Tao of thanks - a poet's Tao Te Ching

Tao of thanks — a poet’s Tao Te Ching


This Chinese spiritual classic, attributed to the venerated thinker Lao Tzu, is foremost a work of poetry. In Chinese, it rhymes, but verse alone isn’t the beauty of this work. It’s Lao Tzu’s masterful use of metaphor that makes it unique — metaphor that doesn’t translate readily into modern English.

For instance, many English renditions conclude the first chapter with a phrase such as “the gateway of mystery ” as if the text is intended to reveal the esoteric incantations of a secret sect. Nothing could be less accurate. The eighty further chapters, whether they describe reality, advise attitudes and actions, or discuss living and leadership, are among the most practicable and understandable writings of all time. Every concept is simple, even straightforwardly obvious — though the deep-thinking perspective remains fresh to this day. The only mystery about this work is why, among the scholars and spiritual seekers who’ve presented it in English, there have been so few whose first calling is poetry. Without a deeply poetic formation, the metaphorical wordplay, delicate humor, and multiple meanings of the original are unfortunately lost. The result is the too frequent presentation of a chapter that reads like a hodge-podge of unrelated thoughts — a paradoxical fate for a work that claims to present the cure for disarray.

What’s it really about? It explicitly tells us that Tao, the natural way of life and the universe, can’t be defined and is describable only by example. Upon reading through the text one sees that Te, often translated as virtue, also is described strictly by example. Along the way there are repeating discussions of Creation, always characterized as both long ago and present, indicating that all things including conscious awareness arise from Tao and possess Te. Lao Tzu demonstrates Te to take several of what seems a wide variety of forms. The idea that there are further, unmentioned forms of Te may explain why most English renditions of this foundational spiritual text make no mention of such foundational spiritual concepts as grace, value, and thankfulness. The intended ancient Chinese audience may have realized these concepts to be implicitly included in Te. For the contemporary reader, who can benefit from a sense of where these concepts fit into the picture, Tao of Thanks is truly about thanks.

To further clarify the poetry’s shades of meaning, this rendition updates a number of archaic allusions and usages that might otherwise confuse the reader unfamiliar with the low-tech life of Lao Tzu’s day. The examples given here, from the real world of today, intend to convey meanings similar to those conveyed to the ancient Chinese reader by the original examples. Lao Tzu’s timeless points deserve no less than total clarity, which an adherence to a literal term-by-term interpretation must necessarily give up. Poetry can’t fully cross the multiple barriers of culture, language, and centuries without reinterpretation. To keep all of its deeper meaning intact, understandable, and succinct is to be ideally true to it. How close to that ideal are the verses that follow? One can do but one’s best.

From the start, Lao Tzu’s poetry reveals an ongoing tension, a give and take between opposites. From a higher perspective this resolves as a unified cycle underlying all things. Both the give and take and their union are demonstrated throughout, by example, to be Tao itself. That awareness and intuition can be identified with this interplay is a repeating metaphor, made explicit here. While the original likely intended this metaphor to be clear by context and implication, the contemporary reader will appreciate the reminders of this metaphor given here as an aid to recognizing it. The work as a whole metaphorically demonstrates that awareness, when cultivated, reveals Tao and its practical significance to the intuitive. What truer purpose can there be, in poetry and life, than comprehension of the world?

Tao of Thanks


Tao given as Tao isn’t Tao Eternal
Name given a name isn’t Name Eternal
Unformed is the name of the beginning of the spiritual and the physical
Formed is the name of the Mother of countless objects
Desire, eternally unformed, alone presents the real
Desire, eternally formed, presents the given
The two emerge together yet are given different names
The dark is given form
In the dark within the dark lies the threshold of awareness


When the world views beauty as beauty, the ugly arises
When it views sensible as sensible, the insensible arises
So being and nothingness create one another
Complex and simple invoke one another
Long and short reveal one another
Lofty and lowly sustain one another
Instrument and song harmonize one another
Front and back follow one another
So the intuitive acts with detachment
Demonstrating reserve
Interacting with the countless objects without taking control
Creating without possession
Affecting without presumption
Work is done
Then forgotten
So it lasts forever


