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by Lao Tzu

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Translated by Derek Bryce from LaoTzu on Wieger's 1913 French rendition of his Les Peres du Syteme Taoist. This volume also contains Bryce's summaries of writings attributed to HuaiNanTzu, KuanYinTzu, and TungKuChing from Wieger's Histoire des Croyances et des Opinions Philosophiques en Chine. Bryce demonstrates a conscious commitment to both the original


Translated by Derek Bryce from LaoTzu on Wieger's 1913 French rendition of his Les Peres du Syteme Taoist. This volume also contains Bryce's summaries of writings attributed to HuaiNanTzu, KuanYinTzu, and TungKuChing from Wieger's Histoire des Croyances et des Opinions Philosophiques en Chine. Bryce demonstrates a conscious commitment to both the original Chinese text and the profound insight of Wieger's work. A Taoist classic to read again and again. Illustrated.

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By Derek Bryce, Léon Wieger

Samuel Weiser, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Derek Bryce
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57863-123-0


A. The Principle that can be enunciated is not the one that always was. The being that can be named is not the one that was at all times. Before time, there was an ineffable, unnameable being.

B. When it was still unnameable, it conceived Heaven and Earth. When it had thus become nameable, it gave birth to the multitude of beings.

C. These two acts are but one, under two different denominations. The unique act of generation; that is the mystery of the beginning; the mystery of mysteries; the door through which have issued, on to the scene of the universe, all of the marvels which it contains.

D. The knowledge that man has of the universal Principle depends on his state of mind. The mind habitually free from passion knows its mysterious essence; the habitually passionate mind knows only its effects.

Summary of Commentaries

Before time, and throughout time, there has been a self-existing being—eternal, infinite, complete, omni present. This being cannot be named or spoken about, because human speech only applies to perceptible beings. Now the primordial being was primitively, and is still essentially, imperceptible. Outside this being, before the beginning, there was nothing. It is referred to as wu, "nonbeing," or "formless," huan, "mystery," or Tao, "the Principle." The period when there was not as yet any sentient being, when the essence alone of the Principle existed, is called hsien t'ien, "before Heaven." This essence possessed two immanent properties, the yin, "concentration," and the yang, "expansion," which were manifested "one day" under the perceptible forms of Heaven (yang) and Earth (yin). That day marked the beginning of time. From that day the Principle can be named by the double term of Heaven and Earth. The Heaven-Earth binomial emits all existent sentient beings. The Heaven-Earth binomial is called yu, "sentient being," which, through te, the "virtue of the Principle," generates all the products that fill up the world. The period since Heaven and Earth were manifested is called hout'ien, after Heaven. The state yin, of concentration and rest, of imperceptibility, which was that of the Principle before time, is its inherent state. The state yang, of expansion and action, of manifestation in sentient beings, is its state in time, in some ways inappropriate. With these two states of the Principle there corresponds in the faculty of human awareness, rest and activity, or, put another way, empty and full. When the human mind produces ideas, is full of images, is moved by passion, then it is only able to know the effects of the Principle, distinct perceptible beings. When the mind, absolutely still, is completely empty and calm, it is a pure and clear mirror, capable of reflecting the ineffable and unnameable essence of the Principle itself. (Compare with chapter 32.)


A. Everyone has the idea of beauty, and from that (by opposition) of not beautiful (ugly). Everyone has the idea of good, and from that (by contrast) that of not good (bad). Thus being and nothingness, difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, sound and tone, before and after, are correlative ideas, one of which, in being known, reveals the other.

B. That being so, the sage serves without acting, and teaches without speaking.

C. He lets all beings overcome without thwarting them; he lets them live without monopolizing them, and lets them act without exploiting them.

D. He does not attribute to himself the effects produced, and in consequence these effects last.

Summary of Commentaries

Correlatives, opposites, contraries (such as yes and no), have all entered into this world through the common door and they have all come out of the one Principle (chapter 1, C). They are not subjective illusions of the human mind, but objective states corresponding with the two alternative states of the Principle, yin and yang, concentration and expansion. The profound reality, the Principle, remains always the same, essentially; but the alternation of its rest and movement creates the play of causes and effects, an incessant coming and going. The sage lets this play have its free course. He keeps himself from interfering either by physical action or moral pressure. He guards himself from poking his finger into the meshwork of causes, into the perpetual movement of the stream of life, out of fear of upsetting this complicated and delicate mechanism. All that he does, when he does something, is to let his example be seen. He leaves to each a place in the sun, freedom, and personal accomplishments. He does not attribute to himself the general effect produced (of good government) which belongs to the ensemble of causes. In consequence, this effect (of good order), not having been made a target for the jealousy or ambition of others, has a chance of lasting.


