Teachings from Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu

Eminent Taoist Sages of Over 2300 Years Ago

On this webpage I offer selections of teachings from two works: 1) the hugely influential old Taoist text, the Tao Te Ching (Pinyin: Dao De Jing), ascribed to legendary sage Lao Tzu (5th century BCE); and 2) the companion volume of ancient Taoist philosophy-psychology-spirituality, the Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi), attributed to another, more historical ancient sage of the same name (Chuang Tzu or Chuang Chou, c.370-286 BCE). See my overview essay on Taoism for background on these profound works, date-issues, and a bibliography of sources.

Excerpts from the Tao Te Ching

(These are my renderings of most of the 81 chapters from translations by Ellen Chen, Henry Wei, Wing-tsit Chan, Gia-fu Feng, Lin Yutang, Red Pine/Bill Porter, Chad Hansen, Stephen Mitchell, and others):

The Tao (Way/Reality) that can be told is not the eternal (ch’ang) Tao (or: the Way that becomes a “way” is not the true Way). The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The nameless (wu-ming) is the Origin of Heaven and Earth. The named is the Mother of all ten thousand things. Ever desireless, you realize/observe the hidden mystery/subtlety (miao). With desire, you see the manifestations (chiao). These two arise from the same source but differ in name. Their identical nature is a mystery (both are called profound dark [hsüan]). Where dark is darkest—the gateway to all wondrous mystery (miao). (1)

When people know some things as lovely, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad. (2)

The sage manages affairs without action (wu-wei), and imparts teaching without speech. Ten thousand things arise and he does not initiate them, they come to be and he claims no possession of them. He works without holding on, accomplishes without claiming merit. Because he does not claim merit, his merit does not go away. (2)

Do not honor the worthy, so that people will not contend with one another. Do not value hard-to-get objects, so that the people will not become thieves. Do not show off desirable objects, so that people’s minds/hearts do not get excited/disturbed. Therefore, when the sage rules, he empties people’s minds, fills their bellies (their cores), weakens their will/ambition, and strengthens their bones/resolve. He makes them guileless (wu-chih; without cunning knowledge) and desireless (wu-yü) so that the crafty don’t act. By acting without action (wu-wei), nothing is not in order. (3)

Tao is whirling emptiness (ch’ung), yet in use is inexhaustible (ying). Fathomless (yuan), it seems to be the ancestor/fount (tsung) of the ten thousand things…. It apparently precedes the Creator. (4)

… Much talk often leads to exhaustion. Better concentrate on the center (chung). (5)

The Valley Spirit (ku shen) never dies. This is called “fathomless female” (hsüan p’in). The channel of the fathomless female: This is called the basis of heaven and earth. Continuous! It seems to exist. Yet in use it is inexhaustible. (6)

The sage, putting himself behind/last, finds himself at forefront. He puts himself away, and yet always remains. (Or: he treats his person as if foreign to him, yet that person is preserved.) Is it not because he is selfless (wu szu), that he fulfills himself (has his ends realized)? (7)

The superior man (or: supreme good) is like water, whose goodness benefits all things without contention. Situated in (lowly) places disdained by others. This is why it is so like the Tao. In dwelling, value the earth. In heart-mind, value depth. In being-with, value kindness. In words, value reliability. In rectifying, value order. In social affairs, value ability. In action, value timing. Not competing, there’s no indiscretion/reproach. (8)

In bringing your spiritual (hun) and bodily (p’o or p’u) souls to embrace the One, can you never depart/deviate from it? In attuning your breath/vital force (ch’i) to induce softness/gentleness, can you be like an infant (ying erh)? In cleansing the mirror (lan) of the dark (hsüan) (profound insight), can you make it spotless? … In the opening and closing of heaven’s gate (t’ien men), can you be the female (tz’u)? In being all-comprehending / enlightened (ming), can you do it without knowledge? In loving the people and guiding the state, can you practice wu-wei? Giving birth yet not claiming possession, acting yet not holding on, leading yet not dominating, this is called dark/profound/secret virtue (yüan te). (10)

Clay is fashioned into a vessels; but it is on the empty hollowness (wu) that their use depends. Doors and windows are hewn out to make rooms; it is on the empty space that their use depends. Therefore, while being (yu-chih) is beneficial/profitable (li), it is non-being (wu-chih) that is truly useful (yun). (11)

Deeming I have a self is what makes it possible for me have trouble. And if I had no self, what trouble could I have? Surrender yourself humbly, then you can be trusted to care for all things; love the world as your own self, then you can truly care for all things. (13)

Look, it can’t be seen—it is dim (yi) beyond form. Listen, it can’t be heard—it is faint (hsi) beyond sound. Grasp, it can’t be held—it is intangibly small (wei)…. An unbroken thread beyond description. It returns to nothingness. The formless form, the imageless image. It is called illusive and evasive (hu-huang). Stand before it and there is no beginning. Follow it and there is no end. Stay with the ancient Tao to move in the now. Knowing the ancient beginning is the essential thread of Tao. (14)

Ancient masters of Tao were subtle, mysterious, dark, intuitive-penetrating (wei miao yüan t’ung), deep and unrecognizable…. Careful, like crossing a river in winter; … reverent, like being guests; dissolving (easy going), like ice beginning to melt; unaffected, like uncarved wood; open, like a valley; chaotic/obscure (hun), like murky water. Who can wait quietly while the mud settles to become clear? Who can remain still until the moment of action? Those who keep this Tao don’t want to be filled to the full (don’t want to go to the limit). Because they are not full (at the limit), they can renew themselves before being worn out. (15)

Get utterly emptied to the limit (hsü-chi), abide in genuine quietude (ching). All things come into being, I contemplate their return. They flourish, yet each one returns to its root. This return to the root is to attain quietude (ching). It is called to renew life (ming). To renew life is to attain the Eternal/Changeless (ch’ang). To know the Eternal is to be illumined (ming). Not knowing the Eternal brings disaster. Knowing the Eternal one is broad-minded/all-embracing (yung). Being broad-minded, one is impartial. Being impartial, one is kingly. Being kingly, one is like heaven/Divine. Being like heaven, one is like Tao. Being in accord with Tao, one is everlasting, imperishable even after the disappearance of the body. (16)