Praise winners and provoke squabbling
Hoard rare treasures and invite theft
Show off and addle hearts
Rather, the intuitive rules by emptying hearts
Filling bellies
Softening ambitions
Hardening bones
Leaving no room for greed and cleverness
Being uncontrived
So schemers won’t meddle
Nothing then runs amok


Tao is empty
So vast that it can never be full
Though its calling is to yield all the countless objects
Tempering the sharp
Unraveling the knot
Softening the glare
Leaving all as dust
So ineffable that none can imagine how it came to be
The leaders of people are heirs to its vision


Reality — spiritual and physical — is brutal
In recognizing all the countless objects as contrived
The intuitive, too, is brutal
In recognizing people, no matter how ingratiating, as contrived
Isn’t the space between soul and body a kind of pump?
Empty while idle, yet inexhaustible, its motion is what fills
Failure is a matter, largely, of words
Nothing compares to holding onto nothing


The eternal Spirit of the valley is the Mother
Her entry is the root of the spiritual and the physical
Its continuous flow is almost too subtle to feel
Call on it, for it’s inexhaustible


The spiritual and the physical are eternal
For they don’t exist for themselves
So they last forever
That’s why the intuitive starts behind yet finishes ahead
Faces exposure yet thrives
Abides selflessly yet achieves


Like water, common sense readily vitalizes the countless objects
Like Tao, it abides places repugnant to people
Securely dwelling
Deeply feeling
Kindly giving
Frankly speaking
Thoughtfully leading
Capably acting
Timely moving
It can’t be at fault since it doesn’t compete


Too much pouring into a cup leaves too much spillage
Too much sharpening a blade leaves too quick dullness
Too much collecting valuables leaves too many vulnerable
Too much wealth and status leaves too much arrogance and decadence
Achieve results, reap acknowledgements, and rest
That’s the Spirit of Tao


Can one steadying the soul and embracing Oneness go on without ceasing?
Can one concentrating with vitality and detachment be like a newborn?
Can one cleansing the worldly perspective be without flaw?
Can one loving and ruling the nation be uncontrived?
Can one opening and closing Spirit’s entry hold to the feminine?
Can one comprehending the four winds be without sophistication?
Birthing and nurturing
Bearing without possessing
Achieving without swaggering
Raising without domineering
This is common sense


Thirty spokes meet at a hub
Whose emptiness makes the wheel
Molded clay takes on a form
Whose emptiness makes the vessel
Doors and windows admit to a structure
Whose emptiness makes the room
As from what is comes profit
From what isn’t comes enablement


Clashing colors blind the eyes
Clashing sounds deafen the ears
Clashing flavors dull the tongue
Clashing wills harden the heart
Clashing over rare valuables invites violence
That’s why the intuitive tends the belly rather than the eyes
Giving up the one for the other


Distinction and disgrace breed fear
We breed our own adversity
How do distinction and disgrace breed fear?
Their height and depth is gained and lost
Depending on them is fearsome
How do we breed our own adversity?
Existence is gained and lost
If we didn’t exist, what adversity would we have?
The world is given to those who value existence
The world can trust those who love it


Look at what can’t be seen, known as the obscure
Listen to what can’t be heard, known as the silent
Reach for what can’t be held, known as the unassailable
These three can’t be distinguished, so they’re united in Oneness
Neither lit from above nor dark from beneath
Is what unforms forever and transforms to nothingness, known as the unnameable
Is what forms the vision of the ineffable, known as awareness
Neither encountered from ahead nor followed from behind
Tao as it was in the beginning enables today’s existence
Intimacy with the beginning is Tao itself


