by Lao-Tse
translated by James Legge

    PART I.

      Ch. 1.

      1. The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

      2. (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.

      3. Always without desire we must be found,
      If its deep mystery we would sound;
      But if desire always within us be,
      Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.

      4. Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.


      1. All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is.

      2. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.

      3. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech.

      4. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).

      The work is done, but how no one can see;
      'Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.


      1. Not to value and employ men of superior ability is the way to keep the people from rivalry among themselves; not to prize articles which are difficult to procure is the way to keep them from becoming thieves; not to show them what is likely to excite their desires is the way to keep their minds from disorder.

      2. Therefore the sage, in the exercise of his government, empties their minds, fills their bellies, weakens their wills, and strengthens their bones.

      3. He constantly (tries to) keep them without knowledge and without desire, and where there are those who have knowledge, to keep them from presuming to act (on it). When there is this abstinence from action, good order is universal.


      1. The Tao is (like) the emptiness of a vessel; and in our employment of it we must be on our guard against all fullness. How deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the Honoured Ancestor of all things!

      2. We should blunt our sharp points, and unravel the complications of things; we should temper our brightness, and bring ourselves into agreement with the obscurity of others. How pure and still the Tao is, as if it would ever so continue!

      3. I do not know whose son it is. It might appear to have been before God.


      1. Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be benevolent; they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are dealt with. The sages do not act from (any wish to be) benevolent; they deal with the people as the dogs of grass are dealt with.

      2. May not the space between heaven and earth be compared to a bellows?

      'Tis emptied, yet it loses not its power;
      'Tis moved again, and sends forth air the more.
      Much speech to swift exhaustion lead we see;
      Your inner being guard, and keep it free.
      6. The valley spirit dies not, aye the same;
      The female mystery thus do we name.
      Its gate, from which at first they issued forth,
      Is called the root from which grew heaven and earth.
      Long and unbroken does its power remain,
      Used gently, and without the touch of pain.


      1. Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long. The reason why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long is because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how they are able to continue and endure.

      2. Therefore the sage puts his own person last, and yet it is found in the foremost place; he treats his person as if it were foreign to him, and yet that person is preserved. Is it not because he has no personal and private ends, that therefore such ends are realised?


      1. The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao.

      2. The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the place; that of the mind is in abysmal stillness; that of associations is in their being with the virtuous; that of government is in its securing good order; that of (the conduct of) affairs is in its ability; and that of (the initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness.

      3. And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about his low position), no one finds fault with him.


      1. It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to carry it when it is full. If you keep feeling a point that has been sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.

      2. When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them safe. When wealth and honours lead to arrogance, this brings its evil on itself. When the work is done, and one's name is becoming distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of Heaven.


      1. When the intelligent and animal souls are held together in one embrace, they can be kept from separating. When one gives undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a (tender) babe. When he has cleansed away the most mysterious sights (of his imagination), he can become without a flaw.

      2. In loving the people and ruling the state, cannot he proceed without any (purpose of) action? In the opening and shutting of his gates of heaven, cannot he do so as a female bird? While his intelligence reaches in every direction, cannot he (appear to) be without knowledge?

      3. (The Tao) produces (all things) and nourishes them; it produces them and does not claim them as its own; it does all, and yet does not boast of it; it presides over all, and yet does not control them. This is what is called 'The mysterious Quality' (of the Tao).

      11. The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends. Clay is fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from the walls) to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space (within), that its use depends. Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness.

      1. Colour's five hues from the eyes their sight will take;
      Music's five notes the ears as deaf can make;
      The flavours five deprive the mouth of taste;
      The chariot course, and the wild hunting waste
      Make mad the mind; and objects rare and strange,
      Sought for, men's conduct will to evil change.

      2. Therefore the sage seeks to satisfy (the craving of) the belly, and not the (insatiable longing of the) eyes. He puts from him the latter, and prefers to seek the former.


      1. Favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared; honour and great calamity, to be regarded as personal conditions (of the same kind).

      2. What is meant by speaking thus of favour and disgrace? Disgrace is being in a low position (after the enjoyment of favour). The getting that (favour) leads to the apprehension (of losing it), and the losing it leads to the fear of (still greater calamity):--this is what is meant by saying that favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared.

