Copyright © 2000-2004 International Association of Wayist Organisations All rights reserved
The Tao1 that can be explained is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.2
The Unnameable is the eternally real.3 The Nameable is the origin heaven and earth.4
Free from desire you realize the mystery. Maintain some desire so to see the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding.5
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 condition each other6. Difficult and easy give rise to each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the master 7 acts non-assertively, and teaches without saying anything. 8 Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but does not possess, acts but does not desire results.9 When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why the credits last forever.
If you over-esteem the worthy, people contend it. If you overvalue possessions, people begin to steal.10
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.11
Practice non-interference, and everything will fall into place.12
The Tao is like a well: used but never used up.13 It is like the eternal void: fountain of infinite possibilities.14
It blunts the sharp and unravels the tangled; harmonises with the light; mingles with the dust.15
It is hidden but always present, calm like a deep pool. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than our understanding of God.
The Tao does not take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil. Material things are like incense sticks, burned in worship but discarded ashes.
The master does not take sides; she welcomes both saints and sinners.16
The Tao is like a bellows: it is hollow yet infinitely capable 17. The more you use it the more it gives forth 18; the more you talk of it the less you understand.
Hold on to the centre.
From the heart of the Eternal Void the Tao is called the Great Mysterious Mother: hollow yet inexhaustible, she gives birth to infinite worlds.19
It’s spiralling-continuous flow is always present within you. You can use it any way you want.20
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 one with them. Because she has let go of her self concern, she is perfectly fulfilled.21
The supreme person is like water, which nourishes all things without effort.22 It is content with the low places that people despise.23 Thus it is like the Tao.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.24 In thinking keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, enjoy what you do. In family life be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.
Filling your cup until it overflows is not as good as stopping in time. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt. Fill your heart with treasures of gold and jade, and it will certainly be robbed?25
Being highly esteemed, and proud, brings much trouble. Being concerned about people’s approval you become their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.26 This is the Way.
In harmonizing your male and female27 to embrace the One, can you coax your mind from its wandering and keep to the Way.
In tenderly tuning your breath, can you become supple as a newborn babe28?
In polishing your mystic mirror, can you purify it to see nothing but the light?29
In loving and leading the people, can you do it without imposing your will?30 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? When your light shines forth, can you ignore it with equanimity?
Can you practice non-interference? When the Gate of Heaven opens and closes, can you play the part of the Female?
Giving birth and nourishing, having without possessing, acting with no desire of the fruits31, leading and not trying to control: this is called the supreme Mystic Virtue.
Thirty spokes join 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 if is the inner space that makes it livable.
Therefore, being is what we have, but non-being is what we use.32
Colours blind the eye. Sounds deafen the ear. Flavours numb the taste.
Seeking to satisfy our desire for thrills leads us to do crazy things.33
The master therefore observes the world but trusts his inner vision, caring for his belly and not his eye.34 Things come and go. Sanity is keeping the heart open as the sky.35
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 apparitions that arise from thinking of the self. When we do not regard the self as if so important, 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 be entrusted to care for all things.36
When you look at it but cannot see it. When you listen to it but cannot hear it. When you reach for it but cannot grasp it. It is the One.
It is neither bright on appearing or dark on disappearing, it merely is. It flows from the void and returns again to it.
Form that includes all forms, Image without an image, subtle beyond all conception, it is the everlasting essence of all.
Approach it and there is no beginning; follow it and there is no end. You can not know it, but you can be in it. Taking hold of the One from ever past uproots the problems of the present. Knowing the ancient origins of self; is the essence of wisdom.37
The ancient masters were profound and subtle. Their wisdom unfathomable. Since they were incomprehensible; all we can describe about them is in the simplicity of their appearance.
They were careful as one crossing an iced-over stream. Alert as a warrior in enemy territory. Courteous as a guest. Fluid as melting ice. Unpretentious and shapeable as a block of wood. Receptive as a valley. Murky, like turbid water.
Do you have the patience to wait for your mud to settle? Can you remain unmoving until clarity arises, and an impulse gradually leads to life?
The master does not seek the limits.38 Not seeking, not expecting, she is present, and not weary - welcoming all things.
Empty your mind to the extreme. Maintain unmoving in your own being. Be aware of the turmoil of beings, but contemplate their cyclic return.39
Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source, however luxurious they now seem. Returning to the source is serenity.40
Serenity is renewal of life in harmony with the Infinite. Know the source and enlightenment comes, know it not and you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you know your source, you naturally become impartial, tolerant, uninvolved, amused, kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king.
