Tao te Ching : texts 21 - 40 |
The grandest forms of active force
From Tao come, their only source.
Who can of Tao the nature tell?
Our sight it flies, our touch as well.
Eluding sight, eluding touch,
The forms of things all in it crouch;
Eluding touch, eluding sight,
There are their semblances, all right.
Profound it is, dark and obscure;
Things' essences all there endure.
Those essences the truth enfold
Of what, when seen, shall then be told.
Now it is so; 'twas so of old.
Its name--what passes not away;
So, in their beautiful array,
Things form and never know decay.
How know I that it is so with all the beauties of existing things? By
this (nature of the Tao).
The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty,
full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets them; he
whose (desires) are many goes astray.
Therefore the sage holds in his embrace the one thing (of
humility), and manifests it to all the world. He is free from self-
display, and therefore he shines; from self-assertion, and therefore
he is distinguished; from self-boasting, and therefore his merit is
acknowledged; from self-complacency, and therefore he acquires
superiority. It is because he is thus free from striving that
therefore no one in the world is able to strive with him.
That saying of the ancients that 'the partial becomes complete' was
not vainly spoken:--all real completion is comprehended under it.
Abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity
of his nature. A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a
sudden rain does not last for the whole day. To whom is it that these
(two) things are owing? To Heaven and Earth. If Heaven and Earth
cannot make such (spasmodic) actings last long, how much less can man!
Therefore when one is making the Tao his business, those who are
also pursuing it, agree with him in it, and those who are making the
manifestation of its course their object agree with him in that; while
even those who are failing in both these things agree with him where
Hence, those with whom he agrees as to the Tao have the happiness
of attaining to it; those with whom he agrees as to its manifestation
have the happiness of attaining to it; and those with whom he agrees
in their failure have also the happiness of attaining (to the Tao).
(But) when there is not faith sufficient (on his part), a want of
faith (in him) ensues (on the part of the others).
He who stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm; he who stretches
his legs does not walk (easily). (So), he who displays himself does
not shine; he who asserts his own views is not distinguished; he who
vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged; he who is self-
conceited has no superiority allowed to him. Such conditions, viewed
from the standpoint of the Tao, are like remnants of food, or a tumour
on the body, which all dislike. Hence those who pursue (the course)
of the Tao do not adopt and allow them.
There was something undefined and complete, coming into
existence before Heaven and Earth. How still it was and formless,
standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in
no danger (of being exhausted)! It may be regarded as the Mother of
I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tao
(the Way or Course). Making an effort (further) to give it a name I
call it The Great.
Great, it passes on (in constant flow). Passing on, it becomes
remote. Having become remote, it returns. Therefore the Tao is
great; Heaven is great; Earth is great; and the (sage) king is also
great. In the universe there are four that are great, and the (sage)
king is one of them.
Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from
Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Tao. The law of the Tao is its
being what it is.
Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of
Therefore a wise prince, marching the whole day, does not go far
from his baggage waggons. Although he may have brilliant prospects to
look at, he quietly remains (in his proper place), indifferent to
them. How should the lord of a myriad chariots carry himself lightly
before the kingdom? If he do act lightly, he has lost his root (of
gravity); if he proceed to active movement, he will lose his throne.
The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or
footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault
with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the skilful
closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has shut will be
impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or knots, while to
unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In the same way the
sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he does not cast away any
man; he is always skilful at saving things, and so he does not cast
away anything. This is called 'Hiding the light of his procedure.'
Therefore the man of skill is a master (to be looked up to) by him
who has not the skill; and he who has not the skill is the helper of
(the reputation of) him who has the skill. If the one did not honour
his master, and the other did not rejoice in his helper, an
(observer), though intelligent, might greatly err about them. This is
called 'The utmost degree of mystery.'
Who knows his manhood's strength,
Yet still his female feebleness maintains;
As to one channel flow the many drains,
All come to him, yea, all beneath the sky.
Thus he the constant excellence retains;
The simple child again, free from all stains.
Who knows how white attracts,
Yet always keeps himself within black's shade,
The pattern of humility displayed,
Displayed in view of all beneath the sky;
He in the unchanging excellence arrayed,
Endless return to man's first state has made.
Who knows how glory shines,
Yet loves disgrace, nor e'er for it is pale;
Behold his presence in a spacious vale,
To which men come from all beneath the sky.
The unchanging excellence completes its tale;
The simple infant man in him we hail.
The unwrought material, when divided and distributed, forms
vessels. The sage, when employed, becomes the Head of all the
Officers (of government); and in his greatest regulations he employs
no violent measures.
If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to
effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The
kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He
who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp
The course and nature of things is such that
What was in front is now behind;
What warmed anon we freezing find.
Strength is of weakness oft the spoil;
The store in ruins mocks our toil.
Hence the sage puts away excessive effort, extravagance, and easy
He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Tao will
not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a course
is sure to meet with its proper return.
Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up. In the
sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.
A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does
not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his
mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against
being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He strikes
it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for
When things have attained their strong maturity they become old.
This may be said to be not in accordance with the Tao: and what is not
in accordance with it soon comes to an end.
Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen,
hateful, it may be said, to all creatures. Therefore they who have
the Tao do not like to employ them.
The superior man ordinarily considers the left hand the most
honourable place, but in time of war the right hand. Those sharp
weapons are instruments of evil omen, and not the instruments of the
superior man;--he uses them only on the compulsion of necessity. Calm
and repose are what he prizes; victory (by force of arms) is to him
undesirable. To consider this desirable would be to delight in the
slaughter of men; and he who delights in the slaughter of men cannot
get his will in the kingdom.