      And what is meant by saying that honour and great calamity are to be (similarly) regarded as personal conditions? What makes me liable to great calamity is my having the body (which I call myself); if I had not the body, what great calamity could come to me?

      3. Therefore he who would administer the kingdom, honouring it as he honours his own person, may be employed to govern it, and he who would administer it with the love which he bears to his own person may be entrusted with it.


      1. We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it 'the Equable.' We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it 'the Inaudible.' We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we name it 'the Subtle.' With these three qualities, it cannot be made the subject of description; and hence we blend them together and obtain The One.

      2. Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not obscure. Ceaseless in its action, it yet cannot be named, and then it again returns and becomes nothing. This is called the Form of the Formless, and the Semblance of the Invisible; this is called the Fleeting and Indeterminable.

      3. We meet it and do not see its Front; we follow it, and do not see its Back. When we can lay hold of the Tao of old to direct the things of the present day, and are able to know it as it was of old in the beginning, this is called (unwinding) the clue of Tao.


      1. The skilful masters (of the Tao) in old times, with a subtle and exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep (also) so as to elude men's knowledge. As they were thus beyond men's knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort they appeared to be.

      2. Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in winter; irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them; grave like a guest (in awe of his host); evanescent like ice that is melting away; unpretentious like wood that has not been fashioned into anything; vacant like a valley, and dull like muddy water.

      3. Who can (make) the muddy water (clear)? Let it be still, and it will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of rest? Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.

      4. They who preserve this method of the Tao do not wish to be full (of themselves). It is through their not being full of themselves that they can afford to seem worn and not appear new and complete.


      1. The (state of) vacancy should be brought to the utmost degree, and that of stillness guarded with unwearying vigour. All things alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see them return (to their original state). When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root. This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness may be called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.

      2. The report of that fulfillment is the regular, unchanging rule. To know that unchanging rule is to be intelligent; not to know it leads to wild movements and evil issues. The knowledge of that unchanging rule produces a (grand) capacity and forbearance, and that capacity and forbearance lead to a community (of feeling with all things). From this community of feeling comes a kingliness of character; and he who is king-like goes on to be heaven-like. In that likeness to heaven he possesses the Tao. Possessed of the Tao, he endures long; and to the end of his bodily life, is exempt from all danger of decay.


      1. In the highest antiquity, (the people) did not know that there were (their rulers). In the next age they loved them and praised them. In the next they feared them; in the next they despised them. Thus it was that when faith (in the Tao) was deficient (in the rulers) a want of faith in them ensued (in the people).

      2. How irresolute did those (earliest rulers) appear, showing (by their reticence) the importance which they set upon their words! Their work was done and their undertakings were successful, while the people all said, 'We are as we are, of ourselves!'


      1. When the Great Tao (Way or Method) ceased to be observed, benevolence and righteousness came into vogue. (Then) appeared wisdom and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy.

      2. When harmony no longer prevailed throughout the six kinships, filial sons found their manifestation; when the states and clans fell into disorder, loyal ministers appeared.


      1. If we could renounce our sageness and discard our wisdom, it would be better for the people a hundredfold. If we could renounce our benevolence and discard our righteousness, the people would again become filial and kindly. If we could renounce our artful contrivances and discard our (scheming for) gain, there would be no thieves nor robbers.

      2. Those three methods (of government)
      Thought olden ways in elegance did fail
      And made these names their want of worth to veil;
      But simple views, and courses plain and true
      Would selfish ends and many lusts eschew.


      1. When we renounce learning we have no troubles.
      The (ready) 'yes,' and (flattering) 'yea;'--
      Small is the difference they display.
      But mark their issues, good and ill;--
      What space the gulf between shall fill?

      What all men fear is indeed to be feared; but how wide and without end is the range of questions (asking to be discussed)!

      2. The multitude of men look satisfied and pleased; as if enjoying a full banquet, as if mounted on a tower in spring. I alone seem listless and still, my desires having as yet given no indication of their presence. I am like an infant which has not yet smiled. I look dejected and forlorn, as if I had no home to go to. The multitude of men all have enough and to spare. I alone seem to have lost everything. My mind is that of a stupid man; I am in a state of chaos.