The best rulers are (merely, inconspicuously) known to the people. The next best are loved and praised. The next are feared. The next are despised/reviled. [For great, wise rulers:] task is accomplished, work completed. The people say it all happened naturally (tzu jan). (17)

On abandoning the Tao, there comes (self-conscious doctrines of) “humanity” and “righteousness.” And when cleverness and knowledge come, there is monstrous hypocrisy/artificiality. (18)

Terminate “sageliness,” junk “wisdom.” The people will benefit a hundred-fold…. Manifest plainness (“look to the undyed silk”), embrace simplicity (“take to the uncarved wood”), reduce selfishness (szu), and have few desires (). (19)

Abandon learning and vexation vanishes… Merrily, merrily the multitude rejoices…. I alone (tu) am bland, as if I have not yet emerged into form, like an infant who has not yet smiled, wandering aimlessly like a homeless one. The multitudes all have more than they need; I alone (tu) have nothing, my mind like that of a fool (), nebulous-indiscriminate. Worldly people appear bright and cheerful; I alone seem dark (hun). Worldly people appear sharp and clever; I alone am dull. I drift like the waves and blow like the winds, without destination. The multitudes all have their use/employment; I alone am rustic and worthless. I alone am different, for I treasure sustenance from (nursing at the breast of) the great Mother (mu). (20)

The greatest virtue is to follow Tao and Tao alone. Tao is elusive and intangible… yet within is image, … within is form. It is dim and dark, yet within it is essence. This essence is very real. How do I know the origin of creation? Because of Tao. (21)

Yield and overcome… empty and be full… have little and gain…. The sage embraces the One (pao i), and manifests it to (becomes exemplary to) all the world. He is free from self-display, thus he shines / is enlightened (ming); free from self-assertion, thus he is distinguished; free from boasting, thus his merit is acknowledged; free from self-complacency, thus he acquires superiority. Because he is free from striving, no one in the world can strive with him. (22)

When you don’t trust (hsin) enough, people are untrustworthy. (17, 23)

One who stands on tiptoe isn’t steady…. One who regards himself is not enlightened (ming). One who justifies himself isn’t outstanding. One who shows off his deeds isn’t meritorious. One who boasts of himself doesn’t lead. These, from the standpoint of Tao, are called: excess nature (yü te) and superfluous actions (shui hsing), detested by creatures. Thus, the Taoist (one of Tao) doesn’t indulge in them. (24)

There was something undefined and complete, existing before Heaven and Earth. How still it was and formless, standing alone (tu) (depending on nothing), and undergoing no change (pu kai), reaching-operating everywhere and in no danger of being exhausted (pu tai)! It may be regarded as the Mother of all things. I don’t know its name, I call it Tao. If forced to picture it, I say it is “Great” (ta). Now being great means functioning everywhere. Functioning everywhere means far-reaching. Being far-reaching means returning to original point. Therefore “Tao is great. Heaven is great. Earth is great. And the king is also great.”… Humans model earth / earth models heaven / heaven models Tao / and Tao models being what it is (natural, intrinsic becoming) (tzu jan). (25)

The sage takes care of all people, leaving no one unsaved; takes care of things, abandoning nothing. This is called following the light (ming). (27)

To know the male (strength), but to abide by the female (tz’u) (care), is to be the valley (ch’i) of the world (or: universal stream). Being the valley of the world, and departing not from the everlasting power (ch’ang te), one again returns to the infant (ying erh). To know the white (pe, the yang principle), but to abide by the black (heh, the yin), is to be exemplar for the world. Being exemplary, and deviating not from the everlasting power, one again returns to the unlimited (wu-chi). To know the illustrious, but to abide by the obscure, is to be the valley of the world. Being the valley of the world, one’s everlasting power being full, one again returns to the uncarved block (untouched nature, simplicity) (p’u)…. The great don’t cut (the uncarved nature). (28)

One who desires to take over the world and act on (improve) it—I see that this will fail. The world is a divine/spirit vessel (shen ch’i) that can’t be improved. Try to change it, you ruin it. Try to hold on, you lose it.… Thus, the sage drops over-doing, drops extravagances, drops extremes. (29)

One who assists the ruler with Tao doesn’t dominate the world with force…. The good person achieves results but dares not glory in them; achieves results, yet does not boast; achieves results, yet does not show off; achieves results, yet is not haughty; achieves results, because this is natural; achieves results, but not by violence. Force is followed by loss of strength. This is not the way of the Tao. That which goes against Tao comes to an early demise. (30)

Tao eternal is the nameless uncarved wood. Though appearing puny, nothing under heaven can subjugate it. If kings and nobles can abide by it, all creatures will gladly obey. Heaven and earth unite to drip sweet dew (send down sweet rain) to benefit all humanity graciously and evenly…. One must know when to rest; one who knows when to rest does not become exhausted. Tao differentiated in the world (will return to One), like streams and rivers flowing to the sea. (32)

Knowing (chih) others is knowledge (chih), knowing self is enlightenment (ming). One who conquers others has force, one who conquers self (tzu sheng) is strong/valiant (ch’iang). One who knows contentment is rich; one who perseveres has will power (chih). One who has not lost his proper abode endures (lasts long). To die but not to perish is to become immortal / eternally present. (33)

The great Tao floods over (is all-pervasive), to the left, to the right. The ten thousand things live by it, and it does not reject them. It silently accomplishes all work, and claims no credit. It enfolds and nourishes the ten thousand things but does not lord over them (claim ownership). Always without desire, it could be termed small, but as the ten thousand beings return (kuei) to it, and it does not lord over them, it may be called the Great. Since it never considers itself great, therefore it can accomplish the great. (34)

When there are music and dainty dishes, passersby stop. But a description of Tao seems so bland and tasteless! We look at Tao, it is imperceptible. We listen to it, it is inaudible. We use it, it is inexhaustible (its utility never ends). (35)

The soft overcomes the hard, the weak overcomes the strong. (36)

