Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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The foolish chase appearances
And forget the essence.
The wise follow the essence
And forget about everything else.
This brings the greatest Power of Goodness,
A goodness elusive and intangible
Yet projecting images and forms,
Thoughts and feelings.

From beginningless time,
This Goodness shines
Illuminating all of creation.
Existing yet not existing;
Dark and distant
It waxes and wanes,
Form as empty
Empty as form.

Without the Way,
Goodness would have no Power;
Without Goodness,
The Way would have no Form.
How do we know?
Through here-and-now
Empty-hearted this-ness.


Break to become whole,
Twist to become straight,
Empty to become full,
Wear out to become new,
Have little to gain much,
With much, you gain only confusion.
The wise therefore embrace non-duality
And use that to shepherd the world.

Not showing off, they shine brightly.
Not justifying themselves, they gain respect.
Not defining themselves, they become new.
Not bragging and parading themselves, they lead.
Not flattering themselves, their success endures.

Not competing,
In all the world they have no competition.
As the old masters taught,
Surrender to overcome.
By returning, you become whole.


Nature doesn’t make long speeches,
Only simple and quiet words ripen by themselves.
A hurricane doesn’t last all morning,
A sudden cloudburst doesn’t last all day.
If even the greatest forces of nature
Can’t go on and on,
How much less so do people need to?

So whatever you do,
Be one with the Way.
When you succeed,
Be one with success.
When you fail,
Be one with failure.
To be appreciated, appreciate.


Those who tiptoe stumble,
Those who strut can’t walk far,
Those who show off don’t impress,
Those who brag receive no credit,
Those who define themselves aren’t real.
Self-promoters do no good.

This is like unnecessary baggage,
Over-eating, working too hard,
Not knowing when to stop.
When the wise are full, they stop eating;
When tired, they rest;
They avoid what others fight over.


Something that contains everything,
Quiet and still, pure and deep;
Here before heaven and earth,
Alone and unchanging
Like a mother bringing up her children
Formless, it completes all things.

Not knowing its real name,
We call it the Way.
Not knowing how to describe it,
We call it sacred.
Sacred means always and never changing.
Always changing means indefinable.
Not defining means returning to this.

So the Way is sacred -
Heaven, Earth, and Humankind - all sacred.
Humankind imitates Earth,
Earth imitates Heaven,
Heaven imitates the Way,
And the Way follows what is
As the mother of all things.


The root masters the trivial,
Stillness masters moving
And constantly transforms itself.
Therefore the wise
Never leave the root,
Are never seduced by the superficial.
They don’t ignore their body
Chasing external things,
Forgetting their true nature by
Following their emotions.

If leaders are frivolous,
They lose respect.
If impatient and restless,
They lose support.
If self-serving,
They lose all value.


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.


Recognize the masculine
But turn back to the feminine
And become the world’s riverbed
Always true and unswerving,
Becoming a new born child again.

Recognize the light
But turn back to the dark
And become a pattern to the world,
True and unerring power
Going back again to boundlessness.

Recognize the glory
But turn back to the modest
And become the world’s guide
To boundless energy and power
Going back again to the natural,
An uncarved block of wood,
Primal simplicity.

A block of wood can be made into tools
But tools cannot be made into a block of wood
The wise can easily be made into leaders
But leaders not so easily made wise.
The greatest carver does the least cutting.


Those who try to improve the world with force
Only come to grief;
Tampering makes things worse.
Because life is sacred just as it is,
It can’t be forced.
Trying to change only harms,
Trying to control only spoils,
To grasp is to lose.

Sometimes things lead,
Sometimes they follow;
Sometimes they’re strong,
Sometimes weak;
Sometimes easy, sometimes hard;
Sometimes success, sometimes failure.


Those who with wisdom advise rulers
Counsel against conquest,
Using aggression & violence to rule.
The nature of weapons
Is to turn against their holder.
Where armies march,
Thorns and brambles grow.
War brings bad harvests.
Great conquerors
Are really great criminals.
Best to defend and stop.

The best leaders succeed
Without becoming arrogant,
Without bragging,
Without feeling proud,
Without feeling regret.
They only do what has to be done,
They succeed without using force.

Like waves in the sea,
Let life ripen and then fall.
The Tao - like the sea itself -
Doesn’t begin or end.
What goes against the Tao
Comes to an early end.


Weapons of war
Are instruments of fear,
A spread of plague,
Hateful to living things.
Therefore the wise shun them.

