Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu by Heather Kreiter - art in office

Tao Te Ching


Perhaps a myth, perhaps an synthesis of several Taoist Sages, or perhaps simply one old, wise man, Lao Tzu is the author of the Tao Te Ching.  Legend suggests that Lao Tzu (at age 160), because of his malaise over the moral decay of the city, was attempting to leave with his water buffalo to live as a hermit. The sentry would only allow him exit if the "Venerable Master" would convey his wisdom and knowledge. Lao Tzu (which actually means, 'Venerable Master') climbed down from his water buffalo and contemplatively penned the 81 verses that are now considered the Tao Te Ching. The master was allowed to pass, and in some traditions it is believed that he eventually tutored a great student, Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha.


A way that can be walked is not The Way
A name that can be named is not The Name
Words and names may be used to speak of it
but they cannot describe it

Tao is both Named and Nameless
As Nameless, it was the origin of Heaven and Earth
As Named, it was the mother of all things
for the act of naming
fragmented the Great Mystery
into ten thousand things

A mind free of thought and desire
merged within itself
beholds the essence of Tao
A mind filled with thought and desire
identified with its own perceptions
beholds the fragmented forms of this world

Therefore, to see beyond boundaries
to the subtle heart of things
dispense with names and concepts
dispense with expectations and ambitions
dispense with opposites and comparisons

Tao and this world seem different
but in truth they arise from the same source
the difference is in what we name them

How deep and mysterious this unity is,
how profound, how great!
It is the truth beyond the truth
the hidden within the hidden
It is the path to all wonder
the essence of everything!

When one thing is pronounced beautiful
another consequently becomes ugly
When one person is pronounced virtuous
another consequently becomes evil

Life and death create each other
Difficult and easy
Long and short
High and low -
all these exist together
arrive together
define each other

Sound and silence are the same
And so is before and after

The Sage acts without action
and teaches without telling
All things flourish around her
and she accepts them without possessing them
She gives not to receive
and nourishes without demand

She works but not for reward
and accomplishes without taking credit
She completes, but not for results
and creates, but not for approval

Because she constantly forgets herself
she is never forgotten

Because she does not announce them,
her accomplishments live on

Putting a value on personal status
will create contention and competition
Hoarding treasure
will create envy and the compulsion to steal
Stimulating desire
will create craving and confusion

The Sage lives by
emptying her mind
opening her heart
relaxing her ambitions
relinquishing her desires
cultivating her character

The Sage rules by
stilling minds
opening hearts
filling bellies
strengthening bones

She shows people how to simplify
and live without desires
She shows people how to be content
and not look for other ways

The conqueror of her own cunning and craving
cannot be manipulated
What clever ideas could lead her astray?

When action is pure and selfless
everything settles into its own perfect place 

Tao is empty
yet it fills every vessel with endless supply
Tao is hidden
yet it shines in every corner of the universe 

With it
the sharp edges become smooth
the entangled knots loosen
the glaring sun is softened by clouds
the dust settles into place 

So deep, so pure, so still,
it has been this way forever
It is unknowable whose child this is
This child was here before
the great ancestor of every-thing 

Heaven and Earth have no preference 

A person may choose one over another
but to Heaven and Earth all are the same
The high, the low, the great, the small ~
all are given light
all are given a place to rest 

The Sage is like Heaven and Earth
To her none are especially dear
nor is there anyone she disfavors
She gives and gives without condition
offering her treasure to everyone 

The Universe is like a bellows
it stays empty yet is never exhausted
it gives out yet always brings forth more 

A person is not like this
When she blows out air like a bellows
she becomes exhausted
A person was not made to be a bellows
Instead, she was made to sit quietly
and find the truth within 

The Spirit of the Valley never dies
She is called the Mysterious Creator
Mother of us all
mother of The Universe
She brings us to our own perfection 

The gate to the source of all things eternal,
she is elusive yet ever-present,
invisible yet endlessly available 

Heaven is ancient
Earth is long-lasting
Why is this so? ~

Because they have no claims to life
because they do not live for themselves
In this way
they cannot be claimed by death

The Sage puts her own views behind
so ends up ahead
She stays a witness to life
so she endures
What could she grasp for
that she does not already have?
What could she do for herself
that the universe has not already done?

The best way to live
is to be like water
For water benefits all things
and goes against none
It provides for all people
and even cleanses those places
a person is loath to go
In this way it is just like Tao

Live in accordance with the nature of things:
Build your home on solid ground
Keep your mind still
When giving, be kind
When speaking, be truthful
When ruling, be just
When working, be focused
When acting, remember ~ timing is everything

One who lives in accordance with Nature
does not go against the way of things
She moves in harmony with the present moment
always knowing the truth of exactly what to do

Compulsively fill in order to be full
and there is no end to it;
you will never be filled
Sharpen your blade obsessively
and its edge will soon be lost
Fill your house with gold and jade
and no one can protect it
Desire honor, pride, and approval
and you will forever be chained to misfortune

Complete the task at hand
Be selfless in your actions
Then quietly step back

This is the way of Heaven

This is the way of Heaven

Hold fast to the Power of Tao in order to:

Marry your spirit and body to the Oneness
and never depart from it
Become your breath until your entire being
is as supple as the body of an infant
Cleanse your inner vision until you
see Heaven in every direction
Love people and govern them without
conniving and manipulating for self-interest
Bear Heaven’s children in all that
you do and are
Give the wisdom of your heart precedence
over the learning of your head
Reach out in every direction as you
keep the innocence of a beginner

Giving birth
nourishing life
shaping things without possessing them
serving without expectation of reward
leading without dominating
These are the profound virtues of Nature
and of Nature’s best things

Wu is nothingness, emptiness, non-existence

All the spokes of a wheel join at a common hub
yet only the hole at the center
allows the wheel to spin
Clay is molded to form a cup
yet only the space within
allows the cup to hold water
Walls are joined to make a room
yet only by cutting a door out of the wall
can one enter the room and live there

Thus, when a thing has only existence
it is mere dead-weight
Only when it has wu does it have life

Extreme colors blind the eye
Extreme tones deafen the ear
Extreme flavors dull the palate

Wasting energy to obtain rare objects
only impedes one’s growth
Racing here and there,
hunting for this and that
only disturbs the mind
So the Sage is led by her inner truth
and not her outer eye
She holds to what is deep
and not what floats only on the surface

Honor and disgrace, hope and fear
these are all afflictions
And these endless afflictions
are bound to the body

What does this mean?

Honor is founded on disgrace
and disgrace is rooted in honor
One lifts you up and one throws you down, but
both bind a person to the world
both are filtered through the self as ego
both depend on the opinions of others and
both cause you to depart from your center

When you regard your body as your self
hope and fear have great power over you
By abandoning the notion of the body as self
hope and fear cannot touch you

See yourself as everything,
love yourself as if you are the world,
and you are fit to lose every-thing to the world
See the world as your self,
love the world as your self,
and you are fit to teach every-thing to the world 

Looked for but not seen
Listened for but not heard
Grasped for but not held
Beyond the senses lies the great Unity ~
invisible, inaudible, intangible

The rising in the morning appears bright
The setting in the evening appears dark
Its rising it not about light
Its setting is not about darkness
Unnamable, unending,
emerging continually to fullness
continually pouring back into nothingness
This formless form
This imageless image
elusive, evasive, unimaginable mystery

Confront it and you won’t see its face
Follow it and you can’t find its place

Perceive its ancient subtle heart
and you become master of the moment
Know what came before time
and the beginning of wisdom is yours

A Sage is subtle, intuitive,
penetrating, profound
Her depths are mysterious and unfathomable
The best one can do is describe her outer appearance:

Deliberate and alert as if
treading over the stones of a winter brook
Watchful and circumspect as if
meeting danger on all sides
Reverent and respectful as if
receiving an honored guest

Selfless and yielding like a melting block of ice
Pure and simple like an uncarved block of wood
Accepting and open like a broad valley
Chaotic and turbulent like a muddy torrent

But how is she chaotic and turbulent like a muddy torrent?
Through the course of Nature
muddy water becomes clear and pure
Through the changing and unfolding of life
a person reaches perfection
Through sustained activity
supreme rest is naturally found

Those who have Tao want nothing else...
Though seemingly empty
they are ever full
Though seemingly old
they are beyond the reach of birth and death

They selflessly allow the Tao to
use and deplete them
They calmly allow the Tao to
renew and complete them
Become totally empty
Quiet the restlessness of the mind
Only then will you witness everything
unfolding from emptiness
See all things flourish and dance
in endless variation and then
merge back into perfect emptiness ~
their true repose and nature
Emerging, flourishing, dissolving back again
this is the eternal process of peaceful return

To know this process brings enlightenment

Breathe harmony
Become tranquility
Cultivate stillness

Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity
Eternity embraces the all-possible
The all-possible leads to a vision of oneness
A vision of oneness brings about universal love
Universal love supports the great truth of Nature
The great truth of Nature is the Tao

Whoever knows this truth lives forever
The body may perish, deeds may be forgotten,
but she who has Tao has all eternity

To know Tao alone
without trace of your own existence
is the highest
Next comes loving and praising it
Then fearing it
Then despising it

If one doesn’t trust herself
how can she trust anyone else?

The great ruler speaks little
and her words are priceless
She works without self-interest
and leaves no trace
When all is finished, the people say,
“It happened all by itself!”

17 ~ 2
The best leader is one
whose existence is barely known
Second is one who is loved and praised
Next is one who is feared and
Worst of all is a ruler who is despised

If you fail to trust people,
they will not be trustworthy

Therefore, guide others by quietly relying on Tao
Then, when the work is done, the people can say,
“We did this all by ourselves!”

