Lao Tzu Tao Teh King

A New Translation by Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

About Lao Tzu

The life of Lao Tzu (480 - 390 B.C.) is shrouded in mystery. The legend says that he was a custodian of documents in Chu and met with Confucius. Later Taoist tradition made him a member of the Taoist Triad. He was honored by Imperial order in 660 A.D. as the Most High Emperor of Mystic Origin and in 1013 as the Most High Lord Lao. His philosophy consists of three major themes.

  1. He views Tao as the First Principle while Tao is the 2nd Principle in Confucianism.
  2. He shuns the artificialities of civilization, and taking things as they come can man live according to the Tao.
  3. He emphasizes that man can return to youth by cultivating Chee (Yen-Chee).
His third point gave rise to a mystical tradition in China. A detailed methodology of how to become an immortal was developed according to his only book, Tao Teh King.

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A few words about this new translation

There are two types of human language; one is the perceptual language, the other conceptual.
English is a good example of a perceptual language. In English, there are many grammatical rules: such as tense, subject-predicate structure, parts of speech, numbers, etc.. The purpose of tense is to record and to express the real time. The subject-predicate structure is for relating the relationship between time and space of events or things and to distinguish the knower from the known or the doer from the act. The parts of speech are trying to clarify the real time sequences and the relationship of real space or the relationships of their derivatives. In other word, English is a real time language, a perceptual language.
On the contrary, Chinese is a conceptual language. There is no tense in Chinese. All events can be discussed in the conceptual level. The time sequence can be marked by time marks. Therefore, there is no reason to change the word form for identifying the time sequence. Thus, there is no subject-predicate structures in Chinese, because there are no real verbs. All actions can be expressed in noun form when they are transcended from time and space. There is no need to have parts of speech in Chinese. In short, there is no grammar in Chinese. The following are a few examples to show the difference between a perceptual and a conceptual language.
Perceptual: I went to school yesterday.
Conceptual: I go school yesterday.
Perceptual: I am trying to find three pegs now.
Conceptual: I try find three peg now.
Indeed, Chinese language can express a truth or a picture with only a few words, without any grammar, especially the subject-predicate structure.
For example: "Dead vine, old tree, evening bird; small bridge, running water, flat desert; an old road, western wind, a skinny horse; broken heart travelers at far away place."
No doubt, the above utterance paints a very vivid picture. A heart broken traveler at a far away desert looks at a dead vine, and old tree, an evening bird and a small bridge over a small stream. But, this clear written sentence loses much meaning of the original piece, which emphasizes not only the desertion of the place, the desolateness and the homesickness of a heart broken traveler, but also the hope. After all, there is running water in the desert. There is an old road leading to somewhere. and he has a skinny horse.
The modern Chinese writing is now somewhat westernized by artificially inserting subject and predicate structures into a sentence, but the writing style of the above example is not only for poems but is in fact for all "genuine" old Chinese writing. I always write to friends in Chinese with the following beginning, "Long no news, much thought, hope more come letter." It means, "I have not heard from you for a long time and have thought about you very much. Please write often, and I am looking forward to your letters." This English translation contains three times more words but no additional meaning.
Tao Teh King is a book quite difficult to read even for the Chinese. For 90% of the text, it has no subject or object for sentences. The readers must know who is the one doing the speaking. In Confucianism, a concept is described with different word depending on the social structure (who does the talk) or the ways of action (how it is done). For example, becoming a king, done justly is called Wang, unjustly called Sss. In Tao Teh King, it almost always uses the same word for the both situations. Readers must know who is doing the speaking or who is the author speaking about or to while there is no subject or object to indicate it.
The metaphysics of Confucianism is formed with five concepts: Tien-Ming (God's will), Tao (the governing principle of the universe), Chee (the dynamics moving force of the universe), Shu (the amount of Chee), jen-ming (the amount of chee-shu which determines the fate of individual). In Tao Teh King, Lao Tzu discarded the concept of God's will. That is, the fate of individual is not pre-determined by God's will (Tien-Ming). This view opens the gate of an esoteric tradition, that is, the ways to become an immortal.
Although Tao Teh King is considered to be a great philosophy on government, on arts of war, and many other areas of human life, it has the greatest influence on Chinese mystical traditions (Kung-Fu, bedroom arts, and ways to immortality). Thus, this translation will point out those points.

