Tao Te Ching
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.
Colour's five hues from th' 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.
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.
Favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared; honour and
great calamity, to be regarded as personal conditions (of the same
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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The report of that fulfilment 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.
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).
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!'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)!
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
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).