Verses from the Tao Te Ching

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Description lies: the map
is not the territory.
The way that can be named
is not the eternal way.

Nameless, it begets heaven and earth.
Named, it illuminates each process,
generates every thing.

Persisting without desire
we penetrate its mystery.
Persisting with desire
we grasp its outer play.

The two aspects are one;
we call them two to speak
at all, of change.

Where they fuse we find mystery:
profound, dynamic, the doorway
to all, subtle and wonderful.



Everyone knows beauty as beauty
because they know ugliness,
knows good as good
by knowing bad.

So it goes: life and death
beget each other, hard
makes easy and vice-versa,
high and low arise by
contrast, long and short
are co-configured, sound
and silence make the music,
before and after follow
from each other.

Therefore the wise practice inaction,
teach without talking about it.

Everything comes to pass
in its time, dynamic
and unauthored, proceeding
despite expectations.
Take what happens
naturally, go on:
no one knows how or why,
it lasts forever.



To cure rivalry, give no rewards
for being superior; to stop theft,
stop gathering treasures; to clear
confusion, stop inflaming lust.

So wise governance leaves people's minds
receptive, keeps them fed, quiets ambition
and strengthen spine, leaves them
not knowing and not wanting, keeps the knowing
from presumptuous action.  If nothing
is done, all will go well.



The way is an empty vessel,
used but never filled:
unfathomable, the source
of all.

It blunts sharpness, untangles
knots, softens the glare,
lays the blowing dust.  Deep hidden,
always here.

I don't know how it came to be,
preceding the divine.



Heaven and earth act
but don't care, treat everything
like flowers by the grave.  The wise
act without caring, treat everyone
like flowers by the grave.

The space between heaven and earth
is like a bellows: empty
it retains its power, moving more
it yields more.

Much talk leads to exhaustion.
Keep to the core.



Spokes join the rim to the hub,
but the wheel's use depends
on the hole in the center.

We make a bowl from clay,
but emptiness makes it useful.

We cut out doors and windows,
but vacancy makes the room habitable.

So what's there is advantageous,
but what's not is what makes it useful.



The spectrum blinds the eye,
harmony deafens the ear,
seasonings deaden taste.

Getting ahead in the rat-race
makes you crazy, treasure-hunting
leads you astray.

Pay attention to your belly,
not your eyes.  Let go without,
take hold within.



Hero or goat, the shock's the same.
High status is a calamity.

What do I mean, the shock's the same?
When people rise, they go crazy;
when they fall, they go crazy;
when they're on top, they're afraid
of falling.  That's what I mean,
the shock's the same.

Why should status be a calamity?
We hurt only because we have bodies;
if we didn't, how could we hurt?
That's why status is a calamity.

Let someone who values himself more
than control over anything run things,
trust her to take care of everything
if she knows how to care for herself.



What we look at but can't see
we call invisible,
What we listen to but can't hear
we call inaudible,
what we touch but can't feel
we call infinitesimal.

These three qualities
are unfathomable, collapse together
in the null set, defining
the universe.

Its heights aren't bright,
its depths aren't dark.
It keeps changing, can't
be named, becomes nothing
again.  Call it the shapeless shape,
the formless image,
indeterminable, unimaginable.
Confront it, you can't see the front.
Follow it, you can't see the rear.

Grasp the ancient way
to direct today's affairs,
Knowing the ancient beginning
is known as the heart of the way.



The old masters of the way
were deft and subtle in grasping
its mystery, too deep
to be known.  As they were unknown,
I'll try to sketch one:
tentative, as if wading a winter stream;
hesitant, sensing danger in the neighborhood;
respectful, like a guest;
self-effacing, like melting ice;
as empty as a blank page,
a vacant lot, murky
as a mudpuddle.

Who can let the murk settle
and grow clear?  Who can go limp
to slowly stir to life?

If you know the way
you don't want to be complete.
It's because you're not done
that you can wear yourself and still
be in the making.



Try your hardest to grow empty,
hold fast to stillness.
All things are active at once,
watch them go through their cycles.
After flourishing, everything
returns to its root.  Returning
to the root is known as stillness,
it rejoins you with your destiny.
Rejoining your destiny is the underlying
order; it's wise to be aware of this.

Ignorant of the order, you run blindly
into disaster.  Knowing it,
you embrace everything.  Embracing
all, you treat all
with justice.  Judging justly
[fits you to govern, makes you
heavenly,]* opens the way
to the way forever,
leaving you safe for life.