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Book I -- The essence of Tao

Tao that can be spoke of, not the eternal Tao.
Name that can be named, not the eternal name.
Nameless, the beginning of heaven and earth.
Named, mother of everything.
Desireless, sees the mystery.
Desiring, sees the manifestations.
These two, from the same source, differ in name; both are original.
Original of original, gate of all mystery.

Everyone loves beauty, because there is ugliness.
Everyone loves goodness, because there is evil.
Existence, non-existence beget each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short contrast each other.
High and low rest upon each other.
Voice and sound harmonize each other.
Front and back follow each other.
Therefore, sages doing without effort, teaching without words.
Everything rise and fall without end.
Creating, yet not possessing,
Working, yet not taking credit.
Successful, gives credits to others and moves on;
Thus, receives respect forever more.

Not respect sages, no argument.
Not value treasures, no stealing.
Not seeing desirable things, no confusion of the heart.
Thus, sages rule by emptying people's hearts (keep them ignorant),
filling their bellies, weakening their ambitions, and strengthening their bones.
Let people ignorant and lack desire,
Then, smart ones, afraid of doing (smart things),
But doing Wu-Wei, and nothing will not be done.

Note: Wu-Wei literally means doing nothing or no action. It, in fact, means that do not do things against Tao but do things by following Tao.

Tao floods, never over flow, we use it,
As a stream, as the source of everything.
Blunt the sharp,
Untangle the knotted,
Soften the glare,
Merge with dust.
Hidden, yet seemingly present!
I do not know from whence it comes.
Forefather of gods.

Heaven and earth have no Jen (see note), use everything as guinea pigs.
Sages have no Jen, use people as guinea pigs.
The Universe, as a bellows;
Empty it, yet not bend.
Move it, yet more yield.
Say too much, less is understood.
Better hold fast to the center.

Note: In Confucianism, Jen, iL, Li, and Tza are virtues of God. They are seeded in human nature. They, however, will not always sprout just by themselves; special cultivation is often needed. By cultivating them, everyone can reach self fulfillment and become a sage. Jen has a meaning between the grace of Christianity and the compassion of Buddhism. iL has the meaning between just and right things to do. In Taoism, the superficial meanings of those words (Jen, iL, Li, and Tza) are the same as in Confucianism, but Taoists (especially Lao Tuz) take a different stand on viewing them. Taoists see them (Jen, ...) as false ethics invented by sages (not virtues of God) after the original Tao was lost. This view is contradictory. The Tao in Taoism is omnipotent and omnipresence. Then, how can the true Tao be lost. If the true Tao can, in fact, be lost, then losing Tao must be an eternal Tao. Lao Tuz often says, "choose this, let go of that." How can he do the choosing, Tao, lost Tao, or the losing Tao?

The valley spirit (god of agriculture), never dies, the primal mother.
Her gateway, the root of heaven and earth, seemingly presents.
Use it, never exhaust.

Heaven, earth, last forever.
Why? They are selfless, so forever more.
Thus, sages stay behind, yet ahead,
detached, yet with all.
Being selfless, his Self is fulfilled.

Highest good, like water.
Water provides to everything, yet not demanding.
It flows to lowly places (which is shunted by men), is like Tao.
Dwell, in good place.
Meditate, into the depth of the heart.
Be Jen.
Speak, trustworthily.
Rules, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, be timely.
No argument. No blame.

Be contain, better than over flow.
Too sharp, easy to break.
Too rich, difficult to protect.
Too proud of wealth and titles, asking for disaster.
Retire after success, heaven's Tao.


Holding body and soul, embracing the one. Can anything escape?
Cultivating Chee (Yen-Chee), and becoming supple,
can be as a newborn.
Cleansing, then seeing with the primal vision,
found no strain.
Loving all men, rulers need no cleverness.
Opening and closing the gate of heaven,
cannot go without female.
Understanding all things,
can you still do nothing?
Creates, maintains.
Bearing yet not possessing,
Working yet not taking credit,
Leading yet not dominating,
The Primal Virtue.
Note: The conception of Chee is different between Confucianism and Taoism. Yen-chee came with birth, a gift from God. When Yen-chee of a life is exhausted, it is dead. In Confucianism, Yen-chee cannot be cultivated, that is, everyone must die. In Taoism, people can cultivate Yen-chee, thus, become an immortal. In Confucianism, cultivating chee can only make a person a sage.

