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Selections from Lao-tzu (Laozi):
Tao Te Ching (Daode-jing)

The Tao [“way”] that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth
While naming is the origin of the myriad things.
Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery
Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.
These two are the same--
When they appear they are named differently.
Their sameness is the mystery,
Mystery within mystery;
The door to all marvels.

If you do not adulate the worthy, you will make others non-contentious.
If you do not value rare treasures, you will stop others from stealing.
If people do not see desirables, they will not be agitated.
Therefore, when the sage governs,
He clears people’s minds,
Fills their bellies,
Weakens their ambition and
Strengthens their bones.
If the people are kept without cleverness and desire
It will make the intellectuals not dare to meddle.
Acting without contrivance, there is no lack of manageability.

Heaven and Earth are not humane,
And regard the people as straw dogs.
The sage is not humane,
And regards all things as straw dogs.
The space between Heaven and Earth is just like a bellows:
Empty it, it is not exhausted.
Squeeze it and more comes out.
Investigating it with a lot of talk
Is not like holding to the center.

Thirty spokes join together in the hub.
It is because of what is not there that the cart is useful.
Clay is formed into a vessel.
It is because of its emptiness that the vessel is useful.
Cut doors and windows to make a room.
It is because of its emptiness that the room is useful.
Therefore, what is present is used for profit.
But it is in absence that there is usefulness.

When the great Tao perishes
There is humaneness and justice.
When intelligence is manifest
There is great deception.
When the six relationships are not in harmony
There is filial piety and compassion.
When the country is in chaos
Loyal ministers appear.

Get rid of holiness and abandon wisdom and the people will benefit a hundredfold.
Get rid of reciprocity and abandon justice and the people will return to filial piety and compassion.
Get rid of cleverness and abandon profit, and thieves and gangsters will not exist.

Get rid of learning and there will be no anxiety.
How much difference is there between yes and no?
How far removed from each other are good and evil?
Yet what the people are in awe of cannot be disregarded.

There is something that is perfect in its disorder
Which is born before Heaven and Earth.
So silent and desolate! It establishes itself without renewal.
Functions universally without lapse.
We can regard it as the Mother of Everything.
I don't know its name.
Hence, when forced to name it, I call it Tao.
When forced to categorize it, I call it great.

Human beings follow the Earth.
Earth follows Heaven
Heaven follows the Tao
The Tao follows the way things are.

If you want to grab the world and run it
I can see that you will not succeed.
The world is a spiritual vessel, which can't be controlled.
Manipulators mess things up.
Grabbers lose it. Therefore:
Sometimes you lead
Sometimes you follow
Sometimes you are stifled
Sometimes you breathe easy
Sometimes you are strong
Sometimes you are weak
Sometimes you destroy
And sometimes you are destroyed.
Hence, the sage shuns excess
Shuns grandiosity
Shuns arrogance.

Accomplish but don't boast
Accomplish without show
Accomplish without arrogance
Accomplish without grabbing
Accomplish without forcing.
When things flourish they decline
Victory is never sweet.
Those for whom victory is sweet
Are those who enjoy killing.
If you enjoy killing, you cannot gain the trust of the people.
On auspicious occasions the place of honor is on the left.
On inauspicious occasions the place of honor is on the right.
The lieutenant commander stands on the left.
The commander-in-chief stands on the right.
And they speak, using the funerary rites to bury them.
The common people, from whom all the dead have come
Weep in lamentation.
The victors bury them with funerary rites.

That which will be shrunk
Must first be stretched.
That which will be weakened
Must first be strengthened.
That which will be torn down
Must first be raised up.
That which will be taken
Must first be given.

The gentle and soft overcomes the hard and aggressive.
A fish cannot leave the water.
The country's potent weapons
Should not be shown to its people.

The Tao is always "not-doing"
Yet there is nothing it doesn't do.
If the ruler is able to embody it
Everything will naturally change.
Being changed, they desire to act.
So I must restrain them, using the nameless uncarved block.
Using the nameless uncarved block
They become desireless.
Desireless, they are tranquil and
All-under-Heaven is naturally settled
True virtue is not virtuous
Therefore it has virtue.
Superficial virtue never fails to be virtuous
Therefore it has no virtue.
True virtue does not act
And has no intentions.
Superficial virtue acts
And always has intentions
. True humaneness acts
But has no intentions.
True justice acts
But but has intentions.
True propriety acts and if you don't respond
They will roll up their sleeves and threaten you.
Thus, when the Tao is lost there is virtue
When virtue is lost there is humaneness
When humanenss is lost there is justice
And when justice is lost there is propriety.
Now propriety is the external appearance of loyalty and sincerity
And the beginning of disorder.

The softest thing in the world
Will overcome the hardest.
Non-being can enter where there is no space.
Therefore I know the benefit of actionless action.
The wordless teaching and actionless action
Are rarely seen.

When the Tao prevails in the land
The horses leisurely graze and fertilize the ground.
When the Tao is lacking in the land
War horses are bred outside the city.
Natural disasters are not as bad as not knowing what is enough.
Loss is not as bad as wanting more.
Therefore the sufficiency that comes from knowing what is enough
Is an eternal sufficiency.

In studying, each day something is gained.
In following the Tao, each day something is lost.
Lost and again lost.
Until there is nothing left to do.
Not-doing, nothing is left undone.
You can possess the world by never manipulating it.
No matter how much you manipulate
You can never possess the world.

