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Tao Te Ching - a new English translation

For the past sixteen years (since 2002) 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 70 selected English 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...

Here I present the current (unfinished) text of Tao Te Ching online:

1. What is the Tao?

No interpretation gives a true image of the Tao,
no word is adequate to name it.

The essence of all creation is indescribable,
naming only reflects its individual aspects.

In an effort to understand the world, we describe its surface,
while the Tao can only be known without any preconception.

Reality has many confusing forms,
but its nameless source remains the same.

This mysterious source is the deepest mystery,
a gateway to the essence of all things.

2. Manifestations of the Tao

The Tao and its qualities cannot be directly seen,
but only through the differences whereby it is manifested:

Beauty is beautiful because there is ugliness,
good is good because there is evil.

This is how that which is becomes separated from that which 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.
The front is in front because the back is at the rear,
when a sound stops, silence begins.

That is why the sage acts without doing, and teaches without speaking.
He does not need to compare, because he knows that all judgements are relative.
His experience tells him that perspective changes everything.
He lets things come and go as they are.
He creates, but does not possess.
He acts without expecting anything in return.
After completing the work, he forgets about it.
He is not attached to results,
that is why nobody can take them from him.

3. Do not expose people to temptations

Do not praise success and people will stop envying each other,
do not value precious things and people will not want them at any cost,
do not show objects of desire and the hearts of people will not be diverted.

A wise ruler keeps the minds of his people empty and their bellies full.
He weakens their ambitions and strengthens their bones.
He dissuades people from greed and desire,
so that even wily cheaters can do nothing.
If the ruler does not try to distract people,
they live their lives in contentment.

4. Depth of the Tao

The Tao is the deep, unrestrained source of everything.
Although the Tao is a void, its usefulness is infinite.
It blunts sharp edges,
it disentangles knots,
it softens sharp light,
it connects everything.
It is perfectly hidden and yet omnipresent.
I do not know from whence the Tao arises.
It seems as if it has always existed.

5. Don’t tire yourself by talking

Heaven and Earth do not have favourites,
they act indifferently to everything.
A wise man also does not take sides,
he treats good and evil people the same.
The space between Heaven and Earth is like a bellows.
Although it is empty, it is inexhaustible.
Work with it and it will produce even more.
Do not tire yourself with excessive explanations,
it is better to lead by example.

6. The Tao is omnipresent

The depth of the Tao has no limits,
it cannot be seen, yet is omnipresent.
It is the mysterious mother,
the root of Heaven and Earth.
The Tao lasts forever,
its usefulness does not fade.

7. Behave unselfishly

Heaven and Earth are eternal,
because they are unaware of their own existence.
They do not enforce their interests; that is why they prevail.

Neither does a wise man assert himself; that is why he prevails.
He remains at the rear, yet he leads others,
he does not demand anything, but achieves everything.

8. Be like water

The highest good is like water,
which is beneficial to all without asserting itself.
It flows to the lowest places despised by people.
In this, it resembles the Tao.

A wise man is like water.
He lives near the earth.
His thoughts are deep.
He behaves kindly.
He speaks sincerely.
He rules justly.
He acts propitiously.
He does not assert himself,
that is why he has no enemies.

9. Stop in time

Rather than overfilling a cup, stop filling it in time.
An excessively sharpened blade will not remain sharp long.
Accumulated treasures cannot be guarded.
Boasting with wealth and honours leads to a fall.
After finishing your work, go into seclusion.
Such is the way of Heaven.

10. Do not expect praise

Strive for unity of mind and body,
be like a new-born child.
Remove the dirt from your inner vision,
until you see absolutely clearly.
Love people and lead them,
without enforcing your will.
Let all events unfold freely,
when learning, forget what you already know.
Work, but do not cling to results,
help, but avoid manipulation,
improve yourself, but do not demand it from others.
This is the highest virtue.

11. Usefulness is given by emptiness

A wheel consists of thirty spokes,
but it turns only due to the hole in the centre.
A cup is made of clay,
but one can drink from it only due to the hollow inside.
A house is built of timber,
but only the openings of its windows and doors make it habitable.
So we use what is,
but the usefulness is in what is not. 

12. Keep calm

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 does not overload his senses
and satisfies only his basic needs.
He does not long for excitement and maintains inner calm.
He ignores the distant and adheres to the close.