In the beginning, the adept of Tao would be awareness itself
Obscure as the depth of a surface
Uncertain as the freezing of a crossed river
Cautious as the fear of being surrounded
Grave as the acceptance of an invitation
Unhindered as the melting of ice
Simplified as the uncutting of a block
Open as the entry of a valley
Murky as the muddying of water
Who’s muddled yet unclouded in the clarifying stillness?
Who’s stable yet ever changing in its suspended motion?
Whoever takes this Tao fain wouldn’t be filled
Not being filled, one can tend what is without creating what isn’t


Attaining utter emptiness
Tending open acceptance
I’m unaffectedly aware of the countless objects as they act and return
Everything arises, flourishes, and returns to its source
Acceptance is returning to Nature
The steady promotes clear vision
The unsteady promotes destruction
Steadiness is accepting
Acceptance is fair
Fair are Spirit’s rule and Tao Eternal
The self no longer exists and is everlasting


The truest leader is one people don’t realize is leading
Next is one people thank and praise
Next is one people fear
Next is one people pick apart
A leader who doesn’t trust enough need not be trusted
Let proceedings be tranquil, speeches reserved, jobs well done, disputes resolved
And people collectively say
“We made it happen ”


As the great Tao fades from awareness
Kindness and justice appear
Intelligence arises
Deception flourishes
Relationships are strained
Devotion and passion are praised
Disarray and confusion consume whole nations
And qualified specialists weigh in


Give up wisdom, abandon knowledge, and people are a hundred times better off
Give up kindness, abandon squareness, and people return to trust and compassion
Give up cleverness, abandon profit, and scams and thieves are no more
These three are but the shadow of an intuition
To cultivate the simple and come across as plain
To temper desire and act selflessly


Learn no more, and bring worry to an end:
What’s the difference between sanctimony and impudence?
What’s the difference between sense and nonsense?
How limiting and base if what people reject I also can’t accept
While they excite themselves
As though enjoying a splendid feast
As though in springtime climbing to terraces
I alone am reserved and detached
Like a newborn who doesn’t yet smile
Like a weary traveler with nowhere to return
While they all have extra I alone seem lacking
I’m just a dazed fool at heart
While they’re bright I alone am muddled
While they’re studious I alone am dumbfounded
Tranquil as the accepting sea or flailing as the boundless storm
Others each have a purpose
I alone am ignorant and uncouth, a rustic
I’m different
I adore the Mother’s nurture


Common sense clearly follows Tao
Yet Tao in the world is obscure, clearly unclear
So obscure and unclear as to contain image and substance
So deep as to contain awareness
Such awareness that’s entirely real and trusting
As it was in the beginning and abides today
Its name never forgotten, it’s clearly the source of all being
How to know the source?
By common sense


Give and be whole
Flex and be straight
Swing low and be filled
Accept weariness and be renewed
Have less and be supplied
Have more and be confused
By abiding in Oneness the intuitive serves as an example
Obvious by not being showy
Distinguished by not being presumptuous
Worthy by not being self-congratulatory
Enduring by not being loud
None can compete with those who don’t compete
The adage give and be whole is as it was in the beginning
Is it an empty slogan?
To give is to make space to be replenished in return


Reserve is natural
Gales and torrential downpours don’t last out the day
Reality — spiritual and physical — can’t express without ceasing
How can people?

To take Tao is Tao itself
To take sense is sense itself
To take loss is loss itself
Tao abides all who’d take it
Sense abides all who’d take it
Loss abides all who’d take it
One who doesn’t trust enough won’t be trusted


One sneaking on tiptoe can’t stand
One straddling an object can’t walk
One talking blue sky isn’t clear
One posturing boldly won’t last
One of Tao calls these things scraps or sore spots
So one of Tao would choose to not participate


What’s created without form
Birthed before the spiritual and the physical in silence and emptiness
Detached and unaffected, an endless cycle
Can be considered Mother of the world
Not knowing its name, I call it Tao
Not knowing its description, I call it Eternal
Eternal means time passes
Passing means receding
Receding means returning
That’s why Tao is Eternal
The spiritual is Eternal
The physical is Eternal
The leader, too, is Eternal
The world knows all four of these never end, as there’s always a leader

