Verse 1

A way that can be walked
is not The Way

A name that can be named
is not The Name

Tao is both Named and Nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things

A mind free of thought,
merged within itself,
beholds the essence of Tao

A mind filled with thought,
identified with its own perceptions
beholds the mere forms of this world

Tao and this world seem different
but in truth they are one and the same
The only difference is in what we call them

How deep and mysterious is this unity
How profound, how great!
It is the truth beyond the truth,
the hidden within the hidden
It is the path to all wonder,
the gate to the essence of everything!

Verse 2

Everyone recognises beauty
only because of ugliness
Everyone recognises virtue
only because of sin

Life and death are born together
Difficult and easy
Long and short
High and low—
all these exist together
Sound and silence blend as one
Before and after arrive as one

The Sage acts without action
and teaches without talking
All things flourish around him
and he does not refuse any one of them
He gives but not to receive
He works but not for reward
He completes but not for results
He does nothing for himself in this passing world
so nothing he does ever passes

Verse 3

Putting a value of status
will cause people to compete
Hoarding treasure
will turn them into thieves
Showing off possessions
will disturb their daily lives

Thus the Sage rules
by stilling minds and opening hearts
by filling bellies and strengthening bones
He shows people how to be simple
and live without desires
To be content
and not look for other ways
With the people so pure
Who could trick them?
What clever ideas could lead them astray?

When action is pure and selfless
everything settles into its own perfect place

Verse 4

Tao is empty
yet it fills every vessel with endless supply
Tao is hidden
yet it shines in every corner of the universe

With it, the sharp edges become smooth
the twisted knots loosen
the sun is softened by a cloud
the dust settles into place

So deep, so pure, so still
It has been this way forever
You may ask, "Whose child is it?" —
but I cannot say
This child was here before the Great Ancestor

Verse 5

Heaven and Earth have no preference

A man may choose one over another
but to Heaven and Earth all are the same
The high, the low, the great, the small–
all are given light
all get a place to rest

The Sage is like Heaven and Earth
To him none are especially dear
nor is there anyone he disfavours
He gives and gives without condition
offering his treasures to everyone

The universe is like a bellows
It stays empty yet is never exhausted
It gives out yet always brings forth more

Man is not like this
When he blows out air like a bellows
he becomes exhausted
Man was not made to blow out air
He was made to sit quietly and find the truth within

Verse 6

Endlessly creating
Endlessly pulsating
The Spirit of the Valley never dies
She is called the Hidden Creator

Although She becomes the whole universe
Her immaculate purity is never lost
Although She assumes countless forms
Her true identity remains intact
Whatever we see or don't see
Whatever exists or doesn't exist
Is nothing but the creation of this Supreme Power

Tao is limitles, unborn, eternal–
It can only be reached through the Hidden Creator
She is the very face of the Absolute
The gate to the source of all things eternal

Listen to Her voice
Hear it echo through creation
Without fail, She reveals her presence
Without fail, She brings us to her own perfection

Verse 7

Heaven is ancient
Earth is long-lasting
Why is this so?—
Because they have no claims to life
By having no claims to life
they cannot be claimed by death

The Sage puts his own views behind
so ends up ahead
He stays a witness to life
so he endures
What could he grab for
that he does not already have?
What could he do for himself
that the universe itself has not already done?

Verse 8

The best way to live
is to be like water
For water benefits all things
and goes against none of them
It provides for all people
and even cleanses those places
a man is loath to go
In this way it is just like Tao

Live in accordance with the nature of things:
Build your house on solid ground
Keep your mind still
When giving, be kind
When speaking, be truthful
When ruling, be just
When working, be one-pointed
When acting, remember—timing is everything

One who lives in accordance with nature
does not go against the way of things
He moves in harmony with the present moment
always knowing the truth of just what to do

Verse 9

Grabbing and stuffing—
there is no end to it

Sharpen a blade too much
and its edge will soon be lost
Fill a house with gold and jade
and no one can protect it
Puff yourself with honor and pride
and no one can save you from a fall

Complete the task at hand
Be selfless in your actions
This is the way of Heaven
This is the way to Heaven

Verse 10

Hold fast to the Power of the One
It will unify the body
and merge it with the spirit
It will cleanse the vision
and reveal the world as flawless
It will focus the life-force
and make one supple as a newborn

As you love the people and rule the state
can you be free of self-interest?
As the gates of Heaven open and close
can you remain steadfast as a mother bird
who sits with her nest?
As your wisdom reaches the four corners of the world
can you keep the innocence of a beginner?