Thirty spokes share a wheel hub,
it is the (empty) space (not spokes, nor hub) makes wheel useful.
Shape clay into a vessel,
It is the empty space within, makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room,
It is the holes, make a room a room.
Therefore, what is there defines its form,
what is not there defines its use.

The five colors blind the eyes.
The five tones deafen the ears.
The five flavors dull the taste.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Therefore, sages emphasize health, not pleasure.
Choose this, let go of that.

Be alert to be a love pet (or be honored), as if troubles nearby.
What it means by "Be alert to be a love pet?"
Love pet is lowly.
Be one, soon becomes not.
Be not one, despaired.
So, be alert to be a love pet or be honored.
What it means "Honor, troubles nearby?"
We have troubles, being have a body.
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?
Give yourself to mankind, it houses you.
Love mankind, it provides you.

Look, yet cannot be seen -- it is beyond form.
Listen, yet cannot be heard -- it is beyond sound.
Grasp, yet cannot be held -- it is intangible.
These three are indefinable; they are one.
Above it, not bright;
below it, not dark;
an unbroken thread, beyond description,
returns to nothingness,
as the form of formless,
as the image of imageless,
It is called indefinable.
Face it, there is no beginning.
Follow it, there is no end.
Behold the ancient Tao, manage the present.
Knowing the beginning, the essence of Tao.


The ancient masters knew, the subtle, the mysterious, the profound, the all encompass as:
The unfathomable.
For being unfathomable, only the appearance can be described.
Hesitatingly, as crossing a winter stream.
Watchfully, as aware of danger.
Seriously, as attending a summit meeting.
Yielding, like ice about to melt.
Simple, like pooh (see note)
Hollow, like caves.
Mixed, as opaque.
Quietly waiting until opaque becomes clear.
Remain still until the moment of action.
Who cultivates this Tao will not over flow (or ejaculate).
Because of not over flowing, he can shed old and generate new.
Note 1: Something original (especially, not worked by human) is called pooh. It also means simple or simplicity.
Note 2: Taoist's sexology is based on this chapter.


Reach the emptiness.
Keep the stillness.
Everything rises and falls, watch this cycle.
Grow and flourish, return with seeds.
Returning seeds is stillness (no mutation), is self-similarity.
Self-similarity is the Way (invariance).
Knowing the Way is insight.
Not knowing the Way leads to disaster.
Knowing the Way, encompasses.
Being encompass, could be just.
Being just, could be a ruler.
Being a ruler, could benefit the world the same as the Tien does.
Tien is Tao. The Tao is eternal.
Though the body dies, the spirit lives forever more.

Note 1: These are steps for Taoists to reach immortality. For life in general, the returning seeds are seeds. For regular men, they mean to be the semen. For Taoists, the returning seeds mean the holy spiritual child born through the crown.
Note 2: In Confucianism, Tien is God's will which ranks above the conception of Tao. In essence, Tao Teh King does not recognize the concept of Confucius' Tien. It, nonetheless, borrows this word Tien here and emphasizes that Tien is below Tao.
Note 3: The concept of self-similarity is the center point for both Confucianism and Taoism. They both view the Microcosm has an identical structure the same as the Macrocosm. This idea can be seen in all levels of their writings (including paintings). In the painting above, the concept of self-similarity is depicted as recurred form, a crab's claw. The claw shape appears at various scales and in numerous transformations in the vegetation, in the water, in the rocks (notice the claw at the root of the red rock). The ochre horse forms the base of the claw of rock running along the river to the right. The horse also forms its own subtler claw-form with the arch of its neck. The two straining men make another subtle claw.

The highest, is known by ...
The next, known by his love.
The next, known by his fierceness.
Then, known by his rudeness.
He who does not trust, will not be trusted.
Actions, deeds, performed, no word can describe, just fine.
Note: This is wisdom for rulers and for bedroom arts (not by love, fierceness, nor by rudeness.... Just fine.)

Lost the great Tao, Jen (kindness) and iL (morality) arise.
The rise of wisdom and intelligence, cheating begins.
Family quarrels, filial piety and devotion arise.
Country in turmoil, loyalty appears.

