Tao Te Chine by Lao Tzu [道德经 – 老子] (Translated by Victor H. Mair)

Posted: August 25, 2010 in Book Notes
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[Different version of text and its corresponding translation by Wikisource]

Introduction by Huston Smith

  • As soon as human beings started considering themselves the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, meaning begin to ebb, and the stature of man to shrink. The world lost its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.
  • …East Asian civilization is more occupied than others with the question of how people, if wisely ruled, can live together in peace and harmony.
  • With water again as its teacher, it invites us to see that much of our flailing in life’s river stems from our thinking that we must labor mightily to stay afloat. We do not realize how much its water supports us of its own accord.
  • Recognizing the extent to which our civilization is fatally out of balance with itself and the natural world, seeking a deeper and truer integration of human ways with the eternal ways…

Te [德]: Integrity

  • The person of superior integrity takes no action, nor has he a purpose for acting.
  • It is necessary to be noble, and yet take humility as a basis. It is necessary to be exalted, and yet take modesty as a foundation.
  • When the inferior man hears the Way, he laughs at it loudly. If he did not laugh, it would not be fit to be the Way.
  • The great square has no corners. The great vessel is never completed. The great note sounds muted. The great image has no form. The Way is concealed and has no name.
  • All creatures under heaven are born from being; being is born from nonbeing.
  • The Way gave birth to unity, unity gave birth to duality, duality gave birth to trinity, trinity gave birth to the myriad creatures.
  • Nonbeing penetrates nonspaces. Hence, I know the advantage of nonaction. The doctrine without words, the advantage of nonaction – few under heaven can realize these!
  • Know contentment and you shall not be disgraced, know satisfaction and you shall not be imperiled; then you will long endure.
  • No guilt is greater than giving in to desire, no disaster is greater than discontent, no crime is more grievous than the desire for gain. Therefore, contentment that derives from knowing when to be content is eternal contentment.
  • The farther one goes, the less one knows. For this reason, the sage knows without journeying, understands without looking, accomplishes without acting.
  • The sage never has a mind of his own; he considers the minds of the common people to be his mind.
  • Treat well those who are good, also treats well those who are not good; thus is goodness attained.
  • They Way gives birth to them and integrity nurtures them. Matter forms them and function completes them.
  • It gives birth but does not possess, acts but does not presume, rears but does not control -> mysterious integrity
  • Seeing what is small is called insight, abiding in softness is called strength.
  • What is firmly established cannot be uprooted; what is tightly embraced cannot slip away.
  • Harmony implies constancy; constancy requires insight.
  • One who knows does not speak; one who speaks does not know.
  • The more taboos under heaven, the poorer the people; the more clever devices people have, the more confused the state and ruling house; the more knowledge people have, the more strange things spring up; the more legal affairs are given prominence, the more numerous bandits and thieves.
  • Be square but not cutting, angular but not prickly, straight but not arrogant, bright but not dazzling.
  • Seek and thou shalt receive; sin and thou shalt be forgiven.
  • Act through nonaction, handle affairs though noninterference, taste what has no taste, regard the small as great, the few as many, repay resentment with integrity. Undertake difficult tasks by approaching what is easy in them; do great deeds by focusing on their minute aspects. All difficulties under heaven arise from what is easy, all great things under heaven arise from what is minute. For this reason, the sage never strives to do what is great. Therefore, he can achieve greatness.
  • Act before there is a problem; bring order before there is disorder.
  • Who acts fails; who grasps loses.
  • The people are hard to rule because they have too much knowledge.
  • Sincere words are not beautiful, beautiful words are not sincere. He who knows is not learned, he who is learned does not know. He who is good does not have much, he who has much is not good. The sage does not hoard. The more he does for others, the more he has himself; the more he gives to others, the more his own bounty increases.
  • I have always possessed three treasures that I guard and cherish. The first is compassion, the second is frugality, the third is not daring to be ahead of all under heaven.
  • I dare not be host, but would rather be guest; I advance not an inch, but instead retreat a foot.
  • The sage is self-aware, but does not flaunt himself; he is self-devoted, but does not glorify himself.
  • Heaven’s nest is vast; though its meshes are wide, nothing escapes.
  • Only she who acts not for the sake of life is wiser than those who value life highly.
  • Human beings are soft and supple when alive, stiff and straight when dead. The myriad creatures, the grasses and trees are soft and fragile when alive, dry and withered when dead. Therefore, it is said: the rigid person is a disciple of death; the soft, supple, and delicate are lovers of life. An army that is inflexible will not conquer; a tree that is inflexible will snap. The unyielding and mighty shall by brought low; the soft, supple, and delicate will be set above.
  • The Way of heaven reduces surplus to make up for scarcity; the Way of man reduces scarcity and pays tribute to surplus.
  • The sage acts but does not possess, completes his work but does not dwell on it. In this fashion, he has no desire to display his worth.
  • True words seems contradictory.

