Tao Te Ching




The way you can go

isn't the real way.

The name you can say

isn't the real name.

Heaven and earth

begin in the unnamed:

name's the mother

of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul 

sees what's hidden,

and the ever-wanting soul

sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,

but different in name, 

whose identity is mystery.

Mystery of all mysteries!

The door to the hidden.

~ transl. Ursula le Guin.


The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

~ transl. Gia-fu Feng and Jane English


Tao called Tao is not Tao. Names can name no lasting name.
Nameless: the origin of heaven and earth. Naming: the mother of ten thousand things.
Empty of desire, perceive mystery. Filled with desire, perceive manifestations.
These have the same source, but different names.
Call them both deep - Deep and again deep: the gateway to all mystery.

~ transl. Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo



The Way that can be told of is not an Unvarying Way;
The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.
Truly, “Only he that rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essences”;
He that has never rid himself of desire can see only the Outcomes.
These two things issued from the same mould, but nevertheless are different in name.
This “same mould” we can but call the Mystery,
Or rather the “Darker than any Mystery”,
The Doorway whence issued all Secret Essences.

~ transl. Arthur Waley

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  • VERSE 2.


    Everybody on earth knowing

    that beauty is beautiful

    makes ugliness.

    Everybody knowing that

    goodness is good

    makes wickedness.

    For being and nonbeing

    arise together;

    hard and easy

    complete each other;

    long and short 

    shape each other;

    high and low

    depend on each other;

    note and voice

    make music together;

    before and after 

    follow each other.

    That's why the wise soul

    does without doing,

    teaches without talking.

    The things of this world

    exist; they are.

    You cannot refuse them.

    To bear and not to own;

    To act and not lay claim;

    To do the work and let it go;

    for just letting it go 

    is what makes it stay.

    ~ transl. Ursula Le Guin

    Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
    All can know good as good only because there is evil.
    Therefore having and not having arise together.
    Difficult and easy complement each other.
    Long and short contrast each other:
    High and low rest upon each other;
    Voice and sound harmonize each other;
    Front and back follow one another.

    Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking.
    The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
    Creating, yet not possessing.
    Working, yet not taking credit.
    Work is done, then forgotten.
    Therefore it lasts forever.

    ~ transl. Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

    Recognize beauty and ugliness is born.
    Recognize good and evil is born.
    Is and Isn't produce each other. Hard depends on easy, Long is tested by short,
    High is determined by low, Sound is harmonized by voice, After is followed by before.
    Therefore the sage is devoted to non action, Moves without teaching,
    Creates ten thousand things without instruction, Lives but does not own, Acts but does not presume,
    Accomplishes without taking credit. When no credit is taken, Accomplishment endures.

    ~ transl. Addiss and Lombardo

    It is because every one under Heaven recognizes beauty as beauty,
    That the idea of ugliness exists.
    And equally if every one recognized virtue as virtue,
    this would merely create fresh conceptions of wickedness.
    For truly, Being and Not-being grow out of one another;
    Difficult and easy complete one another.
    Long and short test one another;
    High and low determine one another.
    Pitch and mode give harmony to one another.
    Front and back give sequence to one another.
    Therefore the Sage relies on actionless activity,
    Carries on wordless teaching,
    But the myriad creatures are worked upon by him;
    He does not disown them.
    He rears them, but does not lay claim to them,
    Controls them, but does not lean upon them,
    Achieves his aim, but does not call attention to what he does;
    And for the very reason that he does not call attention to what he does
    He is not ejected from fruition of what he has done.

    ~ transl. Arthur Waley

  • Image result for wu wei

    (Wu Wei) 

    VERSE 3


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

    ~ transl. by Ursula le Guin


    Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling. 
    Not collecting treasures prevents stealing. 
    Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart.

    The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies, by weakening ambitions and strengthening bones. 
    If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not try to interfere. 
    If nothing is done, then all will be well.

    ~ transl by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English



    Don't glorify heroes, And people will not contend. 
    Don't treasure rare objects, And no one will steal. 
    Don't display what people desire, And their hearts will not be disturbed. 
    Therefore, the Sage rules By emptying hearts and filling bellies, By weakening ambitions and strengthening bones; Leads people Away from knowing and wanting; 
    Deters those who know too much From going too far: 
    Practices non-action And the natural order is not disrupted.


    ~ transl by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo



    If we stop looking for “persons of superior morality” (hsien) to put in power,
    There will be no more jealousies among the people.
    If we cease to set store by products that are hard to get,
    There will be no more thieves.
    If the people never see such things as excite desire,
    Their hearts will remain placid and undisturbed.
    Therefore the Sage rules
    By emptying their hearts
    And filling their hearts?
    Weakening their intelligence
    And toughening their sinews
    Ever striving to make the people knowledgeless and desireless.
    Indeed he sees to it that if there be any who have knowledge,
    They dare not interfere.
    Yet through his actionless activity all things are duly regulated.

    ~ transl by Arthur Waley


  • Verse 4

    Meadow, Green Meadow, Flower Meadow, Grass, Nature

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

    ~ transl by Ursula le Guin


    The Way is like an empty vessel
    That yet may be drawn from
    Without ever needing to be filled.
    It is bottomless; the very progenitor of all things in the world.
    In it all sharpness is blunted,
    All tangles untied,
    All glare tempered,
    All dust soothed.
    It is like a deep pool that never dries.
    Was it too the child of something else?
    We cannot tell.
    But as a substanceless image it existed before the Ancestor.

    ~ transl by Arthur Waley


    Tao is empty- its use never exhausted. 
    Bottomless - the origin of all things. 
    It blunts sharp edges, Unties knots, Softens glare, Becomes one with the dusty world. 
    Deeply subsistent - 
    I don't know whose child it is. It is older than the Ancestor. 

    ~ transl by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo


    The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used, but never filled. 
    Oh, unfathomable source of ten thousand things! 
    Blunt the sharpness, 
    Untangle the knot, 
    Soften the glare, 
    Merge with dust. 
    Oh, hidden deep but ever present! 
    I do not know from whence it comes. 
    It is the forefather of the gods.

    ~ transl by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

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