Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 5
Christmas Trees

Heaven and Earth aren’t humane
Treating the 10,000 things like Christmas trees.
Sages are heartless too
Treating people like Christmas trees.
The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows,
Empty yet inexhaustibly giving,
Responding with what fits.
The more talk, the less understanding,
The more words, the less truth.
The external disguises the eternal.


“To start from nowhere and follow no road is the first step.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 via Thomas Merton
369 – 286 BCE

from Zhuangzi

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“The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?”

c. 330–180 BCE
from Ecclesiastes קֹהֶלֶת‎

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“Whenever the mouth opens and the tongue moves, disaster is close behind.”

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

Themes: Less is More

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“I shall kill the fleeing deer of this and that, On the mountain of the body believing in an I.”

988 – 1069 CE

Themes: Egolessness

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“When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
1207 – 12783 CE
from Masnavi مثنوي معنوي‎‎) "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning”

Themes: Sacred World

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“Theologians may quarrel, but the mystics of the world speak the same language.”

Meister Eckhart
(Eckhart von Hochheim)
1260 – 1328 CE

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“Avoid the faults of your nation… There is not a nation among even the most civilized that has not some fault peculiar to itself…It is a triumph to correct in oneself such failings… There are also family failings as well as faults of position, of office, or of age.”

Balthasar Gracian via Joseph Jacobs
1601 – 1658 CE
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

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“There is always time to add a word, never to withdraw one. Talk as if you were making your will: the fewer words, the less litigation.”

Balthasar Gracian
1601 – 1658 CE

Themes: Time Less is More

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“The world has always been the same — an endless farce, an antic game, a universal masquerade!”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
1749 – 1832 CE
from Faust, part II

Themes: Delusion

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“The universe... is always emptying, always full; the more it yields, the more it holds.”

Witter Bynner
(Emanuel Morgan)
1881 – 1968 CE

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“A peak in a poke and a pig in a pew.”

James Joyce
1882 – 1941 CE
from Finnegan's Wake

Themes: Religion

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“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.”

Kahlil Gibran
1883 – 1931 CE

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“You can only be kind or cruel if you have, and cherish, a self… Altruism is the other side of egoism.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

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“‘That’ has a name but ‘this’ doesn’t have a name.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

Themes: Creativity

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“A tragedy is a comedy misunderstood. Once you realize what you are, there's nothing but gratitude and laughter.”

Stephen Mitchell
1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

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“The difference between reading a love poem and being in love.”

David Mitchell
1969 CE –
from The Bone Clocks

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Comments (2)

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  1. Shan Dao
    None of the other translations we’ve seen use Christmas trees for these characters (the most common is Straw Dogs, chu2 gou3) though Red Pine in a commentary compares how straw dogs were used in China to how Christmas trees are used in the West. In ancient China, straw dogs were used in ceremonies praying for rain. They were used briefly and then thrown away like Christmas trees here.
  2. Shan Dao
    “Responding with what fits” is a comment by Wang Pang (1044-1076), Red Pine translation