Know this Primal Power
that guides without forcing
that serves without seeking
that brings forth and sustains life
yet does not own or possess it

One who holds this Power
brings Tao to this very Earth
He can triumph over a raging fire
or the freeze of winter weather
Yet when he comes to rule the world
it's with the gentleness of a feather

Verse 11

Wu is nothingness, emptiness, non-existence

Thirty spokes of a wheel all join at a common hub
yet only the hole at the centre
allows the wheel to spin
Clay is moulded to form a cup
yet only the space within
allows the cup to hold to hold water
Walls are joined to make a room
yet only by cutting out a door and a window
can one enter the room and live there

Thus, when a thing has existence alone
it is mere dead-weight
Only when it has wu, does it have life

Verse 12

The five colours blind the eye
The five tones deafen the ear
The five flavours dull the palate
Racing, hunting, and galloping about
only disturb the mind
Wasting energy to obtain rare objects
only impedes one's growth

So the Sage is led by his inner truth
and not his outer eye
He holds to what is deep
and not what lies on the surface

Verse 13

"Be wary of both honour and disgrace"
"Endless affliction is bound to the body"

What does it mean,
"Be wary of both honour and disgrace"?
Honour is founded on disgrace
and disgrace is rooted in honour
Both should be avoided
Both bind a mind to this world
That's why it says,
"Be wary of both honour and disgrace"

What does it mean,
"Endless affliction is bound to the body"?
Man's true self is eternal
yet he thinks, "I am this body, I will soon die"
This false sense of self
is the cause of all his sorrow
When a person does not identity himself with the body
tell me, what troubles could touch him?

One who sees himself as everything
is fit to be guardian of the world
One who loves himself as everyone
is fit to be teacher of the world

Verse 14

Eyes look but cannot see it
Ears listen but cannot hear it
Hands grasp but cannot hear it
Beyond the senses lies this great Unity—
invisible, inaudible, intangible

What rises up appears bright
What settles down appears dark
Yet there is neither darkness nor light
just an unbroken dance of shadows
From nothingness to fullness
and back again to nothingness
This formless form
This imageless image
cannot be grasped by mind or might
Try to face it
In what place will you stand?
Try to follow it
To what place will you go?

Know That which is beyond all beginnings
and you will know everything here and now
Know everything in this moment
and you will now the Eternal Tao

Verse 15

The masters of this ancient path
are mysterious and profound
Their inner state baffles all inquiry
Their depths go beyond all knowing
Thus, despite every effort,
we can only tell of their outer signs—
Deliberate, as if treading over the stones of a winter brook
Watchful, as if meeting danger on all sides
Reverent, as if receiving an honoured guest
Selfless, like a melting block of ice
Pure, like an uncarved block of wood
Accepting, like an open valley

Through the course of Nature
muddy water becomes clear
Through the unfolding of life
man reaches perfection
Through sustained activity
that supreme rest is naturally found

Those who have Tao want nothing else
Though seemingly empty
they are ever full
Though seemingly old
they are beyond the reach of birth and death

Verse 16

Become totally empty
Quiet the restlessness of the mind
Only then will you witness everything
unfolding from emptiness
See all things flourish and dance
in endless variation
And once again merge back into perfect emptiness—
Their true repose
Their true nature
Emerging, flourishing, dissolving back again
This is the eternal process of return

To know this process brings enlightenment
To miss this process brings disaster

Be still
Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity
Eternity embraces the all-possible
The all-possible leads to a vision of oneness
A vision of oneness brings about universal love
Universal love supports the great truth of Nature
The great truth of Nature is Tao

Whoever knows this truth lives forever
The body may perish, deeds may be forgotten
But he who has Tao has all eternity

Verse 17

To know Tao alone,
without trace of your own existence,
is the highest
Next come loving and praising it
Then fearing it
Then despising it

If one doesn't trust himself
how can he trust anyone else?

The great ruler speaks little
and his words and priceless
He works without self-interest
and leaves no trace
When all is finished, the people say,
"It happened by itself"
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