Being a master one can attain the Divine, merging with the Tao, becoming immortal and imperishable after the demise of the body.41
When the master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists.42 Next best is a leader who is loved and praised. Next, one who is feared. The worst is one who is despised.
If you do not have faith, you can not inspire faith.43
The master is wary and treasures words. When his work is done, the people say, “We did it, out of free will, all by ourselves!"
When the great Tao is forgotten, goodness and piety appear.
When intellectualism arise, hypocrisy appears.
When there is no peace in the family, filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos, patriotism is born and good leaders appear.44
Discard holiness and wisdom, and people will be a hundred times happier.
Discard morality and justice, and people will do the right thing.
Discard industry and profit, and there will be no thieves.
These three are not good enough for culture. Add simplicity, reduce selfishness, and decrease desires – remain in the centre and let things take their course.45
Discard pretentious learning, and end your problems. What difference between an abrupt ‘Yes’ and a learned ‘Yea’? What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous! Where will it lead?
Other people are excited, as though they are at a parade. I alone don’t care, I alone am emotionless, like an infant before it can smile.
Other people have what they need; I alone possess nothing. Wandering aimlessly, I look like a homeless tramp46. I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty. So dull I feel.
Other people are bright; I alone am gloomy in despair. Other people are smart and confidant; I alone feel disgusted and depressed. I drift like a wave on the ocean, blown around as aimless as the wind. Other people have a worthy employment ; I alone am worthless.
I am different from ordinary people, I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.
Ultimate Virtue is in essence in the nature of the Tao. The master keeps her mind always at one with the Tao; that is what gives her her radiance.
The Tao is a pulsating reality, it is grasped as it seems to come and go. Evasive and elusive it is, yet it manifests itself. Dreamily vague yet it takes on concrete form.
Within it lies true reality; the true omnipresent essence of life, witnessing to the Creator.
How can the master’s mind be at one with it? How can she know the way of the Creator? How can the dreamy dusk enlighten her? Because she looks inside herself and is filled with Its vitality.
If you want not to break, then bend. If you want to be straight, allow some crookedness. If you want to be filled, become empty. If you want to be renewed, die being used.47 If you want everything, give up everything.48
The master, by residing in the Tao, becomes a model for all beings. Because he does not radiate his own ego, people can see the Light through him. Because he has nothing to prove and nothing to gain, people trust his words. Because he does not radiate his own image, he becomes a mirror to others. Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds. Because he does not compete, no one can compete with him.
When the ancient masters said, “If you do not want to break, then bend,”49 they were not merely using empty phrases. Bend sincerely. All things come to him who is truly humble.
Nature speaks but briefly,50 but in general she remains in serenity. A rainstorm does not last a whole day, and a violent wind blows only a short while. Even heaven and earth do not take ages to express themselves. How much less should a human then speak?51
Express yourself clearly and step back.
If you open yourself to the Tao, you are at one with the Tao52 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 failure, you are at one with failure and you embody it completely.
Open yourself to the Tao, then have faith. A little bit of faith does not evoke faith from other people.53
He who stands on tiptoe totters. He who rushes ahead trips. He who tries to radiate his self is dim. He who justifies himself knows not himself.54 He who seeks power over others is powerless over himself.55 He who feels sorry for himself is stunted.
If you want to imitate the Tao, you will be different.56
Something formless and perfect exists, even before heaven and earth.
Serene it is, so quiet.
Alone and unchanging, it pervades all forever.57
Mother of the universes, she may be.58 For lack of a better name59 I call it the Tao, and randomly I label it Great.
Great means everlasting, and all pervasive. All pervasive means flowing through all things, inside and outside, completing the cycle, returning to the origin.60
Therefore the Tao is Great. The universes are great. Earth is great. Humankind is great. These are the four greats.
People imitate the earth. Earth imitates the universes. The universes imitate the Tao. The Tao imitates only itself.61
Heaviness is the root of lightness. Stillness is the master of movement.
Thus the master travels all day without leaving home, and never loses touch with her loaded cart. However splendid the views, she remains serenely in herself.
Why should the lord of the country, with ten thousand chariots, flit about like a fool? If you let yourself be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root.
If you allow restlessness to move you, you lose self control.