Eternal Tao does not act (wu wei), yet there’s nothing it does not do (erh wu pu wei). If kings and nobles can abide by it, the ten thousand things will reform by themselves (tzu hua). If after the reform they desire to be active, I shall calm them with Nameless Simplicity (p’u). The Nameless Simplicity will induce desirelessness (wu yü). Desirelessness will tend to quietude (ching). And the world shall be self-ordered (on the right course) (tzu ting). (37)

Superior virtue (te) is not virtue-conscious, therefore it has virtue. Inferior virtue never forgets/loses virtue, therefore it has no virtue. Superior virtue does not act/interfere, and has no motive to interfere. Inferior virtue interferes, and has a motive to interfere. Superior benevolence (jen) acts, yet without motive. Superior righteousness (i) acts, with motive. Superior propriety (li) acts, yet finding no response, lifts its arm and resorts to violence. Therefore, when Tao is lost, “virtue” appears; with the loss of virtue, “benevolence”; with the loss of benevolence, “righteousness”; with the loss of righteousness, “propriety” (ritual). Propriety is a mere veneer of loyalty and sincerity, the beginning of confusion…. Therefore, true heroes abide in the depth (the thick, substantial) and stay away from the shallow (thin). They abide by the fruit and stay away from the (showy) flower. They leave this and adopt that. (38)

Since antiquity, these attain the One: Heaven attains the One, thus is clear; Earth attains the One, thus is steady; Spirits attain the One, thus are divine; Valleys attain the One, thus are full/replenished; Creatures attain the One, flourish; Kings and nobles attain the One, are exemplary. All because of the One [the simple, humble Tao]…. Thus, the exalted is rooted in the humble, the high founded on the low. Therefore, (true) kings and nobles call themselves orphaned, widowed and unworthy. Isn’t this taking the humble for the root? … Rather than tinkle like polished jade, rumble like the rocks. (39)

Returning (fan) is Tao’s movement (tung). Yielding (jo) is Tao’s function (yung). The ten thousand things derive from Being (yu). Being derives from Non-Being (wu). (40)

When the highest person (shan shih) hears Tao, he ardently practices it. When a middling person (chung shih) hears Tao, he half believes it. When an inferior person (hsia shih) hears Tao, he scornfully roars. If Tao were not laughed at, it wouldn’t be Tao. Therefore, old proverbs (chien yen) say: “The illuminating (ming) Tao appears dark, the advancing Tao appears retreating, the level Tao appears uneven. High (shan, mountain) virtue appears empty like a valley, great purity appears spotted, expansive te/virtue appears insufficient, well-established te appears weak, genuine substance appears hollow. Vast space is devoid of corners, … high voice has hardly any sound, great image is signless. Tao is hidden and nameless. Yet it is Tao alone that excels in providing for all and bringing them to fulfillment-perfection. (41)

Tao births One, One births two (yin and yang), two gives birth to three, and three give birth to the ten thousand things. The ten thousand things carry yin on back and embrace yang on front, blending these two vital breaths (ch’i) to attain harmony (ho)…. What others teach, I also teach: “The strong and violent do not die a natural death.” This I hold as my chief (fatherly) teaching. (42)

The softest (chih jou) in the world overcome the hardest [e.g., water wearing down rock]. Non-being penetrates even the crackless. Hence I know the benefit of non-action (wu-wei). The teaching without words, the beneficial virtue of no-action, are understood by few. (43)

Great perfection appears lacking, its use is unending. Great fullness appears empty, its use is inexhaustible. (45)

No sin is greater than yielding to desires; no misfortune greater than not knowing contentment; no fault greater than hankering after wealth. He who is contented with contentment is always content. (46)

Without going out of doors, you may know the world. Without looking out the window, you may know the Tao of Heaven. The farther you go, the less you know. Thus, the sage knows without going out, discerns without looking, and works without doing (wu wei). (47)

In pursuing learning, one increases day by day; in cultivating Tao, one reduces/decreases day by day. Reduce and reduce and keep on reducing, until non-action (wu wei) is reached. No action is undertaken (nothing is done), yet nothing is left undone. The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It can’t be ruled by meddling. (48)

The sage has no mind of his own; he is aware of the needs of others. I am good to those who are good; I am good to those who are not good. Thus goodness is attained. I am honest (sincere, trustworthy) to those who are honest; I am also honest to those who are not honest; thus honesty is attained. The sage, in the governing of his empire, has no subjective (fixed) viewpoint. His mind forms a harmonious whole with that of his people. (49)

All arise from Tao, are nourished by Te (Virtue), formed by matter, shaped by environment.… Creating without claiming, doing without taking credit, guiding without lording over, this is called dark/primal virtue (te). (51)

The origin (shih) of the world is the mother (mu) of all things. Knowing the mother (Tao), we know her children (things). Having known the children, return and abide by the mother, and you survive the disappearance of the body. Close the mouth, shut the doors (of cunning and desire), and life will be full. Open the mouth, meddle with affairs, and life is beyond salvation. To see the small is illumination (ming). Yielding to force is called strength. Use the bright light (kuang), but return to the dim light (ming) (use the outer light to return to insight), do not expose your life to perils. Such is to practice the eternal. (52)

The great Way (Tao) is very easy and plain. Yet people prefer (complicated) bypaths…. To accumulate wealth and treasures in excess, this is called robbery and crime. This is not to follow Tao. (53)

One who contains te (virtue) in fullness is to be compared to an infant (supple and strong)…. Such is the perfection of its life-force (ching), … such is the perfection of its harmony (ho). To know harmony is to accord with the eternal; to know the eternal is to be illumined (ming). (55)

One who knows does not speak. One who speaks does not know. Shut the mouth, close the door (of the senses), blunt the sharp, untie the entangled, harmonize the bright, merge with the dust. This is mystic identity / primal union (hsüan t’ung). Such a sage is unconcerned with “friends” or “enemies,” benefit, harm, honor or disgrace. Such a person is thus the exalted/honored of the world. (56)