      Ordinary men look bright and intelligent, while I alone seem to be benighted. They look full of discrimination, while I alone am dull and confused. I seem to be carried about as on the sea, drifting as if I had nowhere to rest. All men have their spheres of action, while I alone seem dull and incapable, like a rude borderer. (Thus) I alone am different from other men, but I value the nursing-mother (the Tao).

      21. The grandest forms of active force
      From Tao come, their only source.
      Who can of Tao the nature tell?
      Our sight it flies, our touch as well.
      Eluding sight, eluding touch,
      The forms of things all in it crouch;
      Eluding touch, eluding sight,
      There are their semblances, all right.
      Profound it is, dark and obscure;
      Things' essences all there endure.
      Those essences the truth enfold
      Of what, when seen, shall then be told.
      Now it is so; 'twas so of old.
      Its name--what passes not away;
      So, in their beautiful array,
      Things form and never know decay.

      How know I that it is is with all the beauties of existing things? By this (nature of the Tao).


      1. The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty, full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray.

      2. Therefore the sage holds in his embrace the one thing (of humility), and manifests it to all the world. He is free from self-display, and therefore he shines; from self-assertion, and therefore he is distinguished; from self-boasting, and therefore his merit is acknowledged; from self-complacency, and therefore he acquires superiority. It is because he is thus free from striving that therefore no one in the world is able to strive with him.

      3. That saying of the ancients that 'the partial becomes complete' was not vainly spoken:--all real completion is comprehended under it.


      1. Abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity of his nature. A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a sudden rain does not last for the whole day. To whom is it that these (two) things are owing? To Heaven and Earth. If Heaven and Earth cannot make such (spasmodic) actions last long, how much less can man!

      2. Therefore when one is making the Tao his business, those who are also pursuing it, agree with him in it, and those who are making the manifestation of its course their object agree with him in that; while even those who are failing in both these things agree with him where they fail.

      3. Hence, those with whom he agrees as to the Tao have the happiness of attaining to it; those with whom he agrees as to its manifestation have the happiness of attaining to it; and those with whom he agrees in their failure have also the happiness of attaining (to the Tao). (But) when there is not faith sufficient (on his part), a want of faith (in him) ensues (on the part of the others).

      24. He who stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm; he who stretches his legs does not walk (easily). (So), he who displays himself does not shine; he who asserts his own views is not distinguished; he who vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged; he who is self-conceited has no superiority allowed to him. Such conditions, viewed from the standpoint of the Tao, are like remnants of food, or a tumor on the body, which all dislike. Hence those who pursue (the course) of the Tao do not adopt and allow them.

      1. There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth. How still it was and formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)! It may be regarded as the Mother of all things.

      2. I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tao (the Way or Course). Making an effort (further) to give it a name I call it The Great.

      3. Great, it passes on (in constant flow). Passing on, it becomes remote. Having become remote, it returns. Therefore the Tao is great; Heaven is great; Earth is great; and the (sage) king is also great. In the universe there are four that are great, and the (sage) king is one of them.

      4. Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Tao. The law of the Tao is its being what it is.


      1. Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of movement.

      2. Therefore a wise prince, marching the whole day, does not go far from his baggage wagons. Although he may have brilliant prospects to look at, he quietly remains (in his proper place), indifferent to them. How should the lord of a myriad chariots carry himself lightly before the kingdom? If he do act lightly, he has lost his root (of gravity); if he proceed to active movement, he will lose his throne.


      1. The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the skilful closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has shut will be impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or knots, while to unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In the same way the sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he does not cast away any man; he is always skilful at saving things, and so he does not cast away anything. This is called 'Hiding the light of his procedure.'

      2. Therefore the man of skill is a master (to be looked up to) by him who has not the skill; and he who has not the skill is the helper of (the reputation of) him who has the skill. If the one did not honour his master, and the other did not rejoice in his helper, an (observer), though intelligent, might greatly err about them. This is called 'The utmost degree of mystery.'


      1. Who knows his manhood's strength,
      Yet still his female feebleness maintains;
      As to one channel flow the many drains,
      All come to him, yea, all beneath the sky.
      Thus he the constant excellence retains;
      The simple child again, free from all stains.