A good traveller is not intent upon arriving. A good speaker makes no mistakes. A good accountant needs no counting tools. A good lock has no bolt. A good knot has no string. The good artisan has freed herself of concepts and keeps her mind open to intuition.
Thus-wise the master is available to all people and does not reject anyone. She is ready to see opportunity in all situations and does not allow an opportunity to save another person go by. This is called ‘Passing the Light’.
What is a good person but a bad person’s teacher? What is a bad person but a good person’s task? One who does not honour their teacher, or appreciates a lesson, is lost in the maze of the self. However intelligent you may be, this essential and subtle mystery is the key.
One who knows the male yet keeps to the female receives the birth of the world in their inner void. Such one is in union with eternal virtue and is reborn, returning to the state of the newborn babe.
One who knows the white (yang, male), yet keeps to the black (yin, female) becomes a pattern for the world.62 As a pattern for the world, you imitate the Tao and your wisdom becomes unerring. And you return to the infinite.
One who knows the personal, yet keeps to the impersonal becomes the void in which the world is accepted as is. Being the void one’s wisdom becomes sufficient. And you return to the simplicity of your primal self.
Yet, from the void the world is shaped. Like a work of art created in the artisan’s mind.
The master knows the tools for carving the world, yet keeps to virgin simplicity: knowing better not to be dualistic.
One may feel compelled to improve on the world? I don’t think it can be done.
The world is a sacred vessel. It can not be improved. If you tamper with it, you will ruin it.63 If you take hold of it, you lose it.
There is a time for being ahead, a time for being behind; a time for being in motion, a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous, a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe, a time for being in danger.64
Knowing this the master avoids extremes, refusing to want to control. She lets them, and resides at the centre of the circle.65
Imitating the Tao, in governing humans, it is alien to resort to force to resolve issues or defeat an enemy. Every force employed invites a counter force.
A show of force, like an encamped army, only causes weeds and thorns to start growing. Even well intentioned violence rebounds to cause unintended dysfunction.66
The master performs his task and then stops. He understands that chaos is inherent in the ordered flow of the Tao. He does not grab, or resort to force; this is against the current.
In faith he acts, not trying to control but to serve. Because he is content with this, he does not need the approval of others. He performs his task as his duty. He achieves results by duty, not by force.
Strong things soon grow weak. This is contrary to the Tao.67
Contrary to the Tao leads to destruction.
Weapons are the tools of violence; all good people detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear; good people avoid them except in utmost necessity. In employing them, they will use them with the utmost restraint.
There is no beauty in victory. Anyone who sees beauty in slaughter will never win the world.68
The good fighter enters battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if he were attending a funeral, knowing well what the outcome of violence will be.
Celebrate victories with funeral rites.69
Tao, being eternal and unfathomable is ultimately humble in Its simplicity.70 Yet no one can control it.
If powerful people can abide in it, all beings shall gratefully do likewise.
Then heaven will be on earth. In harmony with Tao sweet dew will rain on the land. People will be at peace, the law of heaven written in their hearts.
In structuring and creating institutions names and forms must come about. But know where to stop.71
Knowing this, danger is averted and sorrow spared.
All things end in the Tao as rivers flow into the sea.
One who knows others is wise. One who knows one-self is enlightened.
One who conquers others is strong. One who conquers self is powerful.
One who knows when enough is had is truly wealthy.
One who has self-discipline is sincere.
One who remains centred endures.
One who dies yet does not perish becomes immortal.72
The great Tao flows everywhere. Through the Yin and to the Yang.
All depend on it, and none are refused.
It flows into its task, nourishing infinite worlds, clothing and feeding,73 yet it does not claim ownership or allegiance.74
Eternally without need, claiming nothing, it is ultimately humble.
Yet as all things naturally flow back into it, it is truly Great.
The master therefore never tries to be great, and is thus truly great.75
Centred in the Tao she moves anywhere, without thought of danger. At peace with the universal harmony, even amid great pain, she comes to no harm.
Music or the smell of good cooking may make people pause and linger to savour its pleasure . But words that point to the Tao seem monotonous and without flavour.76
When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear. When you use it, it is inexhaustible.77
Something to be shrunk, must first be expanded.
Something to be weakened, must first be strengthened.
Something to be destroyed, must first be allowed to flourish.
Something to be had, must first be given.
