Tao Te Ching – a new English translation

For the past few years I have been studying the gem of Ancient Chinese philosophy, Tao Te Ching. However, to my confusion I found out that its individual translations often differ fundamentally. To clarify the text for myself, I have tried to get to the core meaning of individual chapters, based on 10 selected English and Czech translations. I am simultaneously working on both the Czech (available here) and English versions, which has forced me to contemplate the original meaning even more deeply...

You can read individual chapters on this webpage online or download the complete text as an "e-book" for reading offline, on a tablet, mobile phone or Kindle. You can download the entire Tao Te Ching (press your right mouse button, and choose 'Save Target As') in formats mobi, epub and pdf:

Tao Te Ching for Kindle (mobi format) Tao Te Ching for mobile phones and other devices (epub format) Tao Te Ching in pdf format

COMING IN 2015. The work is finished, I just need to re-check everything...

Here I present the first 12 chapters of Tao Te Ching:

1. What is Tao?

Not even the best explanation is Tao itself.
Not even the best name is fitting enough.
Only the unnamed is real.
Giving names creates individual separate things.
Without desire, you see their very essence.
Caught in desire, you see only their surface.
By intellectual reflection we glimpse only the manifestation;
only without thinking can we experience Tao.
The source of both the essence and its manifestation are the same,
but reality has many confusing forms.
I call this common source the greatest mystery,
the gate to the essence of all.


2. The Manifestations of Tao

Tao and its properties cannot be directly identified,
but only according to the differences which it manifests.

Beauty seems beautiful because there is ugliness.
Good seems good because there is evil.

Thus what is, is separated from what is not.
Difficult is difficult because something else is easy.
Long is long because something else is short.
High is high because something else is low.
Front is front because something else is behind.
When noise stops, silence begins.

That is why a sage acts without deeds and teaches without words.
He does not need to compare, knowing all judgements are relative.
By experience, he knows that everything changes according to the point of view.
He lets things come and go as they are.

The sage creates but does not own.
He acts without expecting anything in return.
After completion of his work he forgets about it.
Because he is not attached to the result of his work,
nobody can take it from him.


3. Let people go in Peace

Do not praise the skilful
and people will not protest.
Do not value the precious
and people will not steal.
Do not flaunt objects of desire
and people’s hearts will not be disturbed.

When a sage rules,
he keeps the minds of people empty and their bellies full.
He weakens their ambitions and strengthens their bones.
He keeps people from knowledge and desires
and even cunning individuals do nothing.
If he acts without doing anything,
everything is the way it should be.


4. The Emptiness of Tao

Tao is empty but is never exhausted when used.
It is a boundless source of countless things.
It blunts sharp edges.
It untangles knots.
It softens piercing light.
It connects everything together.
Perfectly hidden and yet omnipresent.
I do not know its source.
It seems to have always existed.


5. Do not differentiate

Heaven and earth are unconcerned,
nothing has any value for them.
Also the sage is unconcerned,
he treats all people alike.

The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows.
Although it is empty, it is inexhaustible.
Work with it and it will produce more and more.
Do not waste words in explanations.
It is better to hold to one’s centre.


6. The Depth of Tao

Tao is like a deep valley.
It is the great mysterious mother of heaven and earth.
It is not visible, yet it is everywhere.
It lasts eternally and does not vanish.


7. Unselfish Behaviour

Tao is infinite, eternal,
It has no beginning so it cannot end.
It does not assert itself and yet is in everything.

The sage keeps himself back, that is why he leads.
He is not attached to things, that is why he is in unity with everything.
He achieves fulfilment by unselfish behaviour.


8. Be like Water

The highest good is being like water,
It is beneficial to all without asserting itself.
It flows even into the lowest places disdained by people
and thus it is very similar to Tao.

Live near the earth.
Have clean thoughts.
Be kind and generous when dealing with others.
Speak the truth.
Be just when ruling.
Work efficiently.
Do not leave good undone and you will feel no guilt.


9. Stop in Time

Better than to fear over-filling a cup, stop pouring into it.
The knife blade is blunted by excessive sharpening.
Nobody can protect accumulated treasures for long.
Boasting of wealth will lead to a fall.

After completing your work, go into seclusion.
Such is the way of the heavens.


10. Do not expect Praise

Strive for unity of mind and body,
be like a newborn infant.
Remove the dirt from your inner vision,
until it is perfectly clear.
Love people and lead them,
without enforcing your will.
Let all events flow freely.
Discard prejudices when observing events.
Create and develop but do not own,
work but do not expect praise,
give advice but do not try to control,
this is the highest virtue.


11. Usefulness is denoted by Emptiness

A wheel consists of thirty spokes,
yet is usable only due to the hole in the centre.
A cup is made of clay,
but is usable only due to the hollowness inside.
A house is built of timber,
but only the openness of its windows and doors makes it habitable,
So we use what is,
but the usefulness is in what is not.


12. Do not be Overstocked

Too many colours blind the eye,
too many sounds deafen the ear,
too many flavours blunt the tongue,
too many stimuli cloud the mind,
too many desires disturb the heart.

That is why the sage takes care of his inner being
and not of the overloading of the senses.
He ignores the distant and adheres to the close.