13. Favour is like disfavour

Praise is as humiliating as condemnation,
honour and punishment cause man the same pain.
Why is praise as humiliating as condemnation?
If we try to please others, we become their slaves.
Why do honour and punishment cause the same pain?
If we give preference to ourselves, we are afraid of losing our position.
Without giving preference, there would be nothing to fear.
Only a man who honours others as himself can command them.
Only a man who loves the world as himself can govern it.

14. Vagueness of the Tao

Because of its properties, the Tao cannot be recognised by the senses:
Try to glimpse it – you will not see anything,
try to hear it – you will not hear anything,
try to touch it – you will not touch anything,
try to approach it – you will not find any beginning,
try to follow it – you will not find any end.

The Tao is indefinable and unimaginable,
shapeless and indescribable.
Its top is not light, its bottom is not dark,
eternal and limitless, indistinct,
nameless, it returns to non-existence.

One who knows the essence, understands the functioning principles of the world.
Hold to the ancient Tao and you will cope with the present being.

15. Ancient sages

People practising the Tao in ancient times were wise and intuitive,
the depth of their wisdom was incomprehensible
and so only their outward behaviour can be described:

They were careful as men walking across frozen streams,
they were alert as warriors in enemy territory,
they were polite as visiting guests,
they were yielding as thawing snow,
they were simple as unprocessed wood,
they were open as valleys,
they were limpid as water.

By their patience they could gradually change sludge into purity,
they revered the Tao and let everything flow freely.
Because they did not expect or strive for anything, 
even in old age they preserved their creativity and freshness.

16. Be prepared for death

Empty your mind, strive for serenity,
while everything is born and after a period of activity
eventually returns to the source.
To return to the source is to find peace,
such is the unchanging cycle of Nature.
Understanding its constancy brings enlightenment,
incomprehension of its constancy brings disaster.
Those who understand the cycle of Nature are naturally
tolerant, kind, just and dignified.
They live permanently in harmony with the Tao
and when death comes, they are ready.

17. Use words sparingly

The best ruler is one about whom people know almost nothing.
A good ruler is one who is loved and praised by the people.
A bad ruler is one who is dreaded and the worst is one who is scorned.
If a ruler does not trust the people, they also do not trust him.
A wise ruler lets people be free and spares his words.
Yet people do all that is needed.
“We did this ourselves!“ they rejoice.

18. Obedience is enforced without the Tao

When people do not live in compliance with the Tao,
morals and justice are preached.
When people do not follow common sense,
deceit and insincerity are condemned.
When family is disturbed by disputes,
respect for parents is required.
When chaos erupts in the country,
obedience is demanded from subjects.

19. Stop preaching

Do not speak of sainthood and wisdom,
people will be much happier.
Do not speak of morals and justice,
love will return to families.
Do not speak of cleverness and profit,
corruption and theft will disappear.

Words remain on the surface,
it is important to set examples to others:
Maintain austerity, strive for simplicity,
do not assert yourself, have few wishes.

20. Don’t discuss

Stop discussing and you will have no worries.
How far is "yes" from "no"?
What is the difference between "good" and "bad"?
Should I have the same opinions as others? Laughable!
Crowds rejoice as at a feast,
as on an observation platform when everything is in blossom,
only I remain calm and expressionless,
like an infant who has not yet learnt to smile,
like somebody without a home or future.
Others accumulate property, I own nothing.
they seek profit, I care nothing for it.
Others have decided opinions, I am not sure about anything.
They have ambitions, I have no goal.
Others are something, I am nothing.
They have refined manners, I am uncouth and simple.
I am like a fool, utterly confused,
shapeless like an ocean wave, unanchored like the wind.
I behave differently from others,
because I am nurtured directly from the source.

21. The Tao is the source of everything

The greatest virtue is to live in harmony with the Tao.
The Tao is elusive, it is like a shadow
and yet all images stem from it.
The Tao is intangible, it is like a mist
and yet all shapes stem from it.
The Tao is subtle, it is like a seed,
and yet everything was born from it.
The Tao was here before the beginning of the world.
How can I know?
Because I know the Tao.

22. Step back

Subjugate yourself and you will be elevated,
bend down and you will be straightened,
empty yourself and you will be filled,
wear yourself out and you will be renewed,
want little and you will be enriched,
want much and you will be impoverished.

The wise man lives in harmony with the Tao
and is a model for others:
He does not show off and so he shines,
he does not parade himself and so he is seen everywhere,
he does not consider himself superior and so he is honoured,
he does not push himself forward and so he endures,
he does not quarrel and so he wins.

