Tao Te Ching
To know and yet (think) we do not know is the highest
(attainment); not to know (and yet think) we do know is a disease.
It is simply by being pained at (the thought of) having this
disease that we are preserved from it. The sage has not the disease.
He knows the pain that would be inseparable from it, and therefore he
does not have it.
When the people do not fear what they ought to fear, that which
is their great dread will come on them.
Let them not thoughtlessly indulge themselves in their ordinary
life; let them not act as if weary of what that life depends on.
It is by avoiding such indulgence that such weariness does not
Therefore the sage knows (these things) of himself, but does not
parade (his knowledge); loves, but does not (appear to set a) value
on, himself. And thus he puts the latter alternative away and makes
choice of the former.
He whose boldness appears in his daring (to do wrong, in
defiance of the laws) is put to death; he whose boldness appears in
his not daring (to do so) lives on. Of these two cases the one
appears to be advantageous, and the other to be injurious. But
When Heaven's anger smites a man,
Who the cause shall truly scan?
On this account the sage feels a difficulty (as to what to do in the
It is the way of Heaven not to strive, and yet it skilfully
overcomes; not to speak, and yet it is skilful in (obtaining a reply;
does not call, and yet men come to it of themselves. Its
demonstrations are quiet, and yet its plans are skilful and effective.
The meshes of the net of Heaven are large; far apart, but letting
The people do not fear death; to what purpose is it to (try to)
frighten them with death? If the people were always in awe of death,
and I could always seize those who do wrong, and put them to death,
who would dare to do wrong?
There is always One who presides over the infliction death. He who
would inflict death in the room of him who so presides over it may be
described as hewing wood instead of a great carpenter. Seldom is it
that he who undertakes the hewing, instead of the great carpenter,
does not cut his own hands!
The people suffer from famine because of the multitude of taxes
consumed by their superiors. It is through this that they suffer
The people are difficult to govern because of the (excessive)
agency of their superiors (in governing them). It is through this
that they are difficult to govern.
The people make light of dying because of the greatness of their
labours in seeking for the means of living. It is this which makes
them think light of dying. Thus it is that to leave the subject of
living altogether out of view is better than to set a high value on
Man at his birth is supple and weak; at his death, firm and
strong. (So it is with) all things. Trees and plants, in their early
growth, are soft and brittle; at their death, dry and withered.
Thus it is that firmness and strength are the concomitants of
death; softness and weakness, the concomitants of life.
Hence he who (relies on) the strength of his forces does not
conquer; and a tree which is strong will fill the out-stretched arms,
(and thereby invites the feller.)
Therefore the place of what is firm and strong is below, and that
of what is soft and weak is above.
May not the Way (or Tao) of Heaven be compared to the (method
of) bending a bow? The (part of the bow) which was high is brought
low, and what was low is raised up. (So Heaven) diminishes where
there is superabundance, and supplements where there is deficiency.
It is the Way of Heaven to diminish superabundance, and to
supplement deficiency. It is not so with the way of man. He takes
away from those who have not enough to add to his own superabundance.
Who can take his own superabundance and therewith serve all under
heaven? Only he who is in possession of the Tao!
Therefore the (ruling) sage acts without claiming the results as
his; he achieves his merit and does not rest (arrogantly) in it:--he
does not wish to display his superiority.
There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water,
and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing
that can take precedence of it;--for there is nothing (so effectual)
for which it can be changed.
Every one in the world knows that the soft overcomes the hard, and
the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in practice.
Therefore a sage has said,
'He who accepts his state's reproach,
Is hailed therefore its altars' lord;
To him who bears men's direful woes
They all the name of King accord.'
Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.
When a reconciliation is effected (between two parties) after a
great animosity, there is sure to be a grudge remaining (in the mind
of the one who was wrong). And how can this be beneficial (to the
Therefore (to guard against this), the sage keeps the left-hand
portion of the record of the engagement, and does not insist on the
(speedy) fulfilment of it by the other party. (So), he who has the
attributes (of the Tao) regards (only) the conditions of the
engagement, while he who has not those attributes regards only the
conditions favourable to himself.
In the Way of Heaven, there is no partiality of love; it is always
on the side of the good man.
In a little state with a small population, I would so order it,
that, though there were individuals with the abilities of ten or a
hundred men, there should be no employment of them; I would make the
people, while looking on death as a grievous thing, yet not remove
elsewhere (to avoid it).
Though they had boats and carriages, they should have no occasion
to ride in them; though they had buff coats and sharp weapons, they
should have no occasion to don or use them.
I would make the people return to the use of knotted cords (instead
of the written characters).
They should think their (coarse) food sweet; their (plain) clothes
beautiful; their (poor) dwellings places of rest; and their common
(simple) ways sources of enjoyment.
There should be a neighbouring state within sight, and the voices
of the fowls and dogs should be heard all the way from it to us, but I
would make the people to old age, even to death, not have any
intercourse with it.
Sincere words are not fine; fine words are not sincere. Those
who are skilled (in the Tao) do not dispute (about it); the
disputatious are not skilled in it. Those who know (the Tao) are not
extensively learned; the extensively learned do not know it.
The sage does not accumulate (for himself). The more that he
expends for others, the more does he possess of his own; the more that
he gives to others, the more does he have himself.
With all the sharpness of the Way of Heaven, it injures not; with
all the doing in the way of the sage he does not strive.