A. Not making any special case of cleverness, of ability, will have the result that people will no longer push themselves. Not prizing rare objects will have the result that no one will steal. Showing nothing as alluring will have the effect of putting the people's minds at rest.

B. Therefore the politics of the sages consists in emptying the minds of men and filling their bellies, in weakening their initiative and strengthening their bones. Their constant care is to keep the people in ignorance and apathy.

C. They arrange things such that clever people dare not act, for there is nothing that cannot be sorted out through the practice of non-action.

Summary of Commentaries

All emotion, every trouble, each perversion of the mind comes from its being put in communication by the senses with attractive, alluring exterior objects. Seeing the ostentation of the newly rich creates ambition. Seeing hoards of precious objects creates thieves. Suppress all objects capable of tempting, or at least the knowledge of them, and the world will enjoy perfect peace.


A. The Principle produces in abundance, but without filling itself up.

B. Empty abyss, it seems to be (is) the ancestor (origin) of all beings.

C. It is peaceful, simple, modest, amiable.

D. Spilling itself out in waves, it seems to remain (it remains) always the same.

E. I do not know of whom it is the son (where it comes from). It seems to have been (it was) before the Sovereign (the Lord).

Summary of Commentaries

This important chapter is devoted to the description of Tao, the Principle. Because of the abstraction of the subject, and perhaps also through prudence, his conclusions shocking the ancient Chinese exotericism, the author uses three times the verb "to seem" instead of the categorical verb "to be." He does not declare himself on the origin of the Principle, but places it before that of the Sovereign of the Annals and the Odes. The Principle, in itself, is like an immense abyss, a never failing spring. All sentient beings are produced by its exteriorization, through its virtue operating in the Heaven-Earth binomial. But sentient beings, terminations of the Principle, do not add to the Principle, do not make it greater, do not fill it up, as is said in the text. Since they do not go outside it, they do not diminish it, nor empty it, and Tao, the Principle, remains always the same. Four qualities are attributed to it, which later will often be put forward for imitation by the sage (see, for example, chapter 56). These qualities are inadequately defined by the positive words peaceful, simple, modest, amiable. The Chinese text is in fact more complex: "Being soft, without sharp corners or cutting edges; not being embroiled or complicated; not dazzling, but shining with a tempered, somewhat dull light; willingly sharing the dust, the humbleness of the common people."


A. Heaven and Earth are not good to the beings that they produce, but treat them like straw dogs.

B. Like Heaven and Earth, the sage is not good for the people he governs, but treats them like straw dogs.

C. The space between Heaven and Earth, seat of the Principle, the place from where its virtue acts, is like a bellows, like the bag of a bellows of which Heaven and Earth would be the two boards, which empties without exhausting itself, which moves itself externally without cease.

D. This is all we can understand of the Principle and of its action as producer. To try to detail it further using words and numbers would be a waste of time. Let us stick to this grand idea.

Summary of Commentaries

There are two kinds of goodness: First there is goodness of a superior order, which loves the whole, and only loves the integral parts of this whole as integral parts. Second there is goodness of an inferior order, which loves individuals in themselves and for their own good. Heaven and Earth, which produce all beings through the virtue of the Principle, are good to them not from an inferior, but a superior goodness, say the commentators. The straw dogs of ancient China were carried at the head of funeral processions, and they were intended to take up all the unpleasant influences encountered on the journey. Before the funeral they were prepared with care and looked after because they would soon become useful. After the funeral they were destroyed because they had become unpleasant, stuffed as they were with captive noxious influences, as Chuang-Tzu tells us in his book. In government, the sage should act like Heaven and Earth; he should love the state and not particular individuals. There follows the famous comparison of the universal bellows, to which the Taoist authors often return. It will be developed further in the next chapter.


A. The expansive transcendent power which resides in the median space, the virtue of the Principle, does not die. It is always the same and acts the same without loss or end.

