Book One: Tao (The Way)

adapted by Ron Hogan

originally attributed to "Jesse Garon"


If you can talk about it,
	it ain't Tao.
If it has a name,
	it's just another thing.

Tao doesn't have a name.
Names are for ordinary things.

Stop wanting stuff.  It keeps you from seeing what's real.
When you want stuff, all you see are things.

These two statements have the same meaning.
Figure them out, and you've got it made.


If something is beautiful, something else must be ugly.
If something is good, something else must be bad.

You can't have something without nothing.
If no task is difficult, 
	then no task is easy.
Things are up high 
	because other things are down low.
You know when you're listening to music 
	because you don't hear noise.
And something else came first, so this must be next.

The Masters get the job done without moving a muscle
	and signify without saying a word.
When things around them fall apart, they stay cool.
They don't own much, 
	but they use whatever's at hand.
They do the work without expecting any favors.
When the job is finished, 
	they move on to the next job.
That's why their work is so damn good.


If you toss compliments around freely,
	people will waste time trying to impress you.
If you give things too much value,
	you're going to get ripped off.
If you fulfill people's desires,
	you'll only leave them dissatisfied.

The Master leads
	by clearing the crap out of people's heads
	and opening their hearts.
He lowers their aspirations
	and makes them suck in their guts.
He shows people how to forget
	what they know and what they want,
	so nobody can push them around.
If you think you've got the answers, 
	he'll mess with your head.

Stop doing stuff all the time,
	and watch what happens.


How much Tao is there?
	More than you'll ever need.
Use as much as you want,
	there's plenty more where that came from.

You can't see Tao, but it's there.
Damned if I know where it came from.
It's just always been around.


Tao's neutral:
	it doesn't care about good or evil.
The Masters are neutral:
	they treat everyone the same.

Tao is like a bellows:
	It's empty, but it could help set the world on fire.
If you keep using Tao, it works better.
If you keep talking about it, it won't make any sense.

Keep cool.


Tao is an eternal mystery,
	and everything starts with Tao.

Everybody has Tao in them.
They just have to use it.


Tao never stops.
	Why? Because it isn't trying to accomplish anything.

The Masters hang back.
	That's why they're ahead of the game.
They don't hang on to things.
	That's how they manage to keep them.
They don't worry about what they can't control.
	That's why they're always satisfied.


"Doing the right thing" is like water;
	water is good for all living things.
It flows without thinking about where it's going
	...just like Tao.

Keep your feet on the ground.
Remember what's important.
Be there when people need you.
Say what you mean.
Be prepared for anything.
Do as much as you can, whenever it needs doing.

If you don't compare yourself to others,
	nobody can compare to you.


If you drink too much, you get drunk.
The engine won't start if you're always tinkering with it.

If you hoard wealth,
	you fall into its clutches.
If you crave success,
	you succumb to failure.

Do what you have to do, then walk away.
Anything else will drive you nuts.


Can you hold on to your ego
	and still stay focused on Tao?
Can you relax your mind and body
	and brace yourself for a new life?
Can you check yourself
	and see past what's in front of your eyes?
Can you be a leader
	and not try to prove you're in charge?
Can you deal with what's happening
	and let it happen?
Can you forget what you know
	and understand what's real?

Starting a job and seeing it through,
Having things without holding on to them,
Doing the job without expecting anything,
Delegating authority without giving orders.
That's the way you do it.


A wheel has spokes,
	but it rotates around a hollow center.

A pot is made out of clay or glass,
	but you keep things in the empty space inside.

A house is made out of wood or brick,
	but you live in the space between the walls.

We work with something,
	but we use nothing.


Sight obscures.
Noise deafens.

Desire messes with your heart.
The world messes with your mind.

A Master watches the world
	but keeps focused on what's real.


Winning can be just as bad as losing.
Confidence can mess you up just as much as fear.

What does "winning can be just as bad as losing" mean?
If you're down, you might be able to get up.
But if you're up, you can get knocked down real fast.
Don't worry about the score,
	just do what you have to do.

What does "confidence can mess you up just as much as fear" mean?
Fear can keep you from getting the job done,
	but confidence can get you in over your head.
Walk tall, but don't get cocky.

Know your limits, and nothing can ever hold you back.
Deal with what you can, and the rest will follow.


You can't see Tao, no matter how hard you look.
You can't hear Tao, no matter how hard you listen.
You can't hold on to Tao, no matter how hard you grab.

But it's there.

It's in you,
	and it's all around you.

Remember that.


The ancient Masters were pretty damn impressive.
They were deep.  Real deep.
Words can't even begin to describe how deep they were.
You can only talk about what they were like.

They were careful, like a man walking on thin ice.
They were cautious, like a soldier behind enemy lines.
They were polite, like a guest at a party.
They moved quickly, like melting ice. 
They were as plain as a block of wood.
Their minds were as wide as a valley,
	and their hearts were as clear as spring water.