When the greatness of Tao is present
action arises from one’s own heart
When the greatness of Tao is absent
action comes from the rules of
“kindness” and “justice”
If you need rules to be kind and just,
if you act virtuous,
this is a sure sign that virtue is absent
Thus we see the great hypocrisy

Only when the family loses its harmony
do we hear of “dutiful sons”
Only when the state is in chaos
do we hear of “loyal, patriotic ministers”

Abandon holiness
Discard cleverness
and all will benefit a hundredfold
Abandon “morality” and “kindness”
Discard “righteous” actions
and all will return to natural affections
Abandon book learning
Discard the rules of behavior
and all will have no worries
Abandon plots and schemes
Discard profit-seeking
and all will avoid thievery

These lessons are mere elaborations
The essence of the Teachings is this:
See with original purity
Embrace with original simplicity
Reduce what you have
Let go of self-interest
Temper your desires

Be done with knowing and your worries will disappear

The difference between “yes” and “yeah” is slight
Yet the difference between “yes” to Tao
and “yeah” to Tao is great

There is no need to fear what others fear
or admire what others admire
This is nonsense

While others rush to achieve,
she accepts what is offered

While others are rooted in this world,
she drifts like an ocean and floats like high winds

Conventional people are jolly and reckless,
feasting on worldly things as though every day were
the beginning of spring

The Sage remains uncommitted
like an infant who hasn’t yet laughed:
lost, quietly drifting,
unattached to ideas and places and things

The true virtue
The perfect action
The supreme power
is to follow Tao

The Tao is evasive, elusive, mysterious, and dark
but is revealed to those who follow it

Though formless and intangible
it gives rise to form
Though vague and elusive
it gives rise to shape
Though dark and obscure
it is the spirit, the essence,
the life-breath of all things

Its essence is real and evident
in the origins of all things
Through this, it has survived
since the beginning of time
Through this, it is the witness
by which the universe sees
Through this, it can become known
to those who seek

“Surrender brings perfection”

Those who yield stay centered
Those who bend stay straight
Those who allow emptiness will be filled
Those who allow exhaustion will be renewed

Having much, they become confused
Having little, they receive all

Therefore, the Sage embraces the oneness
and becomes a pattern for the world

Without putting herself on display, she shines forth
Without justifying herself, she becomes distinguished
Without boasting, she becomes recognized
Without claiming reward, she gains endless merit
Without contention, no one can contend with her
Without seeking glory, her glory endures

The Sage knows how to follow
so she comes to command
She does not compete
so no one under Heaven can compete with her

The ancient saying,
“Surrender brings perfection,”
is not just empty words
Truly, surrender brings perfection
and perfection brings the whole universe

Speak little
Hold to your own nature, for
A strong wind does not blow all morning
A cloudburst does not last all day

The wind and rain are from Heaven and Earth
and even these do not last long
How much less so the efforts of people?

Focus on the Tao and you will experience the Tao
Focus on integrity and you will experience integrity
Focus on loss and you will experience loss
Be unable to trust and you will not be trusted

One who lives in accordance with the Truth
becomes the embodiment of Tao
Her actions become those of Nature
her ways those of Heaven
It is through such a one
that Heaven rejoices
that Earth rejoices
that all of life rejoices

By walking on tiptoes, she cannot stand
By over-striding, she cannot walk
By shining the light on herself, she cannot shine

By justifying her actions, she isn’t respected
By boasting of her achievements, she has no merit
By promoting herself, she is not distinguished
By bragging about herself, she will not endure

To a person of Tao, this self-indulgence is like
rotting food and painful growths on the body
Because nothing good can come of them
a person of Tao does not indulge in them

Something formless, complete in itself,
existed before Heaven and Earth
Tranquil, vast, standing alone, unchanging
It provides for all things yet cannot be exhausted
It is the mother of the universe
I do not know its name
so I call it “Tao”
Forced to describe it further I call it
“The greatness of all things”
“The end of all things”
I call it
“That which is beyond the beyond”
“That to which all things return”

From Tao comes all greatness ~
It makes Heaven great
It makes Earth great
It makes all persons great

All life depends on the laws of Earth
Earth depends on the laws of Heaven
Heaven depends on the laws of Tao
But Tao depends on itself alone
supremely free,
it rests in its own nature

Inner strength is the master of outer frivolities
Tranquility is the master of the agitated and restless

The Sage travels all day
yet never leaves her inner treasure
Though the views are captivating and beg attention
she remains calm and uninvolved
Tell me, does the lord of a great empire
go out begging for rice?

One who seeks her treasure in the outer world
is cut off from her own roots
Without roots, she becomes restless
Being restless, her mind is weak
And with a mind such as this
she loses all command below Heaven

A follower of the Way
travels and leaves no trace
speaks and causes no harm
gives and keeps no account
She closes a door so that it cannot be opened
yet uses no lock
She ties a knot that cannot be undone
yet uses no cord

The Sage is always on the side of virtue
so all things around her prosper
She is always on the side of truth
so everything around her is fulfilled
This is known as “The Illuminated Way”

Thus an open-minded student becomes wise
only if her teacher is wise
only if her teacher is on The Illuminated Way
If you think otherwise
despite all your knowledge
you are mistaken

Honor your teacher
Cherish your responsibilities
This is called “The essence of all that is Tao”

Be true to both the masculine and feminine
and you will become the womb for all the world
Be true to the Tao and, as a womb for the world,
you will be able to hold the whole world
and be as an infant once more ~ immortal

