Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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A Path that can be explained
Isn’t a complete path.
Words that become names
Are only concepts, not real things.
The unnamed is the source of everything in heaven & on earth.
Not wanting anything to be different,
We see the inner essence.
Always wanting, we are blinded
And only see what we want.
Nameable and un-nameable;
The same source and nature but two words;
Deeper than any mystery,
Doorway to the essence of all true understanding.


When seduced by an image of beauty,
We create ugliness.
If that becomes beautiful, this becomes ugly.
When impressed by an image of goodness,
We create badness.
If this becomes good, that becomes bad.

Form & emptiness arise together:
Difficult & easy complement each other,
Long & short shape each other,
High & low contrast each other,
Note & noise harmonize each other,
First & last, before & after, back & front –
All follow each other.

Therefore the wise
Perform effortless deeds,
Practice wordless teachings,
Teach without saying anything.
And without grasping and fixation,
As the ten thousand things arise and dissolve,
They hold without owning,
Create without claiming,
Work without taking credit,
Accomplish without attachment.

What arises lasts forever because
Letting it go makes it stay.


Less fame, less fighting,
Less praise, less competition,
Less treasure, less theft,
Less desire, less delusion –
Therefore the wise leader begins by
Opening minds, emptying desires;
Weakening ambition, strengthening resolve,
Preventing external interference.
They do not-doing
And all goes well.


The Tao is like an empty bowl,
Used but never used up.
Those who use it never become full again.
And deep – the source of the ten thousand things.
It blunts sharp edges,
Unties all tangles,
Softens all glare.
One with the dust,
It unites the world into one whole.
It’s like a deep pool that never dries up,
Hidden deep but always here.
Was it too the child of something else?
Or the common ancestor of all,
The father of all things?


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.


The valley spirit of the morning light never dies.
The mysterious feminine, the primal mother;
The root and source of heaven and earth,
Elusive as gossamer yet inexhaustible and unfailing.


Heaven is eternal and earth will endure
Because they don’t live for themselves
Or nurture an independent self.
In this way the wise put themselves in the background
And end up in front
Put themselves outside
And find themselves safe and centered.
Because they don’t strive for personal goals,
They find fulfillment.


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.


If you don’t stop pouring,
The cup will spill over.
If you sharpen a blade too much,
It will soon dull.
If you keep accumulating wealth,
You won’t be able to protect it.

Fame, fortune, pleasure and power
All lead to their own downfall.
The vanity of success
Only brings to harvest
A crop of calamities.

The best recipe for a good life:
Know when to stop.


In being who and what you are,
Can you live with panoramic awareness?
Riding your energy like a new-born child,
Seeing with mirror-like, clear vision;
Can you journey without goal,
Serve without seeking reward,
Govern without gaining ideas,
Teach the wisdom beyond words?
Can you give birth and develop –
Create without attachment,
Nurture without domineering?
This is the Power of Goodness.


Without an empty hub,
Wheels are useless.
Without an inside emptiness,
Pots and bowls are useless.
Without an empty space for doors and windows,
Houses are useless.
Without an empty mind,
People are useless.


Perceptions create the illusion
Of a solid world
And can blind, deafen, & dull
Non-duality and Egolessness.
Chasing fame, fortune, pleasure & power
Only drives us crazy
While the race for riches
Just creates more crime.

So the wise understand
The sense, not just the words
Choosing reality over illusion;
This over that.


Honor and disgrace only trap and confuse us.
Painful because we hope to gain, fear to lose;
Misfortune and high status hurt like our bodies do.
Because favor turns into disfavor, misfortune into fortune;
Welcome them both.

Believing in a separate self
Creates great suffering.
Without a self,
How can there be suffering?
Only those who realize egolessness
Can safely be entrusted with political positions.
Only those not seduced and controlled by something external
Will remain unmanipulated by crises
And not become corrupted by power.