If I had just a little bit of wisdom
I should walk the Great Path and fear only straying from it.
Though the Way is quite broad
People love shortcuts.

The court is immaculate,
While the fields are overgrown with weeds,
And the granaries are empty.
They wear silk finery,
Carry sharp swords,
Sate themselves on food and drink
Having wealth in excess.
They are called thieving braggarts.
This is definitely not the Way.

The more regulations there are,
The poorer people become.
The more people own lethal weapons,
The more darkened are the country and clans.
The more clever the people are,
The more extraordinary actions they take.
The more picky the laws are,
The more thieves and gangsters there are.
Therefore the sages say:
"I do not force my way and the people transform themselves.
I enjoy my serenity and the people correct themselves.
I do not interfere and the people enrich themselves.
I have no desires
And the people find their original mind.

When the government is laid back
The people are relaxed.
When the government is nitpicking
The people have anxiety.
Misfortune depends upon fortune.
Fortune conceals misfortune.
What has a definite delimitation?
Or abnormality?
The normal reverts to strangeness.
Goodness reverts to perversion.

People certainly have been confused for a long time.
Therefore the sage squares things without cutting.
Edges without separating.
Straightens without lining up.
Shines but does not glare.

Do without doing.
Get involved without manipulating.
Taste without tasting.
Make the great small,
The many, few.
Respond to anger with virtue.
Deal with difficulties while they are still easy.
Handle the great while it is still small.

The difficult problems in life
Always start off being simple.
Great affairs always start off being small.
Therefore the sage never deals with the great
And is able to actualize his greatness.
Now light words generate little belief,
Much ease turns into much difficulty.
Therefore the sage treats things as though they were difficult,
And hence, never has difficulty.

The ancients who were skillful at the Tao
Did not illuminate the people
But rather kept them simple.
When the people are difficult to rule
It is because of their cleverness.
If you use cleverness to rule the state
You are a robber of the state.
If you don't use cleverness to rule the state
You are a blessing to the state.

The reason the river and sea can be regarded as
The rulers of all the valley streams
Is because of their being below them.
Therefore they can be their rulers.
So if you want to be over people
You must speak humbly to them.
If you want to lead them
You must place yourself behind them.
Thus the sage is positioned above
And the people do not feel oppressed.
He is in front and they feel nothing wrong.
Therefore they like to push him front and never resent him.
Since he does not contend
No one can contend with him.

My words are easy to understand
And easy to practice.
Yet nobody understands them or practices them.
My words have an origin;
My actions have a principle.
It is only because of your not understanding this
That you do not understand me.
Since there are few who understand me
I am valued.
Therefore the sage wears coarse clothes.
Yet hides a jewel in his bosom.

There is nothing better than to know that you don't know.
Not knowing, yet thinking you know --
This is sickness.
Only when you are sick of being sick
Can you be cured.
The sage's not being sick
Is because he is sick of sickness.
Therefore he is not sick.

If you are courageous in daring you will die.
If you are courageous in not-daring you will live.
Among these two, one is beneficial and the other is harmful.
Who understands the reason why Heaven dislikes what it dislikes?
Even the sage has difficulty in knowing this.
The Way of Heaven is to win easily without struggle.
To respond well without words,
To naturally come without special invitation,
To plan well without anxiety.
Heaven's net is vast.
It is loose.
Yet nothing slips through.

If the people don't fear death
How will you scare them with death?
If you make the people continuously fear death
By seizing anybody who does something out of the ordinary
And killing them,
Who will dare to move?
There is always an official executioner to handle this.
If you play the role of the official executioner
It is like cutting wood in the capacity of Master Carpenter.
There are few who will not cut their hands.

The reason people starve
Is because their rulers tax them excessively.
They are difficult to govern
Because their rulers have their own ends in mind.
The reason people take death lightly
Is because they want life to be rich.
Therefore they take death lightly.
It is only by not living for your own ends
That you can go beyond valuing life.

When people are born they are gentle and soft.
At death they are hard and stiff.
When plants are alive they are soft and delicate.
When they die, they wither and dry up.
Therefore the hard and stiff are followers of death.
The gentle and soft are the followers of life.
Thus, if you are aggressive and stiff, you won't win.
When a tree is hard enough, it is cut. Therefore
The hard and big are lesser,
The gentle and soft are greater.

Nothing in the world is softer than water,
Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.
This is because nothing can alter it.
That the soft overcomes the hard
And the gentle overcomes the aggressive
Is something that everybody knows
But none can do themselves.
Therefore the sages say:
The one who accepts the dirt of the state
Becomes its master.
The one who accepts its calamity
Becomes king of the world.
Truth seems contradictory.

Let there be a small country with few people,
Who, even having much machinery, don't use it.
Who take death seriously and don't wander far away.
Even though they have boats and carriages, they never ride in them.
Having armor and weapons, they never go to war.
Let them return to measurement by tying knots in rope.
Sweeten their food, give them nice clothes, a peaceful abode and a relaxed life.
Even though the next country can be seen and its doges and chickens can be heard,
The people will grow old and die without visiting each other’s land.

True words are not fancy.
Fancy words are not true.
The good do not debate.
Debaters are not good.
The one who really knows is not broadly learned,
The extensively learned do not really know.

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