Perceiving this subtlety is like taking in the dim light.
Soft conquers the hard. Weak conquers the strong.78
Just as fish should keep to deep waters, so too the master’s power be kept within.
The Tao never acts, yet through it all things are done.79
If powerful people could preserve it in themselves, the whole world would be transformed by flowing in with its natural rhythm; simple in its harmony.
Simplicity abolishes desires and the world is set upon its natural path.
The master is not conscious of being virtuous; thus he is truly virtuous. Another person keeps reaching for it; and finds it impossible.
The master does not interfere, and has no motive to do so.80
Kindheartedness interferes without motive of gain.
Righteousness interferes with motive of gain.
Moral legalism interferes, and failing to achieve the required response lifts its arms resorting to violence.
Therefore when the Tao is lost sight of, and virtue disappears, there is still kindheartedness. But when kindheartedness is lost, there is still righteousness. But when righteousness is lost, the mere show of loyalty and virtue, then there is still superstitious traditionalism.81 When traditionalism appears, which is the proven husk of true faith, chaos begins.
Therefore the master concerns herself with the deep mysteries and not the surface symbols, with the fruit and not the flower. Devoid of illusions, concerned with the cause and not the symptom, she rejects the flower and savours the fruit.
Masters since antiquity gained unity, and the skies became clear.82
Since antiquity masters attained singleness and the earth became steady.
Masters who gained oneness became the void, filled to completeness.
Spirits in union with the One became divine.
Creatures imbued by the One have gained life.
Noble persons knowing of the One became examples.83
All of these gained by the same source; without which the skies would become murky, the earth would become unsteady, the masters would perish, the void would remain barren, spirits would cease being, creatures would become extinct, nobles would lose nobility.
See, the honourable is rooted in the humble.
The master views the parts with compassion, because he understand the whole.84 His constant practice is humility. He doesn’t glitter like a polished jewel but lets himself be shaped by the Tao, as rugged and common as stone.
Cyclic return is the movement of Tao.85 Yielding is the way of the Tao.86
All things are born of Being. Being is born of Non-Being.87
When a superior person hears about the Tao, she immediately begins to embody it. When an average person hears about the Tao, he half believes it, half doubts it. When foolish people hear about the Tao, they laugh out loud. If they did not laugh, it would not be Tao.
That is why it is said: ‘He who understands Tao seems amazed by it.’
‘He who advances toward Tao seems to be retreating from it.’
‘The path to serenity seems stormy, the direct path seems long.’
‘True power seems weak, true purity seems tarnished, vast goodness seems inadequate, true steadfastness seems changeable, true clarity seems obscure, vast space has no corners, the highest note cannot be heard, the greatest Form can not be seen, the greatest love seems indifferent, the greatest wisdom seems childish.’
‘The Tao is nameless and nowhere to be found.88 Yet it nourishes and completes all things.’
The Tao gives birth to One. One gives birth to Two. Two gives birth to Three. Three gives birth to all things.89
All things carry Yin and embrace Yang. The two breaths blend and produce harmony.90
Ordinary people hate solitude and poverty.91 But the master embraces it. Alone but for the company of all in the universes, possessing nothing but all universes, the master is content not to want more.
Intended benevolence sometimes causes harm, intended violence sometimes causes benefit. Thus in seemingly losing much is gained, and in seemingly gaining, much is lost.
What others have taught, I also teach: ‘The strong and violent will die an unnatural death’, this is my chief lesson92.
The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world.93 That which has no substance enters where there is no space. This, to me, explains the value of non-action.94
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 worse?95
Desire is bound to cause great expense.
Hoarding is bound to cause great loss.
The master, having ended the desire, does not look to things or money or other people for happiness.96
True perfection seems imperfect, its usefulness lasts forever. True fullness seems empty, its usefulness is inexhaustible.
True straightness seems crooked. True skill seems easy. True art seems artless.
Cold overcomes heat.
Non-movement overcomes movement.
The master allows things to happen. Purity and stillness is the standard of the universes.
When a people are in harmony with the Tao, vehicles are used for farming, and factories produce trucks.
When a people turn against the Tao, vehicles and factories are set for war outside the cities.
There is no greater illusion than fear, no greater sin than yielding to desires. There is no greater misfortune than not knowing contentment, no fault greater than desiring after wealth.97
Therefore, know contentment! Whoever can see through all fear will always be content.98
Without opening your door, one can know the whole world. Without looking out the window, one can know the Way of Heaven.