Be true to your shining along with your dullness
and you will become an example for the world
Be true to the Tao and, as an example for the world,
you will be without limits once more ~ infinite

Be true to your honor yet keep your humility
and you will become a valley for the world
Be true to the Tao and, as a valley for the world,
you will embrace everything and return to simplicity
like the Uncarved Block

When the Uncarved Block is cut and hewn
it becomes something useful and
the leaders rule with small pieces of it
But the Sage holds the Uncarved Block complete

Holding all things within herself
she preserves the Great Unity
which cannot be ruled or divided

Some grasp to control the world and
to change and possess all under Heaven
But this way will always fail
The world is a sacred vessel for Tao
and nothing can improve it
Try to tamper with it
and it will be ruined
Try to grasp it
and it will be destroyed

Follow the Tao and
at times you will inhale
and at other times exhale
at times you will lead
and at other times follow
at times you will be strong
and at other times weak
at times you will move forward
and at other times step back

The Sage knows that all of life is a
movement toward perfection
And therefore has no need for
excess, extravagance, excellence, or extremes

Those on the path of the Tao
do not use force against the world
Aggression begets aggression
Weapons turn against their masters
Battlegrounds bear briars and thorns
Where there is forcefulness there is famine

Those on the path of the Tao
complete the necessary and then stop
are resolute without arrogance
are successful without expecting reward
accomplish without violence or violation

Those who are off path of the Tao
will gain things with force
will flourish quickly but then
will also fade quickly

That which is not on the path of the Tao
will find that the path is short indeed

Even the greatest warrior can know defeat
for weapons held without the Tao
are evil things employed against nature

The follower of Tao goes with nature
When at leisure, she values rest
When at war, she values action but
She values peace and serenity above all

She wisely avoids possessing weapons
but if their use is unavoidable
she wields them with fortitude and restraint

She does not delight in victory
She does not rejoice in murder

One who delights in victory and murder
will never gain the true successes of the world

She who follows the Tao, when she has gained victory,
weeps over the losses of others
observes the rites of a funeral
feels the grief of the World at the loss of its children

The eternal Tao cannot be truly named
So pure and subtle
So impossible to control

When a leader can live the Tao
all things are drawn to her
Heaven and Earth will join
to produce sweet dew
People will live in harmony
without having to ‘follow the rules’

When the Tao is divided into pieces
and then named
The truth of the Tao has been lost
and the world has become a prison

Just as with streams and rivers
flowing back to the sea
Everything in creation
flows back to the Tao

Know others to be intelligent but
Know yourself to be enlightened

Conquer others to be strong but
Conquer yourself to be all-powerful

Use force and aggression to get things but
Use contentment and serenity to obtain everything

Give yourself to your position to live long but
Give yourself to Tao to live forever

Tao is a great river
flowing and filling everywhere
Every-thing owes its existence to it
and it denies no-one and no-thing
It completes all things
yet expects no-thing in return

All creatures are nourished and protected by it
yet it does not claim domination over any-thing
As such, with no ambition,
it can be called ‘small’

All creatures return home to the Tao
yet it does not want any-thing in return
As such, with no expectations,
is can be called ‘great’

The Sage is like the Tao ~
she claims greatness over no-thing
She is unaware of her greatness
and yet, great she is

View the image without image
and while the world will go on changing
it will not bring you pain
but contentment, serenity, and good health

Those passing by the sweet music and rich food
will pause to partake
Yet if the image without image is seen
and the music without sound is heard,
the sweets will seem tasteless and insipid
the beautiful will seem insufficient
the melodic will seem inaudible

To look toward the sweets of the world is unfulfilling
The longings for the world are inexhaustible

The Tao, however, is in itself inexhaustible

The over-expanded will be diminished
The over-strong will be weakened
The too-high will be cut down
The over-possessed will be diminished

This is called the “Subtle Illumination”

The soft will outlast the hard
The gentle will outlast the strong

A fish venturing outside its deep waters
will be captured
A country brandishing its strength
will be conquered

The Tao does not do
yet leaves nothing undone
Should leaders abide by Tao
everything would evolve naturally

If the old and discarded ways of the ego reemerge
the calm Simplicity will put them to rest again

Returning to the pure Simplicity and inner quietness
all desires of the ego will be lifted

Retuning to silence is returning to peace
Returning to silence allows you to remember
that the world is truly anchored in peace

Having true virtue is to act
without thought of being or appearing virtuous
Having no virtue is to behave
with the intention of being or appearing virtuous

The highest virtue acts without influence of the ego
The lowest virtue gives with the expectation of reward
The highest virtue acts without motive
The lowest virtue acts with propriety

Without the Tao we look to virtue
Without virtue we look to
kindness and benevolence
Without kindness and benevolence we look to
justice and morality
Without justice and morality we look to
etiquette and rituals of conduct
And then those who fail at these
are seized and
‘the rules’ are forced upon them
Propriety and rules of conduct are the lowest forms of
devotion and loyalty
When we look to these rules for guidance
we are looking to ignorance and falseness

The great master follows her inner quietness
and not the desire for external acknowledgement
She dwells with the solid and not the superficial
She stays with the fruit and not the flower
She rejects the embellishments
and instead receives that which is within

In the ancient times all attained oneness with Tao

Through oneness with Tao,
Heaven became clear and Earth became peaceful
Spirits became powerful and hearts became joyful
Life became fertile and Sages became whole
All are what they are by virtue of oneness

Without being part of the oneness with Tao,
Heaven has no clarity and will shrink
Earth has no peace and will explode
Spirits have no power and will dissipate
Hearts will dry up, empires will fall
All things will go lifeless on this earth

Humility is the root of greatness
Those in power do well to think of themselves as
“small,” “lonely,” and “unworthy”
What honor can there be without humility?