The sage says: I do not act, hence the people reform by themselves (tzu-hua). I love tranquility, hence the people are normal/upright by themselves (tzu-cheng). I have no business, hence the people grow rich by themselves. I have no desires, hence the people are like the uncarved wood (simple and innocent) by themselves (tzu-p’u). (57)

The sage … has a high sense of integrity, but is not offensive to people. He is upright and straightforward, but does not push people around. He is bright and brilliant, but does not outshine people. (58)

To all beings, Tao is the hidden secret (ao); to the good persons it is their secret treasure (pao); to the bad it gives protection (pao)…. Why should any of them be discarded? (62)

Act without action, do without ado. Taste without tasting (or: taste the tasteless). Regard small as great, little as much. Requite injury with virtue. Prepare for the difficult while it is still easy; deal with the big while it is still small…. Therefore, the sage never strives for the great, and thereby the great is achieved. (63)

A journey of one thousand miles begins right at one’s feet (or: with one step). He who acts fails; he who holds on loses. Therefore, the sage does not act so he does not fail. He does not hold on, so he does not lose…. Thus, the sage desires what is not desired (by others), and does not treasure hard-to-get goods; he learns what is unlearned by others (or: he learns to be unlearned), and returns to what the multitude has missed (the Tao). He assists the natural self-becoming (tzu-jan) trend of things, but does not act/tamper/interfere (wei) with it. (64)

Primal virtue is deep and far. It leads all back to the great Oneness. (65)

That rivers and seas can be kings of all valleys is because they are good at staying lowly…. If the sage would guide people, he must serve with humility. In order to lead people, he must follow behind them. Thus, the sage rules, yet people don’t feel oppressed; he places himself in front of them and they don’t harm him. The world rejoices in praising him without tiring of it (or him). It is precisely because he does not compete that the world cannot compete with him. (66)

All under heaven say my Tao is great…. I have three treasures: first, compassion/motherly love (tz’u), second, frugality, third, daring not to be at the world’s front. With compassion, one can be courageous. With frugality, one can be generous. Daring not be at the world’s front, one can grow to a full vessel (ch’i) of leadership. (67)

A good warrior is not warlike; a good fighter doesn’t get angry; a good conqueror doesn’t instigate combat; a good employer of people humbly puts himself below them. This is called the virtue of non-contention. This is called using the strength of others. It is also called harmony with Heaven’s Eternal Supreme Will. (68)

My words are very easy to understand (i-ching), very easy to put into practice (i-hsing). But no worldlings understand them, no one puts them into practice. My teaching has an ancient source, my practices have a ruling principle. As people are ignorant of this, so they fail to understand me. When those who understand me are few, then I am distinguished indeed. Thus the sage wears coarse clothing while carrying the jade jewel in his breast. (70)

To know that you do not know is the best. To pretend to know when you do not know is a disease. Only when one recognizes this disease as a disease can one be free from the disease. The sage is free from this disease. (71)

The sage knows himself (tzu chih) but does not show himself (tzu chien). He loves himself (tzu ai) but does not exalt himself (tzu kuei). He leaves that and adopts this. (72)

Who knows why Heaven doesn’t favor some things (dislikes what it dislikes)? Even the sage considers this a difficult question. The Way of Heaven … is not anxious about things and yet it plans well. (73)

One who has nothing to pursue in life is wiser even than one who values life. (Or: It is only those who don’t seek after life that excel in making life valuable.) (75)

At birth one is soft (jou) and yielding (jo), at death hard and unyielding. All beings, grass and trees, when alive, are soft and bending, when dead, dry and brittle. Thus, the hard and unyielding are companions of death, the soft and yielding are companions of life. (76)

The Tao of Heaven is like the bending of a bow. What is high is brought low, what is low is pulled up. What is superfluous is taken off; what is deficient is strengthened. The Tao of Heaven takes from what has a surplus to supply what has a deficit. The way of men acts differently. It takes from what has a deficit to serve what has a surplus. Who will use his surplus to serve the world? Only the man of Tao. Therefore, the sage acts, but doesn’t hold on (to the result). He accomplishes his task without claiming credit. He has no desire to display his excellence. (77)

Nothing under heaven is softer and more yielding than water, yet nothing can compare with it in attacking the hard and strong…. Everyone knows the yielding overcomes the strong, and soft overcomes hard, yet no one puts it into practice. (78)

True words (hsin yen) don’t sound sweet; sweet words aren’t truthful. Good men don’t argue; those who argue aren’t good. One who knows doesn’t accumulate knowledge; people with accumulated knowledge don’t know. The sage does not hoard. The more he serves the people, the more he gains. The more he gives to people, the more he possesses. The Way of Heaven is to benefit, but not injure. The way of the sage is to act/work, but not contend. (81)

Excerpts from the Chuang-tzu:

(I primarily draw on the respected 1891 translation by James Legge as slightly modified by editor Clae Waltham in Chuang Tzu: Genius of the Absurd, Ace Books, 1971; in some places I utilize a more recent translation by Burton Watson, Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, NY: Columbia Univ. Press, rev. ed., 1996. I present the first seven “inner chapters” of the Chuang Tzu, as our first historical editor of the text, the neo-Taoist Kuo Hsiang [d.312 CE] calls them. He had selected out 33 sections from the 52 sections available to him—some evidently suspect to him in authenticity. These seven inner chapters, as Watson states, “contain all the important ideas, are written in a brilliant and distinctive—though difficult—style, and are probably the earliest in date…. Whether they are the work of the man called Chuang Chou we do not know, but they are certainly in the main the product of a superbly keen and original mind. The remainder of the Chuang Tzu is a mixture, sections of which may be as old—they are at times almost as brilliant—as the ‘inner chapters,’ [and] sections of which may date from as late as the third or fourth centuries A.D.” [p. 16] Watson in his Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings also includes translations of sections 17, 18, 19, and 26 as worthwhile, so I, too, have included here Legge’s—and in some passages Watson’s—translation of excerpts from these additional sections.)


The perfect man [Taoist sage] has no thought of self; the spirit-like man, none of merit; the sagely-minded man, none of fame. (i.3) (Watson notes: these are “not three different categories but three names for the same thing.”)

