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My Favorite Tao

Excerpts cobbled, borrowed, spliced, edited & rewritten from these Ten Tao Te Ching translations: Kwok, Blakney, Mitchell, Feng, Ganson, McCarroll, Muller, Le Guin & Beck and McDonald.


The Tao that can be told – is not the eternal Tao

Nameless is the origin of the universe

Naming is the origination of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.

Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations

Mystery and reality arise from the same source.

This source is called darkness – the gateway to all mystery.

Mystery within mystery; The door to every profundity.

Follow the nothingness of the Tao, and you can be like it –

not needing anything, seeing the wonder and the origin of everything.

The secret waits for the insight of eyes unclouded by longing;

Those who are bound by desire see only the outward container.


Beauty and mercy are only recognized by people

because they also know the opposite.

When people see some things as good, other things become bad.

When people see some as beautiful, others become ugly.

All under heaven see beauty as beauty when they also see ugliness

and good is good only because they also denounce what is bad.

Perception requires its’ opposites:

Therefore, being and non-being arise together.

Therefore, something and nothing give birth to one another

Difficult and easy complete one another.

Long and short fashion one another.

High and low arise from one another.

Notes and tones harmonize with one another.

Front and back follow one another.

The sage goes about doing nothing, teaching without talking.

Ten thousand things rise and fall, Creating, yet not.


The universe is not humane

All things are sacrificial objects.

The wise are not humane

To them people are sacrificial objects.

The universe is like a bellows

Empty, yet it constantly provides.


The Tao as the deep current of life

the root and ground of every soul

the fountain of Heaven and Earth, laid open.

Endless source, endless river, River of no shape, no water

Drifting invisibly from place to place

the source of everything – and of nothing.

Yin is ever present.

the Mystic Female from whom the heavens and the earth originate

Constantly, continuously, enduring and changing.


Heaven is eternal and the earth long endures

They last so long by not existing for themselves.

Wise souls set self aside.

Being indifferent and not living for self,

they find fulfillment.


Fill your bowl to the brim

and it will spill.

Over sharpen your knife

and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security

and your heart will clench.

Care about people’s approval

and you will become their prisoner.

A room filled with gold and jewels cannot be protected.

Wealth, power and pride bequeath their own doom.

Do your work, then simply walk away.

This is the path to Heaven.

Advantage is had from whatever is there;

But true usefulness rises from whatever is not.

At rising, the Tao does not illumine;

At setting, no darkness ensues;

It stretches far back to that nameless estate

which existed before the creation,

before the word.


Can you embrace the one with your soul and hold fast to the way?

Can you center your energy and be soft and tender?

Can you cleanse and purify your mystic vision

and keep the deep water still and clear?

Too give birth, to nourish, to bear without owning,

to act without obligation, to lead without dominating

this is mystical power.


Thirty spokes meet at the hub

but usefulness comes from where the wheel is not.

Hollowed out clay makes a pot.

Where the pot is not, is useful.

Walls, doors and windows define a room.

Where the room isn’t leaves room for you.

Embrace the space where nothing exists. Use what isn’t.


Colors can blind us, music can deafen, flavors dull our taste.

Chasing and hunting can drive us mad.

Trying to become rich ties us in knots.

So the wise one seeks inner satisfaction

and releases need for external stimulation.


Fortune and misfortune cause apprehension.

Those with good fortune are apprehensive of their gain,

those with misfortune are apprehensive of their loss.

Regard trouble as you regard yourself.


Existing continuously, look for it. But there is nothing to see,

Listen for it but there is nothing to hear.

Grasp for it and it returns to nothingness.

Thus, it is called the formless form, the image of no-thing.

Form yet uninformed, shape without shape.

Go to meet it, you cannot see its face.

Follow it and there is no end.

It is intangible, an undifferentiated oneness.

Form of the formless, it returns to nothingness.

Supported within the ancient Tao

You can manage the present and also sense primordial origins.

Stand before it and there is no beginning.

Follow it and there is no end.

Touch ultimate emptiness,

Hold steady and still.


Empty yourself

Let the mind become still.

Ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches.

They grow and flourish and within their arising

and their return to the source is stillness.

Empty your mind of thoughts.

Let your heart be at peace.

Watch the turmoil of beings,

but contemplate their return to the common source.

Not realizing the source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow.

But when you realize, you naturally become:

tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted and dignified.

Immersed in the wonder and knowing of the Tao, wisdom arises.

Preparation in life for when death comes

then you will be ready and without fear.


What difference is there between yes and no?

What difference between success and failure!

Between good and bad..

Must you value what others value,

fear what others fear! That is to be feared.

Other people have what they need;

I possess nothing.

I drift about alone like someone without a home.

My mind is empty

Other people are bright;

I am dark

Other people are sharp

I am dull

Other people are purposeful;

I know not.

And what do most people do?

They go looking for a good time.

Looking for fool’s gold and auspicious signs.

Others have more than they need;

I possess nothing, like a vagabond or a fool.

The masses are clever and smug

Everyone seems busy with clear direction

I wander, different and alone

unsettled like the waves and the restless wind

Adrift on the lonely sea.


Be broken into wholeness,

Yield and conquer; Bend and straighten.

Empty and be full; Wear out and be new.

Have little and gain; Darken and become light.

To receive all,

give up everything.

Die and be born.


Express yourself completely, then keep quiet.

Like the forces of nature when it blows, there is only wind;

when it rains, there is only rain;

then the clouds pass, and the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao, you are at one with the Tao.

If you open yourself to insight, you are at one with insight.

If you open yourself to loss, be at one with loss, and be filled.


Stand on your tiptoes and you won’t stand firm.

Try to shine and you’ll become dim.

