Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Dao - The Way (Lao-Tzu)

Verses 1-3 of the Tao Te Ching, based on the Ma-Wang-Tui manuscript (168 BC) discovered in 1973.

The Dao is very simple, but words do not capture its nature.
The Dao is the Way, but the Way does not capture its power.
As for the Dao, the Way that can be told is not the constant Way.
As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the origin of the ten thousand things.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Therefore, those constantly not seeking it will come to realize its subtlety.
Those constantly desiring what they seek will see that which they desire and seek.
The nameless and the named emerge together.
They are called different things, but they bring forth the same.
What they share is more profound than the profound,
The gateway to all understanding.

When everyone in the world comes to know what is beautiful, ugliness is created.
When everyone in the world comes to know what is good, bad is created.
The mutual creation of being and non-being, of difficult and easy,
The mutual formation of long and short, of high and low,
The mutual harmony of idea and speech, of front and back —
These are all constants.
Therefore the master lives by doing without doing,
And he practices by teaching without words.
The ten thousand things arise, but he does not begin them.
He acts on their behalf, but they do not depend on him.
They accomplish his tasks and he lets them go.
And because he lets them go, they therefore do not leave him.

By not elevating the worthy, you avoid people competing.
By not valuing rare goods, you avoid people stealing.
By not showing off that which is desirable, you avoid people being distracted.
Therefore, to govern wisely, empty minds and fill bellies,
Weaken thirst for ambition and toughen bones of resolve.
If he can cause people to be without knowledge and without desire
And bring it about that those with knowledge dare not act,
Then there is nothing that will not be in order.


  1. Welcome, Ingrid!
    Notice the slightly Machiavellian tone of verse three, more so than the usual translation. This version dates a couple of hundred years before the well-known sources for the Tao Te Ching, and is slightly more fragmented, but otherwise exactly the same, so any differences are particularly interesting.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the differences.

  3. I think the later edition interpreted and clarified "those with knowledge dare not act" as meaning the master himself, having knowledge, must also "not act", hence we have yet another reason why he must "act without acting". LOL!

  4. Indeed Lee, the effortlessness of being in the zone as they say in sport. Or "do without doing and everything gets done".

  5. Verse one seems subtle and philosophical.
    Verse two clarifies it somewhat, describing the inherent oneness from which duality arises.
    Verse three seems practical, of how the wise should rule so as to avoid people being confused by this duality.

  6. More thoughts on verse one... I think the Way could be an allegory of how to live life, but it could also be the way to do anything or get somewhere. The named are like the signposts on the map, or the instructions in the instruction manual. They are the things we look out for and expect. The nameless are the unexpected, which we remain curious and open to, because it is out of the "space" of the nameless that the named arise.

    Suppose we arrive at a dark house late at night, and we have to find something in this house. We can do "named" things, like turn on all the lights, to help us find the object of our quest, but what if we don't know what our object is? We could still turn on lights and look around with a sense of curiosity. This might help. (Unless what we were looking for was "darkness", lol.) But how would we ever know if we'd found what we were looking for or not, if we don't know what it is we're looking for? That knowledge must somehow arise from some inner knowing... seemingly out of nothing?

    But that inner knowing itself has arisen in us through experience, so not really out of nothing. It has gradually shaped over time, just as the first primitive hammers would have been bits of rock, and using these primitive hammers, humans fashioned more precise hammers and so on, the finished product being the wonderful computer which we are now reading through a gradual progression of seemingly worthless hammering and shaping devices. The "source" would have been so primitive, it wouldn't even have been "named" a hammer, and yet without it, the whole sequence could not have started.

    But having said all that, Lao-Tzu doesn't seem to think much of knowledge from the third verse, which actually seems to divide the world into the rulers and the ruled, with knowledge only appropriate for the former.

  7. I've added a couple of initial lines to clarify verse 1... hopefully they help one make sense of it?

    The Dao is very simple, but words do not capture its nature.
    The Dao is the Way, but the Way does not capture its power.

  8. Another thought of the progression I was noting earlier from the philosophical to the practical.

    First verse: Dao of the Dao.
    Second verse: Dao of duality.
    Third verse: Dao of knowledge and desire.