough

                  in order to give to what is excessive

k       Who can claim an abundance

                  in order to offer to nature?

l        Only those who keep the way

m           This is why wise ones develop but do not expect

n            Accomplish works but do not linger

o            They have no ambition to show merit


78      (In all) the world there is nothing

                  as adaptable & soft as water

b       Yet of that which attacks the hard & inflexible

c        Nothing can surpass it

d       Because there is no way easier than this

e            The gentle finally overcomes the firm

f             The adaptable finally overcomes the persistent

g            There is no one under heaven

                  who cannot comprehend (this)

h            (But) no one can practice (it)

i        So it is that wise ones maintain:

j        To accept the country’s soil*

k       May in truth be called mastering the altars of place & grain

l        To accept the realm’s misfortunes

m      Is in truth to be deemed sovereign to the world

n       Straightforward words may seem turned around

79      (When) reconciling a great grievance

b       There will surely be lingering resentments

c        (And) how can this be regarded as good?

d            This is why wise ones will post the greater* bond

e            And will not press upon others

f        To have character is to look after obligations

g       To lack character is to look for entitlements

h       Heaven’s way has no favorites

i        But usually* sides with the right person


80      Shrink the domain, spread out the people

b       Let there be tens & hundreds of people with specialties

c        But unemployed

d       Let the people feel the weight of death

e        And not wander far

f             Though there be boats & wagons

g            No place to ride them

h            Though there be armor & weapons

i             No reason to show them

j        Let the people return to knotting cords

k       And counting on these

l        (To) sweetening their own food

m      Embroidering their own clothing

n       Secure in their own homes

o       Rejoicing in their own customs

p            Neighboring realms overlook one another

q            The sounds of each other’s roosters and dogs are heard

r        (Yet) the people grow old & die

s        Without goings & comings between them

81      True words are not embellished

b       Embellished words are not truthful

c            To be right is not to be argumentative

d            To be argumentative is not to be right

e        To be knowing is not to be sophisticated

f        To be sophisticated is not to be knowing

g            Wise ones do not accumulate

h       Though intending to act on behalf of another

              The more they themselves have gained

i        Though intending to give to another

              The more they themselves are increased

j        Heaven’s way is to benefit, but without doing harm

k       The wise ones’ way is to work, but without competition




01b    I hate to begin the translation with this controversial a rendering but I
have three problems with most traditional versions: First, I do not believe that
ke3 (3381) should be translated as “can” or glossed as ke4 (3320) or neng2
(4648). These words have different meanings, very similar to the difference
between may and can. Second, most translators seem to treat chang2 (0221),
often translated as eternal, unchanging and ideal, as some sort of transcendent
Platonic ultimate, and anything dealing with reality, change and specific exis-
tence as inferior to this. I do not think Laozi was this sort of Platonist. Third,
the Dao, before it was anything else, was the metaphor of a path, and not of a
field. Now, it may be the path that the field travels through time, the weaving
and unweaving of its biodiversity, its seral [sic] succession and so forth, but
this does not include all of the things that the field never was or became, any
more than the path includes everything that is off of the path. The widest the
path gets, then, is at that part along which the universe comes into being. The
Dao may also be considered as “natural law,” at least prior to its formulation.
While it should not be regarded as a creator or first cause, it might be consid-
ered to be a vast “enabling.”

10q    It is likely there was much speculation about mystical powers when the
Dao De Jing was written, just as there is today. Here Lao Zi seems to be
saying that the ordinary behavior of everyday reality is a good example of
mystical power.

14u    This is the same in Chinese and English - clue or clew, a key thread of
a story, a line (continuity) of inquiry, or a fabric, with the original meaning of
line or thread.

15y    This could also be translated “and avoid the latest accomplishments.”
As distractions. If so, would this be the first postmodernist statement?

23m   A large number of translators err in translating this word (in this con-
text) as “gladly” or “happily,” anthropomorphizing the Dao and forgetting
Chapter Five already.

32n    The tendency for a mystic would be to identify the Dao with the
Ocean, and not with the sum or weave of the limited paths leading there. But,
as ambiguous as Old Chinese grammar may be, it does not permit Lao Zi’s
analogy to be construed thus.

42a    Once again the mystic will want to identify the Dao with the One,
which Lao Zi identifies here as only a product of the process that is Dao.

49m   Many interpreters and translators have “the wise ones” here “treat-
ing” or “regarding the others as children.” This may be a valid translation
but it sounds more than a little Confucian and condescending.

50b    The phrase shi you san, here rendered “will be three (in) ten,” is often
interpreted and translated thirteen (shi san), opening a Pandora’s box of
metaphysical speculation which is more in sympathy with the Yin Yang
School than Lao Zi’s thought.

51m   As in the Yijing (Ch. 18), Chinese uses the same word for “poison”
and “detoxify” or “recover from poison.”

53n    A play on the word dao, also a word for robber.

55n    Both scholars and translators differ on how to spin this, to “happy
omen” or to “ominous.” But in the three other occurrences of this word in
Lao Zi it carries the first meaning.

55o    This is again spun towards a positive meaning where either is possible.
But the use of yue (called) adds the element of doubt.

56b    This is often translated “Those who know do not speak, those who
speak do not know.” This is a valid translation, and “those who” is often the
best way to render zhe3 (but not always, eg 40a). But this is not a true propo-
sition. Silence is not required of wisdom.

56i     As at 10q, this may have been intended to address hyperbolic claims
and glamorous descriptions of mystical union, as though such union were not
already staring one in the face.

57e    Used three times (21q, 54t, 57e) “by This” should not be followed by
a hyphen or colon. “This” refers to “this,” not to “that” or “the following”
and this is the point being made: look no farther than what is right here.

59d    That is: ahead of the game, not ahead of oneself.

60f     Perhaps this is a comment on a popular sophists’ argument.

64k    A unit of distance: 1000 li = 580 km = 360 mi = a month’s journey.

67g    This is a complex pun that doesn’t translate well into English, relating
likeness to smallness through the word xiao.

69d    The Chinese equivalents of inch & foot are close enough to let these
words stand in. See the Matrix.

69k    This is often said to refer to the three treasures from Ch. 67, but this is
not a necessary inference.

71b    Knowing, as distinct from clever fussing with knowledge, is seen as a
kind of prerequisite to mental health. To turn one’s back on this is to incur
the suffering of ignorance. While wisdom might leave knowing behind it, the
way out is through.

73j     While “plans” is a valid translation of this word, it would not be a true
proposition in a Daoist context. As would be written later, “the wild swans do
not intend to cast their reflection, the water does not intend to receive their

78j     This is roughly the same word play in both languages, soil as filth and
as substratum of life, dirt as beneath contempt and as earth or the ground of

79d    Literally, the left hand or debtor’s side of a contract.

79i     An important paradox that really isn’t so difficult. The person who is
right has sided with heaven’s way, and the measure of one’s rightness is
one’s survival.