On occasions of festivity to be on the left hand is the prized
position; on occasions of mourning, the right hand. The second in
command of the army has his place on the left; the general commanding
in chief has his on the right;--his place, that is, is assigned to him
as in the rites of mourning. He who has killed multitudes of men
should weep for them with the bitterest grief; and the victor in
battle has his place (rightly) according to those rites.
The Tao, considered as unchanging, has no name.
Though in its primordial simplicity it may be small, the whole
world dares not deal with (one embodying) it as a minister. If a
feudal prince or the king could guard and hold it, all would
spontaneously submit themselves to him.
Heaven and Earth (under its guidance) unite together and send down
the sweet dew, which, without the directions of men, reaches equally
everywhere as of its own accord.
As soon as it proceeds to action, it has a name. When it once has
that name, (men) can know to rest in it. When they know to rest in
it, they can be free from all risk of failure and error.
The relation of the Tao to all the world is like that of the great
rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.
He who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is
intelligent. He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes
himself is mighty. He who is satisfied with his lot is rich; he who
goes on acting with energy has a (firm) will.
He who does not fail in the requirements of his position, continues
long; he who dies and yet does not perish, has longevity.
All-pervading is the Great Tao! It may be found on the left
hand and on the right.
All things depend on it for their production, which it gives to
them, not one refusing obedience to it. When its work is
accomplished, it does not claim the name of having done it. It
clothes all things as with a garment, and makes no assumption of being
their lord;--it may be named in the smallest things. All things
return (to their root and disappear), and do not know that it is it
which presides over their doing so;--it may be named in the greatest
Hence the sage is able (in the same way) to accomplish his great
achievements. It is through his not making himself great that he can
To him who holds in his hands the Great Image (of the invisible
Tao), the whole world repairs. Men resort to him, and receive no
hurt, but (find) rest, peace, and the feeling of ease.
Music and dainties will make the passing guest stop (for a time).
But though the Tao as it comes from the mouth, seems insipid and has
no flavour, though it seems not worth being looked at or listened to,
the use of it is inexhaustible.
When one is about to take an inspiration, he is sure to make a
(previous) expiration; when he is going to weaken another, he will
first strengthen him; when he is going to overthrow another, he will
first have raised him up; when he is going to despoil another, he will
first have made gifts to him:--this is called 'Hiding the light (of
The soft overcomes the hard; and the weak the strong.
Fishes should not be taken from the deep; instruments for the
profit of a state should not be shown to the people.
The Tao in its regular course does nothing (for the sake of
doing it), and so there is nothing which it does not do.
If princes and kings were able to maintain it, all things would of
themselves be transformed by them.
If this transformation became to me an object of desire, I would
express the desire by the nameless simplicity.
Simplicity without a name
Is free from all external aim.
With no desire, at rest and still,
All things go right as of their will.
(Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the
Tao) did not (seek) to show them, and therefore they possessed them
(in fullest measure). (Those who) possessed in a lower degree those
attributes (sought how) not to lose them, and therefore they did not
possess them (in fullest measure).
(Those who) possessed in the highest degree those attributes did
nothing (with a purpose), and had no need to do anything. (Those who)
possessed them in a lower degree were (always) doing, and had need to
be so doing.
(Those who) possessed the highest benevolence were (always seeking)
to carry it out, and had no need to be doing so. (Those who)
possessed the highest righteousness were (always seeking) to carry it
out, and had need to be so doing.
(Those who) possessed the highest (sense of) propriety were (always
seeking) to show it, and when men did not respond to it, they bared
the arm and marched up to them.
Thus it was that when the Tao was lost, its attributes appeared;
when its attributes were lost, benevolence appeared; when benevolence
was lost, righteousness appeared; and when righteousness was lost, the
Now propriety is the attenuated form of leal-heartedness and good
faith, and is also the commencement of disorder; swift apprehension is
(only) a flower of the Tao, and is the beginning of stupidity.
Thus it is that the Great man abides by what is solid, and eschews
what is flimsy; dwells with the fruit and not with the flower. It is
thus that he puts away the one and makes choice of the other.
The things which from of old have got the One (the Tao) are--
Heaven which by it is bright and pure;
Earth rendered thereby firm and sure;
Spirits with powers by it supplied;
Valleys kept full throughout their void
All creatures which through it do live
Princes and kings who from it get
The model which to all they give.
All these are the results of the One (Tao).
If heaven were not thus pure, it soon would rend;
If earth were not thus sure, 'twould break and bend;
Without these powers, the spirits soon would fail;
If not so filled, the drought would parch each vale;
Without that life, creatures would pass away;
Princes and kings, without that moral sway,
However grand and high, would all decay.
Thus it is that dignity finds its (firm) root in its (previous)
meanness, and what is lofty finds its stability in the lowness (from
which it rises). Hence princes and kings call themselves 'Orphans,'
'Men of small virtue,' and as 'Carriages without a nave.' Is not this
an acknowledgment that in their considering themselves mean they see
the foundation of their dignity? So it is that in the enumeration of
the different parts of a carriage we do not come on what makes it
answer the ends of a carriage. They do not wish to show themselves
elegant-looking as jade, but (prefer) to be coarse-looking as an
The movement of the Tao
By contraries proceeds;
And weakness marks the course
Of Tao's mighty deeds.
All things under heaven sprang from It as existing (and named);
that existence sprang from It as non-existent (and not named).
Tao te Ching : texts 21 - 40