Tao Te Ching

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The Tao Te Ching (UK: /ˌtaʊ tiː ˈtʃɪŋ/,[1] US: /ˌdaʊ dɛ ˈdʒɪŋ/;[2] simplified Chinese: 道德经; traditional Chinese: 道德經; pinyin: Dàodé Jīng [tâu tɤ̌ tɕíŋ] is a Chinese classic text traditionally credited to the 6th-century BC sage Laozi. It is a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism. It also strongly influenced other schools of Chinese philosophy and religion, including Legalism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.


Full text Translation, Notes, and Commentary by Victor H. Mair (1990)

  • When the Way is lost, afterward comes integrity.
    When integrity is lost, afterward comes humaneness.
    When humaneness is lost, afterward comes righteousness.
    When righteousness is lost, afterward comes etiquette. p. 1
  • If feudal lords and kings were ever noble and thereby exalted, they would be likely to fall.
    Therefore, It is necessary to be noble, and yet take humility as a basis.
  • Striving for an excess of praise, one ends up without praise. p. 3
Striving for an excess of praise, one ends up without praise.
Know satisfaction and you shall not be imperiled; then you will long endure.
  • The Way gave birth to unity, Unity gave birth to duality, Duality gave birth to trinity, Trinity gave birth to the myriad creatures. p.5
  • Person or property, which is dearer?
    Gain or loss, which is drearier?
    Many loves entail great costs, Many riches entail heavy losses.
    Know contentment and you shall not be disgraced, Know satisfaction and you shall not be imperiled; then you will long endure. p. 7
  • No guilt is greater than giving in to desire,
    No disaster is greater than discontent,
    No crime is more grievous than the desire for gain.
    Therefore, Contentment that derives from knowing when to be content is eternal contentment. p. 9
  • The sage
    never has a mind of his own;
    He considers the minds of the common people to be his mind.
    Treats well those who are good,
    Also treat well those who are not good; thus is goodness attained.
    Be sincere to those who are sincere, Also be sincere to those who are insincere; thus is sincerity attained.
    The sage is self-effacing in his dealings with all under heaven, and bemuddles his mind for the sake of all under heaven.
    The common people all rivet their eyes and ears upon him,
    And the sage makes them all chuckle like children. p. 12
  • The myriad creatures respect the Way and esteem integrity.
    Respect for the Way and esteem for integrity are by no means conferred upon them but always occur naturally.
    The Way gives birth to them,
    nurtures them,
    rears them,
    follows them,
    shelters them,
    toughens them,
    sustains them,
    protects them. p.14
  • The fields are choked with weeds,
    The granaries are altogether empty.
    Still there are some who
    wear clothes with fancy designs and brilliant colors,
    sharp swords hanging at their sides, are sated with food,
    overflowing with possessions and wealth.
    This is called “the brazenness of a bandit.”
    Tire brazenness of a bandit is surely not the Way! p.16
  • Cultivated in the person, integrity is true.
    Cultivated in the family, integrity is ample.
    Cultivated in the village, integrity lasts long.
    Cultivated in the state, integrity is abundant.
    Cultivated everywhere under heaven, integrity is vast. p. 17
  • Disaster is that whereon good fortune depends,
    Good fortune is that wherein disaster lurks.
    Who knows their limits?
  • When there is no uprightness,
    correct reverts to crafty,
    good reverts to gruesome. p.21
  • Only through thrift can one be prepared;
    Being prepared means having a heavy store of integrity;
    With a heavy store of integrity, he can overcome everything. p. 22
  • What was the reason for the ancients
    to value this so highly?
    Did they not say:
    “Seek and thou shalt receive; Sin and thou shalt be forgiven”? Therefore, It is valued by all under heaven. p. 25
  • Act before there is a problem;
    Bring order before there is disorder. p. 27
  • The sage does not hoard. p. 31
  • A good warrior is not bellicose,
    A good fighter does not anger,
    A good conqueror does not contest his enemy,
    One who is good at using others puts himself below them.
    This is called “integrity without competition,”
    This is called “using others,”
    This is called “parity with heaven,”
    —the pinnacle of the ancients. p. 33
  • My words are
    very easy to understand,
    very easy to practice...
    Those who understand me are few
  • The sage wears coarse clothing over his shoulders,
    but carries jade within his bosom. p. 35
  • To realize that you do not understand is a virtue;
    Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect. p. 37
  • The Way of heaven
    does not war
    yet is good at conquering
  • Heaven’s net is vast;
    Though its meshes are wide,
    nothing escapes. p. 38
  • If the people never fear death, what is the purpose of threatening to kill them? p. 39
  • The Way of heaven reduces surplus to make up for scarcity;
    The Way of man reduces scarcity and pays tribute to surplus. p. 43
  • The Way of heaven is impartial, yet is always with the good person. p. 45
  • The sage, in ruling,...
    Always... ensures that
    the knowledgeable dare not be hostile,
    and that is all.
    His rule is universal. p.48
  • If wealth and honor make you haughty,
    you bequeath misfortune upon yourself. p.54
  • While you
    Cultivate the soul and embrace unity,
    can you keep them from separating?
  • Love the people and enliven the state,
    can you do so without cunning? p.55
  • Abolish sagehood and abandon cunning,
    the people will benefit a hundredfold...
    Abolish cleverness and abandon profit, bandits and thieves will be no more. p. 63

Quotes about Tao Te Ching[edit]

  • Next to the Bible and the Bhagavad Gītā, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world. Well over a hundred different renditions of the Taoist classic have been made into English alone, not to mention the dozens in German, French, Italian, Dutch, Latin, and other European languages. There are several reasons for the superabundance of translations. The first is that the Tao Te Ching is considered to be the fundamental text of both philosophical and religious Taoism. Indeed, the Tao, or Way, which is at the heart of the Tao Te Ching, is also the centerpiece of all Chinese religion and thought.
    Naturally, different schools and sects bring somewhat different slants to the Tao, but all subscribe to the notion that there is a single, overarching Way that encompasses everything in the universe. As such, the Tao Te Ching shares crucial points of similarity with other major religious scriptures the world over.
    • Victor H. Mair, Preface to Tao Te Ching (Translation, Notes, and Commentary by Victor H. Mair)

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