Whether a shiny gem in the king’s crown
or a pebble on the common path
Accept your part with humility
and the glory of the universe will be yours

Returning to the root is the movement of the Tao
Gentleness is the way of the Tao

Heaven, Earth, and all beings
are born from the existent world
The existent world is born of Tao’s nothingness

When a true seeker hears of Tao
she earnestly practices its way
When the average person hears of Tao
she is ambivalent regarding her belief
When the weakest person hears of Tao
she laughs out loud
If it were not this way, it would not be Tao

There are numerous sayings to this effect:
The way to illumination appears dark
The way to progressiveness appears backward
The way that is sure appears unsteady
The greatest virtue appears empty
The purest goodness appears soiled
The strongest power appears weak
The most genuine appears false

The Great Square has no corners
The Great Vessel is never filled

A beginner appears clumsy
but with practice, her talent matures
An instrument lays silent
but when played, it produces a joyful noise

Tao lies hidden
yet it alone is the glorious light of the world

Tao gives life to the Oneness
Oneness gives birth to the Duality
of yin and yang
Duality gives birth to the Trinity
of Heaven, Earth, and all beings with life
The Trinity gives birth to the thousand things
- every-thing in existence

Every-thing in existence has both yin and yang
and the two interweave to form
the breath of the universe
The stillness between the inhale and exhale,
the stillness between the yin and yang,
is the harmony of the universal breath

People feel disharmony over loss, pain, and weakness
Yet one day their loss may be their fortune,
one day their weakness may be their strength
One day their fortune may be their loss,
one day their strength may be their weakness

A lesson to contemplate:
As you sow, so you shall reap
As you live, so shall you die

The angry and violent do not die natural deaths

The most yielding thing in the world
will overcome the most rigid
Just as the most gentle rider in the world
will overcome the galloping horse,
The most empty thing in the world
will overcome the most full

From this comes the lesson ~
stillness will benefit more than action
silence will benefit more than words

Rare indeed are those who are still
Rare indeed are those who are silent
And therefore ~
Rare indeed are those
who obtain the bounty of this world

Which is more valuable:
What is gained is more harmful than what is lost

Be content:
your Self without embellishment is sufficient
And as such
you will not know disappointment
you will not know dishonor
you will escape the troubles of the world
and you will live to be ancient

She who knows completeness may look incomplete
yet as one with Perfection, she is complete
She who knows fullness may seem empty
yet as one with Abundance, she is full

Great truths can seem unjust
Great deftness can seem crude
Great eloquence can seem uninspired

Movement overcomes the cold
Tranquility overcomes the heat

Purity and Serenity govern the true universe

When the Tao is followed
horses fertilize and work the fields
When the Tao is forgotten
horses are bred for war

There is no greater evil than to desire more,
to think only of gain,
to attain for the sake of ego

Only those who stop acquiring more
will ever have enough

Without going out into the world
you can know the meaning of existence
Without looking up into the sky
you can see Heaven

The farther you go out from your Self
the more your understanding will diminish

The Sage does not travel endlessly
and yet she understands
She does not look
and yet she sees
She does not strive in action
and yet she succeeds

In the pursuit of knowledge, add something daily
In the pursuit of the Tao, subtract something daily

Reduce and reduce again until you arrive at non-action
Non-action is the only way to see that nothing
is left undone

The world is at its best when people let go
and let things take their natural course

If you know how things should be
and work to make them happen like that
you will never know what it is to be satisfied

The Sage has no agendas or selfish motives
She concerns herself with improving the lives of others

Those with kind hearts she treats with kindness
Those with malicious hearts she treats with kindness
Because kindness is in the very nature of her being

Those who are honest she treats with honesty
Those who are dishonest she treats with honesty
Because honesty is in the very nature of her being

The Sage lives in harmony with all beings
as a wave lives in harmony with the entire ocean
All are drawn to her as if they were her children
as every wave is drawn back into the sea

Repeatedly, beings are born and beings die
People arrive at their birth and depart at their death

Some may strive to live forever
Some may desire to die quickly
Some may simply allow life to idly pass them by
And, at the end of things, death finds them all

Why is this so?
Because to them all, life is the constant focus

One who knows her truth and lives by it,
one who has no selfish ambitions and
no desires to leave obvious footprints in the sand
is the one who can escape death in the end

She does not fear the wild buffalo and tigers
of the jungle
She does not fear the sharp weapons
of the battlefield
Why is this so?

