selected passages from the work attributed to Lao Tzu -
edited and visualized by Jeffrey St.Clair
Before the universe was born
There was something in the chaos of the heavens.
It stands alone and empty,
Solitary and unchanging,
Ever present and secure.
It may be regarded as
The Mother of the Ten Thousand Creatures.
Because I do not know its name,
I call it the Tao.
A tao that can be told of is not the Permanent Tao.
A name that can be named is not the Permanent Name.
The nameless is origin of the Heaven and Earth.
The named is the Mother of the Ten Thousand Creatures.
Hence, in the permanent state of undesire, we see its mysteries;
In the permanent state of desire, we see its boundaries.
The Tao is elusive and intangible.
Intangible and elusive, it remains within its image.
Elusive and intangible, it remains within its form.
Obscure and dark, it remains within its essence.
Throughout time its name has never gone,
For from it issued mankind.
We come out of the unseen to be born.
We reenter it to die.
Three in ten are followers of life,
Three in ten are followers of death.
And the men, though having life,
Who rush toward death are also three in ten.
Why? Because they live too intensely.
He who knows the essence of life
Can walk abroad without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him the rhinoceros can find no place to plunge his horn,
Tigers no place to user their claws,
Nor warrior to warrior to thrust his blade.
Why? Because such a man has no place for death to enter.
Music and fine food make the passerby pause.
But a description of the Tao
Seems without substance or flavor.
For if you look at it, you see nothing;
If you listen to it, you hear nothing;
If you use it, you cannot use it up.
The lighted Tao seems dim;
The Tao which goes forward seems to retreat;
The Tao that is smooth seems rough.
The most solid truth seems unreal;
The perfect square has no corners;
The greatest talents ripen late;
The greatest music cannot be heard;
The greatest form has no shape;
The Tao is hidden and nameless.
The Tao alone excels in beginning and ending.
Why do heaven and earth last forever?
They are unborn,
So ever living.
We must stay behind to be ahead.
Detached, thus ever present.
Through selfless action, we attain fulfillment.
The greatest perfection is like water,
Which gives life to the Ten Thousand Creatures,
And does not strive.
It flows in places that men reject,
And so is like the Tao.
Water neither contends nor blames.
When the uncarved block is carved,
It becomes useful.
When we use it,
We become the ruler.
This is why the great craftsman does not carve.
A truly good man is not aware of his goodness,
And therefore is good.
A foolish man tries to be good,
And therefore is not good.
A truly good man does nothing,
Yet leaves nothing undone.
A foolish man is always doing,
Yet much remains to be done.
The space between the heavens and earth
Is like a bellows.
It is empty, but gives a supply that never fails;
The more it moves, the more it yields.
Knowledge of the future is only colorful hope or fear.
It is the beginning of folly.
Therefore the truly great man dwells on what is real
And not what is on the surface,
On the fruit and not the flower,
Accept substance and ignore abstraction.
The Ten Thousand Creatures
Bear Yin and embrace Yang.
They achieve harmony by combining these forces.
We hate to be orphaned, widowed, or poor,
But these are what noble ones take as titles,
For one gains by losing
And loses by gaining.
Since the beginning of time, the Tao has always existed.
It is beyond existing and not existing .
How do I know where creation comes from?
I look inside myself and see it.
We can see Beauty as Beauty
Only because there is Ugliness.
We can know Good as Good
Only because there is Evil.
Having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short contrast each other:
High and low oppose each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each other;
Front and back follow one another.
All movement returns to the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
The Ten Thousand Creatures are born of being.
Being is born of not being.
Be whole, but first be broken;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.
Embrace the One
And set an example to all.
Understanding the small is insight;
Yielding to force is strength.
Using the outer light, return to insight,
And in this way be saved from harm.
This is learning constancy.
Those who stand on tiptoe
Do not stand firmly.
Those who rush ahead
Do not get very far.
Those who try to outshine others
Dim their own light.
Those who boast of their accomplishments
Diminish the things they have done.
Knowing others is wisdom;
Knowing the self is enlightenment.
Mastering others requires force;
Mastering the self needs strength.
He who knows he has enough is rich.
The living are soft and yielding;
The dead are rigid and stiff.
Living plants are flexible and tender;
The dead are brittle and dry.
Nothing under heaven is
Softer or more yielding than water.
Yet it has no equal for overcoming things
That are rigid and stiff.
Act by not acting;
Do by not doing.
Enjoy the plain and simple.
Find that greatness in the small.
Manage difficult problems while they are still easy;
Do easy things before they become too hard.
If you can empty your mind of all thoughts
Your heart will embrace the tranquility of peace.
The Ten Thousand Things flourish and then
Return to the point where they began.
The humble is the root of the noble.
The low is the foundation of the high.
Better stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the Way.