I first learned of the Tao Te Ching in 2010 after a strong recommendation from long-time friend. In fact, he gave me a copy of it as a gift (the Stephen Mitchell translation, to be exact). I read the book during a time in my life when the content resonated very deeply with me.
It’s a short volume, but dense with wisdom and universal truths. I’ve heard people say that the book is very much like a Rorschach test, in the sense that it reflects the reader, and his or her own state of mind, more than anything else.
It’s one of those books that you love, not because it teaches you anything new, but because it articulates that which you know to be true from experience, as all good books do. The author was most definitely an enlightened individual who had tapped into the deeper workings of our world.
The Master acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything
She has but doesn’t posses,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it,
That is why it last forever.
Hold on to the center.
The Tao is called the Great Mother;
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to multiple worlds.
She is detached from all things;
That is why she is one with them.
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.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench
Care about peoples’s approval,
and you will be their prisoners.
Do your work then step back.
The only path to serenity.
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
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.
Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.
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.
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?
The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.
Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
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,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When he work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”
Stop thinking, and end your problems.
I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.
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 am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.
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.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.
Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do you job, then let go.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
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.
The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Peace is his highest value.
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.
The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Low your working remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.
When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.
The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
Therefore the Master concern himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.
When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.
Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.
Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
that is the Master’s way.
If you 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.
The more you know,
the less you understand.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.
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 resistances 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.
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
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.
Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.
Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
How do I know this to be true?
By looking inside myself?
He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
this his spirit never grows old.
Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.
Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky.
Nothing is impossible for him.
Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his fault
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.
The Tao is the center of the universe,
the good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.
Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek, you find;
and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.
Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.
Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.
Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three 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.
The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.
There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
My teachings are older than the world.
If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.
Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.
When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.
If you realize 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.
Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
That hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she is better
than anyone else.
Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.
Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.
Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.
The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.
The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.
By not dominating, the Master leads.