                        * This is thought to be
                         a late interpolation.



At first, at best,
people hardly notice a leader.
Next they adore and acclaim him,
then come to fear him,
in the end despise him.
Thus lost faith breeds lost faith.

Be nondirective, make
your few words precious.
When the work is done, end
gained, everyone will say:
We did it by ourselves,



When people lose the way
do-gooders and moralists come into fashion,
authorities and specialists,

When the larger family's coherence fails
managers and the managed replace it.
When the commonweal is disordered
loyal bureaucrats appear.



Without authorities and specialists
everyone would be a hundred ways wiser.
Without benevolence and righteousness
people would rediscover caring, the familial bond.
Without power-schemes and profiteering
there'd be no thugs and thieves.

These three ways to run things
grasp at externals, don't work.
Be simple, true to yourself;
let go selfishness and greed.   



Some think they can control what goes on.
I don't think anyone can.
The flow is sacred, digests
all volition: observe it
perturb it, try to hold it
lose it.

So sometimes ahead and sometimes behind,
sometimes hot and sometimes cold,
sometimes strong and sometimes weak,
sometimes on top of it, sometimes under.

So don't strain, spend too much, be smug.



To govern by the way 
stop running the world by force.

It's likely to backfire.
Where the troops go, disorder
follows; raising a mighty army
ruins the economy.

A good commander just wants
to get it over with, doesn't exploit
his victory.  Get it over with
and don't brag, get it
over with but not for
glory, get it over with
only because there's no choice,
get it over with but
don't exploit it.

Overdevelopment hastens decline,
goes against the way.
What's against the way fails early.



 Fine weapons still bode ill.   
 The world itself hates them.
 If you grasp the way
 you won't stand their use.

 Decent people lean to the left
 at home, but bow to the right
 for war.  Military arms are tools
 for misfortune, not for
 good will, to be used
 under absolute necessity,
 without satisfaction
 or glory.  Peace
 is the prize, a victory
 is a disaster.  Why glorify
 mass murder?  Glorifying
 killing unfits you
 for the world.

 In happy times we watch comedies;
 in sad times, the news.
 When the commander-in-chief is up front,
 the high brass beside him, you know
 a funeral's going on.  The victory celebration
 is a funeral service.  When many are murdered
 you should grieve bitterly;
 every victor responsible
 presides over a funeral.



Eternal, nameless, the way.
Though the blank page is modest,
it's nobody's servant.
If rulers could obey it
the world would yield to them,
earth and heaven would merge
and the sweet dew fall,
and people live in harmony
without orders from above.

When emptiness is inscribed
names and distinctions appear.
When they start to appear,
isn't it time to stop?
Knowing when to stop
keeps you out of danger.

The way is to the world
as the sea to its rivers.



To know others is to be clever,
to know yourself is to be enlightened.
Force serves to overcome others,
you need strength to best yourself.

If you're satisfied with what
you have, you're rich;
persevering, you become
a person of purpose.
If you don't lose your place,
you'll keep going;
if you live till you die
you'll have a long life.



The way pervades everything,
embracing left and right.
All owe everything to it
yet it rules over no one.
It does its work
without claim or pride,  
provides for all
without lording over any.

So call it humble;
yet since it claims no lordship
when all turn to it,
call it great.

Because it doesn't strive
for greatness, it achieves it.



Grasp the formless form
and the world comes to you.
All come to you unharmed
for peace, security, rest.

Music and tidbits
tempt the passerby to pause.
By mouth the way
is tasteless,
it can't be seen,
it can't be heard.
but use doesn't exhaust it,



To breathe in,
first breathe out;
to weaken something,
first make it strong;
to overthrow something,
set it up;
to take,
start by giving.

This is subtle vision:
yielding water dissolves
the hardest stone.

Leave the fish in the deep,
don't display power's workings.



The way never acts
yet leaves nothing undone.
If rulers could grasp it,
we'd all govern
our own changes.
After this transformation
if desire stirred I'd bury it
in the blank page.
The blank page
is free of purpose.
If you're free of purpose  
and keep still,
the world will settle 
in its own accord. 




The best state is small,
without too many people,
who have every tool they might need
and don't use much,
have good transportation
and prefer to walk,
can defend themselves
and aren't aggressive.

Their food, their dress,
their homes and ways
are simple and individual
in grace.  They cherish their
traditions, revive old crafts,
satisfy the generations:
their children stay on,

with other states like this so near
that one can hear the barking dog,
the crowing cock across the way,
yet never get round to visiting,


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