Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 27
No Trace

Good walking leaves no footprints,
Good talking leaves no confusion,
Good action leaves no trace.
The best door has no lock
Yet can’t be opened.
The best binding has no knots
Yet can’t be untied.

In this way, the wise
Take care of everything;
Rejecting no one,
Abandoning nothing,
They always follow
Their inner light
Teaching asleep, confused people
Who are the beginnings of the good.

Those who don’t respect and honor teachers,
Who don’t cherish and care for students,
No matter how clever and learned
Only go astray creating more confusion.

Understanding this and leaving no trace,
The wise alone are perfectly blind
Seeing clearly into the distance.

Commentary

“Faced with chaos or conflict, the sage commander looks first to the largest reference point. No matter what ground he has been given, he always thinks bigger… he looks to the space around things.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE via Denma Translation Group
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist
from Art of War 孙子兵法

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“I would teach children music,physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE
from Republic Πολιτεία

Themes: Music Education

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“Give up wanting to be important; let your footsteps leave no trace.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE
(Zhuangzi)

Themes: No Trace

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“Those who are good at walking find the Way within themselves, not somewhere outside.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

Themes: Moral Freedom

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“Sages are not controlled by names, not governed by plans, not burdened by affairs, and not ruled by intellect. They are concealed in formlessness; their acts are traceless, and their roamings are trackless.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE via Thomas Cleary
(Huainanzi)
from Huainanzi

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“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

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“These five tell us to refrain from acting and to govern things by relying on their nature rather than on their form.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE

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“If there is a remedy, then what is the use of frustration? If there is no remedy, then what is the use of frustration?”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།། 685 – 763 CE
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)
from Bodhisattva Way of Life, Bodhicaryavatara

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“When a monk asked Joshu, ‘Does a dog have Buddha-nature?’ he replied, ‘Bu.’ (不 ‘no thing’ in Chinese)”

Joshu, Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn 趙州從諗 778 – 897 CE via Shan Dao

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“When occupations come to us we must accept them; when things come to us we must understand them from the ground up.”

Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 796 CE - via Richard Wilhelm
(Lü Tung-Pin)

from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

Themes: Simplicity

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“Those who treasure the Way fit in without making a show and stay forever hidden. Hence, they don’t leave any tracks.”

Wang Zhen 809 – 859 CE via Ralph D. Sawyer
from Daodejing Lunbing Yaoyishu, The Tao of War

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“Develop a mind that rests on no thing whatsoever.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运 ? - 850 CE
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)

Themes: Mind

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“At the heart of all understanding is realizing what is and what cannot be, accepting what is not in our power to change.”

Solomon ibn Gabirol שלמה בן יהודה אבן גבירול 1021 – 1070 CE via Shan Dao
(Avicebron)
from Choice of Pearls

Themes: Letting Go

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“When thoughts arise, recognize them clearly as your teacher.”

Gampopa སྒམ་པོ་པ། 1079 – 1153 CE via Herbert Guenther
(Sönam Rinchen, Dakpo Rinpoche)
from Jewel Ornament of Liberation

Themes: Teachers

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“Every detail clearly appears before you. Sound and form, echo and shadow, happen instantly without leaving traces.”

Hóngzhì Zhēngjué 宏智正覺 1091 – 1157 CE
(Shōgaku)

Themes: Music No Trace

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“If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

Francis of Assisi 1181 – 1226 CE

Themes: Compassion

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“enlightenment after enlightenment with no trace of enlightenment”

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師 1200 – 1253 CE via David Chadwick

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“Even the traces of enlightenment are wiped out, and life with traceless enlightenment goes on forever and ever.”

Dōgen Zenji 道元禅師 1200 – 1253 CE

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“The world withers and the Tao fades… therefore the wise join the dust of others and soften their own light. And they leave no trace.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE
(Te-Ch’ing)

Themes: No Trace

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“Sages move through the world with an empty self and accept the way thing are. Hence they leave to tracks. They do not insist that their own ideas are right and accept the words of others… They do not care about life and dealth, much less profit and loss.”

Deqing 1546 – 1623 CE
(Te-Ch’ing)

Themes: No Trace

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“No matter where your interest lies, you will not be able to accomplish anything unless you bring your deepest devotion to it.”

Matsuo Bashō 松尾 芭蕉 1644 – 1694 CE

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“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

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“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE

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“Without music, life would be a mistake.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE
from Twilight of the Idols

Themes: Music Mistakes

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“you must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame; how could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

Themes: Mistakes

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“The step to higher consciousness leads away from all shelter and safety.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE

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“Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.”

Hermann Hesse 1877 – 1962 CE
from Steppenwolf

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“Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other.”

Reinhold Niebuhr 1892 – 1971 CE

Themes: Letting Go

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“The commonest charge brought against Taoists was that of being merely interested in self-perfection without regard for the welfare of the community as a whole. This chapter is devoted to rebutting that charge.”

Arthur Waley 1899 – 1969 CE
from The Way and its Power

Themes: Taoism

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“In Neo-Taoism, [having no trace] developed to mean true reality lies in noumena… the whole history of Taoism shows a tendency to undermine traces”

Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮捷 1901 – 1994 CE
from Way of Lao Tzu

Themes: No Trace

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“A medicine man has to be of the earth, somebody who reads nature like white men read a book.”

John Fire Lame Deer 1903 – 1976 CE via Richard Erdoes
from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions

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“In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire… burn yourself completely… Zen activity is activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

Themes: No Trace

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“If we allow our thoughts to arise and dissolve by themselves, they will pass through our mind as a bird flies through the sky, without leaving a trace.”

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche དིལ་མགོ་མཁྱེན་བརྩེ། 1910 – 1991 CE
"Mind" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo

Themes: No Trace

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“The solution of the problem lies in seeing it—in the seeing, without wanting a solution, or dissolution—just seeing what’s there”

Toni Packer 1927 – 2013 CE
from Light of Discovery

Themes: Wu Wei

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“Care for what seems unimportant… Having replaced instinct with language, society, and culture, we are the only species that depends on teaching and learning. We aren’t human without them… But are they the occupations of the rich and mighty?”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Culture

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“Simple statements have complex implications and need thinking about.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE
from Lao Tzu - A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

Themes: Contemplation

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“real intimacy means… everything is included in what we do, and yet we leave no trace... always expressing our true self, the wholeness of our original nature, which has neither beginning nor end.”

Jakusho Kwong 1935 CE –
from No Beginning, No End: The Intimate Heart of Zen

Themes: No Trace

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“Once you are really into something,you become part of that experience, or it becomes part of you. When you become part of the teachings, you are no longer hassled. You are no longer an entity separate from the teachings. You are an embodiment of them.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Journey Without Goal

Themes: Oneness

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  1. Shan Dao
    An early version of Alcoholics Anonymous’ Serenity Prayer?