      Who knows how white attracts,
      Yet always keeps himself within black's shade,
      The pattern of humility displayed,
      Displayed in view of all beneath the sky;
      He in the unchanging excellence arrayed,
      Endless return to man's first state has made.

      Who knows how glory shines,
      Yet loves disgrace, nor e'er for it is pale;
      Behold his presence in a spacious vale,
      To which men come from all beneath the sky.
      The unchanging excellence completes its tale;
      The simple infant man in him we hail.

      2. The unwrought material, when divided and distributed, forms vessels. The sage, when employed, becomes the Head of all the Officers (of government); and in his greatest regulations he employs no violent measures.


      1. If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp loses it.

      2. The course and nature of things is such that
      What was in front is now behind;
      What warmed anon we freezing find.
      Strength is of weakness oft the spoil;
      The store in ruins mocks our toil.

      Hence the sage puts away excessive effort, extravagance, and easy indulgence.

      1. He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Tao will not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a course is sure to meet with its proper return.

      2. Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up. In the sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.

      3. A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery.

      4. When things have attained their strong maturity they become old. This may be said to be not in accordance with the Tao: and what is not in accordance with it soon comes to an end.


      1. Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen, hateful, it may be said, to all creatures. Therefore they who have the Tao do not like to employ them.

      2. The superior man ordinarily considers the left hand the most honourable place, but in time of war the right hand. Those sharp weapons are instruments of evil omen, and not the instruments of the superior man;--he uses them only on the compulsion of necessity. Calm and repose are what he prizes; victory (by force of arms) is to him undesirable. To consider this desirable would be to delight in the slaughter of men; and he who delights in the slaughter of men cannot get his will in the kingdom.

      3. On occasions of festivity to be on the left hand is the prized position; on occasions of mourning, the right hand. The second in command of the army has his place on the left; the general commanding in chief has his on the right;--his place, that is, is assigned to him as in the rites of mourning. He who has killed multitudes of men should weep for them with the bitterest grief; and the victor in battle has his place (rightly) according to those rites.


      1. The Tao, considered as unchanging, has no name.

      2. Though in its primordial simplicity it may be small, the whole world dares not deal with (one embodying) it as a minister. If a feudal prince or the king could guard and hold it, all would spontaneously submit themselves to him.

      3. Heaven and Earth (under its guidance) unite together and send down the sweet dew, which, without the directions of men, reaches equally everywhere as of its own accord.

      4. As soon as it proceeds to action, it has a name. When it once has that name, (men) can know to rest in it. When they know to rest in it, they can be free from all risk of failure and error.

      5. The relation of the Tao to all the world is like that of the great rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.


      1. He who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is intelligent. He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes himself is mighty. He who is satisfied with his lot is rich; he who goes on acting with energy has a (firm) will.

      2. He who does not fail in the requirements of his position, continues long; he who dies and yet does not perish, has longevity.


      1. All-pervading is the Great Tao! It may be found on the left hand and on the right.

      2. All things depend on it for their production, which it gives to them, not one refusing obedience to it. When its work is accomplished, it does not claim the name of having done it. It clothes all things as with a garment, and makes no assumption of being their lord;--it may be named in the smallest things. All things return (to their root and disappear), and do not know that it is it which presides over their doing so;--it may be named in the greatest things.

      3. Hence the sage is able (in the same way) to accomplish his great achievements. It is through his not making himself great that he can accomplish them.


      1. To him who holds in his hands the Great Image (of the invisible Tao), the whole world repairs. Men resort to him, and receive no hurt, but (find) rest, peace, and the feeling of ease.

      2. Music and dainties will make the passing guest stop (for a time). But though the Tao as it comes from the mouth, seems insipid and has no flavour, though it seems not worth being looked at or listened to, the use of it is inexhaustible.


      1. When one is about to take an inspiration, he is sure to make a (previous) expiration; when he is going to weaken another, he will first strengthen him; when he is going to overthrow another, he will first have raised him up; when he is going to despoil another, he will first have made gifts to him:--this is called 'Hiding the light (of his procedure).'

      2. The soft overcomes the hard; and the weak the strong.

      3. Fishes should not be taken from the deep; instruments for the profit of a state should not be shown to the people.


      1. The Tao in its regular course does nothing (for the sake of doing it), and so there is nothing which it does not do.

      2. If princes and kings were able to maintain it, all things would of themselves be transformed by them.

      3. If this transformation became to me an object of desire, I would express the desire by the nameless simplicity.

      Simplicity without a name
      Is free from all external aim.
      With no desire, at rest and still,
      All things go right as of their will.