Tao [道]: The Way

  • The sage dwells in affairs of nonaction, carries out a doctrine without words. He lets the myriad creatures rise up but does not instigate them; he acts but does not presume; he completes his work but does not dwell on it. Now, simply because he does not dwell on them, his accomplishment never leave him.
  • Not exalting men of worth prevents the people from competing; not putting high value on rare goods prevents the people from being bandits; not displaying objects of desire prevents people from being disorderly.
  • Hearing too much leads to utter exhaustion; better to remain in the center.
  • The sage withdraws himself but comes to the fore, alienates himself but is always present.
  • …the quality of the heart is in its depth, the quality of giving lies in trust…the quality of movement depends on timing.
  • When gold and jade fill your rooms, no one will be able to guard them for you. If wealth and honor make you haughty, you bequeath misfortune upon yourself.
  • Thirty spokes converge on a single hub, but it is in the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the cart lies. Clay is molded to make a pot, but it is in the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the clay pot lies. Cut out doors and windows to make a room, but it is in the spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the room lies. Therefore, benefit may be derived from something, but it is in nothing that we find usefulness.
  • If turbid waters are stilled, they will gradually become clear; if something inert is set in motion, it will gradually come to life.
  • Attain utmost emptiness, maintain utter stillness.
  • Abolish sagehood and abandon cunning, the people will benefit a hundredfold; abolish humaneness and abandon righteousness, the people will once again be filial and kind; abolish cleverness and abandon profit, bandits and thieves will be no more.
  • Evince the plainness of undyed silk, embrace the simplicity of the unhewn log; lessen selfishness, diminish desires; abolish learning and you will be without worries.
  • He whom others fears, likewise cannot but fear others.
  • One who aspires to the Way, does not abide in them.
  • If it is bend, it will be preserved intact; is crooked, it will be straightened; is sunken, it will be filled; is worn-out, it will be renewed; has little, it will gain; has much, it will be confused. For these reasons, the sage holds on to unity and serves as the shepherd of all under heaven. He is not self-absorbed, therefore he shines forth; he is not self-revealing, therefore he is distinguished; he is not self-assertive, therefore he has merit; he does not praise himself, therefore, he is long-lasting. Now, simply because he does not compete, no one can compete with him.
  • Being great implies flowing ever onward, flowing ever onward implies far-reaching, far-reaching implies reversal.
  • Heavy is the root of light; calm is the ruler of haste.
  • He who is skilled at traveling leaves neither tracks nor traces; he who is skilled at speaking is flawless in his delivery; he who is skilled in computation uses neither tallies nor counters; he who is skilled at closing things tightly has neither lock nor key, but what he closes cannot be opened; he who is good at binding has neither cord nor string, but what he binds cannot be untied.
  • Know masculinity, maintain femininity, and be a ravine for all under heaven. By being a ravine for all under heaven, eternal integrity will never desert you. If eternal integrity never deserts you, you will return to the state of infancy. Know you are innocent, remain steadfast when insulted, and be a valley for all under heaven. By being a valley for all under heave, eternal integrity will suffice. If eternal integrity suffices, you will return to the simplicity of the unhewn log. Know whiteness, maintain blackness, and be a model for all under heaven, eternal integrity does not err. If integrity does not err, your will return to infinity. When the unhewn log is sawn apart, it is made into tools; when the sage is put to use, he becomes the chief of officials.
  • The sage rejects extremes, rejects excess, rejects extravagance.
  • If something grows old while still in its prime, this is called “not being in accord with the Way.” Not being in accord with the Way leads to an early demise.
  • He places placidity above all and refuses to prettify weapon; if one prettifies weapons, this is to delight in the killing of others.
  • Knowing when to stop, one thereby avoids peril.
  • The relationship of all under heaven to the Way is like that of valley streams to the river and the sea.
  • Understanding others is knowledge, understanding oneself is enlightenment; conquering others is power, conquering oneself is strength; contentment is wealth, forceful conduct is willfulness; not losing one’s rightful place is to endure, to die but not to be forgotten is longevity.
  • When you wish to contract something, you must momentarily expand it; when you wish to weaken something, you must momentarily strengthen it; when you wish to reject something, you must momentarily join with it; when you wish to seize something, you must momentarily give it up. This is called “subtle insight.”
  • The soft and weak conquer the strong.
  • …they will be still, whereupon heaven and earth will be made right by themselves.

Afterword by Victor H. Mair

  • The best way to control is through minimal interference and by keeping the people simple, without knowledge and without desire – two pervasive themes of the Tao Te Ching.
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