Try to define yourself and you’ll become vague and confused.

Hold power over others and you’ll weaken and bind yourself.


Something formless yet full and complete,

existing before heaven and earth, silent, limitless, all pervasive

it stands alone

Constantly changing it is immutable,

Seeking nothing it touches all,

Beyond description, it is called the “Tao.”


A sage going by the way leaves no tracks

A skillful binding shows no cords

A wise traveler has no itinerary

A knowing artist intends not creation

A wise man knows that he knows…… not.

Yielding is the way of the Tao.


Be aware of the light around you;

by remembering the darkness that is there,

Develop the strength of a man,

but live gently as a woman.

Know the pure but live also with the coarse.

Become onto all things under heaven.


The world is sacred, it cannot be owned or improved.

Possess it, and it’s destroyed:

Hold tight and you lose it.

Some are leaders and others follow.

Some drift like the wind, others are driven.

Some are tough, others frail,

Some destroy, others heal,

Some win, most lose.

So now you know

Hence, there is a time to proceed

and a time to retreat.

There is a time to be vigorous

and a time to be gentle.

There is a time to gather

and a time to release.

The rhythm of the Tao.


When you know the essence of another,

Only then you can judge.

It is skillful to know others,

It is wisdom to know one’s self.

To live until you die

is to live long enough.

Embrace death with your whole heart,

and you will endure forever.

True wealth is being content.


Once grasping the great formless Form,

roam where you will and fear no evil,

Serene, peaceful and flowing.

The Tao quietly appears – it has no taste.

Look and you cannot see it.

Listen and you cannot hear it.

Drink deeply for it cannot be exhausted.


That which shrinks must first expand.

That which is weak must first be strong.

That which is torn down must first be raised.

That which is taken must first be given.

That which will live must first die.


Return is how the Tao moves

Weakness is how it works.

Heaven and earth and then thousand things

are born of being.

Being is born of nothing.


The shade of Yin is within background of everything;

the light of Yang is on the face.

Blending together they balance the world.

So it is that sometimes a thing is increased by being diminished

and diminished by being increased.

In losing, much is gained,

and in gaining, much can be lost.

Ordinary men hate solitude.

The master embraces his aloneness, realizing that

he is one with the universe and can choose his place of death.


True fullness is empty.

Most perfect, yet it seems flawed and incomplete.

Filled up, and yet it seems poured out and empty.


The greatest evil is wanting more.

The greatest scourge is discontentment.

The greatest curse is greed.

To know enough – is enough to know.


Without going outside,

it is possible to know the whole world.

Without opening your window,

one can see the ways of heaven.

So the Wise Man knows without learning,

perceives without looking,

arrives without traveling,

and acts without striving.

The more you know, often

the less you understand.


The Way is gained by daily loss,

Loss upon loss until

At last, the clearing.

By letting go, all is done;

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.

In following the Tao, each day something is let go.

Let go and let it go again until there is nothing left.

Not-doing, nothing is left undone.

However much you manipulate

You can never possess the world.


To look for life is to find death.

Death for most is “not life”,

that happens when they hold too hard to living.

Real death is surrendering to life, then you will

no longer fear the wild tiger or rampaging buffalo.

Not fearing death you will no longer fear life.


Seeing into darkness one finds clarity

Yielding, one becomes strong.


He who knows doesn’t say,

He who talks doesn’t know.

Mask your brightness and be at one with the dust of the Earth.

A wise Man is moved neither by affection nor rejection,

nor profit or loss, nor praise or humiliation.


The Way produces but does not possess,

guides without controlling and protects without obliging.

Allowing life is its’ mystical power.


If my mind’s modest, I walk the great Way.

Arrogance is all that I fear.

The palace is full of splendor

while the fields are full of weeds

People wear ornaments and fancy clothes,

carry sharp swords, eat and drink a lot,

having lots of things and lots of money.

Surely their way isn’t the Way.


Being full of the power is like being a baby:

poisonous insects will not sting,

ferocious beasts will not attack.

The bones are pliable and the muscles tender

but the grip is firm and resolute.

Crying all day without getting hoarse,

harmony and balance in perfection.

To know harmony is to know the eternal,

to know the eternal is to know wisdom.

Trying to force life is ominous and depletes the vital breath.

Whatever is contrary to the way will soon perish.


The more prohibitions you have,

the less virtuous people will be.

The more weapons you have,

the less secure people will be.

The more subsidies you have,

the less independent people will be,

the more law and order,

the more thieves and violence will appear.

Lead the country by doing the expected,

Win the war by doing the unexpected,

Control the universe by doing nothing.


The sage uses simplicity in everything he does.

Simplicity comes from letting go of what you want.

The mark of a wise man

is freedom from his own ideas

Tolerant like the sky,

all-pervading like sunlight,

firm like a mountain,

supple like a tree in the wind,

he has no destination in mind

and makes use of everything life happens to bring his way.


Find the simple within complexity.

Achieve greatness in little things.

Do without doing, Act without acting.

The Wise Man attempts nothing great,

yet achieves nobility and great things are done.


Avoid the rich and clever

resting content in life with the simple and ordinary.


Rivers and seas are lords over mountain streams,

because they remain below them.

Thus the wise guide people by speaking humbly from below

and lead by following.


Not knowing is true knowledge,

Presuming to know is true ignorance.


Alive people are supple and tender.

Corpses are stiff and hard.

Things alive like trees and grass are soft and pliant.

In death they’re dry and brittle.

Thus strong arms will not win and a stiff tree will soon break.

Which is the way of the Way? You choose.


Nothing in the world is as soft or more yielding than water.

Yet nothing is its equal in wearing away the hard and the strong.

The soft overcomes the hard while the weak overcomes the strong.

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