There is no place in her
where a tiger could fit its claw
There is no place in her
that a soldier could pierce with a blade

Because through non-doing and non-being
she gives birth to whatever is needed in the moment,
there is no place in her
that death could consider entering 

The Tao gives life to all beings
and Te nourishes and keeps them safe
Nature gives them their forms
and experience provides maturity
Every being honors the Tao and the Te
not through force
but through simple living and breathing

Tao gives life
Te nurtures life
it develops the flowers
it ripens the fruits
it shelters them and allows them to mature
it sustains them and prepares a place to return
These ways create without owning
give without expecting
develop without dominating

These are the ways of the most profound power
These are the ways to emulate

Tao is the origin and the mother of all things
Know the mother and you will know her children
Know her children and you will come to know her

Know that you are her child,
that you are part of creation,
and you will be protected from danger

Withdraw from your senses
shut the doors of cunning and desire
understand your oneness with the world
and serenity will be with you in your life
Live for your senses,
listen to ego and create attachments,
make distinctions and judgments,
and you will be beyond salvation

Perceive your insignificantness and be enlightened
Honor your gentleness and be strong

She who follows the light of the Tao
returns home to find that
the light was actually coming from within

Not surrendering to the self
is called “finding the Eternal Self”

Those with even the least bit of wisdom
would choose to walk the great path of Tao
Their only fear would be to stray from the road

The great path is broad and straight
yet some still prefer the treacherous by-roads

The leaders have become laden with excess riches
while fields are excessively overgrown with weeds
and granaries are excessively bare
The leaders are dressed in expensive clothing
and carry finely crafted swords at their sides
Their halls overflow with food and drink
and they have treasures both on display and hidden

This is the boasting of thieves after a looting
It is surely not in keeping with the Tao

Plant yourself firmly in the Tao
and you will not be uprooted
Embrace the Tao sincerely
and you will not be separated from it
Live the Tao truly
and it will be passed from generation to generation

Cultivate integrity in yourself
and your heart will be genuinely kind and good
Cultivate integrity in your family
and kindness will be overflowing
Cultivate integrity in your community
and goodness will increase and endure
Cultivate integrity in your country
and the people will prosper
Cultivate integrity in the world
and kindness and goodness will be universal

As it is universal ~
it has become the universe
To truly see it
one must see it as it has revealed itself:
In a person, see it as a kind person
In a family, see it as a good and kind family
In a country, see it as a virtuous country
In the world, see it as the world

How is it that I can understand this?
By observation

One who embraces the Tao
becomes as a newborn child:
pure and innocent
Deadly insects will not sting her
Ferocious beasts will not attack her
Predatory birds will not seize her

As a newborn child:
Her bones are soft and muscles weak
but her grip is strong and firm
She has not yet known the union of the sexes
yet her vitality is full and intact
She can cry all day without becoming hoarse
since her harmony with the world is perfect

Know this harmony to understand the Eternal
Know the Eternal to be enlightened

A full life – this is your blessing
A gentle heart – this is your strength

When not in harmony with the Tao
beings use force as strength
and become weak because of it
This kind of weakness creates death

Those who lecture do not know
Those who know do not lecture

Close your mouth
Shut your gates
Smooth your sharp edges
Untangle your knots
Temper your glare
Become one with the dust of the world

This is the profound harmony of the Oneness

For one who knows this harmony
sees through manipulation
has no price and cannot be bought
is not motivated by profit or loss
cares nothing for honor or humiliation

One who knows this harmony
knows her own truth
and neither seeks nor uses
the opinions that others have of her
to know herself

Follow a predictable plan and rule the nation
Follow a clandestine plan and win the war
Follow a plan of nothingness and master the universe

How would I know this is true? By this:

With more restrictions and rules of “right” action,
poverty increases
With larger stockpiles of deadlier weapons,
fear pervades
With more cleverness and scheming,
strangeness grows
With more laws and edicts,
criminals are seen everywhere

Therefore the sages say:
Follow nothingness
and the people transform themselves
Love tranquility
and the people naturally find peace
Allow affairs to continue without interference
and the people automatically prosper
Let go of desire
and the people return to their natural state

When the leader does not interfere
the people are wholesome and sincere
When she meddles in their lives
the people are contentious and destitute

Misfortune may one day bring blessings
Blessings may have misfortune concealed within
Who knows how to judge?

But today the leaders take advantage of this
The tricksters feign righteousness
The honest are made to appear deceitful
As a result, the people are confused
and the negativity is growing

And so the Sage, she:
does what is right without acting righteous
squares off the corners without cutting
acts as a sharp blade without injuring
straightens without forcing
enlightens without appearing to dazzle

To truly serve Nature and the people
follow Nature’s harvest

Following Nature’s harvest means
preparation and moderation
Preparation and moderation means
you will have a great accumulation of power
Great stores of power means
that nothing can overcome you
When nothing can overcome you then
there are no limits to your possibilities
With no limits to your possibilities
you can rule and serve the people
To rule and serve the people like this means
that Nature, our great Mother, will endure

This is like the solid tree with deep, sturdy roots
enduring forever
as the Tao 

Govern a nation like you would fry a small fish

Guide the world with Tao
and its dark spirits will not lead the world astray
Not that they have no power
just that their power can no longer harm people