Weapons are not auspicious tools,
And should be used only when no choice,
Then with only a calm, still mind
That doesn’t rejoice at victory.

To rejoice at victory
Is to enjoy killing people.
And to enjoy killing people
Is to lose share in the common good
And the possibility for worldly success.

The death of so many
Is cause for mourning.
Victory in war should be received
With funeral ceremonies.


Uncontrived awareness goes on forever,
Undefined and nameless.
Small and like uncut wood in primal simplicity,
No one can control or manipulate it.

When rulers follow this Tao,
The world becomes like a guest,
Heaven and Earth harmonize,
Life becomes like the freshness of rain,
People become good for each other,
And all things take their natural course.

For practical wisdom,
Experience must be defined and ordered.
But when definitions proliferate,
It’s time to stop and understand more deeply.
If people know when to stop,
Danger dissolves.
True wisdom in the world
Is like a river flowing home to the sea.


Those who know others are clever,
Those who know themselves are wise.
Those who conquer others are briefly powerful,
Those who conquer themselves are always strong.
Those who know they have enough are rich,
Ambition wanders blind.
Those who stay where they have found their true home flourish.
Our bodies disappear
But the eternal present goes on and on.


Awareness floats and drifts
Like an unmoored boat
Making no distinction between
Going this way and going that way.

Everything lives in its grace
And it denies nothing to anyone
Making no claims,
Having no desires.
Because it lacks the dualistic twist,
It’s considered insignificant
Though it gives birth to all things
Like the wind creating movement,
Water creating waves.

Because the wise never try to be great
They accomplish great things.


Stabilize awareness
And the world will arise
Safe, serene, and at peace.

Music, fancy food, and entertainment
Make wayfarers briefly pause
While the Tao
Seems flat and insipid,
Without substance or flavor.
It looks like nothing much,
It sounds like nothing much,
We look but don’t see it,
We listen but don’t hear it.


Every rapid collapse
Was once a bubble.
Those who feel unarmed
Once carried weapons.
Every failure in weakness
Was once puffed up with pseudo strength.
Those who feel belittled
Were once arrogant.
Those who feel deprived
Once had unearned privilege.

The wise hide their light,
Never advance unless under cover,
Never disclose the source of pain or joy.
The soft and weak prevail
Over the hard and strong.


The wise do nothing through acting,
They do everything through being.
Never making a big deal about anything,
They accomplish everything.

When leaders follow this way,
All things grow naturally
And the world’s passion
To stray from goodness
Is checked at its core
In Nameless Simplicity.

When desires are stilled,
Grasping and fixation dissolve,
Peace reigns,
And in not wanting,
All the world spontaneously
Rests in appreciation.


The highest goodness,
Not revealing or clinging to goodness
Has true goodness.
Lesser goodness tries to hold onto it
And therefore loses it.
The highest goodness involves no effort
Or the thought of effort.
Lesser goodness does nothing
But always has an end in view.

The good the truly good do
Has no end in view.
The good the righteous do
Always has a goal.

When those who act
in conventional obedience to the law
Don’t get their way,
They angrily roll up their sleeves
And try to control, threatening and compelling.

When we lose the Way,
We seek the power of goodness.
When we lose this,
We look to kindness.
When we lose kindness,
We look for justice.
When we lose justice,
We look to opinion: conventional wisdom,
Ritual & obedience to the law.

Opinion is the beginning of ignorance.
Belief is the beginning of delusion
Thinking of our delusion as wisdom
Is the beginning of mental illness
In an individual and a sick society
In politics and culture.

For these reasons,
The wise choose this over that,
The fruit over the flower,
Substance over surface,
The sense over the words,
This over that.


The oneness of life
Displays itself in its parts:
Clarity expresses oneness in the sky,
Stillness expresses oneness in the earth,
Purity express oneness in spirit.
Valleys express oneness when they flow with rivers,
When the 10,000 creatures realize oneness,
They flourish,
When leaders realize oneness,
They bring peace to the world.

Without clarity, heaven would crack;
Without stillness, the earth would crumble;
Without purity, spirit would dissolve;
Without fullness, valleys would dry up;
Without humility, leaders would fall.

Because the high is built on the foundation of the low,
And humility is the root of greatness,
Good leaders call themselves
Orphaned, widowed, destitute.
Who will keep chasing after the clink of treasure
After they have heard stone growing on a cliff?


The Tao is counter-intuitive,
Unconventional, a paradox.
It goes back and back, returning to the root.
Its strength is weakness.
Everything comes from something
But something comes from nothing.