People follow the laws of the physical
The physical follows the laws of the spiritual
The spiritual follows the laws of Tao
Tao follows the laws of Nature


Heaviness founds lightness
Stillness controls motion
So the intuitive carrying heavy baggage keeps it close at hand the day long
Unconcerned with the call of sights that might otherwise have been seen
How could the owner of countless vehicles take it easy and act lightly?
One acting too lightly comes off one’s foundation
One moving too wildly goes out of control


Sensible traversal leaves no tracks
Sensible speech finds no faults
Sensible navigation takes no calculations
Sensible cabinetry needs no fasteners yet stands level
Sensible binding needs no cords yet remains snug

So the intuitive saves others, leaving none behind
Saves things, leaving nothing behind
This practice is following intuition
As a sensible person is the guide of an insensible person
So the insensible person is the duty of the sensible person
Those who don’t respect their guides and value their duties
May even be bright, but they’re awfully confused
This realization is the basis of awareness


Know the masculine but appreciate the feminine
Be the world’s life-stream, ever thankful, with the wonder of a newborn
Know the light but appreciate the dark
Be the world’s guidepost, ever steady, with the extent of all that is
Know the lofty but appreciate the humble
Be the world’s valley, ever replenished, with the simplicity of an uncut block
The block that’s cut to form something useful is used, by the intuitive, to lead
Such that nothing more need be cut


Whoever wants to rule the world will never take over
The world is the holy grail, not subject to rule
Trying to rule it is futile
Trying to hold it is losing
As all things either lead or follow, warm or chill, strengthen or weaken, have or take
So the intuitive shuns extremes, excesses, and arrogance


One who counsels the leader with Tao would seek no military dominance
Lest the same is done in return
Thorns take over the army’s encampment
Lean years follow war
One who leads with sense would achieve then rest
Never daring to grasp for dominance
Achieve without bravado, disdain, or arrogance
Achieve from necessity, not ascendency
What strengthens also ages
This is disharmony with Tao
Anything in disharmony with Tao soon passes


A military force is calamity’s tool, loathed by life
Those of Tao give it up
In peace, statesmen bolster the left
In war, they bolster the right
A weapon is destruction’s tool, not wielded by statesmen
May it be reserved for an emergency
Taken up then with peaceful detachment
And the victor received without praise
Those who take pleasure in killing are never satisfied

Celebratory functions are the mark of the left
Solemn functions are the mark of the right
The lieutenant stands to the left
The leader stands to the right
The ceremony is conducted like a funeral
As befits the casualties who officials of any worth would mourn
Victory in war calls for a funeral


Tao, ever intangible, simple but subtle, will never submit to the world
If leaders would accept just this, everything would arrange itself
The spiritual would be in harmony with the physical
A sweet dew would settle
People would be self-sufficient and need not be controlled
In the beginning, names are given
There are plenty of names
One need only know when to give it a rest
To know when to rest is to know wellness
Tao flows in the world like water flows in the river toward the sea


Intelligence is comprehension of others
Wisdom is comprehension of the self
Force is overcoming others
Power is overcoming the self
Resolve is knowing activity
Wealth is knowing rest
Endurance is remaining founded
Immortality is living beyond death


Tao flows in a broad sweep, both left and right
The countless objects depend on its boundless nurture
It achieves without taking credit
Sustaining them all without assuming control, desiring nothing
As if it’s inconsequential
Accepting them all and dominating none as they return to it
As if it’s consequential indeed
It is, because it doesn’t consider itself of consequence


Hold the vision and let things come
Accept them as harmless and harmony abides
Passersby stop for music and food
But Tao spoken by the tongue is flat and bland
Look at what can’t be seen
Listen to what can’t be heard
Call on what’s inexhaustible


What’s decreased must have been increased
What’s weakened must have been strengthened
What’s destroyed must have been created
What’s taken must have been given
This is known as subtle illumination
The soft and yielding overcome the hard and rigid
Fish don’t leave the deep
Weapons aren’t for display


