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Tao Te Ching

translated by Stephen Mitchell
Chapter One

The tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal Name.

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
Of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realise the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
Arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Chapter Two

When people see some things as beautiful,
Other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

Chapter Three

If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.

The Master leads
by emptying people's minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.

Practice not-doing
and everything will fall into place.

Chapter Four

The Tao is like a well
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.

It is hidden but always present.
I don't know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God

Chapter Five

The Tao doesn't take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn't take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.

The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty and yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;


the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

Hold on to the centre.

Chapter Six

The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.

It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.

Chapter Eight

The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself ;
thus it is present for all beings.

The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is at one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places people distain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

Chapter Nine

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

Chapter Seven
Chapter Ten

Can you coax your mind from wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child's?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind


and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.

Chapter Eleven

We join spokes together in a wheel,

but it is the centre hole

that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,

but it is the emptiness inside

that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,

but it is the inner space

that makes it liveable.

We work with being,

but non-being is what we use.

Chapter Twelve

Colours blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavours numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.

The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.

Chapter Thirteen

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don't see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things

Chapter Fourteen

Look, and it can't be seen.
Listen, and it can't be heard.
Reach, and it can't be grasped.

Above, it isn't bright.
Below, it isn't dark.
Seamless, unnameable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can't know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realise where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom. 

Chapter Fifteen

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.

Their wisdom was unfathomable.

There is no way to describe it ;

all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful

as someone crossing over an iced-over stream.

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.

Courteous as a guest.

Fluid as melting ice.

Shapable as a block of wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait

till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.

Not speaking, not expecting,

she is present, and can welcome all things.

Chapter Sixteen

Empty your mind of all thoughts.

Let your heart be at peace.

Watch the turmoil of beings,

but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe

returns to the common source.

Returning to the common source is serenity.

If you don't realise the source,

you stumble in confusion and sorrow.

When you realise where you come from,

you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused,

kind-hearted as a grandmother,

dignified as a king.

Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,

you can deal with whatever life brings you,

and when death comes, you are ready.

Chapter Seventeen

When the Master governs, the people

are hardly aware that he exists.

Next best is a leader who is loved.

Next, one who is feared.

The worst is one who is despised.

If you don't trust the people,

you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn't talk, he acts.

When his work is done,

the people say. "Amazing:

we did it, all by ourselves!"

Chapter Eighteen

When the great Tao is forgotten,

goodness and piety appear.

When the body's intelligence declines,

cleverness and knowledge step forth.

When there is no peace in the family,

filial piety begins.

When the country falls into chaos,

patriotism is born.

Chapter Nineteen

Throw away holiness and wisdom,

and people will be a hundred times happier.

Throw away morality and justice,

and people will do the right thing.

Throw away industry and profit,

and there won't be any thieves.

If these three aren't enough,

just stay at the centre of the circle

and let all things take their course.

Chapter Twenty

Stop thinking, and end your problems.

What difference between yes and no?

What difference between success and failure?

Must you value what others value,

avoid what others avoid?

How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,

as though they were at a parade.

I alone don't care,

I alone am expressionless,

like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need:

I alone possess nothing.

I alone drift about,

like someone without a home.

I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright ;

I alone am dark.

Other people are sharp;

I alone am dull.

Other people have a purpose;

I alone don't know.

I drift like a wave on the ocean,

I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.

I drink from the Great Mother's breasts.

Chapter
Twenty - One

The Master keeps her mind

always at one with the Tao;

that is what gives her her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable.

How can her mind be at one with it?

Because she doesn't cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.

How can it make her radiant?

Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were,

the Tao is.

It is beyond "is" and "is not".

How do I know this is true?

I look inside myself and see.

Chapter
Twenty - Two

If you want to become whole,

let yourself be partial.

If you want to become straight,

let yourself be crooked.

If you want to become full,

let yourself be empty.

If you want to be reborn,

let yourself die.

If you want to be given everything,

give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,

sets an example for all beings.

Because he doesn't display himself,

people can see his light.

Because he has nothing to prove,

people can trust his words.

Because he doesn't know who he is,

people recognise themselves in him.

Because he has no goal in mind,

everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,

"If you want to be given everything,

give everything up,"

they weren't using empty phrases.

Only in being lived by the Tao

can you be truly yourself.

Chapter
Twenty - Three

Express yourself completely,

then keep quiet.

Be like the forces of nature:

when it blows, there is only wind;

when is rains, there is only rain;

when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,

you are at one with the Tao

and you can embody it completely.

If you open yourself to insight,

you are at one with insight

and you can use it completely.

If you open yourself to loss,

you are at one with loss

and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao,

then trust your natural responses;

and everything will fall into place.

 

4Marta Begonja and 3 others

Chapter
Twenty - Four

He who stands on tiptoe

doesn't stand firm.

He who rushes ahead

doesn't go far.

He who tries to shine

dims his own light.

He who defines himself

can't know who he really is.

He who has power over others

can't empower himself.

He who clings to his work

will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,

just do your job, then let go.

Chapter
Twenty - Five

There was something formless and perfect

before the universe was born.

It is serene. Empty.

Solitary. Unchanging.

Infinite. Eternally present.

It is the mother of the universe.

For lack of a better name,

I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,

inside and outside, and returns

to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.

The universe is great.

Earth is great.

Man is great.

These are the four great powers.

Man follows earth.

Earth follows the universe.

The universe follows the Tao.

The Tao follows only itself.

Chapter
Twenty - Six

The heavy is the root of the light.

The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the Master travels all day

without leaving home.

However splendid the views,

she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country

flit about like a fool?

If you let yourself be blown too and fro,

you lose touch with your root.

If you let restlessness move you,

you lose touch with who you are.

Chapter
Twenty - Seven

A good traveler has no fixed plans

and is not intent upon arriving.

A good artist lets his intuition

lead him wherever it wants.

A good scientist has freed himself of concepts

and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people

and doesn't reject anyone.

He is ready to use all situations

and doesn't waste anything.

This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?

What is a bad man but a good man's job.

If you don't understand this, you will get lost,

however intelligent you are.

It is the great secret.