B. It is the mysterious mother of all beings.

C. The doorway of this mysterious mother is the root of Heaven and Earth, Tao, the Principle.

D. Sprouting forth, she does not expend herself; acting, she does not tire herself.

Summary of Commentaries

It must not be forgotten that the work of Lao-Tzu was not originally divided into chapters, and that the divisions made later have often been arbitrary, sometimes clumsy. This chapter continues and completes paragraphs C and D of chapter 5. It deals with the genesis of beings, through the virtue of the Principle, which resides in the median space, in the bag of the universal bellows from whence everything comes. Paragraphs A and B refer to te, the virtue or action of the Principle; paragraphs C and D to Tao, the Principle, itself. The term "doorway" with the impression of two swinging doors, signifies the alternate movement, the play of the yin and the yang, first modification of the Principle. This play was the "root," that is to say, it produced Heaven and Earth. In other words, it was through the Principle that Heaven and Earth were manifested, the two boards of the bellows. Te, the universal productive virtue, emanates from the Principle. It operates through and between Heaven and Earth, in the median space, producing all sentient beings without exhaustion or fatigue.


A. If Heaven and Earth last forever, it is because they do not live for themselves.

B. Following this example, the sage, in withdrawing, advances; in neglecting himself, looks after himself. As he does not seek his own advantage, everything turns to his advantage.

Summary of Commentaries

If Heaven and Earth last forever, are not destroyed by the jealous, the envious, or by enemies, it is because they live for all beings, doing good to all. If they were to seek their own interest, says Wang-pi, they would be in conflict with all beings, a particular interest being always the enemy of the general interest. But as they are perfectly disinterested, all beings flock towards them. Likewise, if the sage were to seek his own interest, he would only have trouble, and would succeed in nothing. If he were disinterested like Heaven and Earth, he would only have friends and would succeed in everything. In order to come to last, one must forget oneself, says Chang-Hungyang. Heaven and Earth do not think of themselves, and they are also the most durable. If the sage is without self-love, his body will last and his enterprises succeed; if not, it will be quite otherwise. Wu-teng recalls, quite rightly, that by Heaven and Earth one should understand Tao, the Principle, acting through Heaven and Earth. In this chapter, therefore, the disinterestedness of the Principle is proposed as an example for the sage.


A. Transcendent goodness is like water.

B. Water likes to do good to all beings; it does not struggle for any definite form or position but puts itself in the low places that no one wants. By this, it is the reflection of Tao, the Principle.

C. From this example, those who imitate the Principle lower themselves, sink themselves. They are benevolent, sincere, regulated, efficacious, and they adapt themselves to the times. They do not struggle for their own interest, but yield. Therefore they do not suffer any contradiction.

Summary of Commentaries

This chapter continues the preceding one. After the altruism of Heaven and Earth, the altruism of water is proposed by way of example. Ko-Changkeng summarizes as follows: "Fleeing from the heights, water seeks the depths. It is not idle by day or by night. Above, it forms the rain and the dew, below, the streams and rivers. It waters, purifies everywhere. It does good to and is useful to all. It always obeys and never resists. If one puts a barrage in its way, it stops; if one opens a locked gate, it flows. It adapts itself equally to any container, round, square or otherwise. The inclination of men is quite the opposite. They naturally like to benefit themselves. They should imitate water. Whosoever should lower him or herself to serve others, will be loved by all, and not be spoken against."


A. To hold a vase filled to the brim, without spilling anything, is impossible; better not to fill it so. To keep an over-sharpened blade without its edge becoming blunt, is impossible; better not to sharpen it to this extreme. To keep a room full of precious stones, without anything being stolen, is impossible; better not to amass this treasure. No extreme can be maintained for a long time. Each height is necessarily followed by a decline; likewise for man.

B. Whosoever, having become rich and powerful, takes pride in himself, prepares thereby his own ruin.

C. To retire at the height of one's merit and fame, that is the way of Heaven.

Summary of Commentaries

A completely filled vase spills at the slightest movement, or loses its contents through evaporation. An over-sharpened blade loses its edge through atmospheric effects. A treasure will inevitably be stolen or confiscated. When the sun reaches the zenith, it declines; when the moon is full, it begins to wane. The highest point on a turning wheel descends again as quickly as it has risen. Whosoever has understood this universal ineluctable law of decline necessarily following increase hands in his notice, retires, as soon as he realizes that his fortune is at its height. He does this, not from fear of humiliation, but from a wise concern for his preservation, and above all in order to unite himself with the intentions of destiny.... When he is aware that the time has come, says one of the commentators, the sage cuts his links, escapes from his cage, and leaves the world of vulgarities. As is written in the Book of Changes, he no longer serves his prince, because his heart is set on higher things. And thus did so many Taoists, who, retiring to private life at the height of their fortune, ended up in voluntary obscurity.