An old saying is: "Retreat and you will remain whole."
Is this just an empty phrase?
Abandon everything and you will gain everything.

23. Live virtuously

State your opinion and then fall silent, just like Nature.
The wind does not blow all morning, neither does the rain fall all day.
Not even Heaven and Earth can operate unceasingly,
how then can people do it?

Those who practise the Tao, live in compliance with the Tao,
those who are virtuous, experience virtue,
those who are afraid of loss, encounter loss.
those who do not trust others, are not trusted.

24. Do not exaggerate

On tiptoes, man does not stand firm,
rushing, man stumbles easily,
insisting on his truth, man does not learn,
boasting, man demeans himself.
It is a waste of time to deal with such people.
The man who lives in compliance with the Tao
does not behave in such ways.

25. Four great forces

In the chaos before the birth of Heaven and Earth,
there was already something silent, independent, changeless.
While having no form of its own, it tirelessly manifested itself.
Eternally present, it can be considered the foundation of everything.
I call it the “Tao” because I do not know its name.
If I were to describe the Tao, I would add: “Great”.
It flows in as well as out of all things, returning to the source.

The Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
Man is also great.

There are four great forces in the Universe and man is one of these.
Man is subordinate to Earth.
Earth is subordinate to Heaven,
Heaven is subordinate to the Tao.
The Tao is governed by naturalness.

26. Remain cautious

The way ahead is full of obstacles,
deliberation wins over strife.

A sage carries the Tao with him everywhere,
just like a wanderer travelling all day
carries his luggage with him everywhere.
Although he sees beautiful vistas,
he remains cautious and deliberate within.

Rulers of today live in palaces,
have harems and are protected by mighty armies.
However, they act foolishly in the eyes of the people.
Their recklessness will uproot them,
imprudence will cause the loss of their power.

27. Improve yourself

Those who walk well, do not leave footprints,
those who talk well, do not make mistakes,
those who count well, do not need an abacus,
those who close well, do not use a lock,
those who tie well, have no need for knots.

The one who knows easily advises the one who does not know,
And repairs broken items to provide service again,
He rejects no-one and with every challenge improves himself.

Thus he who knows is a teacher to the unknowing,
and the unknowing person is his lesson.
He who does not revere the teacher or the new lesson
will stray, regardless of his cleverness.
This is the essence of the problem.

28. Maintain simplicity

He who knows his masculine strength,
but is also aware of his feminine weakness,
lives virtuously and becomes the river of the world.
He returns to the state of a little child.

He who knows his light side,
but is also aware of his dark side,
lives virtuously and becomes a model to the world.
He returns to innocence.

He who knows his strong points,
but is also aware of his weak points,
lives virtuously and becomes the valley of the world.
He returns to internal simplicity.

Just like a carpenter who, from an original rough piece of wood,
creates items that benefit the people,
also a wise ruler uses original simplicity
as a useful tool for the administration of a country.
The saying goes: “The master carpenter cuts only a little!“

29. Do not interfere in the world

Do you want to conquer the world and change it according to your wishes?
Nobody has ever succeeded in doing this.
The world is perfect and cannot be improved unnaturally.
If you want to change the world, you will destroy it,
if you try to conquer the world, you will lose it.

The world is in constant motion
and people differ from each other in interests as well as in nature.
If somebody wants to advance, others do not join him,
if somebody wants to increase his power, others weaken him,
if somebody wants to improve, others work against him.

The wise man does not try to enforce things,
he lets everything take its own course.

30. Do not resort to violence

The counsellor who advises the ruler in compliance with the Tao
disagrees with the dispatch of a conquering army.
Every expenditure of violence evokes the desire for revenge,
a thorn bush grows where soldiers once camped,
suffering follows after war.

An army is to serve only for the defence of the country,
not for conquering the world and subjecting others.
The wise military leader is content with the achievement of an objective,
he does not boast, is not arrogant, does not misuse his power.
He does not continue a campaign in a foreign territory,
he does only what is necessary.

Excessive growth is not in compliance with the Tao,
what is too strong eventually collapses and perishes.

31. Fight only in necessity

Weapons, however beautiful, foreshadow tragedy,
they are the tool of fear and everybody hates them.
A man who practises the Tao therefore avoids weapons,
only if he has no other option, he uses them calmly and deliberately.
Victory in battle is not a reason for celebration.
To rejoice in victory means to rejoice in killing,
if somebody rejoices in killing, he cannot lead others.

