Chapter 52 Returning to the source

天下有始,以為天下母。既知其母,復知其子,既知其子,復守其母,沒其不殆。塞其兌,閉其門,終身不勤。開其兌,濟其事,終身不救。見小曰明,守柔曰強。用其光,復歸其明,無遺身殃;是為習常。

1. (The Tao) which originated all under the sky is to be considered as the mother of them all.

2. When the mother is found, we know what her children should be. When one knows that he is his mother’s child, and proceeds to guard (the qualities of) the mother that belong to him, to the end of his life he will be free from all peril.

3. Let him keep his mouth closed, and shut up the portals (of his nostrils), and all his life he will be exempt from laborious exertion. Let him keep his mouth open, and (spend his breath) in the promotion of his affairs, and all his life there will be no safety for him.

4. The perception of what is small is (the secret of clear- sightedness; the guarding of what is soft and tender is (the secret of) strength.

5. Who uses well his light, Reverting to its (source so) bright, Will from his body ward all blight, And hides the unchanging from men’s sight.

Derek Lin
The world has a beginning
We regard it as the mother of the world
Having its mother
We can know her children
Knowing her children
Still holding on to the mother
Live without danger all through life

Close the mouth
Shut the doors
Live without toil all through life
Open the mouth
Meddle in the affairs
Live without salvation all through life

Seeing details is called clarity
Holding on to the soft is called strength
Utilize the light
Return to the clarity
Leaving no disasters for the self
This is called practicing constancy

Peter Merel

The origin of the world is its mother;
Understand the mother, and you understand the child;
Embrace the child, and you embrace the mother,
Who will not perish when you die.
Reserve your judgments and words
And you maintain your influence;
Speak your mind and take positions
And nothing can save you.
As observing detail is clarity,
So maintaining flexibility is strength;
Use the light but shed no light,
So that you do yourself no harm,
But embrace clarity.

Chapter 51 The operation (of the Dao) in nourishing things

道生之,德畜之,物形之,勢成之。是以萬物莫不尊道而貴德。道之尊,德之貴,夫莫之命常自然。故道生之,德畜之;長之育之;亭之毒之;養之覆之。生而不有,為而不恃,長而不宰,是謂玄德。

1. All things are produced by the Tao, and nourished by its outflowing operation. They receive their forms according to the nature of each, and are completed according to the circumstances of their condition. Therefore all things without exception honour the Tao, and exalt its outflowing operation.

2. This honouring of the Tao and exalting of its operation is not the result of any ordination, but always a spontaneous tribute.

3. Thus it is that the Tao produces (all things), nourishes them, brings them to their full growth, nurses them, completes them, matures them, maintains them, and overspreads them.

4. It produces them and makes no claim to the possession of them; it carries them through their processes and does not vaunt its ability in doing so; it brings them to maturity and exercises no control over them; — this is called its mysterious operation.

Derek Lin
Tao produces them
Virtue raises them
Things shape them
Forces perfect them

Therefore all things respect the Tao and value virtue
The respect for Tao, the value of virtue
Not due to command but to constant nature

Thus Tao produces them
Virtue raises them
Grows them, educates them
Perfects them, matures them
Nurtures them, protects them

Produces but does not possess
Acts but does not flaunt
Nurtures but does not dominate
This is called Mystic Virtue

Peter Merel

The Way bears all things;
Harmony nurtures them;
Nature shapes them;
Use completes them.
Each follows the Way and honours harmony,
Not by law,
But by being.
The Way bears, nurtures, shapes, completes,
Shelters, comforts, and makes a home for them.
Bearing without possessing,
Nurturing without taming,
Shaping without forcing,
This is harmony.

Chapter 50 The value set on life

出生入死。生之徒,十有三;死之徒,十有三;人之生,動之死地,十有三。夫何故?以其生,生之厚。蓋聞善攝生者,陸行不遇兕虎,入軍不被甲兵;兕無所投其角,虎無所措其爪,兵無所容其刃。夫何故?以其無死地。

1. Men come forth and live; they enter (again) and die.

2. Of every ten three are ministers of life (to themselves); and three are ministers of death.

3. There are also three in every ten whose aim is to live, but whose movements tend to the land (or place) of death. And for what reason? Because of their excessive endeavours to perpetuate life.

4. But I have heard that he who is skilful in managing the life entrusted to him for a time travels on the land without having to shun rhinoceros or tiger, and enters a host without having to avoid buff coat or sharp weapon. The rhinoceros finds no place in him into which to thrust its horn, nor the tiger a place in which to fix its claws, nor the weapon a place to admit its point. And for what reason? Because there is in him no place of death.