What is there in uselessness to cause you distress? (i.7)

Great knowledge (understanding) is wide and comprehensive; small knowledge is partial and restricted. Great words are clear and limpid; little words are shrill and quarrelsome. (ii.2)

Joy, anger, grief, delight, worry, regret, fickleness, inflexibility, modesty, willfulness, candor, insolence... mushrooms springing up in dampness, day and night replacing each other before us, and no one knows where they sprout from. Let it be! Let it be! ... I do not know what makes them the way they are. It would seem as though they have some True Master, and yet I find no trace of him. He can act—that is certain. Yet I cannot see his form. He has identity but no form. The hundred [bodily] joints, the nine openings, the six organs, all come together and exist here [as my body]. But which part should I feel closest to? ... If they are all servants, how can they keep order among themselves? ... It would seem as though there must be some True Lord among them. But whether I succeed in discovering his identity or not, it neither adds to nor detracts from his Truth. (ii.2) [Cf. the Hindu Vedanta's Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, which intuitively points back to “the Unseen Seer of seeing, ... the Unthought Thinker of thinking...”]

As soon as one finds the pivot of the Tao, one stands in the center of the ring of thought where one can respond without end to the changing views, without end to those affirming and without end to those denying (“this or that,” “right or wrong”). Therefore, I say, ‘There is nothing like the proper light of the mind.’” (ii.3)

Everything has its inherent character and its proper capability. This being so, if we take a stalk of grain and a large pillar, a loathsome leper and a beauty like Hsi Shih, they may in the light of the Tao be reduced to the same category (or: the Tao makes them all into one).... Only the man of far-reaching vision knows how to make them into one.... This is called the Tao/Way.... The torch of chaos and doubt—this is what the sage steers by [allowing life to be what it is, without imposing categories of thought]. So he does not use things but relegates all to the constant. This is what it means to use clarity. (ii.4-5)

Heaven, earth, and I were produced together and all things and I are one. Since they are one, can there be speech about them? But since they are spoken of as one, must there not be room for speech? One and speech are two, two and one are three. Going on from this in our enumeration [of principles], the most skillful reckoner cannot reach the end of the necessary numbers…. From nonexistence we proceed to existence, until we arrive at three, proceeding from existence to existence, to how many should we reach? Let us abjure such procedure and simply rest here. (ii.6)

The great Tao does not admit of being praised. The great argument does not require words. Great benevolence is not officiously benevolent. Great disinterestedness (modesty) does not vaunt its humility. Great courage is not seen in stubborn bravery. The Tao that is displayed (or “made clear”) is not the Tao…. Therefore, the knowledge that stops at what it does not know is the greatest. Who knows the argument that needs no words, and the Way that is not to be trodden (the Way that is not a way)? (ii.7)

How do you know that when I say ‘I know it [the Tao]’ I really am showing that I do not know it? And that when I say ‘I do not know it’ I really am showing that I do know it? (ii.8)

The perfect man is spirit-like (god-like). Great swampy lakes might be boiling about him and he would not feel their heat; the Ho and the Han rivers might be frozen up and he would not feel the cold; the hurrying thunderbolts might split the mountains and the wind shake the ocean without being able to make him afraid. Being such, he mounts on the clouds and mist, rides on the sun and moon, and rambles at ease beyond the four seas. Neither death nor life makes any change in him, and how much less should the considerations of advantage and injury (profit and loss) do so! (ii.8)

Chang Wu-tzu said: The sage leans on the sun and moon, tucks the universe under his arm, merges himself with things, leaves the confusion and muddle as it is (or: he keeps his mouth shut and puts aside questions that are uncertain and dark), making his inferior capacities unite with him in honoring the One Lord. Men in general bustle about and toil. The sagely man seems stupid and to know nothing. He takes part in ten thousand ages and achieves simplicity in oneness. For him, all the ten thousand things are what they are, and thus they enfold each other. (ii.9)

[Chang Wu-tzu:] How do I know that the attachment to life is not a delusion? That the dislike of death is not like a youth's losing his way and not knowing that he is really going home? … How do I know that the dead do not repent of their former craving for life? (ii.9)

[Chang Wu-tzu:] Those who dream of the pleasures of drinking may in the morning wail and weep; those who dream of wailing and weeping may in the morning be [happily] going out to hunt. When they were dreaming they did not know it was a dream; in their dream they may even have tried to interpret it; but when they awoke they knew that it was a dream. And there is the great awaking after which we shall know that this life was a great dream. All the while the stupid think they are awake and with nice discrimination insist on their knowledge, now playing the part of rulers, now of grooms…. Confucius and you are both dreaming. I who say that you are dreaming am dreaming myself. These words seem very strange…. (ii.9)

[Chang Wu-tzu:] Suppose you and I have had an argument…. Is the one of us right and the other wrong? Are we both right or both wrong? … Harmonize them all [all viewpoints] with the Heavenly Equality, leave them to their endless changes, and so live out your years.… Forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home. (ii.10)

Once, I, Chuang Chou, dreamed that I was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and flying about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He did not know that he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly, I awoke and was myself again, the veritable Chou. But I did not know whether it had formerly been Chou dreaming that he was a butterfly, or it was now a butterfly dreaming that it was Chou. Yet between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (ii.11)

There should not be the practice of what is good with any thought of the fame that it will bring… (iii.1)

Quiet acquiescence in what happens at its proper [destined] time and quietly submitting to its ceasing afford no occasion for grief or for joy. (iii.4)

Virtue is dissipated in the pursuit of the name for it…. In pursuit of the name, men overthrow one another; wisdom becomes [for them] a weapon of contention. (iv.1)