In a period of peace, people respect life – they honour the left side,
in times of war, they take life – they honour the right side.
The place of honour is on the left at a celebration, on the right at a funeral.
In the army, the military leader sits on the right of his counsellors,
therefore their positions are the same as at a funeral service.
They approach battle with sadness and compassion,
because they know that many people will die on both sides.

32. Everything returns to the Tao

The Tao is the eternal nameless foundation of everything.
Although it seems subtle and simple,
nobody in the world can conquer it.

If persons in power followed it,
there would be no separation between Heaven and Earth.
People would live in harmony
without needing anyone to command them.

Due to the separation of Heaven and Earth,
individual forms must be named.
All names are provisional.
When names begin to appear,
it is time to stop any further divisions.
Because the Tao is like the sea
to which all streams return.

33. Know yourself

He who knows others is clever,
he who knows himself is wise.
He who controls others is strong,
he who controls himself is powerful.
He who asserts himself is ambitious,
he who is satisfied with what he has, is rich.
He who does not deviate from the Tao lives contentedly,
he who is not attached to the ephemeral, is not afraid of death.

34. The Tao is behind everything

The great Tao is like a swollen river,
it flows in all directions without choosing any,
nurturing everyone and rejecting no one,
everything is subjugated to it, yet it does not rule,
it performs its function without demanding anything in return.

Because the Tao does not assert itself,
it may seem insignificant,
but because everything depends on it,
it is vital.

The sage, too, does not try to get ahead.
He does his work without expecting admiration.
Thus he confirms his greatness.

35. The Tao is inexhaustible

All people are lured to the one who understands the order of the world,
they will find rest, safety and peace in his presence.
Good food and drink lure passers-by to stop,
but the Tao seems to be flavourless as it does not affect the senses.
Invisible to the eyes, inaudible to the ears,
the Tao is in everything, yet is never depleted.

36. The weak overcome the strong

Everything that increases will later decrease,
everything that strengthens will later weaken,
everything built will later be destroyed,
everything gained will later be lost.
Such is the essence of all things:
Hard and strong dissolve in soft and weak.
A fish feels best in deep waters.
People therefore should not be disturbed
by demonstrations of power.

37. The Tao brings peace

The Tao does not assert itself,
yet it never stops working.
If a ruler adheres to the Tao,
everything happens naturally by itself.
In nameless simplicity
all desire for sudden change disappears.
People live their common lives contentedly,
and Heaven with Earth are in harmony.

38. Forget about virtue

The man who is not aware of his virtue, is really virtuous,
the man who always thinks of his virtue, in not really virtuous.

Real virtue lies within,
a virtuous man does not talk about his virtuous deeds.
Ostentatious virtue is manifested by insincere behaviour,
a sinful man emphasises his virtuous deeds.

When one sincerely helps others,
he acts virtuously without any ulterior motive.
When one acts to show his virtue,
he has many ulterior motives.
When one demands virtuous behaviour,
he enforces his will even by violent means.

When the Tao disappears, virtue surfaces,
when virtue is lost, ethics intensify,
when ethics decline, justice appears,
when justice is on the decline, laws are enforced.
Laws are the manifestation of mistrust and the germ of chaos.

Learned knowledge is just a shell of the Tao and the beginning of folly.
The wise man prefers the pulp and not the shell of the fruit,
he focuses on the essence, not on fallacy,
he chooses sincerity and rejects superficiality.

39. The cart consists of all its parts

In ancient times, in harmony with the Tao,
the sky cleared itself, and the ground became solid,
plants and animals began to prosper,
the valleys were filled,
spirits gained their supernatural powers
and rulers set examples to the people.

If the Earth is not in harmony with the Tao,
storms will erupt, the ground will shake,
plants and animals will become extinct,
the valleys will empty,
spirits will lose their supernatural powers
and rulers will lose the trust of the people.

That is why a virtuous man must not forget humility,
and he who is high must remember those who are low.
The wise ruler  is one who considers himself insignificant and imperfect.
He does not want to shine like jade, but to be like an ordinary stone.
He is aware that his empire would collapse without the support of the people.

40. Non-being begets being

Return is the completion of movement,
victory is the completion of submission.
Existence was born from emptiness,
everything that exists, develops in a cycle.

41. The path to light seems dark

When a reasonable man hears of the Tao,
he tries diligently to live in harmony with it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he sometimes follows it and at other times forgets it.
When a fool hears of the Tao,
he ridicules it loudly.

