Tao Te Ching

A good athlete can enter a state of body-awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will. This is a paradigm for non-action: the purest and most effective form of action. The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.

Less and less do you need to force things, 

until finally you arrive at non-action. 

When nothing is done, 

nothing is left undone. 

Nothing is done because the doer has wholeheartedly vanished into the deed; the fuel has been completely transformed into flame. This “nothing” is, in fact, everything. It happens when we trust the intelligence of the universe in the same way that an athlete or a dancer trusts the superior intelligence of the body.

Hence Lao-tzu’s emphasis on softness. Softness means the opposite of rigidity, and is synonymous with suppleness, adaptability, endurance.


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.

emptying people's minds: He empties them of concepts, judgements, and desires. Thus they can return to a state of childlike simplicity.

filling their cores: He fills them with a sense of their original identity. Thus they can return to a state of joy.

weakening their ambition: When they have no false self to nourish or defend, they find that greed, hatred, and arrogance vanish by themselves.

toughening their resolve: Their innermost intention. They develop enough self-reliance to give up the idea os self.


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.


Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner. 

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

Do your work, then step back: When you do your work whole-heartedly, you are glad to let it go, just as a parent lets a child go, into its own life


Can you coax your mind from its 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.


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.


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 realize where you come from: this is the essence of wisdom.


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?

water is clear: Our mind is like a glass of clear water. If we put salt into the water, it becomes salt water; sugar, it becomes sugar water; shit, it becomes shit water. But originally the water is clear. No thinking, no mind. No mind, no problem


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 source is serenity. 

If you don’t realize the source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow. 

When you realize where you come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted 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.

Empty your mind: This doesn't mean "suppress your thoughts," but "step back from them." Insight into the Tao has nothing to do with the intellect and its abstractions. When we step out of self-consciousness, we step into the Tao.

Lin Ching-hsi said, The mind is originally empty, and only when it remains empty, without grasping or rejecting, can it respond to natural things, without prejudice. It should be like a river gorge with s swan flying overhead; the river has no desire to retain the swan, yet the swan's passage is traced by it shadow, without any omission. Another example: A mirror will reflect all things perfectly, whether they are beautiful or ugly; it never refuses to show a thing, nor does it retain the mind after it is gone. The mind should be as open as this.


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 center of the circle and let all things take their course.


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!


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.


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.


Open yourself to the Tao, then trust your natural responses; and everything will fall into place.


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.


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.


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.


Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal: accept the world as it is. 

If you accept the world, the Tao will be luminous inside you and you will return to your primal self.


The Master sees things as they are, without trying to control them. 

She lets them go their own way, and resides at the center of the circle.


Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. 

Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. 

If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich. 

If you stay in the center and embrace death with your whole heart, you will endure forever.

true wisdom: When I know myself, I know others. When I master myself, I don't need to master others.


When there is no desire, all things are at peace.


When a superior man hears of the Tao, he immediately begins to embody it. 

When an average man hears of the Tao, he half believes it, half doubts it. 

When a foolish man hears of the Tao, he laughs out loud. 

If he didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao.

The Tao is nowhere to be found. Yet it nourishes and completes all things.


The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world. 

That which has no substance enters where there is no space.

This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words, performing without actions: that is the Master’s way.


Fame or integrity: which is more important? 

Money or happiness: which is more valuable? 

Success or failure: which is more destructive? 

If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled. 

If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. 

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. 

When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.


There is no greater illusion than fear, 

no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself, 

no greater misfortune than having an enemy. 

Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe.


In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added.

In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped.

Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way.

It can't be gained by interfering.

True mastery can be gained: Actually it can't be gained. True mastery is letting things take their course.


The master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.

He knows that he is going to die, and he has nothing left to hold on to:

no illusions in his mind, no remittances in his body.

He doesn't think about his actions; they flow from the core of his being.

He holds nothing back from life; therefore he is ready for death

as a man is ready for sleep after a good day's work.


If you keep your mind from judging and aren't led by the senses, your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity

Knowing how to yield is strength.

Use your own light and return to the source of light.

This is called practicing eternity.


The Master's power is like this.

He lets all things come and go effortless, without desire.

He never expects results; thus he is never disappointed.

He is never disappointed; thus his spirit never grows old


Those who know don't talk

Those who talk don't know.


If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao.

Stop trying to control.

Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.


The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas.


Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself


When a country obtains great power, it becomes like the sea: all streams run downward into it.

The more powerful it grows, the greater the need for humility.

Humility means trusting the Tao, thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man: 

When he makes a mistake, he realises it.

Having realised it, he admits it.

Having admitted it, he corrects it.

He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers.

He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao, if it nourishes its own people

and doesn't meddle in the affairs of others, it will be a light to all nations in the world


Honours can be bought with fine words,

respect can be won with good deeds;

but the Tao is beyond all value,

and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,

don't offer to help him with your wealth or your expertise.

Offer instead to teach him about the Tao.


The ancient Masters didn't try to educate people, but kindly taught them to not-know

When they think the they know the answers, people are difficult to guide.

When they know that they don't know, people can find their own way.

kindly taught them to not-know: The ancient Masters taught them the supreme value of Don't-know Mind, which is forever fresh, pen, and fertile with possibilities. (Another name for it is Beginner's Mind)


All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. 

Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them.

If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.


I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.

These are your greatest treasures.

Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being.

Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are.

Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.

I have three treasures which I preserve and treasure. The first is compassion, the second is frugality, the third is daring not to be first in the world. Whoever has compassion can be brave. Whoever has frugality can be generous. Whoever dares not to be first in the world can become the leader of the world. But to be brave without compassion, generous without frugality, prominent without humility: this is fatal. Whoever shows compassion in battle will conquer. Whoever shows compassion in defence will stand firm. Heaven helps and protects those with compassion.


When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one the knows how to yield.


My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. 

Yet your intellect will never grasp them,

and if you try to practice them, you'll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.

How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me, look inside your heart


If you realise that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.

If you aren't afraid of dying, there is nothing you can't achieve


Men are born soft and supple;

dead, they are stiff and hard.

Plants are born tender and pliant;

dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.

Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken


The soft overcomes the hard;

the gentle overcomes the rigid.

Everyone knows this is true,

but fe can put it into practice.


Failure is an opportunity.

If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the Master fulfils her own obligations and corrects her own mistakes.

She does what she needs to do and demands nothing of others.


A monk asked Ma-tsu, "Why do you teach, 'Mind is Buddha'?"

Ma-tsu said, "To stop a baby from crying."

The monk said, "When the crying has stopped, what then?"

Mat-tsu said, "Then I teach, 'Not mind, not Buddha."

The monk said, "How about someone who isn't attached to either?"

Ma-tsu said, "I would tell him, 'Not beings.' "

The monk said, "And what if you met a man unattached to all things: what would you tell him?"

Ma-tsu said, "I would just let him experience the great Tao."


The Tao is infinite, eternal: Here is everywhere. Anytime is now


I am different from ordinary people: I am more ordinary. When I am hungry, I eat; when I am tired, I sleep; that's all. Pai-chang said,

After enlightenment one is still the same as one was before. One is simply free from unreality and delusion. The ordinary person's mind is the same as the sages, because Original Mind is perfect and complete in itself. After you have had this recognition, please don't lose it. 


The great Way is easy: Zen Master Seng-ts'an said,

The great Way is not difficult

if you don't cling to good and bad.

Just let go of your preferences: and everything will be perfectly clear


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