The Tao Te Ching, Daodejing, or Dao De Jing ( 道德經 Dàodéjīng). It is assumed to be written around 6th century BC by the sage Laozi or Lao Tzu (老子 Lǎozi), literally meaning “Old Master”. The text’s true authorship and date of composition or compilation are still debated, the oldest excavated text date back to the late 4th century BC.

The Tao Te Ching is probably the most influential Chinese book of all times. Its 81 chapters have been translated into English more times than any other Chinese document.

The Tao Te Ching provides the basis for the philosophical school of Taoism, which is an important pillar of Chinese thought. Taoism teaches that there is one undivided truth at the root of all things.

道 tao “the way”
德 te “strength/virtue”
經 ching “scripture”

The verses of the Tao Te Ching are written in ancient Chinese, which is very different from English. Abstraction and logic are not distinguishing marks of the ancient Chinese language, hence, it is less rigid than English and there are very few formal or grammatical structures. The classical Chinese word does not stand for a single concrete idea, but it evokes associations of different ideas and things. Quite a few Chinese words can be used as nouns, adjectives and verbs at the same time. Thus sentences composed of various signs have a sort of suggestive power, evoking emotions, ideas and pictures.

It is almost impossible to render an ancient Chinese text properly in English without losing some part. Different translations of the Tao Te Ching may appear as completely different texts. In order to understand the original text fully it is helpful to read various translations that consummate each other. The alternative is, of course, to learn Chinese. This document uses the translation of Tolbert McCarroll.

“This little book cannot be understood any more than you can understand a river. If you wish to experience the river you must jump in. So it is with the Tao Te Ching.

Many things in here will confuse you. The confusion is not to be conquered. It does not result from a lack of knowledge. This confusion is a teacher that can teach you about yourself, your story, your people, your world and the still point of the universe to which we give the crude name – the Tao.

There are no footnotes of commentary here. These words of the Tao are to be hung like bells in our hearts and rung by the motions we make as we move through our daily lives. Any other sounds make it difficult to hear the bells.

The Tao is universal. It is not Chinese. Its is found in the quest of Christian mystics, native Americans, Zen monks, desert holy men, and indeed in every culture and age in the story of the earth. Before this story began and after it ends there is the Tao. It consists of stillness and silence and it will enter into any quiet heart.”

1:The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The name is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Send your desires away and you will see the mystery.
Be filled with desire and you will see only the manifestation.

As these two come forth they differ in name.
Yet at their source they are the same.
This source is called a mystery.

Darkness within darkness, the gateway to all mystery.

2:All under heaven see beauty as beauty
only because they also see ugliness.
All announce that good is good
only because they also denounce what is bad.

Therefore, something and nothing give birth to one another.
Difficult and easy complete one another.
Long and short fashion one another.
High and low arise from one another.
Notes and tones harmonise with one another.
Front and back follow one another.

Thus, the True Person acts without striving
and teaches without words.

Deny nothing to the ten thousand things.

Nourish them without claiming authority,
Benefit them without demanding gratitude,
Do the work, then move on.

And, the fruits of your labour will last forever.

3:Not exalting the talented prevents rivalry.
Not valuing goods that are hard to obtain
prevents stealing.
Not displaying desirable things
prevents confusion of the heart.

Therefore, the True Person governs
by emptying the heart of desire
and filling the belly with food,
weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.

If the people are simple and free from desire,
then the clever ones never dare to interfere.

Practise action without striving
and all will be in order.

4:The Tao is like an empty bowl,
yet it may be used
without ever needing to be filled.
It is the deep and unfathomable
source of the ten thousand things.

Blunt the sharpness.
Untie the knot.
Soften the glare.
Settle with the dust.

It is hidden deep yet ever present.
I do not know whose child it is.
It existed before the common ancestor.

5:Heaven and earth are not moved
by offerings of straw-dogs.
The True Person is not moved
by offerings of straw-dogs.

The space between heaven and earth
is like a bellows.
It is empty and yet never exhausted.
The more it works the more comes out.

Many words lead to exhaustion.
Better to hold fast to your centre.