Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Tao Te Ching
Chapter 8
Like Water

True goodness is like water
Bringing benefit and giving life to the 10,000 things.
It doesn’t compete but like the Tao
Immediately flows to the lowest place.
Everyone else always wants to be first
But the wise only want to be last,
To live on solid ground,
To think deeply,
To be gentle and kind,
To speak with honesty,
To govern with peace and order,
To work with skill,
To act at only the best time.


“Ah how shameless – the way these mortals blame the gods.”

Odysseus Ὀδυσσεύς 1 via Homer
Trickster lineage hero and symbol
from Odyssey, Ὀδύσσεια

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“The highest form of goodness is like water... In making a move, know how to choose he right moment.”

Lao Tzu 老子 1 via John Wu, chapter 8
from Tao The Ching

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“Victory breeds hatred. The defeated live in pain. Happily the peaceful live giving up victory and defeat.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth

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“As the water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it, so a wise man adapts himself to circumstances.”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"

Themes: Wisdom Water

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“the form of the military is like water. Water in its movement avoids the high and hastens to the low. The military in its victory avoids the solid and strikes the empty. The water determines its movement in accordance with the earth. The military determines victory in accordance with the enemy.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist

Themes: Humility Water

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“The sound of water says what I think.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Water Music

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“Water – If a drowning man drinks it, he dies. If a thirsty man drinks it, he lives.”

Hán Fēi 韓非 280 – 233 BCE

Themes: Water

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“The best people are like water… empty, clear, and deep…Water can take any shape, and it is never out of touch”

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

Themes: Water

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“Small-minded people blame others. Average people blame themselves. The wise see all blame as foolishness.”

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

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“I beat giving and taking into a unity.”

Ḍeṅgipa ཌེངྒི་པ། 1 via Keith Dowman
(“The Courtesan's Brahmin Slave”)
Mahasiddha #31
from Masters of Mahamudra

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“Drive all blame into one.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ 980 – 1054 CE via Chögyam Trungpa
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)
from Seven Points of Mind Training, Lojong བློ་སྦྱོངས་དོན་བདུན་མ;

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“Like madness is the glory of this life.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE
from Timon of Athens

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“All victories breed hate, and that over your superior is foolish or fatal. Preeminence is always detested”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Victory

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“Those whose main concern is food and clothing are untrustworthy in an impasse… complaining against heaven and blaming people.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 1734 – 1821 CE via Thomas Cleary
(Liu I-ming)
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

Themes: Complaint

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“Timeless wisdom draws us on”

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

Themes: Inspiration

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“When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

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“When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
America’s most famous author

Themes: Victory Karma

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“I hated all competition, and if someone played a game too competitively I turned my back on the game. Thereafter I remained second in the class, and found this considerably more enjoyable.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE
Insightful shamanistic scientist
from Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Themes: Competition

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“Man at his best, like water… loves living close to the earth, living clear down in his heart.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)

Themes: Virtue Water

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“The moment you meet a teacher, you should leave the teacher, and you should be independent.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE

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“Because you flow like water, you can neither win nor lose.”

Timothy Leary 1920 – 1996 CE
Pioneering psychonaut, performing philosopher, and counter-cultural hero
from Tao Te Ching – Psychedelic Prayers

Themes: Victory Water

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“The simplicity or singleness of the Way is that of water which always rejoins itself.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Water Simplicity

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“The more you see that it is very ordinary, the more that becomes an extraordinary case, which creates a further veil.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

Themes: Ordinary Mind

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Comments (3)

  1. Shan Dao
    Shan Dao 6 years ago
    “Everyone else always wants to be first” is a quote from Chuang Tzu: “Everyone else wants to be first, I’m not only one who wants to be last.” This would normally go into the Comments section; but, because it seems to express so clearly Lao Tzu’s meaning here, it’s in the text itself.
  2. Shan Dao
    Shan Dao 6 years ago
    The first line, “True goodness is like water” is Ursula Le Guin's direct translation.
  3. Shan Dao
    Shan Dao 6 years ago
    In the last paragraph, “Competiveness is a psychological disorder, a neurotic disease” is this translation “reading between the lines” more than probably anywhere else. Given our particular cultural context though, possibly Lao Tzu would approve this stronger language.
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