More advances in knowledge, does not produce more advances in wisdom.
The master arrives without leaving, sees the light without looking, achieves without doing.99
In pursuit of knowledge, something is added day by day. In cultivating Tao, something is subtracted day by day.
Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action.100 Employing non-action, nothing is left undone.
Therefore she who gains mastery resorts to non-action. Taking to action disqualifies one for mastery.
The master has no mind of her own. She reflects the mind of the people.
She is good to people who are good. She is also good to people who are not good. This is how true goodness is realized101.
She shows sincerity to those who are sincere. To those who are insincere, she shows sincerity. This is how true sincerity is realized.
The master’s mind is open, earnestly seeking to reflect the mind of the world upon her inner mirror. People look on in awe, waiting. She treats them like her own children.
Life and death enter by the same door. Forcing life with intense living causes cracks where death starts its process of decay.
It has been said that one adept at guarding vitality can not be harmed by wild animals or weapons. Why? Because such a person has no spot of decay where he can be wounded.102
Tao produces all things, Wisdom the Mother rears them. Matter shapes them, the environment perfects them.
This is the way of created beings. All recognise the Tao and honour the Mother, not by command but by free will.
The master knows that all things are produced by the Tao, that the Mother raises and nurtures it, that matter shapes it, that the environment perfects it, that no claim of ownership is made over it.
To act but not to presume on the result, to lead but not manipulate; this is the mystic’s virtue.103
Every being in the universe is an expression of the Mother.104, 105 One can know about the Mother by studying her children. Knowing the Mother, cling to her closely and you will survive the disappearance of the body.106
Stop up the opening of the vessel, shut the doors, and you will be steady all your life.
Open up the vessel and fulfill your carnal desires, and you will be beyond salvation all your life.
To see the cosmos in the molecule is called good vision. To be able to remain docile in chaos is called supreme power. How is this? Use the Light, draw it inward. Cause no injury.
This is what I call ‘Abiding in the Immutable”107
My only fear may be that I stray from the Way. The Way is easy and broad, yet people prefer the side paths.108 To remain on the Way I stay centred within the Tao, taking caution not to stray to extremes, not to do, and to flow with It.
When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land; when government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures; when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn - all this robbery brings along with it other robberies. It is not in keeping with the Tao.109
Whoever is practised in being established in the Tao will not be rooted up. Whoever is adept in embracing the Tao will tire and lose their grip. Such a master will be held in honour 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. Let it be present in your people and your people will be an example to all people in the world. Let it be present in the universe and the universe will sing.
Therefore by cultivating Tao in oneself one benefits a family, which benefits a village, which benefits a nation, which benefits the universes.
How do I know this is true? By looking at the pattern of the Tao inside.110
He who is in harmony with the Tao is like a newborn child. It seems protected. Insects and animals and atrocities miraculously inflict almost no harm to it. Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak, but its grip is powerful.
It does not know about sexual union, or about male and female, yet its penis can stand powerfully erect, so intense is its vital power. It can scream all day, yet it never becomes hoarse, so complete is its harmony.
To be in harmony with the One brings about enlightenment, enlightenment ends decay because it brings breath control and healing.
The Master’s power is like this. He lets all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. Never expecting results; thus never disappointed, the master continuos day by day, the spirit not getting weary.111
Decay is contrary to the Tao. Whatever disregards Tao soon perishes.
Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know.
Close your mouth, block off your senses,112 blunt your sharpness, untie your knotted loose ends, soften your glare, merge with the dust,114 harmonise with the Light. This is the mystic’s assimilation of primal identity.
Like the Tao; these masters are above holding some near and others far, they are above self gain and self impoverishment, and above being held high and being disgraced. Giving themselves up continually, they endure forever.
If you want to be a great leader let go of fixed plans and concepts, stop trying to control115, use justice and the world will govern itself.
How do I know this is true, by this:
The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be.
Therefore the master says: I let go of the law116, and people become honest. I let go of economics, and people become prosperous. I love mysticism and let go of religion117, and people become serene. I let go of all desire118 for the common good, and the good becomes common as grass.
When a government is run with tolerance, the people are simple and honest.119 When a government is critical and officious, the people are depressed and disgusted.
When the need for power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. Try to make people happy, and you lay the groundwork for misery. Try to make people moral, and you lay the groundwork for vice.