[Yen Hui, Confucius’ favorite disciple, went to see Confucius and asked permission to take a trip to Wei to assist the ruler. After listening to him for a while, Confucius (in Chuang Tzu’s telling of the tale) instructed him:] “Goodness! ... You have too many policies and plans and you haven't seen what is needed.” “May I ask the proper way?” Confucius instructed Yen Hui: “You must fast.... fasting of the mind.... Maintain a perfect unity in every movement of your will. You will not wait for the hearing of your mind, but for the hearing of the spirit. Let the hearing of the ears rest with the ears. Let the mind rest in the verification of the rightness of what is in the will. But the spirit is free (empty) from all preoccupation and so waits for the appearance of things. Where the proper course is, there is freedom from all preoccupation; such freedom (emptiness) is the fasting of the mind.... That's all there is to it. Now I will tell you. You may go and play in his bird cage, but never be moved by fame. If he listens, then sing; if not, keep still. Have no gate, no opening, but make oneness your house and live with what cannot be avoided.... In acting after the manner of men, it is easy to fall into hypocrisy. In acting after the manner of Heaven, it is difficult to play the hypocrite.... The spiritual intelligences (gods and spirits) will come and take up their dwelling with us, and how much more will other men do so! All things thus undergo a transforming influence.” (iv.2)

[Chuang Tzu has Confucius telling Tzu-Kao, the duke of Sheh, that the two greatest social decrees are for a son to love his parents and a subject to loyally serve his ruler.] And to serve your own mind so that sadness or joy do not sway or move it; to understand what you can do nothing about and to be content with it as with fate—this is the perfection of virtue…. The best thing you can do is to be prepared to sacrifice your life, and this is the most difficult thing to do. (iv.4)

[After telling stories of certain grand old trees that were spared the axe because their unique form made them “useless” for building coffins or boats or pillars, Chuang Tzu states:] All men know the advantage of being useful; but no one knows the advantage of being useless. (iv.9)

[Of a certain sage:] He is entirely occupied with his proper self. By his knowledge he has discovered the nature of his mind, and to that he holds as what is unchangeable. (v.1)

Men do not look into running water as a mirror, but into still water. It is only the still water [a still mind] that can arrest and keep them in the contemplation of their real selves. (v.1)

The sagely man lays no plans (hatches no schemes); of what use would knowledge be to him? He has no cutting and hacking to do, of what use would glue be to him? He has lost nothing, of what use would arts of intercourse (and favors) be to him? He has no goods to dispose of, what need has he to play the (peddling) merchant? … Since he receives this food from Heaven, what need has he for anything of man’s devising? He has the bodily form of man but not the passions and desires of other men. (v.5)

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, “Can a man indeed be without desires and passions?” The reply: “He can…. The Tao gives him his personal appearance and powers; Heaven gives him his bodily form; should we not call him a man?” Hui Tzu rejoined, “Since you call him a man, how can he be without passions and desires?” The reply: “… What I mean when I say that he is without these is that this man does not allow his likings and dislikings to get in and do him harm; he always pursues his course without effort and does not try to increase his store of life.” (v.5)

There must first be a True (perfect, sagely) man before there can be true knowledge. (vi.1)

The true men of old … did not seek to accomplish their ends like heroes before others; they did not lay plans to attain those ends…. They had no self-complacency. Being such, they could ascend the loftiest heights without fear; … they could go into fire without being burnt. So it was that by their knowledge they ascended to and reached the Tao. The true men of old did not dream when they slept, had no anxiety when they awoke, and did not care that their food should be pleasant. Their breathing came deep and silently. The breathing of the true man comes from his heels, while men generally breathe only from their throats…. Where lusts and desires are deep, the springs of the heavenly are shallow. The true men of old knew nothing of the attachment to life or of the hatred of death. Entrance into life occasioned no joy; exit from it awakened no resistance (they emerged without delight and went back in without a fuss). Composedly, they came and went. They did not forgot what their beginning had been, and they did not inquire into what their end would be. They accepted life and rejoiced in it; they forgot all fear of death and returned to their state before life. Thus there was in them what is called the want of any mind to resist the Tao, and attempts by means of the human to assist the Heavenly. Such were they who are called the true men. Their minds were free from all thought; their demeanor was still and unmoved; their foreheads beamed simplicity. (vi.2-3)

He to whom profit and injury are not the same is not a superior man. (vi.3)

The true men of old judged others aright, but without being partisans…. Their humility was evident, but there was nothing of unreality or display about it. Their placidity and satisfaction had the appearance of joy; their every movement seemed to be a necessity to them. (vi.4)

[The sage's] being one was one and his not being one was one. In being one, he was acting as a companion of Heaven. In not being one, he was acting as a companion of man. When man and Heaven do not defeat each other, then we may be said to have the True Man (Sage). Death and life are ordained, just as we have the constant succession of night and day—and in both cases from heaven. Men have no power to do anything in reference to them; such is the constitution of things. (vi.5)

When men praise [sagely ancient emperor] Yao and condemn [tyrant] Chieh, it would be better to forget them both and seek the renovation of the Tao. (vi.5)

The great mass of Nature (the Great Clod) burdens me with form, labors me with life, eases me in old age, and rests me in death. What makes my life good makes my death also good.... The sagely man enjoys himself in that from which there is no possibility of separation and by which all things are preserved. He considers early death or old age, his beginning and his ending all to be good. (vi.6)

This is the Tao: there is in It emotion and sincerity, but It does nothing and has no bodily form. It may be handed down by the teacher, but may not be received by his scholars. It may be apprehended by the mind, but It cannot be seen. It has Its roots and ground of existence in Itself (It is Its own source, Its own root). Before there were heaven and earth, from of old, there It was, securely existing. From It came the mysterious existences of spirits, from It the mysterious existence of God. It produced heaven; It produced earth. It was before the t’ai chi [primal ether out of which things were fashioned by interaction of yin and yang] and yet could not be considered deep…. It was earlier than the highest antiquity and yet could not be considered old…. [Various sages got it and thereby became great.] No one knows Its beginnings; no one knows Its end. (vi.7)

[Chuang Tzu speaks of one sage, Pu Liang who was, in his training, successively] able to banish from his mind all worldly matters… able to banish from his mind all thought of men and things… able to count his life as foreign to himself… able to see his own individuality… able to banish all thought of past or present…. Able to penetrate to the truth that there is no difference between life and death; that the destruction of life is not dying and the communication of life is not living (that which kills life does not die; that which gives life to life does not live). The Tao is that which accompanies all other things and meets them, that is present when they are overthrown and when they obtain their completion. Its name is Tranquility amidst all Disturbance (Peace-in-Strife). (vi.8)