If the Tao were not ridiculed,
it would not be what it is.
As the old saying teaches,
achievement of the best takes the longest.

Those who walk towards the Tao, seemingly turn back,
those who expect a smooth path, encounter obstacles,
those who see themselves already at the end, discover that they are at the beginning,
those who believe to know the path, have gone astray.

Those who are clean, consider themselves dirty,
those who are virtuous are imperfect in their own eyes,
those who are wise give the impression of uncertainty,
those who have something to say, talk quietly.

The deepest abyss is bottomless,
the widest sea is shoreless,
the biggest form is shapeless.
The Tao is hidden and nameless,
yet it nourishes and perfects everything.

42. Everything was born from the Tao

The Tao gave birth to uniform existence.
Two antipoles untangled from uniformity, yin and yang.
Chi energy began to flow between these poles.

The mutual interaction of these three forces
gave birth to Heaven, Earth and all living beings.
They carry yin within and manifest yang externally.
Thanks to the flow of Chi they achieve harmony.

People do not want to be insignificant, lonely, miserable,
yet wise rulers describe themselves with these words.
Because humility leads to gain, arrogance leads to loss.

I repeat only what others have already taught before me:
"A brute will not die a natural death."
This is the foundation of my teaching.

43. The best teaching has no words

The softest overcomes the hardest,
the insubstantial penetrates the material.
A wise man knows the value of accomplishment without action,
he teaches without words and lets things flow freely.
Few can do this.

44. Attachment leads to pain

Fame or life – what is more important?
Property or health – what is more precious?
Profit or loss – what is more horrifying?
He who is attached to something, lives in fear.
The more he hoards, the more he can lose.
A contented person is never disappointed.
He knows when he has enough and avoids distress.
That is why he lives a long and happy life.

45. Non-interference brings stability

Real perfection seems incomplete,
yet its usefulness does not fade.
Real fullness seems empty,
yet it is never exhausted.
Real straightness seems curved,
real skilfulness appears clumsy,
a real lesson lacks words.
Action only increases heat,
while patience leads to cooling.
A wise ruler therefore remains deliberate.

46. Do not want more

When a state is in harmony with the Tao,
even strong horses plough and manure the fields.
When a state is not in harmony with the Tao,
 even gravid mares transport soldiers between the ruins.
The worst vice is desire,
the worst disaster is dissatisfaction with that which is,
the worst tragedy is to want more for oneself.
He who knows when he has enough, will always have abundance.

47. Knowledge prevents understanding

You do not have to walk out of the door
to get to know the functioning of the world,
you do not have to look out of the window
to see the Tao of Heaven.
The farther you go when seeking the truth,
the farther you recede from it.
The wise man keeps his centre.
He knows without accumulating knowledge,
he understands without needing to see,
he achieves without enforcing his will.

48. Empty your mind

He who desires knowledge fills his mind every day,
he who practises the Tao cleanses his mind every day.
With growing understanding, the need for external deeds diminishes.
Despite non-action, nothing remains uncompleted.
A wise ruler lets things go their way.
Too much effort prevents the achievement of an objective.

49. Lead by example

A wise ruler does not enforce his will,
he understands the viewpoint of others.
He treats good and evil people equally,
by his virtuous behaviour he spreads goodness.
He trusts sincere and dishonest people equally,
by his virtuous behaviour he spreads trust.
He solves matters of the people cautiously and sensitively,
that is why people listen to him and help him.
A wise ruler maintains simplicity,
he approaches others like his own children.

50. Live for today

Life and death are inseparable,
out of ten men born, ten men will die.
Some in childhood, others in adulthood or in old age.
People are afraid of death, because they cling too tightly to life.
A wise man goes through life without fear,
he lives in the present moment and accepts everything as it comes.
He is not afraid of the tiger, the rhino or weapons,
he does not cling to life, death can come at any moment.

51. Hidden virtue of the Tao

The Tao creates and nourishes all things.
The material world gives them form,
the environment and circumstances give them shape.
All things are born from the Tao,
are fully provided for by its virtue.
That is why they succumb to the Tao and honour virtue,
naturally, voluntarily, forever.
He who helps others but does not talk of his merits,
he who acts but does not assert himself,
he who leads but does not control,
behaves the most virtuously.

52. Stay at home

The Tao is the root, the mother of the entire world,
everything was born from her.
We remain her children at all times
and our shared mother never ceases to support us.

