Tao te Ching : texts 61 - 82 |
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.
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.
Tao te Ching : texts 61 - 82