Tao Te Ching: The Way of Virtue

Tao Te Ching: The Way of Virtue


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780757000294
Publisher: Square One Publishers
Publication date: 10/28/2001
Series: Square One Classics Series
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,138,394
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Lao Tzu was a mystic philosopher of ancient China, and best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching.

Patrick M. Byrne, PhD, received his undergraduate degree in Asian studies and philosophy from Dartmouth College, a

certification from Beijing Teachers University, his master’s degree from Cambridge University, and his doctorate in philosophy from Stanford University.

Read an Excerpt

Tao Te Ching

The Way of Virtue
By Lao Tzu

Square One Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Lao Tzu
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0757000290

Chapter One


A way that can be walked
is not The Way
A name that can be named
is not The Name

Tao is both Named and Nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things
A mind free of thought,
merged within itself,
beholds the essence of Tao

A mind filled with thought,
identified with its own perceptions,
beholds the mere forms of this world

Tao and this world seem different
but in truth they are one and the same
The only difference is in what we call them

How deep and mysterious this unity is
How profound, how great!
It is the truth beyond the truth,
the hidden within the hidden
It is the path to all wonder,
the gate to the essence of everything!


Everyone recognizes beauty
only because of ugliness
Everyone recognizes virtue
only because of sin

Life and death are born together
Difficult and easy
Long and short
High and low--
all these exist together
Sound and silence blend together
Before and after

* * *

The Sage acts without action
and teaches without talking
All things flourish around him
and he does not refuse any one of them
He gives but not to receive
He works but not for reward
He completes but not for results
He does nothing for himself in this passing world
so nothing he does ever passes


Putting a value on status
will cause people to compete
Hoarding treasure
will turn them into thieves
Showing off possessions
will disturb their daily lives

Thus the Sage rules
by stilling minds and opening hearts
by filling bellies and strengthening bones
He shows people how to be simple
and live without desires
To be content
and not look for other ways
With the people so pure
Who could trick them?
What clever ideas could lead them astray?

When action is pure and selfless
everything settles into its own perfect place


Tao is empty
yet it fills every vessel with endless supply
Tao is hidden
yet it shines in every corner of the universe

With it, the sharp edges become smooth
the twisted knots loosen
the sun is softened by a cloud
the dust settles into place

So deep, so pure, so still
It has been this way forever
You may ask, "Whose child is it?"--
but I cannot say
This child was here before the Great Ancestor


Heaven and Earth have no preference

A man may choose one over another
but to Heaven and Earth all are the same
The high, the low, the great, the small--
all are given light
all get a place to rest

The Sage is like Heaven and Earth
To him none are especially dear
nor is there anyone he disfavors
He gives and gives without condition
offering his treasure to everyone

* * *

The universe is like a bellows
It stays empty yet is never exhausted
It gives out yet always brings forth more

Man is not like this
When he blows out air like a bellows
he becomes exhausted
Man was not made to blow out air
He was made to sit quietly and find the truth within


Excerpted from Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu Copyright © 2003 by Lao Tzu. Excerpted by permission.
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.