A pre-Qin dynasty Chinese totalitarian political discourse on how to rule effectively by keeping peasants isolated in their villages but filling their bellies; never letting the State's motivations or actions be discernable, and so on. The opening lines, "Dao that can be Daoed not unchanging Dao" is characteristic of tracts of this period by acknowledging its vulnerability when pretending to present Truth: "Any mode of discourse that can itself be discoursed upon does not stand outside the arguments of discourse." Later reinterpreted as a teaching on how to survive in hostile political times. Much later, reinterpreted as a teaching on longevity. Re-reinterpreted in the West as having some spiritual meaning.

Tao, sometimes translated as Head, Meaning, Nothing, Everything.

Is anyone going to read me way down here?

The Tao Te Ching (dow de jing) was written by Lao Tzu, probably about the 5th Century B.C. and approximately at the time of Confucius. The title can be translated various ways, "The Book of the Way," "The Book of the Way and Its Power," "A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way," and so on.

The two translations I personally own and like are the Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation and the Ursula K. Le Guin translation. I was going to put them both up chapter by chapter, but I think there are some copyright issues. I did find an "interpolation" online by Peter Merel which is available* under the GPL, and I am in the process of putting that into the chapter nodes.

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Well, I've had a look around e2, and noticed that no one has written anything on the supposed legend of how the Tao Te Ching came into being in the first place, and in the process explain a bit of about the Old Master's alleged past. It goes a little something like this:

According to certain historical records, Laozi's surname was Li, his given-name was Er, and his coming-of-age name was Dan. He was born in sixth century b.c. in Quren village, in Li district, Hu county, in the state of Chu.

Legend has it that he was appointed caretaker of the state archives under King Wu of Zhou, in the Zhou capital of Luoyang. Here, Laozi poured through innumerable books, absorbing the knowledge of the times, and gaining many insights into life. And in this way, Laozi grew wiser by the day.

In the twenty-third year of the Zhou King Zhao, witnessing the gradual decline of the house of Zhou, Laozi departed from Luoyang and jounrneyed westward through the Hangu Pass of the Great Wall. There, he met a man named Yin Xi, who was the gatekeeper at Hangu Pass. Yin Xi told Laozi of his intrest in the daoist arts, and persuaded Laozi to jot down a few notes on daoism for him. So Laozi wrote a short book in two parts, consisting of just over five thousand words. Upon finishing the book, he passsed through the Great Wall and was never heard from again.
One problem any English-speaking student of the Tao Te Ching will come across is that of translation. Any time the original Chinese is translated, its meaning will change somewhat, given that different languages subdivide the semantic space in different ways. Thus, it's a very good idea to read multiple translations—or, even better, learn Chinese. However, for those of us who are too lazy to learn Chinese and too poor to buy a million books with different translations, there is a resource! Or, rather, two resources, to be precise.

One can read the Tao Te Ching in the original Chinese (in Chinese characters or Pinyin (Mandarin) romanization), in seventeen English translations, and in one German translation, at edepot. Another neat feature is the ability to view two translations at once and compare. The address is as follows:

One can also find the original Chinese and ten English translations at the "Comparative Tao" site. As the name implies, it is also a site that allows you to view two translations at once, in order to compare. The address is:

Particularly amusing at the Comparative Tao site is the "Jesse Garon" translation. While it's damn funny, it also is a very accessible translation. It includes such gems as the following:

Chapter 1
If you can talk about it,
it ain't Tao.
If it's got a name,
it's just another thing.

Tao doesn't have a name.
Names are for ordinary stuff.

Stop wanting stuff. It keeps you from seeing what's real.
When you want stuff, all you see are things.

The Lao Tzu text.

The name Lao Tzu, an obvious pesudonym, means "old master" or "old philosopher" or more generically "old <respectful title>". It is thought by some that the text was originally written by a man named Li Erh. Whether the fable of the Great Wall guard and Lao Tzu actually happened to Li Erh or not is unknown.

