Tao Te Ching
What makes a great state is its being (like) a low-lying, down-
flowing (stream);--it becomes the centre to which tend (all the small
states) under heaven.
(To illustrate from) the case of all females:--the female always
overcomes the male by her stillness. Stillness may be considered (a
sort of) abasement.
Thus it is that a great state, by condescending to small states,
gains them for itself; and that small states, by abasing themselves to
a great state, win it over to them. In the one case the abasement
leads to gaining adherents, in the other case to procuring favour.
The great state only wishes to unite men together and nourish them;
a small state only wishes to be received by, and to serve, the other.
Each gets what it desires, but the great state must learn to abase
Tao has of all things the most honoured place.
No treasures give good men so rich a grace;
Bad men it guards, and doth their ill efface.
(Its) admirable words can purchase honour; (its) admirable deeds
can raise their performer above others. Even men who are not good are
not abandoned by it.
Therefore when the sovereign occupies his place as the Son of
Heaven, and he has appointed his three ducal ministers, though (a
prince) were to send in a round symbol-of-rank large enough to fill
both the hands, and that as the precursor of the team of horses (in
the court-yard), such an offering would not be equal to (a lesson of)
this Tao, which one might present on his knees.
Why was it that the ancients prized this Tao so much? Was it not
because it could be got by seeking for it, and the guilty could escape
(from the stain of their guilt) by it? This is the reason why all
under heaven consider it the most valuable thing.
(It is the way of the Tao) to act without (thinking of) acting;
to conduct affairs without (feeling the) trouble of them; to taste
without discerning any flavour; to consider what is small as great,
and a few as many; and to recompense injury with kindness.
(The master of it) anticipates things that are difficult while they
are easy, and does things that would become great while they are
small. All difficult things in the world are sure to arise from a
previous state in which they were easy, and all great things from one
in which they were small. Therefore the sage, while he never does
what is great, is able on that account to accomplish the greatest
He who lightly promises is sure to keep but little faith; he who is
continually thinking things easy is sure to find them difficult.
Therefore the sage sees difficulty even in what seems easy, and so
never has any difficulties.
That which is at rest is easily kept hold of; before a thing
has given indications of its presence, it is easy to take measures
against it; that which is brittle is easily broken; that which is very
small is easily dispersed. Action should be taken before a thing has
made its appearance; order should be secured before disorder has
The tree which fills the arms grew from the tiniest sprout; the
tower of nine storeys rose from a (small) heap of earth; the journey
of a thousand li commenced with a single step.
He who acts (with an ulterior purpose) does harm; he who takes hold
of a thing (in the same way) loses his hold. The sage does not act
(so), and therefore does no harm; he does not lay hold (so), and
therefore does not lose his bold. (But) people in their conduct of
affairs are constantly ruining them when they are on the eve of
success. If they were careful at the end, as (they should be) at the
beginning, they would not so ruin them.
Therefore the sage desires what (other men) do not desire, and does
not prize things difficult to get; he learns what (other men) do not
learn, and turns back to what the multitude of men have passed by.
Thus he helps the natural development of all things, and does not dare
to act (with an ulterior purpose of his own).
The ancients who showed their skill in practising the Tao did
so, not to enlighten the people, but rather to make them simple and
The difficulty in governing the people arises from their having
much knowledge. He who (tries to) govern a state by his wisdom is a
scourge to it; while he who does not (try to) do so is a blessing.
He who knows these two things finds in them also his model and
rule. Ability to know this model and rule constitutes what we call
the mysterious excellence (of a governor). Deep and far-reaching is
such mysterious excellence, showing indeed its possessor as opposite
to others, but leading them to a great conformity to him.
That whereby the rivers and seas are able to receive the homage
and tribute of all the valley streams, is their skill in being lower
than they;--it is thus that they are the kings of them all. So it is
that the sage (ruler), wishing to be above men, puts himself by his
words below them, and, wishing to be before them, places his person
In this way though he has his place above them, men do not feel his
weight, nor though he has his place before them, do they feel it an
injury to them.
Therefore all in the world delight to exalt him and do not weary of
him. Because he does not strive, no one finds it possible to strive
All the world says that, while my Tao is great, it yet appears
to be inferior (to other systems of teaching). Now it is just its
greatness that makes it seem to be inferior. If it were like any
other (system), for long would its smallness have been known!
But I have three precious things which I prize and hold fast. The
first is gentleness; the second is economy; and the third is shrinking
from taking precedence of others.
With that gentleness I can be bold; with that economy I can be
liberal; shrinking from taking precedence of others, I can become a
vessel of the highest honour. Now-a-days they give up gentleness and
are all for being bold; economy, and are all for being liberal; the
hindmost place, and seek only to be foremost;--(of all which the end
Gentleness is sure to be victorious even in battle, and firmly to
maintain its ground. Heaven will save its possessor, by his (very)
gentleness protecting him.
He who in (Tao's) wars has skill
Assumes no martial port;
He who fights with most good will
To rage makes no resort.
He who vanquishes yet still
Keeps from his foes apart;
He whose hests men most fulfil
Yet humbly plies his art.
Thus we say, 'He ne'er contends,
And therein is his might.'
Thus we say, 'Men's wills he bends,
That they with him unite.'
Thus we say, 'Like Heaven's his ends,
No sage of old more bright.'
A master of the art of war has said, 'I do not dare to be the
host (to commence the war); I prefer to be the guest (to act on the
defensive). I do not dare to advance an inch; I prefer to retire a
foot.' This is called marshalling the ranks where there are no ranks;
baring the arms (to fight) where there are no arms to bare; grasping
the weapon where there is no weapon to grasp; advancing against the
enemy where there is no enemy.
There is no calamity greater than lightly engaging in war. To do
that is near losing (the gentleness) which is so precious. Thus it is
that when opposing weapons are (actually) crossed, he who deplores
(the situation) conquers.
My words are very easy to know, and very easy to practise; but
there is no one in the world who is able to know and able to practise
There is an originating and all-comprehending (principle) in my
words, and an authoritative law for the things (which I enforce). It
is because they do not know these, that men do not know me.
They who know me are few, and I am on that account (the more) to be
prized. It is thus that the sage wears (a poor garb of) hair cloth,
while he carries his (signet of) jade in his bosom.