The Sage does no harm
so people see that both sides cannot harm them

Thus, Te unites and restores all

A great nation is like a river basin,
the place in which all streams flow
It is the place in which all is welcomed
all is nurtured

Stillness and serenity will always conquer aggression
Stillness acts as if it were the lower position
Stillness and tranquility remain humble

Therefore, a large nation should humble itself as well
In this way it can attract and join a smaller nation

A small nation should also humble itself
In this way it can attract and acquire a larger nation

By humbling itself, putting itself into a lower position
a nation can be as a river basin,
the place to which all else flows

When the Sage wants to nurture and unite
the people want to join and serve
By humbling herself
she can be as a river basin,
the place to which all else flows

Tao is the hidden source and reservoir of all things
It is the treasure of those who live by it
It is the protection of those who do not

Beautiful words can win honor for some
who do not deserve it
Honorable actions can win respect for some
who do not deserve it
But do not be quick to judge them
instead, let them be protected by the Tao
until you can teach them to live by it

With the crowning of a new emperor
or the installation of the three ministers
(grand tutor, preceptor, and protector)
they are presented with the traditional offering
of jade discs and four horses
But these gifts do not equal in quality
the gift of kneeling and offering up the Tao

The ancient masters loved the Tao
for this very reason
Its worth is far greater than anything else
With Tao
those who seek will find and
those who err will be forgiven

Tao is the world’s greatest treasure

Act without action
Give without giving
Taste without tasting

See the greatness in the small
See the mighty in the few

Respond to resentment and hatred
with integrity and kindness
Plan for the difficult
while it is still easy
Achieve great things
by beginning with the small
The great undertakings of the Universe
must begin with the minute
The difficult accomplishments of the Universe
must begin with the easy

The Sage does not work to be great
and therefore achieves greatness

Those who promise without contemplation
will find it difficult to fulfill their promise
Those who believe that it will be simple
will find that the way is difficult
The Sage confronts difficulties at the first sign
and therefore finds that the way is easy

Equilibrium, once found, is easy to maintain
Problems, when they first appear, are easy to solve

Objects, if fragile, are easy to shatter
Anything, if small, is easy to scatter

Deal with these issues before they emerge
Cultivate order before there is disorder

The tree that is larger than a man’s embrace
began only as a tiny sprout
The tower that is nine stories high
began only as a little brick
The journey of a thousand miles
began only as a single step
Interfere with the natural process of things
and you will ruin it
Grasp at possessions or praise
and you will lose everything

The Sage does not interfere
therefore she does not fail
She does not desire to have possessions or status
therefore she does not lose them

Many people on the verge of success often fail
People as cautious at the end as they were at the start
will find that they do not fail when success is in sight

The Sage desires only to have no desires
She does not value the objects that others treasure
She learns to question the lessons others teach

She restores others’ esteem
and helps them to find their true nature
She does all this and yet refrains from interference
or intentional action

The ancient Sages, immersed in the Tao,
did not oppose it and therefore
taught the people to be simple like Nature
The people cannot live in peace
if they stray from the simple way

To plan and scheme with cleverness
will be the true curse of a nation
To act simply and from the heart
will be the fortune of a nation

She who knows this
knows to emulate the patterns of Nature
To always work to emulate Nature
is to possess the Great Virtue (Te)

Te is deep, profound, and far-reaching
and is one with the desire, the longing
to return to the Divine within

Only when the journey brings us to the Divine
is there grand harmony

Why do the hundreds of great rivers
naturally turn and rush toward the sea?
Because the sea is naturally below them

Therefore, she who wishes to rule the people
must place herself below them
She who wishes to lead the people
must place herself behind them

In this way, the Sage rules the people
but does not weight them down
She leads the people
but does not hinder their way
And so, the world never tires of rejoicing at her lead

Because she contends with no one
No one can contend with her

The world speaks of my great Tao
as if it were unworthy
Truly, it is its very greatness
that makes it appear unworthy
If it appeared worthy,
it would have been forgotten long ago

I have three treasures that I cherish
and keep close to my heart:
The first is unconditional love
The second is temperance
The third is humbleness

With unconditional love there is courage
With temperance there is gratitude and generosity
With humbleness there is long-lasting success

If you are fearless but have no love
If you are expansive but have no temperance
If you try to lead but have no humbleness
You are courting death

Love triumphs in any battle
Love is the strongest defense
When Heaven comes to rescue someone
it utilizes no armory
Heaven rescues and protects with Love

The excellent warrior is not warlike
The excellent soldier is not rageful
The excellent conqueror is not confrontational
The excellent manager humbles herself
and brings about excellence and loyalty

This is called the virtue of non-contending
This is called bringing out the people’s strengths
This is called living in accordance with Heaven
and being at one with the Divine

The great warriors have a saying:
I do not presume to become the attacker
but to become the defender
I do not presume to advance an inch
but to retreat a foot

This is called
advancing without seeming to take a step
seizing without the use of hands or arms
confronting without aggression
controlling without force

There is no greater misfortune than
to underestimate the evil of having an enemy
Having an enemy means
the absence of the three treasures
unconditional love, temperance, and humbleness