Derek Lin
Coming into life, entering death
The followers of life, three in ten
The followers of death, three in ten
Those whose lives are moved toward death
Also three in ten
Why? Because they live lives of excess

I’ve heard of those who are good at cultivating life
Traveling on the road, they do not encounter rhinos or tigers
Entering into an army, they are not harmed by weapons
Rhinos have nowhere to thrust their horns
Tigers have nowhere to clasp their claws
Soldiers have nowhere to lodge their blades
Why? Because they have no place for death

Peter Merel

Men flow into life, and ebb into death.
Some are filled with life;
Some are empty with death;
Some hold fast to life, and thereby perish,
For life is an abstraction.
Those who are filled with life
Need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds,
Nor wear armour and shields in battle;
The rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn,
The tiger no place for its claw,
The soldier no place for a weapon,
For death finds no place in them.

Chapter 49 The quality of indulgence

聖人無常心,以百姓心為心。善者,吾善之;不善者,吾亦善之;德善。信者,吾信之;不信者,吾亦信之;德信。聖人在天下,歙歙為天下渾其心,百姓皆注其耳目,聖人皆孩之。

1. The sage has no invariable mind of his own; he makes the mind of the people his mind.

2. To those who are good (to me), I am good; and to those who are not good (to me), I am also good; — and thus (all) get to be good. To those who are sincere (with me), I am sincere; and to those who are not sincere (with me), I am also sincere; — and thus (all) get to be sincere.

3. The sage has in the world an appearance of indecision, and keeps his mind in a state of indifference to all. The people all keep their eyes and ears directed to him, and he deals with them all as his children.

Derek Lin
The sages have no constant mind
They take the mind of the people as their mind
Those who are good, I am good to them
Those who are not good, I am also good to them
Thus the virtue of goodness
Those who believe, I believe them
Those who do not believe, I also believe them
Thus the virtue of belief

The sages live in the world
They cautiously merge their mind for the world
The people all pay attention with their ears and eyes
The sages care for them as children

Peter Merel

The sage does not distinguish between himself and the world;
The needs of other people are as his own.
He is good to those who are good;
He is also good to those who are not good,
Thereby he is good.
He trusts those who are trustworthy;
He also trusts those who are not trustworthy,
Thereby he is trustworthy.
The sage lives in harmony with the world,
And his mind is the world’s mind.
So he nurtures the worlds of others As a mother does her children.

Chapter 48 Forgetting Knowledge

為學日益,為道日損。損之又損,以至於無為。無為而無不為。取天下常以無事,及其有事,不足以取天下。

1. He who devotes himself to learning (seeks) from day to day to increase (his knowledge); he who devotes himself to the Tao (seeks) from day to day to diminish (his doing).

2. He diminishes it and again diminishes it, till he arrives at doing nothing (on purpose). Having arrived at this point of non-action, there is nothing which he does not do.

3. He who gets as his own all under heaven does so by giving himself no trouble (with that end). If one take trouble (with that end), he is not equal to getting as his own all under heaven.

Derek Lin
Pursue knowledge, daily gain
Pursue Tao, daily loss

Loss and more loss
Until one reaches unattached action
With unattached action, there is nothing one cannot do

Take the world by constantly applying non-interference
The one who interferes is not qualified to take the world

Peter Merel

The follower of knowledge learns as much as he can every day;
The follower of the Way forgets as much as he can every day.
By attrition he reaches a state of inaction
Wherein he does nothing, but nothing remains undone.
To conquer the world, accomplish nothing;
If you must accomplish something,
The world remains beyond conquest.

Chapter 47 Surveying what is far-off

不出戶知天下;不闚牖見天道。其出彌遠,其知彌少。是以聖人不行而知,不見而名,不為而成。

1. Without going outside his door, one understands (all that takes place) under the sky; without looking out from his window, one sees the Tao of Heaven. The farther that one goes out (from himself), the less he knows.

2. Therefore the sages got their knowledge without traveling; gave their (right) names to things without seeing them; and accomplished their ends without any purpose of doing so.

Derek Lin
Without going out the door, know the world
Without peering out the window, see the Heavenly Tao
The further one goes
The less one knows

Therefore the sage
Knows without going
Names without seeing
Achieves without striving

Peter Merel

Without taking a step outdoors
You know the whole world;
Without taking a peep out the window
You know the colour of the sky.
The more you experience,
The less you know.
The sage wanders without knowing,
Sees without looking,
Accomplishes without acting.