When we have got what we are to do, there is the time of life in which to do it; when we lose that at death, submission is what is required. When we rest in what the time requires and manifest that submission, neither joy nor sorrow can find entrance to the mind. This would be what the ancients called loosing the cord (freeing of the bond) by which the life is suspended. But one hung up cannot loose himself; he is held fast by his bonds. (vi.9)

What has made my life good will make my death also good. (vi.10)

When we once understand that heaven and earth are a great melting-pot, and the Creator a great founder (a skilled blacksmith), where can we have to go to [by destiny] that shall not be right for us? We are born as from a quiet sleep, and we die to a calm awaking. (vi.10)

Take the case of me and you: Are we in a dream from which we have not begun to awake? … You do not know whether we who are now speaking are awake or in a dream. (vi.12)

When one rests in what has been arranged, and puts away all thought of the transformation, he is in unity with the mysterious Heaven (or: Be content to go along and forget about change and then you can enter the mysterious oneness of Heaven). (vi.12)

[Over a period of time, Yen Hui reported his spiritual progress to Confucius:] I have ceased to think of benevolence and righteousness. … I have lost all thought of ceremonies and music. [“Very well,” said Confucius (in Chuang Tzu’s telling of this tale), “but that is not enough.”] I sit and forget everything. My connection with the body and its parts is dissolved; my perceptive organs are discarded. Thus leaving my material form and bidding farewell to my knowledge, I am become one with the Great Pervader. This I call sitting and forgetting all things (tso wang). [Confucius said: “One with that Pervader, you are free from all likings, so transformed, you are become impermanent. You have, indeed, become superior to me! I must ask leave to follow in your steps.”] (vi.14)

[A nameless man told T’ien Ken, who was wondering “what should be done in order to carry on the government of the world”:] Let your mind find its enjoyment in pure simplicity; blend yourself with the primary space in idle indifference; allow all things to take their natural course; admit no personal or selfish consideration; do this and the world will be governed. (vii.3)

Wu-wei [“non-action,” not interfering with Tao’s spontaneous activity] makes its exemplifier [the Taoist sage] the lord of all fame. Wu wei serves him as the treasury of all plans. Wu wei fits him for the burden of all offices. Wu wei makes him the lord of all wisdom. The range of his action is inexhaustible, but there is nowhere any trace of his presence. He fulfills all that he has received from Heaven, but he does not see that he was the recipient of anything. A pure vacancy of all purpose is what characterizes him. When the perfect man employs his mind, it is a mirror. It conducts nothing and anticipates nothing. It responds to what is before it but does not retain it. Thus he is able to deal successfully with all things and injures none. (Watson translates this same passage as: Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven but do not think that you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all. The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror—going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing. Therefore he can win out over things and not hurt himself.) (vii.6)

The ruler of the Southern Ocean was Shu the Heedless, the ruler of the Northern Ocean was Hu the Sudden, and the ruler of the Center was Chaos. Shu and Hu were continually meeting in the land of Chaos, who treated them very well. They consulted together how they might repay his kindness, and said, “Men all have seven orifices for the purpose of seeing, hearing, eating and breathing, while this poor ruler alone has not one orifice. Let us try to make them for him.” Accordingly, they dug one orifice in him every day; at the end of seven days, Chaos died.” (vii.7)

[I daresay that those who fathom Chuang Tzu's dark-humored joke here have innerstood the essence of Taoism...]

[Here is Chuang Tzu’s allegorical telling of an encounter between a disciple of mediocre education meeting a great adept of the Tao: … the spirit-lord of the Yellow River at the time of the autumnal floods went racing eastward with the swollen river and came to the entry way out into the Northern Sea, and spoke with wonder to its spirit-lord, Jo:] “In the past, I heard men [Taoists] belittling the learning of Confucius and making light of the righteousness of King Po Yi, though I never believed them. Now, however, I have seen your unfathomable vastness. If I hadn’t come to your gate, I should have been in danger [of mediocrity].” Jo of the North Sea said: “You can’t discuss the ocean with a well frog; he is confined to the limits of his hole. You can’t discuss ice with a summer insect—he’s bound to a single season. You can’t discuss the Tao with a cramped scholar of limited views—he’s shackled by his doctrines. Now you have come out beyond your banks and borders and have seen the great sea—so you realize your own pettiness. From now on it will be possible to talk to you about the Great Principle.” (xvii.1)

Jo said: Men of great wisdom, looking at things far off or near, do not think them insignificant for being small nor much for being great—knowing how capacities differ. They have a clear understanding of past and present, and for that reason can spend a long time without finding it tedious or a short time without fretting about its shortness, knowing time never stops in its course. They perceive the nature of fullness and emptiness, not overjoyed by success nor disheartened by failure—knowing the inconstancy of man’s lot…. They are not overjoyed to live nor think it a calamity to die…. We must reckon what men know is not so much as what they do not know, and that the time since they were born is not so long as that which elapsed before they were born. Yet man takes something so small and tries to exhaust the dimensions of something so large! Hence he is muddled and confused … How do we know that the tip of a hair can be singled out as the measure of the smallest thing possible? Or that heaven and earth are sufficient to complete the dimensions of what is most large? (xvii.2)

Jo said: The great man does not harm others, but he does not plume himself on (makes no show of) his benevolence and kindness…. While not striving after property and wealth, he does not plume himself on declining them; while not borrowing the help of others to accomplish his affairs, he does not plume himself on supporting himself by his own strength. And he does not despise the greedy and base. His actions differ from those of the mob, but he makes no show of uniqueness or eccentricity. He is content to stay behind the crowd, but he does not despise those who run forward to flatter and fawn…. I have heard it said, “… The great man has no thought of self.” To the most perfect degree, he goes along with what has been allotted to him. (xvii.3)