Table of Contents


A Note on Transliteration


The Historical Record by Si-Ma Qian

Book I Tao

1 Actualizing the Tao

2 Self-Culture

3 Keeping Peace Among the People

4 The Sourceless

5 The Use of Emptiness

6 The Accomplishment of Form

7 Sheathing the Radiance

8 Changing Nature

9 Practicing Smoothness

10 Being Able to Act

11 Using the Non-Being

12 Restraining Desire

13 Loathing Disgrace

14 Appreciating the Mysterious

15 Revealing the Te

16 Returning to the Root

17 Simplifying Style

18 Belittling the Vulgar

19 Returning to the Simple

20 Differing from the Plebeian

21 Emptying the Heart

22 Increasing Humility

23 The Empty Non-Being

24 Suffering Favor

25 The Form of the Profound

26 The Te of Dignity

27 Using Skill

28 Returning to Simplicity

29 Not Acting

30 Frugality in War

31 Eliminating War

32 The Virtue of the Sage

33 Negotiating Te

34 Allowing Change

35 Benevolence and Te

36 Subtle Enlightenment

37 Administering the Government

Book II Te

38 Analyzing Te

39 Model the Root

40 Avoiding Utility

41 Similarity and Disparity

42 Tao Transforming

43 Universal Utility

44 Establishing Warnings

45 Grand Te

46 Moderating Desire

47 Surveying the Distant

48 Forgetting Knowledge

49 Trusting in Te

50 Cherishing Life

51 Nurturing Te

52 Returning to the Origin

53 Gaining Insight

54 Cultivating Perception

55 The Seal of Mystery

56 Profound Te

57 Simplicity of Habit

58 Adapting to Change

59 Keeping to the Tao

60 Maintaining One’s Position

61 The Te of Humility

62 Acting in Tao

63 Contemplating the Beginning

64 Guarding the Obscure

65 The Simplicity of Te

66 Placing Oneself Behind

67 The Three Treasures

68 Complying with Heaven

69 The Function of the Obscure

70 Knowing the Difficult

71 Knowing Sickness

72 Loving the Self

73 Allowing It to Happen

74 Curtailing Delusion

75 The Waste in Greediness

76 Beware of Strength

77 The Tao of Heaven

78 Trusting to Faith

79 Upholding Contracts

80 Independence

81 Making Plain the Essential


About the Translator



A Note on Transliteration, ix

Introduction, 1

The Historical Record by Si-Ma Qian, 9

Book I Tao

1 Actualizing the Tao, 13

2 Self-Culture, 14

3 Keeping Peace Among the People, 15

4 The Sourceless, 16

5 The Use of Emptiness, 16

6 The Accomplishment of Form, 17

7 Sheathing the Radiance, 17

8 Changing Nature, 18

9 Practicing Smoothness, 19

10 Being Able to Act, 20

11 Using the Non-Being, 21

12 Restraining Desire, 22

13 Loathing Disgrace, 23

14 Appreciating the Mysterious, 24

15 Revealing the Te, 26

16 Returning to the Root, 27

17 Simplifying Style, 28

18 Belittling the Vulgar, 29

19 Returning to the Simple, 29

20 Differing from the Plebeian, 30

21 Emptying the Heart, 31

22 Increasing Humility, 32

23 The Empty Non-Being, 33

24 Suffering Favor, 34

25 The Form of the Profound, 34

26 The Te of Dignity, 36

27 Using Skill, 37

28 Returning to Simplicity, 38

29 Not Acting, 39

30 Frugality in War, 41

31 Eliminating War, 42

32 The Virtue of the Sage, 44

33 Negotiating Te, 45

34 Allowing Change, 46

35 Benevolence and Te, 47

36 Subtle Enlightenment, 48

37 Administering the Government, 49

Book II Te

38 Analyzing Te, 53

39 Model the Root, 55

40 Avoiding Utility, 57

41 Similarity and Disparity, 58

42 Tao Transforming, 60

43 Universal Utility, 61

44 Establishing Warnings, 62

45 Grand Te, 63

46 Moderating Desire, 65

47 Surveying the Distant, 66

48 Forgetting Knowledge, 67

49 Trusting in Te, 68

50 Cherishing Life, 70

51 Nurturing Te, 71

52 Returning to the Origin, 72

53 Gaining Insight, 73

54 Cultivating Perception, 74

55 The Seal of Mystery, 76

56 Profound Te, 78

57 Simplicity of Habit, 79

58 Adapting to Change, 80

59 Keeping to the Tao, 82

60 Maintaining One’s Position, 83

61 The Te of Humility, 84

62 Acting in Tao, 86

63 Contemplating the Beginning, 87

64 Guarding the Obscure, 88

65 The Simplicity of Te, 90

66 Placing Oneself Behind, 91

67 The Three Treasures, 92

68 Complying with Heaven, 93

69 The Function of the Obscure, 94

70 Knowing the Difficult, 95

71 Knowing Sickness, 96

72 Loving the Self, 97

73 Allowing It to Happen, 98

74 Curtailing Delusion, 99

75 The Waste in Greediness, 100

76 Beware of Strength, 101

77 The Tao of Heaven, 103