Restrict sensual pleasures, restrain your wishes,
and your life will be filled with joy.
Indulge in sensual pleasures, always strive for something,
and your life will be filled with trouble.

He who sees the imperceptible, sees clearly;
he who remains calm is really strong.
He who stays in the light of home will not get lost in the dark,
he will avoid dangers and will live long.

53. Do not deviate from the Tao

Those who wisely follow the Great Tao,
are only afraid of going astray.
The way of the Tao is even and straight,
but people often succumb to external temptations.

When the powerful live in palaces,
wear luxurious clothes
and protect their wealth with weapons,
they resemble robber chiefs.

They parasitise the hungry nation
and have more than they need,
while the fields are overgrown with weed
and granaries are empty.

This is not in compliance with the Tao.

54. Develop virtue

The house of a virtuous builder will not collapse,
the plan of a virtuous planner will last.
Future generations will revere them.

Develop virtue in yourself,
your virtue will be real
and will set an example to your family.
Develop virtue in your family,
virtue will be abundant
and will set an example to other families.
Develop virtue in the village,
virtue will grow
and will set an example to other villages.
Develop virtue in the country,
virtue will be in excess
and will set an example to other countries.
Develop virtue in the world
and virtue will be everywhere.

Judge the individual as an individual, family as family,
village as village, country as country, world as world.
How can one judge the world?
By mere observation.

55. Inner harmony

He who lives with absolute virtue
resembles a newborn infant.
He is not afraid of a snakebite,
insect bite, attack by beasts or birds of prey.

His bones are weak, muscles soft, yet he grasps firmly.
He does not know intercourse between man and woman,
yet he feels excitement because he is full of energy.
He can shout all day without getting hoarse,
because he is in perfect inner harmony.

He who has achieved inner harmony,
acts in compliance with the Tao,
he who knows the Tao,
has achieved real wisdom.

The wise man does not tempt fate
and does not let passions cloud his mind.
Excessive expense of energy leads to exhaustion,
what grows too strong, heads for premature decline.
What is not in harmony with the Tao, soon perishes.

56. Be like dust

He who knows, does not speak,
he who speaks, does not know.

Stop broadcasting your opinions,
do not pay attention to uproar,
do not make assumptions,
simplify your life,
abandon expectations,
accept your place.

This is what living in compliance with the Tao is about.

He who achieves this state,
does not distinguish between friends and enemies,
he cannot be bribed or threatened,
praise or criticism have no effect on him.

That is why other people revere him.

57. Do not disturb

The country must be ruled justly,
war must be waged by surprise,
the world can be governed only by non-interference.

How can I know it? Because:

The more a ruler restricts, the poorer are the people,
the more weapons he has, the more restless are the people,
the more he controls, the slyer are the people,
the more laws he introduces, the more crime increases.

The wise ruler has this attitude:

He does not interfere and the people live in harmony,
he prefers peace and the people govern their own affairs,
he does not assist and the people handle everything,
he has no goals and the wishes of the people are simple.

58. Exemplary government

Rule serenely and people will remain honest,
rule strictly and people will be deceitful.
The pursuit of ensuring people’s contentment leads to dissatisfaction,
the effort to command desirable behaviour only strengthens sinners.

Happiness grows from unhappiness, unhappiness hides in happiness,
what once was pleasing, will stop satisfying,
what once was good, will become bad,
and people will remain in confusion for long.

The wise ruler sets an example but does not expect to be followed,
although he has the means to enforce his will, he does not use it,
he shows the way, but does not boast of his power to the people,
he knows that everything can be viewed from different perspectives.

59. Rule like a peasant

A country must be governed and Heaven must be served frugally.
Just like a peasant who begins to till the soil in time,
the ruler must develop virtue in advance
and gain skills to govern the affairs of others.
The ruler who systematically develops his virtue will last a long time.
Nothing is impossible for him and he will overcome all problems,
because he is deeply rooted in the Tao and widely supported by the people.
His empire is stable and predictable.

60. Eagerness is harmful

To rule a big country
is like cooking small fish.
A good cook stirs gently,
undue intervention spoils the result.

If a country is governed in compliance with the Tao,
demons do not manifest their evil power.
Not that they do not have the power,
but they will not find the way to harm people.

Evil demons remain calm,
because a wise ruler does not disturb the people.
When nobody harms anyone,
the virtue of all increases and the country flourishes.

