Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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When the wise hear of the Tao,
They immediately follow it.
When the conventional hear,
They wonder if it’s true.
When the foolish hear,
They laugh out loud.
If there were no laughter,
It wouldn’t be the Tao.
Therefore these saying arose:

The brightest path seems dark,
Advancing seems like retreating,
The smoothest way seems rough,
The easy way seems hard,
Perfect whiteness looks dirty,
The strongest power seems weak,
The truest truth uncertain,
The pure and simple looks chaotic,
The highest virtue is empty like a valley,

The greatest square has no corners,
The greatest tool has no uses,
The greatest music has no sound,
The greatest image has no form.

The Tao is hidden and nameless
Yet it alone nourishes, sustains
And brings everything to fulfillment


From the Way came the one
From the one, yin and yang
From yin and yang, heaven & earth & man
From heaven, earth, and man
The 10,000 things.

The 10,000 things with yin at their backs,
With yang embraced
Find harmony joining heaven, earth, & man.
Heaven gives, earth transforms, and man nurtures.

Although all the world hates
Being orphaned, widowed, divorced, destitute;
The most successful people
Identify with these states.
Since we gain by losing,
And we lose by gaining,
These teachings of old continue:
Those who love victory make enemies,
Violence and aggression destroy themselves.


Like water wearing through stone,
The soft and weak become more powerful
Than the strong and hard.
What doesn’t exit finds space anywhere.
This shows the value in not doing.
Beyond the understanding of all but a very few,
This is wordless wisdom,
Accomplishment without effort, without trace.


Which means more to you –
Health or wealth?
What matters more –
Fame or your true name?
Which gives more pain –
Loss or gain?

The more we love something,
The more it will cost.
The bigger the treasure,
The more will be lost.
Contentment keeps disgrace away,
Knowing when to stop keeps danger at bay.


The greatest perfection seems flawed
Yet has inexhaustible usefulness.
Perfectly full, it seems empty
Yet never runs dry.

True straightness looks crooked,
True skill looks clumsy,
True eloquence sounds tongue-tied.

Still, it overcomes the active;
Active, it overcomes the still.
Opposites complement each other
Becoming the peaceful and serene
That sets the universe in order.


When wisdom rules,
Horses manure fields instead of roads.
When the world lacks wisdom,
War horses are raised on the commons.

The greatest evil: always wanting more.
The biggest mistake: always chasing desires.
The cruelest curse: always getting what we want.

Only when we know what is enough
Will we always have enough.
To know enough’s enough
Is enough to know.


Without leaving home
You can understand all that goes on in the world.
Without looking through a window,
You can see the universal patterns.
The farther you go,
The less you know.
The wise therefore
Don’t go but know,
Don’t look but see,
Don’t try but succeed.
The best way to do is to be.


Those who seek learning
Grow larger every day.
Those who follow the Tao
Daily shrink.
They lose and they lose
Until they arrive at not-doing.

Nothing to do
Means nothing not done,
Nothing to fuss over,
No gaining ideas.

Those busy interfering,
Making a big deal out of everything
With their ambition and grasping
Are not fit to rule,
To run things,
To be in charge of anything.


The wise have no set mind of their own,
No goals or intensions.
They take the mind of the common people
As their own.
They’re kind to good people
And they’re kind to bad people
Until they become good.
They trust the true
And they trust the false
Until they become true.

With the world
They mix their minds,
With the world
They merge their lives.
People focus their eyes and ears
While sages only smile.


To look too hard for life
Is to find death.
3 out of 10 chase their passions,
3 out of 10 push away what they don’t like,
3 out of 10 ignore and sleep-walk.
These all hold on too hard to life.

Only 1 out of 10 understands how to live in ways
That they fear no weapons in battle,
That they cross wild lands without fear of danger.
Horns can find no place to gore,
Claws can find no place to tear,
Soldiers can find no place to thrust their swords.

They have nowhere in them for death to enter.


All things arise from the Tao
And the Power of Goodness nourishes them
As their own being shapes them,
As their own energy completes them.
In this way, the 10,000 things
All hold the Tao Sacred
And follow the Power of Goodness.

Unforced and natural,
This reverence and devotion
Arises spontaneously
As the Way gives life and supports,
Mothers and trains,
Shelters and protects,
Comforts and completes.