78 Trusting to Faith, 105

79 Upholding Contracts, 106

80 Independence, 107

81 Making Plain the Essential, 109

Bibliography, 111

About the Translator, 113


Legend has it that an elderly scholar in ancient China, a historian and philosopher perhaps twenty years senior to Confucius, journeyed to the western edge of the empire with the intent of wandering off into the wilderness. There at the frontier a gate-keeper, concerned that such a ­respected man of learning was soon to be lost to barbarian lands, asked the scholar to write a book to leave at the border. The old man distilled a lifetime of learning into about five thousand two hundred and fifty words, then left.

There are over four hundred commentaries on those words, and fragments of several hundred more. It is the most dissected and analyzed book in Chinese literature; its effect on Chinese culture and thought rivals that of Confucius and Buddha. After the Bible, it is the most frequently translated piece of literature in the world; there are more than forty English versions.

Yet the old man was laconic to the point of obscurity; rarely do any two commentaries agree on the exact meaning of his words, and agreement between translators has been rarer still. What is rendered by one, for example, as “The ruler in always carrying out the Tao / Does not abandon his tranquility and sedateness” is given by another as “Therefore the sage travels all day / Without leaving his baggage.” To complicate matters even further, it seems notes scribbled in the margins by some scholars were mistaken for lines of text by later readers, until literally dozens of versions of the book came into being. These in turn spawned more commentaries aimed at reconstructing the original text.

At some point in the process, probably in the second ­century bc, the text was divided into eighty-one chapters. By the time of the great historian Si-ma Qian (Sze-ma Ch’ien, 185–136 bc?), the Herodotus of the Orient, the chapters had been arranged in two books: the first thirty-seven comprise the “higher” Book I, discussing Tao, while the latter forty-four make up the “lower” Book II, discussing Te. Tao and Te translate loosely as “way” and “virtue” (more on these concepts later); thus the book became known as the “Scripture of the Way of Virtue,” the Tao Te Ching.

The Historical Records of Si-ma Qian indicate that the old man, whose name Lao Tzu () means literally “old fellow” or “old master,” met with Confucius in approximately 518 bc. Si-ma Qian states elsewhere, however, that Lao Tzu’s son served as a general in 273 bc. This and other discrepancies have led scholars to date Lao Tzu and his text from as early as the sixth century bc to as late as the second century bc. For some time it has been suggested that Lao Tzu never existed, and that the book attributed to him is a mere compilation of ancient sayings. According to this thesis, the biography given in the Historical Records was only Si-ma Qian’s account of a legend of Lao Tzu that had worked its way into Chinese folklore. Though it is plausible that a compiler of a book such as Lao Tzu’s might attribute it to a fictitious “Old Master,” given the traditional Chinese respect for age, the work is too coherent and contains too strong a theme to be merely a collection of ancient adages. And while its representation of Heaven seems influenced by Mo-zi’s notion of the Will of Heaven, it also presents us with a philosophy distinct enough from others in the Chinese tradition that we may safely assent to its being the work of one man, expanded and revised by many.

The most accepted text, the one considered most original, is that of Wang-bi (226–249 ad). The Ho-shang Kung text is alleged to be three hundred years older, but there is good reason to doubt its authenticity. In 1973, the Mawang-dui text (literally translated “horse-king-mound,” but known in the West as the “Silk Text”) was discovered in Hunan. The order of the chapters in the Silk Text is reversed from that of the other versions, and it seems to predate even the Ho-shang Kung. For the moment, however, the Wang-bi text is still the standard version, and except in those parts where another version is obviously superior in clarity or consistency, the Wang-bi is the one I have translated here.

