from the Tao-Te Ching
The following are excerpts from the Tao-Te Ching, the
poetic treatise that is the basis of Taoist
philosophy. The paradox is that talking about the Tao, and
attempting to define the Tao, ensures that the speaker does
not actually grasp it. At its heart, the Tao is extra-verbal
in its nature, it is a matter of experience rather than definition.
The imagery used to describe it is one of emptiness and fullness,
liquidity, fluid change. The first stanza
brings up this point directly, claiming that if individuals
think they can put the Tao into words, they do not really understand
the Tao. The heart of Taoism lies in opposites, as stanza
two suggests. The truth isn't a matter of Yin and Yang being
opposites, in Taoist philosophy. It is a matter of what appears
to be two opposites actually composing a single unified whole.
Only human experience, as modified by language, artificially
divides the world into false dichotomies. Stanza
three links sociological problems to human desires.
Way that can be spoken of
not the constant Way;
name that can be named
not the constant name.
nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth;
named was the mother of the Ten Thousand Things.
always rid yourself of desires in order to observe
secrets of the Way.
always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its
two are the same
diverge in name as they issue forth.
the same they are called mysteries,
gateway of the manifold secrets.
The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful,
this is only the ugly;
whole world recognizes the good as the good,
this is only the bad.
Something and Nothing produce each other.
difficult and the easy complement each other;
long and the short offset each other;
high and the low incline toward each other;
and sound harmonize with each other;
and after follow each other.
the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action
practices the teaching that uses no words.
Ten Thousand Things rise from it yet it claims no authority.
gives them life yet claims no possession;
benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
accomplishes its task yet lays claim to no merit.
is because it lays claim to no merit
its merit never deserts it.
Not to honor men of worth will keep the people from squabbling;
not to value rare goods will keep them from stealing; not to
display that which is desirable will keep them from being frustrated.
in governing the people, the sage empties their minds but fills
their bellies, weakens their wills but strengthens their bones.
He always keeps them innocent of knowledge and free from desire,
and ensures that the clever never dare to act.
action by not taking action, and order will prevail.
The way is empty, yet use will not drain it.
it is like the ancestor of the Ten Thousand Things.
the sharp edges;
your wheels move only along old ruts.
visible, it only seems as if it were there.
know not whose son it is.
images the forefather of God.
Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the Ten Thousand Things
as straw dogs; the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as
straw dogs. 4
not the space between heaven and earth like a bellows?
is empty without being exhausted:
more it is squeezed the more comes out.
speech leads inevitably to silence.
to hold fast to the void.