Thus the master is content to serve as an example and not to impose her will. Full of integrity but not offensive. She is squarely set but does not box people in. Straightforward, but supple. Radiant, but easy on the eyes.
For governing a people and serving Heaven well there is nothing better than simplicity. Simplicity means early preparation.
Early preparation means early accumulation of virtue. Further accumulation of virtue leads to the power to subdue all things. The subtle power to subdue all things knows no end.
Going to all ends to subdue all things leads to acquisition of Kingdom. Possessing Kingdom along with the Mother endures forever.
This is called ‘deeply rooted and flourishing growth.’ This is the vision of eternal life.120
Ruling a large country is like frying a small fish.121
Approach the world in the Tao and evil will have no power.
Not that evil has no power, but its power will not harm people. And not that evil does not harm, but that its harm is made harmless.
The master causes no harm. Even the evil she does not harm. Flowing in the Tao, all power meets and is made into virtue.
When a country obtains great power, it should embrace the power of the Female. It should take the low position, like the sea: all streams run downward into it.122 The more powerful it grows, the greater the need for humility. The Female 123 takes the low position to subdue the Male.
Humility means trusting the Tao, thus never needing to be defensive.
A great nation taking the low position therefore wins over the small ones.
Therefore the master remains low to remain in greatness.
The Tao is the mysterious centre of the universes124, the good man’s treasure, the bad man’s refuge.
Honours can be bought with fine words and respect can be won with good deeds. But bad people cannot honour the Tao because to honour the Tao one has to become part of it, and this way is that which they discarded.
Thus, when a new leader is elected do not offer your wealth and praises; instead offer to teach him to sit and advance in Tao.
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.125
Cause action without doing126; act without effort127. Think of the small as large and the few as many. Repay evil with goodness.128
Confront difficult tasks while they are still easy. Accomplish great task by a series of small ones.129
The master never reaches for great tasks; thus she achieves greatness.130
Neglected duties are bound to cause difficulties. That is why the master never thinks of anything as easy, and gives herself totally to the small tasks and duties - acting without effort, causing without doing, and not desiring the fruits of actions.
What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is has not yet happened, or only recently begun is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easily to scattered.
Prevent trouble before it arises. Put things in order before disorder arises. The giant tree grows from a tiny sprout. A nine storey building begins with a wheelbarrow of sand. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.131
Severe action brings failure. Grasping at things is a sure way to lose it.132 Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.
Therefore the master takes action by letting things take their course.133 He remains as calm at the end as at the beginning. He has nothing, thus has nothing to lose. What he desires is non-desire and is not desirable to others.134 What he learns is to unlearn. He assists with the natural flow of things, picking up where other failed to do their duty, but never interfering with the flow. He cares about nothing but the Tao. Thus he can care for all things.135
The ancient Masters did not try to increase knowledge in the people but taught them to know that they do not know.136
When people think that they know answers, they become difficult to govern. Therefore when a ruler instills cleverness and rules by knowledge the country fails. A ruler who rules by virtue is a blessing to the people.
He who abides by these rules sets the standard of mystic virtue, which beings instinctively follow. Mystic virtue leads creatures to know their source.137
When beings have knowledge of their source, then the Great Harmony emerges.138
Rivers and seas are the superior valleys because of their skill at remaining low. Humility gives it its power.139
The master governing the people speaks as if she is inferior to them and see herself below them. She leads by following behind.140
The master in a high position does not leave anyone feeling manipulated or oppressed. The whole world is grateful to her. Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.141
People say I am great but odd. It is the oddity which is the reason for the greatness.
If my teaching was ordinary it would long ago have failed, falling into pettiness.
I teach three treasures which you may keep close by.
The first is compassion.
The second is humility.142
The third is simplicity.143
Compassionate, a person can be courageous.
Simple, a person can be open to all visions.
Humble, a person can develop leadership.
Nowadays people are different to this teaching, that is why they are doomed by their own hand.
Compassion is unconquered in offence and cannot be improved upon in the skill of defence. When heaven bestows grace to prevent a person from harm, she grants him compassion as protection.
The best soldier is not warlike. The best fighter is not driven by anger. The best conqueror wins without confrontation. The best leader is humble.
This is called the wisdom of non-contention144, the use of the other’s strength. It is also called harmony with the Will of heaven. Just like the masters of old.
