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The Best of the Tao Te Ching

As part of our ongoing collection of ancient wisdom from all traditions, we’ve pulled together selected English language selections of the Tao Te Ching. 

1.

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

— Translated by Gia-Fu Feng

9.

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

Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

— Translated by Stephen Mitchell

10.

Can you see as a child sees
And keep the simple vision?
See the inner oneness
With absolute precision

Hold all things in your embrace
The entire world is in your care
Let things be just as they are
Extend acceptance everywhere

Let go all need to comprehend
The truth is here where all behold
Their infinite capacity
To welcome and enfold

— Translated by Jim Clatfelter

11.

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center 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 it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

— Translated by Stephen Mitchell

15.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.

— Translated by Stephen Mitchell

27.

Good walkers leave no track.
Good talkers don’t stammer.
Good counters don’t use their fingers.
The best door’s unlocked and unopened.
The best knot’s not in a rope and can’t be untied.

So wise souls are good at caring for people,
never turning their back on anyone.
They’re good at looking after things,
never turning their back on anything,
There’s a light hidden here.

Good people teach people who aren’t good yet;
the less good are the makings of the good.
Anyone who doesn’t respect a teacher
or cherish a student
may be clever, but has gone astray.
There’s a deep mystery here.

— Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin

35.

When you get right with Tao,
everybody wants to be your friend.
When they’re around you,
they can relax and enjoy themselves.

People can be easily distracted
by music or good food.
When we try to talk about Tao,
it seems boring by comparison.

It doesn’t look like much.
It doesn’t sound like much.
But no matter how much you use,
there’s still plenty left.

— Translated by Ron Hogan

61.

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

— Translated by Stephen Mitchell

81.

True words aren’t charming,
charming words aren’t true.
Good people aren’t contentious,
contentious people aren’t good.
People who know aren’t learned,
learned people don’t know.

Wise souls don’t hoard;
the more they do for others the more they have,
the more they give the richer they are.
The Way of heaven profits without destroying.
Doing without outdoing
is the Way of the wise.

— Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin 

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