The Lao Tzu is divided into two sections, namely the Tao and the Te. They are so-called because the first characters in the Tao and Te sections are, not surprisingly, "tao" and "te". This is a common naming convention for Chinese texts. Doing the same thing again on a higher level will give you the common title of the text. This is how its common title, Tao Te Ching, came to be. The text has no formal title, though. Not in the sense of a Western title phrase that summarizes some theme in the book, anyway. So it is commonly called Tao Te Ching by most people, and called the Lao Tzu by more academic types. I guess it sounds smarter. I call it the Lao Tzu for reasons that will be enumerated below.

The chapters within the Tao section are mostly metaphysical in nature, dealing with the nature of the Tao--the Way. Meanwhile, the chapters within the Te section are mostly practical in nature, dealing with how to correctly govern people. This is just a general trend, however, and actually you can find both of these themes in both parts.

To my knowledge, the oldest known copies of the text were found in 1973 in a tomb near the small village of Ma-wang-tui. This is also where the oldest known copy of the I Ching was found, and at the same time. Each of the two new copies of the text are very incomplete, but between the two of them, the full text is intact. They are both missing great chunks, but they are both missing different great chunks.

The two copies of the Lao Tzu were found to be different in minor details from each other, and significantly different from previously found copies.

The first and arguably most important difference is that these two texts indicate that the Lao Tzu was intented to be read with the Te section first. Hence, the correct order and title would be Te Tao Ching.

Another difference is that there are no chapter divisions, but only special characters in places where some chapter divisions are known to be. The special characters don't always appear in the places commonly considered chapter divisions. This implies that the well-known 81 chapter structure was not the will of the author, but of future editors. This makes sense, because the number 81 has spiritual significance in Chinese culture. Editors would have sought to make the text appear more perfect and well-conceived.

There are those that believe the Lao Tzu is nothing more than:

"a pre-Qin dynasty Chinese totalitarian political discourse on how to rule effectively by keeping peasants isolated in their villages but filling their bellies; never letting the State's motivations or actions be discernable..." -- Sensei, E2.

The cryptic-by-modern-standards nature of the Lao Tzu does nothing to dispel this belief, certainly, but this reasoning is similar to saying that when Jesus said "Love thy neighbor!" he was encouraging promiscuous premarital sex.

In fact, the concepts of the Lao Tzu lead towards decentralization of government, not totalitarianism. Chapter 80 is the most common one to be quoted as saying that people should be kept isolated and ignorant, but let me quote it, and then comment:

Let the states be small and people few--
Bring it about that there are weapons for tens and hundreds, but yet let no one use them;
Have the people regard death gravely and put migrating far from their minds.
Though they might have boats and carriages, no one will ride them;
Though they might have armor and spears, no one will display them.
Have the people return to knotting cords and using them.

They will relish their food,
Regard their clothing as beautiful,
Delight in their customs,
And feel safe and secure in their homes.
Neighboring states might overlook one another,
And the sounds of chickens and dogs might be overheard,
Yet the people will arrive at old age and death with no comings and goings between them.

In saying "let no one use [the weapons]," it is not literally meant that the weapons should be restricted from use, but it means that, "let events evolve in such a way that people have no use for the weapons."

In saying "have the people regard death gravely," it does not mean "put the fear of death in them," but, "have the people take death seriously, and not as an abstract." This is similar to the popular quote "You are not an adult until you understand that you will one day die."

In saying "put migrating far from their minds," there are no overtones of control or totalitarianism, but it simply means that people should be made content, so that they have no need that cannot be fulfilled at home, thus precluding the need to go abroad.

So you see, this chapter says all the same things that an Agriculturalist in ancient China would say. Keep life simple, don't have many wants, realize that all you need is all around you. To further show that this interpretation is correct, instead of an insidious totalitarian plot, I give you Chapter 72:

When the people don't respect those in power, then what they greatly fear is about to arrive.

Don't narrow the size of the places in which they live;
Don't oppress them in their means of livelihood.
It's simply because you do not oppress them, that they therefore will not be fed up.
Therefore the Sage knows himself but doesn't show himself;
He cherishes himself but doesn't value himself.
For this reason, he rejects that and takes this.