Tao always refrains yet knows no limits
If the leaders would accept just this, everything would reshape itself to be empowered
Let them refrain, let unformed be their desires, and acceptance then steadies the world


Sense isn’t bragging
That’s why it makes sense
Nonsense isn’t enabling
That’s why it makes no sense
Sense needs no arrangement
Nonsense needs none either
Decency must be arranged
Justice must be arranged too
Conformity to convention must be arranged
If not by agreement then by force
When Tao is lost, decency remains
When decency is lost, morality remains
When morality is lost, justice remains
When justice is lost, convention remains
Convention is but the vestige of loyalty and sincerity, the beginning of disarray

One who makes arrangements fades like Tao’s flowers as darkness falls
That’s why the adept reaches the substance by penetrating the surface
Attends to the real by neglecting the flowers
Giving up the one for the other


In the beginning, all is Oneness
In Oneness the sky clears
In Oneness the physical bonds
In Oneness the spiritual inspires
In Oneness the valley is fertile
In Oneness the countless objects have the Creation
In Oneness the leaders of all domains are established
The beginning is now, all space and all time
Without clarity the sky would fall
Without bonding the physical would dissipate
Without inspiration the spiritual would fade
Without fertility the valley would wither
Without Creation the countless objects would never be
Without establishment the leaders would fall with their domains
The high is founded upon the low
Executives and nobles consider themselves orphaned, bereft, worthless
Isn’t that because they’re rooted in humility?
That’s why the greatest height is depth, why the crude rock is worth more than the smooth gem


Tao always returns
Tao always thanks
From what is come the world’s countless objects
From what isn’t comes what is


When the wise hear of Tao, they diligently practice it
When the average hear of Tao, they take it or leave it
When the foolish hear of Tao, they laugh out loud
Without that laughter, it wouldn’t be Tao
A proverb goes as follows:
What’s clearest seems like muddiness
What’s truest seems like falseness
What’s mildest seems like roughness
What’s loftiest seems like lowness
What’s finest seems like baseness
What’s broadest seems like narrowness
What’s common sense seems lifeless
What’s real substance seems pointless
Let the square be without corners
Let the achievement be finished late
Let the music have no sound
Let the vision have no form
Tao has no substance and no form
It gives most and finishes all


From Tao comes Oneness
From Oneness come the two
From the two come the three
From the three come the countless objects
Supported by yin and accepting of yang
They harmonize by cooperating
People would not be orphaned, bereft, or worthless
Yet leaders describe themselves in these terms

What seems like loss is gain
What seems like gain is loss
This is the lesson of Creation, of Oneness: that which is destructive is destroyed


The world’s gentlest things overcome its harshest things
What’s insubstantial penetrates what’s closed
That’s the lesson of detached action
The demonstration without words
Detached action has a value seldom equaled


Recognition or quality, which matters more?
Self or wealth, which counts more?
Increase or decrease, which hurts more?
Possession has its price
Fortune has its losses
Contentment is no disgrace
To know when to rest is to know true wellness
True wellness lasts forever


The truly fine seems base as it fails to falter
The truly full seems empty as it fails to run out
The truly linear seems crooked
The truly capable seems inept
The truly eloquent seems stumbling
Motion overcomes cold
Stillness overcomes heat
All things are arranged in clear acceptance


The world is given Tao
Machines till the soil
The world gives up on Tao
Machines are built for war
As there’s no crime more horrible than greed
No calamity more horrible than discontentment
No sin more horrible than jealousy
So to have enough of contentment is the true contentment


Know the physical, the entire world, without stepping past the threshold
Know the spiritual, and know Tao itself, without catching the view
The farther one goes, the less one knows
So the intuitive knows without going, identifies without viewing, and achieves without trying


In the pursuit of learning, each day there’s something to take down
In the pursuit of Tao, each day there’s something to give up
Give up and give up until there’s nothing but empty awareness
Abide in empty awareness until there’s nothing that can’t be done
Take up the whole world by never interfering
Those who interfere dish out more than they can take