Chapter 46 The moderating of desire or ambition

天下有道,卻走馬以糞。天下無道,戎馬生於郊。禍莫大於不知足;咎莫大於欲得。故知足之足,常足矣。

1. When the Tao prevails in the world, they send back their swift horses to (draw) the dung-carts. When the Tao is disregarded in the world, the war-horses breed in the border lands.

2. There is no guilt greater than to sanction ambition; no calamity greater than to be discontented with one’s lot; no fault greater than the wish to be getting. Therefore the sufficiency of contentment is an enduring and unchanging sufficiency.

Derek Lin
When the world has the Tao
Fast horses are retired to till the soil
When the world lacks the Tao
Warhorses give birth on the battlefield

There is no crime greater than greed
No disaster greater than discontentment
No fault greater than avarice
Thus the satisfaction of contentment
is the lasting satisfaction

Peter Merel

When a nation follows the Way,
Horses bear manure through its fields;
When a nation ignores the Way,
Horses bear soldiers through its streets.
There is no greater mistake than following desire;
There is no greater disaster than forgetting contentment;
There is no greater sickness than seeking attainment;
But one who is content to satisfy his needs
Finds that contentment endures.

Chapter 45 Great or overflowing virtue

大成若缺,其用不弊。大盈若沖,其用不窮。大直若屈,大巧若拙,大辯若訥。躁勝寒靜勝熱。清靜為天下正。

1. Who thinks his great achievements poor Shall find his vigour long endure. Of greatest fulness, deemed a void, Exhaustion ne’er shall stem the tide. Do thou what’s straight still crooked deem; Thy greatest art still stupid seem, And eloquence a stammering scream.

2. Constant action overcomes cold; being still overcomes heat. Purity and stillness give the correct law to all under heaven.

Derek Lin
Great perfection seems flawed
Its function is without failure
Great fullness seems empty
Its function is without exhaustion
Great straightness seems bent

Great skill seems unrefined
Great eloquence seems inarticulate
Movement overcomes cold
Stillness overcomes heat
Clear quietness is the standard of the world

Peter Merel

Great perfection seems incomplete,
But does not decay;
Great abundance seems empty,
But does not fail.
Great truth seems contradictory;
Great cleverness seems stupid;
Great eloquence seems awkward.
As spring overcomes the cold,
And autumn overcomes the heat,
So calm and quiet overcome the world.

Chapter 44 Cautions

名與身孰親?身與貨孰多?得與亡孰病?是故甚愛必大費;多藏必厚亡。知足不辱,知止不殆,可以長久。

1. Or fame or life, Which do you hold more dear? Or life or wealth, To which would you adhere? Keep life and lose those other things; Keep them and lose your life: — which brings Sorrow and pain more near?

2. Thus we may see, Who cleaves to fame Rejects what is more great; Who loves large stores Gives up the richer state.

3. Who is content Needs fear no shame. Who knows to stop Incurs no blame. From danger free Long live shall he.

Derek Lin
Fame or the self, which is dearer?
The self or wealth, which is greater?
Gain or loss, which is more painful?

Thus excessive love must lead to great spending
Excessive hoarding must lead to heavy loss

Knowing contentment avoids disgrace
Knowing when to stop avoids danger
Thus one can endure indefinitely

Peter Merel

Health or reputation: which is held dearer?
Health or possessions: which has more worth?
Profit or loss: which is more troublesome?
Great love incurs great expense,
And great riches incur great fear,
But contentment comes at no cost;
Who knows when to stop
Does not continue into danger,
And so may long endure.

Chapter 43 The universal use (of the action in weakness of the Dao)

天下之至柔,馳騁天下之至堅。無有入無間,吾是以知無為之有益。不言之教,無為之益,天下希及之。

1. The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the hardest; that which has no (substantial) existence enters where there is no crevice. I know hereby what advantage belongs to doing nothing (with a purpose).

2. There are few in the world who attain to the teaching without words, and the advantage arising from non-action.

Derek Lin
The softest things of the world
Override the hardest things of the world

That which has no substance
Enters into that which has no openings

From this I know the benefits of unattached actions
The teaching without words

The benefits of actions without attachment
Are rarely matched in the world

Peter Merel

Water overcomes the stone;
Without substance it requires no opening;
This is the benefit of taking no action.
Yet benefit without action,
And experience without abstraction,
Are practiced by very few.