61. Diminish yourself to win

A powerful country which diminishes itself
is like a lowland to which all rivers gravitate.
It is like a female overpowering a male with meekness.
By her accessibility she gains support and benefits.
If a big country diminishes its position,
it can lead the small country,
if a small country diminishes its position,
it gains the assistance of the big country.

Both sides gain what they want:
A big country needs many people,
a small country wants to be involved in the activities of the big country.
But in order for both countries to prosper,
the big country must maintain its diminished position.

62. The Tao is the most precious treasure

All beings head towards the Tao.
It is a treasure to the virtuous,
a retreat for those who've strayed.

Pleasant words gain popularity,
good deeds gain respect,
but the Tao cannot be bought.

Even if I was a ruler, or one of three administrators of a country,
if I had servants, jade and purebred horses,
these would not equal a peaceful life in compliance with the Tao.

Why did the ancient sages cherish the Tao?
The Tao condemns no one.
The sins of those who find the Tao are forgiven.
That is why the Tao is the most precious treasure in the world.

63. Foresee problems

When working, do also that which you dislike,
do not allow yourself to be discouraged by the size of the task.
Even a huge unpleasant task can be managed
if one works systematically at it.
The wise man relentlessly devotes himself to small things
and thus he achieves big things.
He does not demand convenience,
therefore everything is easy for him.
He who makes careless promises
will eventually lose the confidence of all.
The wise man foresees problems from the very beginning
and thus manages to avoid them.

64. Big starts as small

What is calm is easily controlled,
what is indefinite is easily defined,
what is fragile is easily broken,
what is powdery is easily scattered,
nascent troubles are easily prevented.

A mighty tree grew from a tiny sprig,
a nine-storey tower was once a pile of clay,
a path of a thousand miles begins with the first step.

He who interferes, spoils it,
he who wants to control, loses it.
The wise man does not interfere and thus does not destroy,
he is not attached to anything and thus has nothing to lose.

People often ruin things just before completion,
therefore pay the same attention to the end as to the beginning.

The wise man desires to be without desire,
he does not hoard things that are hard to get,
he is not attached to his opinions.
By reminding people what they were like before,
without asserting his will,
he leads them to find their naturalness.

65. Do not preach

Ancient sages who knew the Tao, did not try to educate people.
They wanted people to remain simple and natural.

If people think they know better, it is hard to govern them.
When people are unburdened by knowledge, there is no discord in the country.

He who tries to indoctrinate people, harms the country,
he who leads people to naturalness is a blessing to the country.

The ruler who is aware of the difference between cleverness and common sense,
maintains the correct government and the highest virtue in the country.

Although the highest virtue seems illogical,
it is deep and leads to perfect harmony.

66. Serve to rule

The ocean rules the rivers and water streams because it is below them. 
That is why it rules the valleys and everything flows into it.

He who wants to rule people must position himself below them,
he who wants to lead people must serve them humbly.

Thus people will not feel oppressed by the ruler,
they will praise and follow him without complaint.

If the ruler does not act in a superior manner,
nobody tries to surpass him.

67. Three treasures

People say that my teaching of the Tao is senseless,
that it is incomplete compared to other philosophies.

This is what proves its greatness.

If my teaching made sense to people and resembled other teachings,
nobody would know about the Tao today.

I consider three characteristics to be priceless treasures:
Compassion, modesty, and not striving for power.

A modest person can afford to be generous,
compassion gives him courage,
but he can lead others only if he does not strive for power.

He who is generous without modesty,
who is courageous without compassion,
who wants to lead and yet strives for power,
evokes problems for himself.

Compassion leads to victory in battle and to strength in defence.
Compassionate people are protected by the Heavens.

68. Do not compete

A brave soldier does not desire battle,
a good warrior is not ferocious,
a noble victor avoids clashes with the enemy,
a wise ruler positions himself below others.

This is the virtue of non-competing,
of leading others without commanding.

Since time immemorial, wise men have striven for this state,
because it is in compliance with Heaven.

69. Show compassion

Wise military leaders behave like guests;
they retreat rather than push forwards.

This is advance without moving forward,
the use of weapons without noise,
defeating the enemy without enmity,
commanding an army without soldiers.

The gravest danger is to consider oneself invincible,
by underestimating the enemy one endangers the most precious.

If two equal armies face each other,
the more compassionate side will win.

70. Learn the basics

My teaching can easily be understood and adhered to,
but most people do not understand it and do not implement it in their lives.

All I say has an inner meaning,
all I do is based on firm principles.

If people do not understand the basics,
they cannot understand me either.