A. Keep your body and spermatic soul closely united, and make sure that they do not become separated.

B. Apply yourself such that the air you breathe in, converted into the aerial soul, animates this composite, and keeps it intact as in a new-born baby.

C. Withold yourself from considerations which are too profound, in order not to wear yourself out.

D. As for love of the people and anxiety for the state, limit yourself to non-action.

E. Let the gates of Heaven open and close, without wishing to do something, without interfering.

F. Know all, be informed on everything, and for all that remain indifferent, as if you knew nothing.

G. Produce, rear, without taking credit for what has been produced, without exacting a return for your actions, without imposing yourself on those you govern. There you have the formulae for transcendent action.

Summary of Commentaries

Man has two souls, a double principle of life. First p'ai, the soul coming from the paternal sperm, the principle of becoming and development of the embryo in the maternal womb. The more closely that this soul clings to the body, the healthier and stronger is the new being. After birth, the absorption and condensation of air produces a second soul, the aerial soul, principle of subsequent development, and above all, of survival. In opposition to the rigidity of a corpse, flexibility here signifies life. The newly-born child is, for the Taoists, the ideal perfection of nature, still absolutely intact, and without any mixture. Later on this infant will be interpreted as an internal transcendent being, the principle of survival. Illness, excess, weakens the union of the spermatic soul with the body, thus worsening the illness. Study, worry, wears out the aerial soul, thereby hastening death. Maintenence of the corporeal component of the aerial soul, by cleanliness, rest, and therapeutic breathing exercise forms part of the program of the life of the Taoist. (For G, cf. chapter 2, C, D.)

Excerpted from Tao-Te-Ching by Derek Bryce, Léon Wieger. Copyright © 2013 Derek Bryce. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Tao Te Ching 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
AlbertWang More than 1 year ago
I am a Chinese. I like Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching or Tao Te Sutra very much. I searched and read many English translations, but I was always not very satisfied with their translations comparing the original Chinese meanings. After I read this book, I think it is the most faithful and satisfying English version. The translator understood Lao Tzu completely and never gave excess transcendental meanings. I am wondering who is translator of this book, why there is no introduction and the biography of the translator'? I really appreciate if who can tell me the translator with his biography.
everyoneandeveryone More than 1 year ago
This book is mostly cultural. not so modern to think of. but its content are amazing. for example: "...he who knows himself is wise..." this is in fact a relevant sentence. the book contains many more principles of life, and tend to give encouragement to these who feel weak because of the way people's moral are in today's world. very educational. its just like a book of proverbs. Fiknd your way in life, but don't forget to think of others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a standard late 19th century translation by James Legge. The text is easy to read but the Artwork sets it apart. The reproductions are of good quality with the frequent guttering of images being the only complaint; this is the one thing that always flaws an otherwise excellent book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think a lot more people should read this book because it helps people see clearer. Young people should really read this not as a required book but as a book that can help them into their journey into adulthood.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a very good translation. Although there are several minor mistakes, all the basic concepts of Taoism philosophy are correctly translated. If you are interested in Taoism, this book is recommended. The problem of this book is, for general public it is a little too academic.
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Tao is like water. Water is soft but outlasts the hard, finds a lower place and benefits everything.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Translations are always a blizzard of words, as opposed to the steady fall of the original piece. It becomes the translators job to not only communicate the original phrases, but to be as true to the overall meaning as possible. From what I have seen of other translations of the Tao? This piece is much clearer in it's meaning, has a continuity of imagery and phrasing that the others lack. I reccomend!
Guest More than 1 year ago
wow... this is definatly a literal translation, from what i can tell, but has none [NONE] of the actual meaning. if you're looking for an excellent translation, i'd definately go with witter bynner. [see below]
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've reviewed many different translations and this one seems to me to best convey the universality of the comments, without overly modernizing it - in terms of money or success etc. Lyrical and beautiful - buy 2 or 3 great holiday gifts.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has the answers all our seeking to fully understand life as we know it. Read it again and again, learn more and see more. I recommend this book highly.