Can you wait for that kind of openness and clarity
	before you try to understand the world?
Can you stay still until events have unfolded
	before you do the right thing?

When you act without expectations,
	you can accomplish great things.


Clear your head.
Stay calm.
Watch as everything happens around you.

Everything reverts to its original state, which was nothing.
And whenever something becomes nothing, 
	it gets right with Tao.

If you don't understand that,
	you're going to screw up somewhere down the line.
If you figure it out,
	you'll always know what to do.

If you get right with Tao,
	you won't be afraid to die,
	because you know you will.


When the Masters take charge,
	hardly anybody notices.
The next best leader is obeyed out of love.
After that, there's the leader who is obeyed out of fear.
The worst leader is the one who is hated.

Trust and respect people.
	That's how you earn their trust and respect.

The Masters don't give orders;
	they work with everybody else.
When the job's done,
	people are amazed at what they accomplished.


When people ignore Tao,
	they start talking about "righteousness" and "sanctity".
When they forget what's true,
	they start talking about "self-evident truths".
When they do not respect each other,
	they start talking about "political correctness" 
	and "family values".
When the nation is unstable,
	they start talking about "patriotism".


Get rid of sanctity.
	People will understand the truth and be happier.
Get rid of morality.
	People will respect each other and do what's right.
Get rid of value and profit.
	People will not steal if they do not desire.

If that's not possible, go to Plan B:
	Be simple.  Be real.
	Do your work as best you can.  
	Don't think about what you get for it.
	Stay focused.  Get rid of all your crap.


Don't spend too much time thinking about stupid shit.
Why should you care if people agree or disagree with you?
Why should you care if others find you attractive or not?
Why should you care about the things that worry others?
Call bullshit on all that.

Let other people get worked up 
	as they try to enjoy themselves.
	I'm not going to give myself away.
	A baby doesn't know how to smile, but it's still happy.

Let other people get excited about stuff.
	I'm not going to hang on to anything.
	I'm not going to fill my mind with ideas.
	I'm not going to get stuck in a rut, 
		tied down to any one place.

Other people are clever;
	I guess I must be stupid.
Other people have goals;
	I guess I must be aimless.
	Like the wind.  Or the waves.

I'm not like other people.
I'm getting right with Tao.


A Master stays focused on Tao.
Nothing else, just Tao.

But you can't pin Tao down--
	you can't even see it!
How are you supposed to focus on something like that?

Like this: 
	First, there's nothing.
	Then, the void is filled with images.
	Images lead to the creation of objects.
	And every object has Tao at its core.

That's the way it's been, ever since the world began.
How can I be so sure?
I just know.


Learn how to stand still if you want to go places.
	Learn how to kneel if you want to stand tall.
If you want wisdom, empty your mind.
	If you want the world, renounce your riches.
Push yourself until you're exhausted, 
	and then you'll find your strength.

You can go far if you don't have anything to carry.
The more you acquire, the less you can really see.

A Master takes this to heart
	and sets an example for everybody else.
She's not showing off
	so people take notice.
She's not out to prove anything
	so people take her at her word.
She doesn't brag about himself
	but people know what she's done.
She hasn't got an agenda
	but people know what she can do.
She's not out to get anybody
	which is why nobody can get in her way.

"Learn how to stand still if you want to go places."
	That's not as crazy as it sounds.
	Get in touch with Tao, and you'll see what I mean.


When you have nothing to say,
	you may as well keep your mouth shut.
The wind and the rain don't last forever.
If nature knows enough to give it a rest sometimes,
	so should you.

If you're ready for Tao, you can live with Tao.
	If you're ready to succeed, you can live with success.
	If you're ready to fail, you can live with failure.

Trust your instincts, and others will trust you.


Keep your feet firmly planted
	unless you want to fall on your face.
Learn how to pace yourself 
	if you want to get anywhere.
Don't call attention to yourself 
	if you want people to notice your work.

Nobody respects people who always have excuses.
Nobody gives credit to people who always take it.
People who hype themselves 
	don't have anything else to offer.

Think of being in touch with Tao like eating at a buffet:
	Put on your plate only as much as you need.
	Save some for everybody else.


Something perfect has existed forever,
	even longer than the universe.
It's a vast, unchanging void.
	There's nothing else like it.
It goes on forever and never stops.
Everything else came from it.

I don't know what else to call it
	So I'll call it Tao.
What's it like?
	I can tell you this much: it's great.

Something that great lasts.
Something that lasts goes a long way.
And something that goes a long way 
	always comes back to the beginning.

Tao's great.
Heaven's great.
Earth's great. 
	And someone who's in touch with Tao is great, too.
Those are the four greatest things in the universe
and a Master is one of them.
Someone who's in touch with Tao
	is in touch with the earth.
The earth is in touch with heaven.
Heaven's in touch with Tao.
	Tao's in touch with the way things are.


To be light on your feet, 
	you need a steady mind.
If your body is active, 
	your mind should be relaxed.