We look but don’t see – it’s beyond form.
We listen but don’t hear – it’s beyond sound.
We grasp but can’t hold on – it’s intangible.

All three undifferentiated, it merges into oneness
With no light above and no shadow below -

It returns beyond the realm of things
To emptiness: the formless form,
The empty image,
Unthinkable thought beyond imagination.

Face it but you will see no beginning,
Follow it but you will see no end.
Yet upholding this ancient way,
You will merge with and rule the present
Holding fast to the perpetual, momentary flickering of mind.


The ancient sages of old
Focused on uncontrived awareness
And realized the union of wisdom and compassion.
Inscrutable, you can only describe their appearance:
Mindful and slow like someone crossing a river in winter,
Meek like one aware of danger on all sides,
Polite and quiet like visiting houseguests,
Ephemeral and yielding like melting ice,
Simple and blank like uncarved blocks of wood,
Empty, receptive and expansive
Like a hollow in a valley,
Mysterious and obscure like turbulent water.

Who can wait and use stillness
To let what is troubled settle and grow clear?
Who can use action
To let what is still become full of life and movement?

Followers of the Way
Don’t look for praise or fulfillment.
Complete without effort,
Not seduced by hope and fear, grasping and fixation,
They are not swayed by a desire for change.


Emptiness is the Way of Heaven,
Stillness is the Way of Earth.
Taking emptiness to the limit,
Resting the mind in stillness,
The perception of all things arise and fall together
And in their arising is their return.

Like flowers and leaves,
They grow, flourish, and then return to their root.
Returning to the root brings peace,
A peace that recognizes
No difference between self and other
And appreciates awareness
As completely perfect just as it is.

Without this recognition,
Perceptions are deluded and confusion rules.
With this complete realization of awareness,
Open-hearted compassion dawns
And brings life without limits.
The body comes to its ending
But nothing dies.


During golden ages, people barely know their leaders exist;
In lesser times, people love and praise them.
In darker days, people fear their rulers
And in the darkest times, they despise them.

When leaders work for personal reward,
Honesty fails and deception rules.
Corrupted by desire for fame and power,
Leaders create criminals.

At any price, words from a true leader are hard to gain.
Their advice – given in secret without fuss or boasting,
Like the truest voice in a group of singers –
Seems to come from the people themselves.
When good works succeed,
The people think they’ve done it themselves.


When realization of the Tao and authentic presence dims,
We try to be kind and just.
When we over-value reason and learning,
Immense hypocrisy arises.

The sicker the society,
The more loyal true believers.
The more dysfunctional the family,
The more autocratic and subservient.
The more harmful the religion,
The more dogmatic extremists.
The more detrimental the government,
The more fanatic partisans.


Stop trying to be kind and just –
You will discover Basic Goodness.
Stop believing in wise words and reason –
You will become your own sage.
Stop always striving for profit and gain –
Competition, robbers and rivals will disappear.
Forget even these three rules –
You will discover ordinary mind.


Stop always cramming more and more information into your head
And realization may dawn dissolving all difficulties.
Yes and no,
Agreement and rejection,
Beautiful and ugly,
Good and bad…
Won’t seem so different and far apart.
How foolish to fear something just because others do.

When people get what they want,
They are wreathed in smiles, joyous and beaming,
Drowning in what they love.
The wise stay unmoved
Knowing that nothing is ever lost or gained.
Alone, aimlessly wandering like a child,
Like a baby too young to smile,
Not belonging, not fitting it,
They remain with nowhere to turn, no one to turn to.

Fools accumulate more and more but never have enough.
The wise with nothing remain completely content.
Fools thinking they know become more and more convinced
While falling further and further from truth.
The wise remain uncertain, unconvinced, open without answers,
Drifting without anchor like waves on the sea;
Without direction like the restless wind.

The foolish stay busy, settle into habits and endlessly chase goals.
The wise are not seduced, don’t interfere, and remain content with what is.