The intuitive has no conceit
Others are what matters
Responding to the sensible with sense
Responding to the senseless, too, with sense
That’s the sense of sensibility
Responding to the faithful with faith
Responding to the faithless, too, with faith
That’s the sense of faith

The intuitive accepts the world
Awareness is what matters
People sense the intuitive, who tends them like children


Of those given life and death
Three in ten would take life
Three in ten would take death
Three in ten would pass obliviously through
That’s because they live indulgent lives
Then there are those sensible at living
In their travels, the rhinoceros and tiger are no menace
In their battles, the weapons are no harm
The rhinoceros finds nowhere to poke a horn
The tiger finds nowhere to strike a claw
The gunman finds nowhere to lodge a bullet
That’s because they find nowhere for death


Tao creates
Sense develops
Events shape
Reality perfects
Tao is respected
Sense is valued
Not by force but by everlasting Nature

So Tao creates and sense nurtures, matures, guides, protects
Developing but not possessing
Acting but not posturing
Caring but not domineering
This is known as common sense


The world has its beginning, the Mother
Knowing the Mother, we know her children
We know they cling to the Mother and live safe from harm

Close the mouth
Calm the surface
Live a whole life without striving
Open the mouth
Disturb the depth
Live a whole life without peace

Perceiving the details is clarifying
Keeping soft is strengthening
Taking the light, always returning to clarity, and avoiding the pitfalls of life
Is enduring


If I take the least bit of interest I can follow Tao Eternal
I can know where it abides and need not deviate
Tao is a broad, plain road
But people like side paths
While the courts become corrupted
The fields barren
The warehouses empty
The professionals ingratiating
Touting positions and ranks
Indulging in food and drink
Acquiring excessive wealth
This is known as robbery
It’s certainly not Tao


Deep roots can’t be torn out
Deep bonds can’t be shaken loose
Generations will ever celebrate them

Cultivate them in the self and know truth
Cultivate them in the family and know abundance
Cultivate them in the community and know permanence
Cultivate them in the nation and know prosperity
Cultivate them in the world and know reach

For that reason appreciate others as yourself
Appreciate their families as your family
Appreciate their communities as your community
Appreciate their nations as your nation
Appreciate their world as your world
How to know the world?
Through roots


Those of most sense are like newborns
Not stung by insects
Not clawed by wild beasts
Not carried off by birds of prey
The very bones flex, the very tendons stretch, yet the grip is firm
They need not know the union of the feminine and the masculine
Yet feel aroused thanks to utmost awareness
They might cry the entire day
Yet sound clear thanks to utmost harmony
To know harmony is to know permanence
To know constancy is to know clarity
To live fast is to be devitalized
To think hard is to be aggressive
To grow strong is to grow old
As Tao is harmonious
Anything in disharmony with Tao soon passes


Those who know don’t talk
Those who talk don’t know
Close the mouth
Calm the surface
Temper the sharp
Unravel the knot
Soften the glare
Leave all as dust
Abide in Oneness
None can take to hold close
None can take to send far
None can take to realize gain
None can take to realize loss
None can take for value
None can take for disposal
Which is why the world nurtures everyone


In ruling the nation with decency and fairness
And waging war with surprise tactics
Take the world by not interfering
How to know it can be done?
By these axioms:
Too many restrictions impoverish people
Too many weapons disarray people
Too much cleverness befuddles people
Too many laws mire people in scams and thieves
So the intuitive says:
I act with detachment, and people take care of themselves
I speak reservedly, and people correct themselves
I don’t interfere, and people think for themselves
I don’t have desires, and people simplify themselves


People with slack leaders are straightforward and honest
People with driven leaders are conniving and fake
Wealth depends upon the poverty that lurks beneath it
How will it end?
Nobody knows how the decent lose their minds, the admirable their hearts
As people have seen countless long, confusing days
So the intuitive squares without sawing
Points without piercing
Straightens without aligning
Shines without dazzling


