Image of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.

Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu


Background Information


Tao Te Ching is a spiritual classic and is amongst the most translated works in world literature.  According to tradition, it was written around 6th century B.C. by the Chinese sage Lao Tzu (literally meaning “Old Master”), a record-keeper at the Zhou dynasty court, although the text’s true authorship and date of composition are still debated.


Wikipedia provided several possible translations of the book’s title:


Dào/Tao literally means “way”, or one of its synonyms, but was extended to mean “the Way”.  This term, which was variously used by other Chinese philosophers, has special meaning within the context of Taoism, where it implies the essential, unnamable process of the universe.


Dé/Te means “virtue”, “personal character,” “inner strength” (virtuosity), or “integrity”.  Jīng/Ching as it is used here means “Law”, “Canon”, “Rules” or “Instruction”.  Thus, Tao Te Ching can be translated as “The Way and the Power of The Law”, “The Road and the Strength of The Rules/Instructions”, etc.


Tao Te Ching is a short text of around 5,000 Chinese characters in 81 brief chapters or sections.  It has two parts, the Tao Ching (chapters 1–37) and the Te Ching (chapters 38–81).  The written style is brusque or to the point, has few grammatical particles, and encourages diverse, even contradictory interpretations.  The ideas are singular; the style poetic.  The rhetorical style combines two major strategies: short, declarative statements and intentional contradictions.  The first of these strategies creates memorable phrases, while the second forces us to create our own reconciliations of the supposed contradictions.


Complete Text of Tao Te Ching Translated by Derek Lin


The complete text of Tao Te Ching is freely available on the web. Complete Text of Tao Te Ching Translated by Derek Lin


Excerpts From Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu


I would like to share the following enlightening chapters from the Tao Te Ching:


Chapter 1


The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao

The name that can be named is not the eternal name

The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth

The named is the mother of myriad things

Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence

Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations

These two emerge together but differ in name

The unity is said to be the mystery

Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders


Chapter 4


The Tao is empty

When utilized, it is not filled up

So deep! It seems to be the source of all things


It blunts the sharpness

Unravels the knots

Dims the glare

Mixes the dusts


So indistinct! It seems to exist

I do not know whose offspring it is

Its image is the predecessor of the Emperor


Chapter 6


The valley spirit, undying

Is called the Mystic Female


The gate of the Mystic Female

Is called the root of Heaven and Earth


It flows continuously, barely perceptible

Utilize it; it is never exhausted


Chapter 7


Heaven and Earth are everlasting

The reason Heaven and Earth can last forever

Is that they do not exist for themselves

Thus they can last forever


Therefore the sages:

Place themselves last but end up in front

Are outside of themselves and yet survive

Is it not due to their selflessness?

That is how they can achieve their own goals


Chapter 8


The highest goodness resembles water

Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention

It stays in places that people dislike

Therefore it is similar to the Tao


Dwelling with the right location

Feeling with great depth

Giving with great kindness

Speaking with great integrity

Governing with great administration

Handling with great capability

Moving with great timing


Because it does not contend

It is therefore beyond reproach


Chapter 9


Holding a cup and overfilling it

Cannot be as good as stopping short

Pounding a blade and sharpening it

Cannot be kept for long


Gold and jade fill up the room

No one is able to protect them

Wealth and position bring arrogance

And leave disasters upon oneself


When achievement is completed, fame is attained

Withdraw oneself

This is the Tao of Heaven


Chapter 11


Thirty spokes join in one hub

In its emptiness, there is the function of a vehicle

Mix clay to create a container

In its emptiness, there is the function of a container

Cut open doors and windows to create a room

In its emptiness, there is the function of a room


Therefore, that which exists is used to create benefit

That which is empty is used to create functionality


Chapter 15


The Tao masters of antiquity

Subtle wonders through mystery

Depths that cannot be discerned

Because one cannot discern them

Therefore one is forced to describe the appearance


Hesitant, like crossing a wintry river

Cautious, like fearing four neighbors

Solemn, like a guest

Loose, like ice about to melt

Genuine, like plain wood

Open, like a valley

Opaque, like muddy water


Who can be muddled yet desist

In stillness gradually become clear?

Who can be serene yet persist

In motion gradually come alive?


One who holds this Tao does not wish to be overfilled

Because one is not overfilled

Therefore one can preserve and not create anew


Chapter 16


Attain the ultimate emptiness

Hold on to the truest tranquility

The myriad things are all active

I therefore watch their return


Everything flourishes; each returns to its root

Returning to the root is called tranquility

Tranquility is called returning to one’s nature

Returning to one’s nature is called constancy

Knowing constancy is called clarity


Not knowing constancy, one recklessly causes trouble

Knowing constancy is acceptance

Acceptance is impartiality

Impartiality is sovereign

Sovereign is Heaven

Heaven is Tao

Tao is eternal

The self is no more, without danger


Chapter 22


Yield and remain whole

Bend and remain straight

Be low and become filled

Be worn out and become renewed

Have little and receive

Have much and be confused

Therefore the sages hold to the one as an example for the world

Without flaunting themselves – and so are seen clearly

Without presuming themselves – and so are distinguished

Without praising themselves – and so have merit

Without boasting about themselves – and so are lasting


Because they do not contend, the world cannot contend with them

What the ancients called “the one who yields and remains whole”

Were they speaking empty words?

Sincerity becoming whole, and returning to oneself


Chapter 25


There is something formlessly created

Born before Heaven and Earth

So silent! So ethereal!

Independent and changeless

Circulating and ceaseless

It can be regarded as the mother of the world


I do not know its name

Identifying it, I call it “Tao”

Forced to describe it, I call it great

Great means passing

Passing means receding

Receding means returning

Therefore the Tao is great

Heaven is great

Earth is great

The sovereign is also great

There are four greats in the universe

And the sovereign occupies one of them

Humans follow the laws of Earth

Earth follows the laws of Heaven

Heaven follows the laws of Tao

Tao follows the laws of nature


Chapter 28


Know the masculine, hold to the feminine

Be the watercourse of the world

Being the watercourse of the world

The eternal virtue does not depart

Return to the state of the infant

Know the white, hold to the black

Be the standard of the world

Being the standard of the world

The eternal virtue does not deviate

Return to the state of the boundless

Know the honor, hold to the humility

Be the valley of the world

Being the valley of the world

The eternal virtue shall be sufficient

Return to the state of plain wood

Plain wood splits, then becomes tools

The sages utilize them

And then become leaders

Thus the greater whole is undivided


Chapter 29


Those who wish to take the world and control it

I see that they cannot succeed

The world is a sacred instrument

One cannot control it

The one who controls it will fail

The one who grasps it will lose


Because all things:

Either lead or follow

Either blow hot or cold

Either have strength or weakness

Either have ownership or take by force


Therefore the sage:

Eliminates extremes

Eliminates excess

Eliminates arrogance


Chapter 32


The Tao, eternally nameless

Its simplicity, although imperceptible

Cannot be treated by the world as subservient


If the sovereign can hold on to it

All will follow by themselves

Heaven and Earth, together in harmony

Will rain sweet dew

People will not need to force it; it will adjust by itself


In the beginning, there were names

Names came to exist everywhere

One should know when to stop

Knowing when to stop, thus avoiding danger


The existence of the Tao in the world

Is like streams in the valley into rivers and the ocean


Chapter 37


The Tao is constant in non-action

Yet there is nothing it does not do


If the sovereign can hold on to this

All things shall transform themselves

Transformed, yet wishing to achieve

I shall restrain them with the simplicity of the nameless

The simplicity of the nameless

They shall be without desire

Without desire, using stillness

The world shall steady itself


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