So you see, casually reading the Lao Tzu will not give you an understanding of Taoism. Only by studying the Lao Tzu with the benefit of translator's notes can most people understand the original meaning. To judge the text based on inferior translation is folly. Imagine someome judging your best literary work, after having been translated into a different language using Altavista's Babelfish.

There is great wisdom in the Lao Tzu text, but it will not become apparent unless you are capable of understanding implicit meaning instead of claiming the words outline an oppressive master plot.

If Taoism interests you, I suggest you also read the Chuang Tzu, which is another book in which Taoist philosophy can be found. It is a great deal more coherent and comprehensive than the Lao Tzu.

Robert Henricks is one person who has translated the sum of the Ma-wang-tui texts, and his translation and commentary is published by Ballantine books under the title Lao-Tzu, Te-Tao Ching, A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts, ISBN 0-345-37099-6. All of my quoted passages of the Lao Tzu are taken from this book.

The Tao History and Legend

The Tao Te Ching is a classic Chinese text, usually said to be written by a colleague of Confucius, Lao Tzu (translated as "Old Master").The first word "Tao," represented by the Chinese symbol , can be translated as "path," "route," or most commonly "way." The second word "Te," represented by the Chinese symbol , is generally translated as "virtue." The final word "Ching,"represented by the Chinese symbol , means "great book." Therefore, the title can be translated and simplified to "The Book of the Way and Its Virtue." The Tao Te Ching may also be found spelled Dao De Jing depending on the historian and translation you are looking at.

The existence and life of Lao Tzu is a matter of some debate amongst historians researching Ancient China. Most say that he was a contemporary of Confucius (551-479 BC) and that he worked in the imperial archives. Others believe that he was an astrologer and grand historian who lived during the reign of Duke Xian (384-362 BC). Some Western historians deny his existence altogether and believe that the Tao is actually a collection of works from many authors. There are even some Chinese historians who believe that Lao Tzu had been reincarnated 13 times and that he was born old, living 996 years. Whatever his history, he is often credited with writing one of the most influential books in Chinese history.

Similar to its alleged author, the Tao has also had major controversy over its overall construction. It is agreed among all historians that the Tao consists of about 5000 Chinese characters and includes 81 verses. And, while most of the historians agree that the book was written in two separate books (the Tao Ching and the Te Ching) and then later compiled for convenience, some historians believe that it was actually written in 15 different books and then compiled. Though opinions on the history of the book and its alleged author may vary, the importance of the Tao is indisputable. It defines much of the Chinese culture, and it has helped many gain some perspective on life and create goals for themselves.

Anger Management

I recently read the Tao Te Ching for an introductory course at Eckerd College, and some of the passages really hit home. I began to think about what drives human interactions and what brings about good and evil. There are many things in the Tao that can be related to everyday life, but there are a particular few that struck me especially and I thought I'd explore them here. I found personal meaning in a section of Verse 31 in the Tao, where the Master says:

Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?

This is supplemented by his saying in Verse 30 that, "Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself." A man of the Tao should resort to violence only when all other options are left, because his overall goal is peace. Violence will always leave someone with a grudge and this will lead to the eventual destruction of all that the Master worked for. These Verses touched me deeply because of my training in Tae Kwon Do. I trained for six years in the martial arts and earned my black belt through sweat and hard work. This training left me with confidence, pride, and, of course, the ability to defend myself if needed. One of my desires is that I will always be able to defend that which I love with all my ability if the need arises, but be able to restrain myself the rest of the time. As I have grown I have increased my control over my anger in both body and mind. When I was in high school, however, there were times that I longed for someone to pick a fight with me so I could just let loose and blow off all my steam. I still get that feeling every now and then, but for the most part I have come into control of my emotions. Considering that when I was seven I knocked out my sister’s tooth with a plastic water pistol, I feel as though I’ve come a long way and most of the time now I’m a cool customer.

Be Wary of A.I.

I was reminded of my dad when I read the first section of Verse 9 where the Master says:

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening you knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.