In leading people or serving Spirit
To save is the key
The key is known as open acceptance
Open acceptance is known as closing on making sense
There’s no problem that one who makes sense can’t solve
One who can solve any problem knows no limits
Knowing no limits, one can take sure leadership
Sure leadership is the Mother of the lasting power known as deeply rooted and firmly founded
Tao gives longevity and steady vision


Leading a big nation is like cooking a little fish
When Tao is invited to world leadership the demonic is curbed
As the demonic is curbed, the godly is disarmed
As the godly is disarmed, so the intuitive is innocuous
People don’t hurt each other and sense returns


A populous nation is like a low-lying river
The world’s melting pot
Its feminine receptivity
The feminine overcomes the masculine through acceptance
Low-lying acceptance
If a populous nation lies lower than a provincial nation then it can take the provincial nation
If a provincial nation lies lower than a populous nation then it can be taken by the populous nation
Lying low enables the one to take and the other to be taken
As the one would take and tend people while the other would give and serve them
So both are given just what they’d take
So long as the populous one lies lower


Tao is awareness of all things
The wealth of the giving and the security of the taking
Words can earn people’s respect
Deeds can sustain them
How can those who take without giving be left behind?
So though dignitaries are seated at the leader’s inauguration
Though the offering of precious things is solemnly conducted
None of that compares to being seated in Tao
In the beginning, why would the adept so value Tao?
Is it not said that one who seeks shall find and one who sins is forgiven?
That’s why it’s the world’s best value


Act through not acting
Lead through not leading
Sense through not sensing
Expand through the trifling, multiply through dividing
Answer anger with sense
Arrange the difficult through the simple
Achieve the great through the small
The world’s complexities need be sorted out through simplicity
The world’s heroics need be built up through minutia
So throughout life the intuitive doesn’t try to achieve great deeds
And just achieves them
The more easily one commits, the less trust is earned
The more one takes it easy, the more difficulties are given
So throughout life the intuitive takes it difficult
And is given just the easy


What’s steady is easily tended
What’s latent is easily steadied
What’s weakened is easily shattered
What’s shattered is easily scattered
Address things in advance
Treat things while they’re treatable

A trunk one can embrace grows from but a tender sapling
A nine-storey structure is built from but a heap of materials
A journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet

The interfering fail and the clinging lose
So the intuitive won’t interfere or fail, won’t cling or lose
Others pursuing goals may fail just on the verge of success
They wouldn’t fail were they still treading as carefully as at the start
That’s why the intuitive desires no great desire
Values no lofty values
Learns to rather unlearn
Forgives people’s senselessness
Allows Nature to take its course
By daring to not interfere


In the beginning, the adept of Tao would apply it not for enlightening people
But let them be simple
Leadership is difficult when people are clever
Leadership that relies on cleverness is a robbery
Leadership that relies not on cleverness is a contribution
Knowing these opposites and keeping them in mind is known as common sense
Deep and broad common sense that flouts material profit achieves communion


A sea or river can rule a hundred valleys
It can rule because it has the sense to lie low
So it is with the intuitive
Who would be over people speaks humbly to them
Who would be ahead of people remains behind them
To the intuitive the heights are given and people don’t feel oppressed
The fore is given and the people don’t feel jealous
Who else would the world promote gladly and with thanks?
Competition is arranged by invitation


The entire world calls my Tao great — about as great as nothing
It sure is like nothing
If it was like something it would long since have ceased to matter
I have three treasures that I keep safe
The first is compassion
The second is economy
The third is daring to not be ahead in the world
Compassion enables courage
Economy enables a broad reach
Daring to not be ahead enables leadership
But courage without compassion
Broad reach without economy
Forging ahead without trailing behind
All lead to death
Those who fight with compassion win
Those who defend are secure
Spirit keeps them safe and with compassion protects them


The truest generals eschew war
The truest soldiers eschew fury
The truest victors eschew engagement
The truest leaders deprecate themselves
Not competing is known as sense
Empowering is known as leadership
Harmony with Spirit is the means of the Creation