A Master can travel long distances 
	and still see all her possessions.
She may be surrounded by beauty
	but she isn't caught up in it.

Why should a Master scurry about thoughtlessly?
If you act lightly,
	you lose your bearings.
If you act recklessly,
	you lose your self-control.


With enough practice,
	you could walk without leaving any footprints.
	Speak without stumbling over your words.
	Do complicated math problems in your head.
You could build a door with no lock
	that nobody could open.
You could tie something down with no knots, 
	without even a rope,
	and nobody could get it loose.

Masters have time to help everybody,
	and ignores nobody.
They uses their resources wisely,
	wasting nothing.
Some people call this "following the light."

Good people teach others
	who have the potential to be good.
Brains count for nothing
	if you fail to respect your teachers
	or to honor the potential in others.
That's one of the most important lessons of Tao.


If you are strong, but remain sensitive,
	power will flow through you.
With that power, 
	you'll always be right with Tao:	
	It's like a whole new life.

If you are idealistic, but stay rooted in reality,
	you are an example to others.
Set that example,
	and you'll always be right with Tao:
	There is no limit to what you can do.

If you are honorable, but remain humble,
	you will see things as they are
If you see things as they are,
	you'll always be right with Tao:
	Your life will become simple, yet full of potential.

Let Tao show you how to get right with Tao,
so your slightest gesture can change the world.


Want to take over the world?
	Think again.
The world's a holy place.
	You can't just fuck around with it.
Those who try to change it destroy it.
Those who try to possess it lose it.

With Tao, you push forward
	or maybe you stay behind.
Sometimes you push yourself,
	other times you rest.
Sometimes you're strong,
	sometimes you're weak.
Sometimes you're up, and sometimes you're down.

A Master lives simply, 
avoiding extravagance and excess.


Listen up:
If you want to be a leader who's in touch with Tao,
	never use violence to achieve your goals.
Every act of violence backfires.
An army on the move leaves a trail of tears,
	and a military victory always lies in ruins.

The Masters do what needs doing 
	and that's all they do.
Do what you have to do without arrogance or pride.
Get the job done and don't brag about it afterwards.
Do what you have to do, not for your own benefit,
	but because it needs to be done.
And don't do it the way you think it should be done,
	do it the way it needs to be.

The mighty will always lose their power
	and any connection they ever had to Tao.
They will not last long;
	if you're not right with Tao, 
	you might as well be dead.


Weapons are terrible things.
If you want to get right with Tao, reject weapons.

The Master, knowing that all things came from Tao,
	recognizes what he has in common with his enemies.
But when there is no other choice, he uses force reluctantly.
He does so with great restraint,
	and never celebrates a victory;
	to do so would be to rejoice in killing.
A person who would rejoice in killing
	has lost touch completely with Tao.

When you win a war, you preside over a funeral.
Pay your respects to the dead.


Tao is an eternal mystery,
	so small you can never take hold of it.

If a leader gets right with Tao,
	people will follow him on instinct.
All will be right with the world.
People will do the right thing without being told.

Everything that comes from Tao needs a name.
But once everything has its name,
	you should make no other distinction between things.
This prevents you from being trapped by them.

Everything in the universe is full of Tao and leads to Tao,
	just as the water in rivers flows into oceans.


Knowing others makes you smart,
	but knowing yourself makes you wise.
To rule others, you must be powerful,
	but to rule yourself, you must be strong.

If you have only what you need, 
	you have true wealth.
If you never give up, 
	you will find a way.
If you stay true to yourself,
	you will never be lost.
If you live your entire life,
	you've really lived.


Tao flows in all directions.
It's in everything, but nothing can contain it.
Everything needs Tao,
	so Tao provides,
	and never takes credit for its work.

Everything comes from Tao,
	but Tao doesn't call attention to itself.
It wants for nothing. Think nothing of it.

Everything leads to Tao,
	but Tao still doesn't call attention to itself.
Pretty impressive, huh?

It doesn't strive for success. That's why it succeeds.


Get right with Tao, and everybody wants to be your friend.
When they're around you, they enjoy a calm serenity.

People are often distracted by music or good food.
But when we try to talk about Tao,
	it seems awfully boring.

It doesn't look like much.
It doesn't sound like much.
But no matter how much you use, there's still plenty left.


To make something small,
	you need to appreciate its size.
To make something weak,
	you must recognize its strength.
To get rid of something,
	you need to hold it tight.
To take something,
	you must give it up entirely.

This is a subtle truth.
Sensitivity and weakness overcome unfeeling strength.


Tao never does anything
	but nothing is left undone.

If our leaders could get in touch with Tao,
	the world would take care of itself.
Even if they wanted to make their own changes,
	they'd be drawn back to Tao's nameless simplicity.

When our lives are that simple, we want for nothing.
We can relax, and the world becomes a better place. 

updated 8 October 2001

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Here is the author's source page
Thank you Ron aka Jesse !

Original Version
Tao Te Ching - Chapter One
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