Jo said: The life of things is like the hurrying and galloping along of a horse. With every movement there is a change; with every moment there is an alteration. What should you be doing? What should you not be doing? You have only to be allowing this course of natural transformations to be going on. (xvii.6) Jo said: He who understands the Tao … is tranquil equally in calamity and happiness…. It is said: the Heavenly is on the inside, the human is on the outside. Virtue resides in the Heavenly. Understand the actions of Heaven and man, base yourself upon Heaven, take your stand in virtue, and then, although you hasten or hold back, bend or stretch, you may return to the essential and speak of the ultimate…. Do not let what is human wipe out what is Heavenly; do not let what is purposeful wipe out what is fated; do not let [the desire for] gain lead you after fame. Be cautious, guard it, and do not lose it—this is what I mean by returning to the True (reverting to your true nature). (xvii.7)

Is there such a thing as perfect enjoyment (supreme happiness) in the world or not? … What the world of society honors is riches, dignities, longevity, and being deemed able. What it delights in is bodily rest, rich flavors, fine garments, beautiful colors, and pleasant music. It looks down on poverty, lowly condition, short life and being deemed feeble…. If people don’t get the wanted things, they are sorrowful and troubled. Their thoughts are all about the body. Are they not silly? … As to what common people do and what they find their happiness in, I don’t know whether the happiness is really happiness or not. I see them in their pursuit of it, racing around as though they couldn’t stop—they all say they’re happy with it. But what they call happiness would not be so to me. Yet I do not say that there is no happiness in it. I take inaction to be true happiness, but ordinary people think it is a bitter thing. It is said (or: I say): the highest happiness has no [self-conscious] happiness…. Heaven does nothing and thence comes its serenity. Earth does nothing and thence comes its rest. By the union of these two inactivities, all things are produced. How vast and imperceptible is the process! It seems to come from nowhere! How imperceptible and vast! … Hence it is said: “Heaven and Earth do nothing, and yet there is nothing that they do not do.” [cf. Tao Te Ching, ch. 48] (xviii.1)

Chuang Tzu’s wife died. Hui Tzu went to convey condolences, but found Chuang Tzu sitting pounding on a tub and singing. [He thought this very strange and quite inappropriate.] Chuang Tzu said, “Not so. When she first died, was it possible for me to be unaffected [and not weep]? But I reflected on her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a subtle-body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a soul (vital breath). In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a soul. Another change and she had a subtle-body. Another change and she was born. Now there’s another change and she is dead. It’s just like the procession of the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter. Now she lying face up, sleeping (resting peacefully) in the great chamber (a vast room) between heaven and earth. If I were to fall sobbing and go on wailing for her, it would mean I don’t understand anything about what was appointed (fate) for all. So I restrained myself.” (xviii.2)

When Chuang Tzu went to Ch’u, he saw an empty skull, bleached and dry. He asked it, “Did you, sir, in your greed of life, fail in the lessons of reason and come to this?… Or was it through your evil conduct, reflecting disgrace on your parents and wife and children? Or was it through your hard endurance of cold and hunger? Or was it that you had completed your term of life?” He took up the skull and made a pillow of it when he went to sleep. At midnight the skull appeared to him in a dream and said: “…All your words were about the entanglements of men in their lifetime. There are none of those things after death…. In death there are no distinctions of ruler above and minister below…. Or the phenomena of the four seasons. Tranquil and at ease, our years are those of heaven and earth. No king in his court has greater enjoyment than we have.” (xviii.4)

Lieh Tzu saw an old skull by the roadside. Pulling away the weeds he pointed at it and said [to the soul], “Only you and I know that you have never died and you have never lived. Are you really unhappy? And am I really enjoying myself?… All creatures come forth at birth from the mysterious workings [of the Tao through Nature] and go back into them again.” (xviii.6)

[Master Lieh Tzu asked Gatekeeper Yin about the way of the Perfect Man. Yin instructed him:] All that have faces, forms, voices, colors—these are all mere things…. They are forms, colors, nothing more. But things have their creation in what has no form, and their conclusion in what has no change. The perfect man (the sage) attains to this formlessness—how can things stop him (stand in his way)? … He will wander where the ten thousand things have their end and beginning, unify his nature, nourish his breath (vitality), unite his virtue, and thereby penetrate to (communicate with) that which emanates all things. Thus, with his heavenly nature kept entire and no crevice in his spirit, how can things disturb his serenity? Just as a drunken man falling isn’t harmed (unlike other men) because he doesn’t know he has fallen… How much more would it be so if he were under the influence, not of liquor, but of his Heavenly nature? The sage is kept within his Heavenly nature and therefore nothing can injure him (his spirit)…. Do not try to develop what is natural to man; develop what is natural to Heaven. He who develops Heaven benefits life; he who develops man injures life. Do not reject what is of Heaven, do not neglect what is of man, and the people will be close to the attainment of Truth (or: you will be close to the attainment of Truth). (xix.2)

Confucius said [according to Chuang Tzu]: A man should not retire and hide himself. He should not push forward and display himself. He should stand stock-still in the middle (center). (xix.5)

The ideas of profit and of injury rub against each other and produce in men a very great fire. The harmony of the mind is consumed in the mass of men…. They thereupon fall away more and more and the Way (Tao) they should follow is altogether lost. (xxvi.1)

Put away your small wisdom [knowledge], and your great [true] wisdom will be bright; discard your [self-conscious] “skillfulness” (or goodness) and you will become naturally skillful (good). (xxvi.6)

A will that takes refuge in conformity, behavior that is aloof and eccentric—neither of these, alas, is compatible with perfect wisdom and solid virtue…. It is only the perfect man (sage) who is able to enjoy himself in the world and not be deflected from the right, to accommodate himself to others and not lose himself. (xxvi.8)

Stillness and silence are helpful to those who are ill; … rest serves to calm agitation; but they are the toiled and troubled who have recourse to these remedies. Those who are at ease do not need them and are not bothered to ask about them. (xxvi.10)

Fishing baskets are employed to catch fish, but when the fish are got, the men forget the baskets. Snares are used to catch hares, but when the hares are got, men forget the snares. Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are grasped, men forget the words. Where can I find someone who has forgotten words so that I can have conversation with him? (xxvi.11)