The generals have a saying: “I would rather be humble as a guest than assertive as a host. Rather than advance an inch it is better to retreat a foot.”
This is called going forward without movement; attacking without a show of hostility; pushing back as if without weapons.
There is no greater misfortune than belittling your enemy. Belittling makes one lose the three treasures, and you become your own enemy.145
When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one that laments war and knows how to yield.146
My teaching is easy to understand and easy to put into practice.147 Yet your intellect will never grasp them, and if you try to practice them, you will fail.148
My teachings have a most ancient source, and people are ignorant of that. How can they grasp the meaning?
If you want to know, look toward the most ancient source inside you heart.149 That, inside of you, can grasp my teaching and the practice of it flows from that.
When those who understand my teaching are few, then it is a rare treasure. For this reason the master wears an unpretentious gown, to hide the jewel by his breast.
Not-knowing is true knowledge.150 Presuming to know is a disease. First realize that you are sick; then you can move toward health.
The master is her own physician. She has healed herself of all knowing. Thus she is truly healed.
When people lose their fear of authority, then they have gained great power.
Broaden people’s vision and they will be in awe. When people lose their sense of awe, they turn to religion.
Therefore the master steps back so that people are not confused. He teaches without a teaching, so that people will have nothing to learn.
When people no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend upon authority.
The master trusts himself, and has self-respect, because his self is in the Tao.151
Courage to fight leads to slaughter. Courage not to fight leads to life.
The Tao is in equanimity. It overcomes without competing, answers without speaking a word, arrives without being summoned, accomplishes without a plan.
Its net covers the whole universe. Its meshes are wide but nothing is lost.
The master eases the flow of Tao in those who resist, and conquers without slaughter, accomplishes without action.
When people are not afraid of death, how can you threaten them with it?
If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you can not achieve.152
Should the people want to kill the perverted, taking the responsibility of the Director of Death in their own hands? This would be like taking the master carpenter’s place. When you handle the master carpenter’s tools chances are you’ll cut your hand.153
When taxes are too high, people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.
When people are obsessed with high living they lose perspective of suffering.
Those who have nothing to look to make life pleasurable are more worthy than those who value high living.
Humans are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Herbs and trees 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.
Therefore armies that have become rigid, will fail.154 Trees having become hard and stiff will be broken. The large and rigid will be laid low.155 The soft and supple will be lifted up.156
The action of Tao in the world is like the bending of a bow. The top is bent downward; the bottom is bent up. It adjusts excess and deficiency so that there is perfect balance. It takes from what is too much and give to what isn’t enough. The low is pulled up as the high is pulled down.157 This is the way of heaven.158
Those who try to interfere with the way of heaven want to control. They take from those who do not have enough and give to those who have far too much. They use force to protect their power – they go against the flow of the Tao.
Who uses her surplus to serve the world is the master possessed of Tao.159 The master can keep giving because there is no end to her wealth. She acts without expectation, succeeds without taking credit 160, and this shows that she dislikes showing her worth.
Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for attacking the hard and inflexible, nothing does a better job.
The soft overcomes the hard161; the gentle overcomes the rigid 162. Everyone know this is true, but few can put it into practice.
The masters say: ‘One who can take the blame for the country’s infamy can be the king of the country. One who can take the blame for the country’s misfortunes can be king of the world.’163
True words seem paradoxical.
When enemies are reconciled some resentment always remain.
Therefore the master makes good on her part of the deal and does not expect anything from others.
The good keep their promise. The not good cannot keep a promise.
Heaven does not choose sides, it is always with the good.164
Better are small communities, in size and population. Although they have equipment and things in abundance few are in use. They have love of life, content where they are and even though they have boats and carriages they hardly use them. Even though they have access to weapons and machines of war they have no need to show them off.
Let the people return to simplicity, working with their hands. Joy they will find in their food again, beauty in their simple clothing, peace in their life style, fulfilment in their cultures.
Living in sight of their neighbour states, their dogs and roosters heard by one another - the people are content to grow old and die not desiring to mingle with people from other states.
True words do not sound sweet, sweet words are not truthful.165
Good people do not argue, those who argue lack goodness.
Masters of truth are not vast in learning, people with vast learning are not masters.166
The master does not hoard, the more he serves the more he gains, the more he gives to the people, the more he possesses.
The Way of Heaven is to nourish, not to harm.
The way of the master is to work at his duty, not to compete.167
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