Mysterious, hidden, and profound;
This highest goodness
Holds without possessing,
Succeeds without taking credit,
Leads without controlling.


Everything has a common beginning,
The mother of all things.
By understanding the mother,
We understand the children.
And when we understand the children,
We naturally turn back to the mother
And as the body comes to its ending,
We remain with nothing to fear.

Block all the openings,
Close all the gates
And life will always be full.
Open everything up
Always distracted and busy
And you will live without help or hope.

Those who understand the insignificant have vision
Those who protect the weak have strength.
Those who use their outer sight
While trusting their insight
Live beyond death
Cultivating the changeless.


Those with even a little sense
Walk the Way humbly
And arrogance is all they fear.
This way is smooth and straight
But people love their sidetracks.

When mansions are full of splendor;
Fields are full of weeds,
Farms are poor and wild,
And the granaries are empty.

These are the real robber barons,
The worst of lowly brigands
With the vanity of thieves:

People wearing wealth
With weapons at their side
Over-filled with food and drink
Hoarding what they do not need.


Well planted is not easily uprooted,
Well taken care of is not easily taken away
And will be honored from generation to generation.

Cultivated in yourself, goodness becomes real.
Cultivated in your family it grows,
Cultivated in your village it multiplies,
Cultivated in your country it flourishes,
Cultivated in the world it brings goodness everywhere.

We understand others through understanding ourselves,
Other families through understanding our own family,
Other communities through understanding our own community,
Other countries through understanding our own country.

How do we know this is true?
By seeing into our own experience.


Those steeped in goodness
Are like a newborn baby,
The eternal beginning, the life-bringing source:

Insects don’t sting,
Wild animals don’t attack.
They have weak muscles and soft bones
But a strong and firm grip.
They don’t know anything about sex
But their sexual organs still swell.
Full of true essence in balanced harmony,
They can cry all day without getting hoarse.
With perfectly balanced breath,
They live at endless ease with everything.

Knowing this harmony,
They understand the eternal.
Understanding the eternal,
They become wise.

The foolish though rush about,
Straining and trying to control
Exhausting their vital breath
Leading to rigidity and decay.


Those who know don’t tell,
Those who tell don’t know.

By watching what you say,
By not having rough edges to catch,
By keeping it simple and unconfused,
Become one with the dust of the way
And realize the deep sameness of One Taste.

Then you will stop being controlled
By love and rejection,
By profit and loss,
By praise and humiliation,
By fame and fortune,
By pleasure and power
And you will stabilize the highest realization.


Use conventional wisdom to rule a country,
Use deception to win a war
But only non-action, not meddling, letting go, doing nothing …
Will win your world.

See how this is true by watching how:
The more laws and prohibitions,
The poorer the people;
The more experts,
The more confusion;
The more weapons,
The more trouble;
The more clever the schemes,
The more people lose;
The louder the call for law and order,
The more thieves and con artists.

For these reasons wise leaders
Don’t meddle and the people transform themselves;
Don’t preach and the people naturally improve themselves;
Don’t create new economic schemes and the people prosper on their own;
Don’t chase ambitious goals and the people return to a good and simple life.


The less a leader does and says,
The happier the people.
The more a leader struts and controls,
The more discontent.

Misery lurks under good fortune,
Happiness hides under misery.
Since nothing is certain,
Who knows what the future holds?

Happiness and misery alternate like the seasons:
Honesty becomes deception,
The fortunate becomes unfortunate,
The ominous becomes auspicious
And our bewilderment goes on and on.

And so the wise become:
An edge that doesn’t cut,
A point that doesn’t pierce,
A line that doesn’t extend,
A light that doesn’t shine.


In looking after yourself
And caring for others,
Nothing surpasses the gardening of spirit.

Gathered early, this power doubles
And prevents any reckless use of mind.
It brings freedom from our own ideas
And the knowing of what to accept, what to reject.
It overcomes all obstacles,
Reaches invisible heights,
And has no limits.

Firmly planted and deeply rooted in the Tao,
It shows the way to a deep life with eternal vision.


Manage a big project
With the same care and attention
As cooking a small fish.

Always follow the Tao
And evil loses strength,
Outside nothing troubles,
Inside, nothing frightens,
Obstacles lose power
And transform into opportunity.