My goal in translating this work was to provide as near a word-for-word rendering of the Chinese as possible while maintaining the flavor and readability of Lao Tzu’s words. Although the number of previous translations might seem to preclude my contributing anything further to our understanding of the Tao Te Ching by translating it again, as D.C. Lau wrote, “Unfortunately it cannot be said that it has been best served by its numerous translators, as the nature of the work attracted many whose enthusiasm for Eastern mysticism far outstripped their acquaintance with Chinese thought or even with the Chinese language.” Most translations seem to be poetry draped over a framework of Lao Tzu’s words, while a few stand at the other end of the spectrum and detail the development of the text and the differences between various versions at any given point, without ever clearly expressing the thoughts contained therein. Yet, certain as I was that I had something to offer with my translation, after finishing it I am equally certain that I have not exhausted the field.

The Chinese text consulted for my translation was that contained in Dr. Paul Carus’s book Tao Teh King. Dr. Carus in turn held to the Wang-bi text, with several incorporations of the Su Cheh, Nishimura, Tetzugaka Kwan Philosophical Institute, and Stanislas Julien texts and interpretations. Dr. Carus’s version was compared throughout with those contained in Man-jan Cheng’s and Ch’en Ku-ying’s works, the latter providing excellent references concerning the nonstandard texts. The original text of Si-ma Qian’s biography of Lao Tzu, which follows this introduction, is also from Dr. Carus’s book.

Lao Tzu’s words contain many latent messages and obscure references which only a reader familiar with Chinese history and customs would understand. Rather than making manifest hidden meanings within the translation of the text itself, and thereby losing the flavor of the Chinese, I have whenever possible left the English as cryptic as the original while explaining further implications in notes at the ends of the chapters. In the notes I also point out the places where the texts diverge, and give some alternate interpretations of certain lines. I have written my own commentaries on the important chapters, and these follow the notes.

Most transliteration follows the pinyin system now used in mainland China, except for names customarily transliterated by another system—specifically, Tao Te Ching and Lao Tzu—Chinese words in quotes from writers who used other systems.

The indentation throughout the text has been designed to convey the rhythm of the original. The Chinese of Lao Tzu is full of parallel structures, parenthetical asides, rushes and pauses. It sings and mumbles and even gasps at times, all in a way for which there are no typographical symbols. By indenting certain lines I sought to display these parallelisms clearly and allow the reader, if reading aloud at a natural pace, to hear the music of Lao Tzu’s work.

Several of the most important concepts in the Tao Te Ching were impossible to render into idiomatic English without loss, so they are explained here. As is often the case with Chinese words, we find no exact equivalents in English but need to approximate the meaning by combining the denotations and connotations of several words:

Tao  “Road, way, passage, zone, doctrine, officer, to say, method, rationality, reason, line.” The concepts of “rationality,” “system,” and “saying” contained in this word have led some to consider it the equivalent of the Greek logos, which has been translated into English as “word.” (“In the beginning was the Word.”)

Te  “Moral character, virtue, moral excellence, heart, mind, kindness.” Perhaps best approximated by the Greek areté.

Ching  “Scripture, canon, classic.” Used to refer to the Chinese classics (Confucian, Taoist, and others) and Buddhist scriptures, as well as in the Chinese name of the Christian Bible and even, in modern times, the “canonical” writings of Marxism-Leninism.

Wu-wei  Wu means “without”; wei means “to do, cause, make, effect.” The two together imply a state of effortless non-striving, though this does not exactly mean doing absolutely nothing. Often, wu-wei may be best translated simply as “effortlessly.”

Pu  The character shows a tree next to a thicket, meaning uncut wood. Wood that is uncut or unworked, that has not been embellished, stands as a symbol for the sage in Lao Tzu’s writing. A man who is pu is simple, honest, and unaffected.

“The ten-thousand-things” All the myriad objects and things in the world.

“All under Heaven” Lao Tzu’s way of saying “the empire” or “the universe.”

“Sage” The man for whom Lao Tzu is writing. In some ­usages in Chinese it implies holiness, though for Lao Tzu it simply means a wise man, often a philosopher-king.

In closing, I would like to express my thanks to series ­consultant Skip Whitson; Estelle Schultze, my agent; Robert Henricks, who showed me where to begin and how to continue with this translation; and especially to Dr. Li Hua-yuan Mowry, to whose long hours, incredible dedication, and inexhaustible ­patience I owe the completion of this work.

Patrick Byrne

Cambridge University

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