Few understand my words,
that is why the teachings of the Tao and virtue are invaluable.

I remain unrecognised, I am like a wanderer,
who carries jade under his rough clothes.

71. Confess your ignorance

He who knows that he does not know improves himself,
he who does not know that he does not know, stagnates.
We can get rid of imperfection only if we acknowledge it.
The wise man knows his flaws and works on them,
that is why he never stagnates.

72. Do not display your power

When people are afraid of authority,
this portends catastrophe.
Do not meddle in their homes,
do not make their lives harder.
If you do not interfere in the lives of subjects,
they will not rebel against you.
A wise ruler does not demonstrate his power,
he does not demand homage from others.
He values what is inside,
not what is outside.

73. The Tao wins without a fight

The brave and rash suffer premature death,
the brave and calm preserve their lives.

Which of these two outcomes is desirable?
Even a wise man does not know the intentions of the Heavens,
so he lets things flow freely.

The Tao wins without competing,
and answers without words.
It comes without calling
and rules without asserting itself.

The net of the Tao penetrates the entire Universe.
And although its mesh is large,
nothing escapes from it.

74. Cruelty is a double-edged weapon

As long as people are afraid of death
and do not want to be punished,
nobody dares to break the law.

But when people succumb to desperation
and are not afraid of dying,
it makes no sense to oppress them any more
or to punish disobedience with death.

If somebody wants to sow death,
he may easily die himself.

Only Heaven can take away life.
Who would dare to act on its behalf?

If anyone wants to substitute for the Master Carpenter,
he can hardly avoid injury.

75. Oppression leads to resistance

People starve if taxes are high,
people rebel if laws are strict.

When people see the ruler living extravagantly,
they stop caring about their own lives.

A wise ruler acts in the interest of the people;
he trusts them and leaves them in peace.

76. What is compliant, survives

People are born weak,
when they die, they are stiff.

This is the way of all living things:

Living plants are juicy and smooth,
when they die, they are dry and withered.

The weak survive, the strong move towards death.

Like an unbending tree falling in a storm,
the army which is burdened by its size will disappear.

Hard and inflexible will be broken,
soft and flexible will endure.

77. The Tao establishes balance

The Tao constantly establishes balance:
What is up, dives downwards,
what is down, rises upwards,
what is in abundance, will be reduced,
what is in shortage, will be proliferated,
excess overflows to where it is needed.

People behave differently:
If they have sufficient, they want more
and even take from those in need.
Who then is willing to share with others?

Only the person who lives in harmony with the Tao,
is compassionate to others without expecting praise,
he achieves goals and yet is not attached to the results of his work,
he does not desire people to know of his merits.

78. Assume the misery of others

Water is the softest and weakest element in the world,
yet there is nothing hard and strong which is resistant to it.
This proves that water is the most powerful.

Weak overcomes the strong, soft overpowers the hard.
Everybody knows it, and yet few take advantage of it.

Ancient sages already taught:
Only he who diminishes himself before others
is worthy of becoming their leader.
Only he who bears the misery of people on his shoulders
can rule the country.

However absurd these words sound.

79. Carry out your duties

In the case of a vast dispute,
hatred remains even after its resolution.

What is its purpose?

A wise man keeps his part of the agreement
and does not expect fulfilment by the other party.

A virtuous man shares with others,
a sinful man demands that others share with him.

Although the Tao of Heaven favours no one,
its principles are beneficial to the virtuous.

80. Ideal state

In a small country with few inhabitants
people govern their matters themselves.
They do not use their boats, coaches or weapons,
they do not long for an easier life,
they like things the way they are.

They honour the customs of their ancient ancestors:
They eat simple food, wear plain clothes,
live in modest houses.
If they want to remember something,
they merely tie a knot in a rope.

They do not set out on distant journeys,
they are contented where they were born.
Even though the neighbouring country is so close,
that they hear the roosters crow and dogs bark,
nobody desires to venture there to his dying day.

81. Live in compliance with the Tao

Sincere words are not pretty,
pretty words are not sincere.

A virtuous man does not argue about his truth,
those who argue about their truth are not virtuous.

A wise man does not boast of his knowledge,
those who boast of their knowledge are not wise.

He who lives in compliance with the Tao
does not keep everything just for himself.
The more he gives to others, the richer he is,
the more he lives for others, the fuller his own life is.

Just as the Tao is useful to all and harms no one,
the virtuous man guides others without asserting himself.