Therefore, when two opponents meet
the one with sorrow in her heart
over having an enemy
will be the victor

My teachings are very easy to understand
and very easy to practice
Yet in all the world, no-one can understand
and no-one can practice

My teachings arise from the ancient source
whose actions are the ultimate authority
Truly, if this is not understood
then I am not understood

Those who follow my teachings are rare
and because of this, are treasured

The Sage dresses in modest clothes
and carries her riches within

To sit and learn the quiet knowledge of the universe
is better than to learn the loud knowledge
of the world
To be absorbed in the loud knowledge of the world
is to be afflicted with painful mental illness

Only when this is recognized as a disease
can a person rid herself of the disease

The Sage is no longer ill
because she recognized it as an illness
and in doing so, became healthy

Only when you do not fear the power of the world
will you have power yourself

Do not believe that you are your body
Do not despise your life
Only then will you know your power

The Sage knows herself, but not through ego
she loves herself, but not through arrogance
She honors herself not by distinguishing herself
but by honoring the cares of the universe

Boldness in aggression leads to death
Boldness in harmony leads to life

At times something can be beneficial
and at other times injurious
Who can know which Heaven will choose?
Not even the Sage

Tao does not strive
yet always overcomes
It does not speak
yet it responds
It cannot be summoned
yet always appears naturally
It is patient, without haste,
yet everything is completed on time

Heaven’s net spans the entire universe
and so even the tiniest speck cannot slip by

When the people do not fear death
how could you threaten them with it?

Suppose we could create a constant fear of death
and then we arrest those who break the law
We seize them, arrest them, and put them to death
Who, then, would ever dare to break the law?

Ah, but…
From the beginning of time
there has been the Taker of Life
the mighty Lord of Death

Whoever substitutes herself for the Lord of Death
is like one who cuts with the blade
of a master sculptor
Whoever cuts with the blade of a master sculptor
will without doubt
injure her own hands in the process

The people are starving
Because the rulers eat the grain in the form of taxes,
the people are starving

The people are rebellious
Because the rulers micromanage and meddle,
the people are rebellious

The people regard death lightly
Because the rulers’ demands make their lives
too intense and full of anxiety,
the people regard death lightly

Only she who does not interfere with lives
is worthy in honoring life

At birth a body is pliant and gentle
at death it is rigid and hard
All beings, for instance grass and trees,
in life are pliant and supple
in death are brittle and dry

The stiff and unyielding are death’s companions
The pliant and gentle are life’s companions

An unyielding army will be destroyed
An unyielding tree will snap in strong winds

The strong and forceful will perish
The soft and gentle will prevail

The Way of Heaven
resembles the stringing of a bow
the high is pulled down
the low is pulled up

It reduces the excessive
It supplements the inadequate

The Way of Heaven
takes from the surplus
to replenish the deficient

The Way of humans is not like this
It takes from the ones who do not have enough
to pay tribute and loyalties
to those who have too much

Who has the ability to offer her surplus
to the world?
Who has the ability to have excess
and not demand more?
One who follows the Tao

Therefore, the Sage works
without expectations
She succeeds with her efforts
without demanding credit

She can do this because
she does not desire to be exalted

In all the world
nothing is as soft and yielding as water
Yet nothing compares to its ability
to wear away at the strong and unyielding

It uses gentleness to overcome the forceful
It uses softness to conquer the hard

The whole world can know this truth
yet no-one can seem to follow it

The Sages teachings say to:
Honor the disgraced
for they are at the alter of the Earth
Love the unfortunate
for they deserve to rule the World

The straight will sometimes appear crooked
treat the crooked
as though it were straight

Even after settling a resentment
there will surely be some lingering pain
This cannot be changed

So the Sage accepts responsibility
and does not push blame or punishment
on those around her
The Sage with Te attends to her promises
and seeks a way to give
A person without Te attends to others’ mistakes
and seeks a way to gain

The Tao is without favorites
yet it always sides with the virtuous heart
it always sides with the one who follows Dharma ~
the law of the Universe
Let the state be small and simple
with only a few citizens
Perhaps they would have machinery
that would speed up their lives
but let the people see no need to use it

Let the people value their lives
and take help to where it is needed

Perhaps they would have warships
but let them see nowhere to ride into war
Perhaps they would have swords and arrows
but let them see no one to use them against

Let the people return to tying knots
as a way to remember debts and joys
Let them delight in their food
Let them have beautiful clothes
Let their homes be filled with harmony
Let their lives be filled with joy

Neighboring communities may be close enough
to hear each other's dogs barking
or each other's roosters crowing
But let the people reach old age having
never traveled over the border to invade

Heart-felt words are not always beautiful
Beautiful words are rarely heart-felt

The people of Tao do not quarrel
The people who quarrel are not of Tao

The Wise Ones did not rely on books for knowledge
Those who rely on books for knowledge are not wise

The Sage does not hoard and accumulate wealth
Since she acts for others
she has more for herself
Since she gives to others
she grows ever more abundant

Heaven’s way is to benefit all
and harm no-one
The Sage’s way is to give to all
and live in harmony