The more that someone takes; the more that they have to lose. The more they care for something; the more they will be controlled by it. I was talking to my dad one day after school and he was in a bad mood for some reason. I asked him why and he recounted how he had spent the past three hours working his way through the labyrinth that is Dell Computer Technical Support. He told me of being on hold for 20 minutes at a time, sifting through the cryptic explanations from the series of men from India on the other end of the line, and trying desperately to describe his problem to the people "trying to help him." He had eventually gotten the problem solved, but he found that he was completely exhausted and irritated after it was all over. He then said to me, in conclusion, "I swear, I spend more time trying to keep these things in my house running than I do enjoying them." Since then, I have made it part of my philosophy to try and not let my possessions run my life.

A Walkabout

I have recently incorporated a little ritual into my life that I wish I had when I was in my teen years. I find that there are points of my life when I need to make a big decision and in many of these cases my first reaction is an emotional one. Also, about 90 percent of the time, my first reaction is the wrong one. So, starting last year, every time I had a major decision to make I would go out into the night and go for a walk. While walking I found that I could clear my head of all the emotional noise that clutters it during my day. Without this distraction, I could base my decision off of reason and the facts and I found that my decision was usually the right one. Since then I’ve incorporated this idea into many parts of my life. Whenever I find myself stressing out over something, I just take a short walk and set out what is real and what is just emotional baggage. I was reminded of this little process in Verse 10 of the Tao where the Master asks, "Can you step back from you own mind and thus understand all things?" I think that I could answer, "yes," on this question and not be called a liar. I plan on continuing this practice and I hope that I can spread it among the people close to me.

Goodness Incarnate

Act with no expectations." This is one of the Master’s virtues set out in Verse 10 and can be coupled with the following section of Verse 49,

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

to describe something else that I strive to be, a good person. I want to be the kind of person who is willing to help someone with any thought of what they might get out of it; to help someone because it’s the right thing to do. My mother is much like this. She takes on the responsibilities of three people because she is truly a selfless woman (and a bit of a workaholic). I hope that someday I will be able to be that noble as well. Actually, on a more macabre note, there are times when I wish that I came across someone in need, just so I could help them; Perhaps an old woman who has fallen over or a biker who lost control and went head over heels. I’ve come across small misfortunes before and done my best to help and the feeling I get from seeing someone’s face light up at being taken care of is simply indescribable.

Girls are Attracted to Confidence

As a teenager, I was very self conscious and unsure of what to be. This is, of course, the story of basically every person that is passing through puberty and high school. Even the "popular kids" can be found breaking down in the bathroom during lunch and in many cases the people that are "popular" are actually under more stress than the people outside that circle. I describe myself as the seventh man in a six-man party. I was liked by everyone, but I was never really cool enough to be invited to any of the groups’ private gatherings. In some senses, I was the quintessential outsider. This meant that I spent all of high school striving to be accepted into a group, any group. I obsessed over the things that I was not and completely forgot about what I was. In Verse 30 of the Tao, since the Master "accepts himself, the whole world accepts him." If you just act like yourself and stop trying to change yourself into something you are not then people around you will accept you too. I try to live by this saying now and I have found that it works out very well. I just act like myself around people and don’t worry about what they think of me or whether they like me or not. I instituted this philosophy when I moved to California last year and since then I have found my social situation to be very changed. I make friends very easily and I am not severely disappointed with myself anymore.

The Art of Satisfaction (no, not sexually)

My dad is one of the people I admire most in the world and even though he has his flaws and quirks, and find myself becoming more like him all the time. He and I think similarly on many levels and one that is included is our idea of what a person needs in life to be happy. In Verse 33 of the Tao the Master says that, "If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich," and I believe that my dad has it about right. Many people in the world today are caught constantly striving for more and more things (money, cars, women, TVs, houses, whatever it may be), because they have the idea in their head that in order to be happy they have to have a certain amount of things. What I find, however, is that these people, are often unhappy with their lot in life. We see actors, whose lives should be so easy, finding reasons to commit suicide. This says to me that something is not in balance in their world. My dad has always wanted only enough to support his family and to live comfortably, with a few simple pleasures. All that I can say is that I hope I can live exactly like my dad when I grow up. He has one car and is happier than many of the actors in Hollywood.

Reading the Tao Te Ching brought into perspective many aspects of my life and has helped me not only make decisions, but also to define my own personal philosophy. I truly believe that this book has the power to change people's lives for the good. So, if you are feeling a little lost or down or simply want to read a good book, I would suggest that you pick up this work of art and read it with an open mind and an open heart.

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