Soldiers have a saying:
I’d rather be invited than arrange the invitation
I’d rather give a lot of ground than take a little portion

This is known as formation without form
Occupation without occupier
Attack without attacker
Arms without the armed

No adversity outweighs underestimating the enemy
I’ve thus risked my own treasure
So when even forces meet, the side that’s sorry wins


My simple words and simple methods
The world wouldn’t grasp and wouldn’t practice
My proven words and considered actions
People don’t grasp so don’t get me
Since few grasp me I’m treasured
So the intuitive wears what’s plain and holds what’s precious


To know that you don’t know is well
To not know but think you know is sick
One who’s sick of sickness isn’t sick
The intuitive isn’t sick
But by knowing sickness is well


Since rejecting authority provokes its strengthening
Don’t intrude into personal affairs or weary business matters
The leader who doesn’t weary won’t be wearied
That’s why the intuitive attains self-knowledge without self-glorification
Finds self-respect without self-congratulation
By rejecting the one for the other


Those so bold as to take dares are killed
Those so bold as to not take dares stay alive
Which of them is helpful?
Which does harm?
Which does Spirit disdain, and why?

The intuitive, like anyone, finds such questions tricky
In Spirit, Tao wins handily without competing
Answers clearly without speaking
Arrives timely without being summoned
Proceeds steadily without being planned
Spirit’s vast net is loose yet nothing slips through


When people don’t fear death
Who can be threatened?
When they’re trained to fear death
Who would dare be the outlaw that even I may jail and kill?
The executioner’s calling, like that of the craftsman, is given
To try cutting wood like the craftsman is to risk grave injury


People hunger once leaders start taxing them into starvation
They revolt after leaders have meddled them into uprising
People live with depression while leaders live large with inflation
Flouting death by not striving to live sure beats valuing living


The living body is soft and supple
At death it’s hard and rigid
The living grasses and trees are soft and bendable
At death they’re dry and breakable
Overall whatever is hard and stiff is devoted to death
While whatever is soft and yielding is devoted to life
Overall the army that doesn’t adapt doesn’t win
The tree that grows mighty is felled
The tough and forceful are hardly revered
The soft and supple just live


Tao is, in Spirit, like the effect of a bow being drawn
It lowers the lofty and raises the lowly
It takes surplus and gives to the lacking
That’s how Tao takes and gives
Yet people would have Tao give from the lacking to the surplusage
Who can give the world their surplus?
Only those of Tao
That’s why the intuitive acts without posturing
Achieves without taking credit
And makes no show of sensibility


There’s nothing softer or gentler, in Spirit, than water
Yet nothing better overcomes the hard and strong
Though everyone takes this, in Spirit, as essential knowledge
That the gentle overcomes the strong
That the soft overcomes the hard
They wouldn’t live by it
So the intuitive recognizes leadership
In one who takes responsibility for the people’s humiliation
And world leadership in one who takes responsibility for their adversity
Truth can seem like fantasy


In the wake of a bitter dispute
What sense can be made of the resentment that’s left?
For this, the intuitive upholds the terms of settlement without collecting
As anyone of grace would do
While the senseless make demands
Tao of the spiritual takes no sides
Yet it steadfastly provides for the graceful


The few people of some backwater nation mothball their weapons and equipment
They take death seriously
Avoid traveling far
Hardly need their boats and vehicles
Refrain from displays of defenses and arms
Would rather tie knots and make use of rope
Enjoy wholesome meals and plain garments
Find connectedness and ease in their homes and customs
Catch sight of one another as neighbors
Hear each others’ roosters and dogs
With grace and heartfelt thanks as they age and die


True words aren’t pretty
Pretty words aren’t true
Those who are sensible don’t argue
Those who argue aren’t sensible
Those who know haven’t much learning
Those of much learning don’t know
There’s no intuition in accumulation
The more one supports, the more one is supported
The more one gives, the more one gets
Tao of the spiritual benefits and doesn’t harm
Tao of the intuitive cooperates and doesn’t compete

Thanks always returns


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