Despise sages, renounce wisdom,
it will be a hundred times better for everyone.
Despise kindness, renounce morality,
men will rediscover filial piety and love.
Despise ingenuity, renounce profit,
bandits and thieves will disappear.
As rules, these three are not sufficient.
The essence:
see the simplicity,
hold one's true nature,
cast off selfishness,
and reduce desire.

Get ride of knowledge, no more trouble.
What is the difference between yes and no?
What is the difference between good and evil?
What others fear, Must I fear!
People are busy, as enjoying the animal sacrificial feast,
as going to spring outing.
I alone, drifting, not knowing where I am,
as a newborn before learns to smile, without a place to go.
Others have more than they need, I alone are lost, a naive.
Others are clear and bright, I alone, dim and weak.
Others are sharp and clever, I alone, alone, alone,
as drifting in the sea,
carrying by the wind to ...
Others knew what to do,
I alone, stupid and lowly.
I alone, different from others, value the nourishment from Mother.

Holy Virtue follows Tao and Tao alone.
The Tao, elusive and intangible,
yet within has sign,
yet within has things,
dim and dark, yet within has essence.
The essence is very real, can be verified.
From the beginning til now, its name as Nameless.
Use it to view everything.
How do I know the states of everything?
Use this.

Yield, thus preserve.
Can be bent, can then be straightened.
Being hollow, can then be filled.
Shedding makes new.
Being little, can then have room to grow.
Too much, easily be confused.
Therefore, sages embrace the one, as an example to all.
Not putting on a display, thus are seen.
Not justifying themselves, thus are distinguished.
Not boasting, thus receive recognition.
Not bragging, thus never falter.
Not seeking for all the above,
so, no one can compete with them.
The ancients say, "Yield thus preserve," are not empty words.
Be preserving, all things will come to you.

An analogy about Nature.
High winds do not last all morning.
Heavy rain does not last all day.
Who are doing these (wind and rain)? Heaven and Earth.
If heaven and earth cannot make things eternal,
how is it possible for man?
He who follows the Tao, same as Tao.
He who is virtuous, same as virtue.
He who loses the way, got lost.
At one with the Tao, Tao welcomes you.
At one with Virtue, Virtue follows you.
At one with lost, loss always accompany you.
The loss is experienced willingly.
He who does not trust, will not be trusted.

Stands on tiptoe, is not steady.
Strides, cannot maintain the pace.
Self display, cannot attract audiences.
Self justifying, will not be distinguished.
Self boasting, will not gain respect.
Self bragging, will not endure.
The above are baggages, even things (and animals) despise them.
Followers of the Tao avoid them.


Something mysteriously formed,
before heaven and earth,
Silently, intangibly, alone and unchanging,
repeating, permeating eternally,
mother of everything.
I do not know its name.
Call it Tao, or Great.
Great means flows,
it flows far,
far and return.
Therefore, Tao is great,
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
Kings are also great.
the four great powers of the universe.
King is one of them.
Man follows the earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows the Taos.
The Taos follows the Tao (see note).
Note: The original text uses the word Nature.

The heavy roots (stabilizes) the light,
The still masters the jumpy.
Thus, the sage, traveling all days,
not lose sight of baggage.
Though there are beautiful things around,
he is unattracted and calm.
Why should the lord of a big country act lightly in public?
To be light is to lose one's root.
To be jumpy is to lose kingly dignity.

A good traveler leaves no tracks.
A good speaker makes no slips.
A good reckoner needs no tally.
A good door (tightly fit) needs no lock, yet no one can open it.
Good tie requires no knots, yet no one can loosen it.
Thus, the sages value all men, no one abandoned,
value all things, nothing abandoned.
This is called "following the wisdom light."
Thus, who value a man value the man, not what he knows.
Who does not value the man, value his talent.
If not respect what he knows, not love his talent,
even a genius will be wasted (confused).
This is the crux of mystery (of developing people's talent).

Be a man, learn woman's way, as the lake valley of the universe.
Being the lake valley of the universe, no virtue (or jing, semen) escape,
returning as a new born.
For the white, know it has black, as the law to the world.
Being an law to the world, no virtue disperse,
returning to the infinite.
Honor, know it could be the source of humility,
be the valley of the universe.
Being the valley of the universe,
all virtues converge,
returning to pooh (the original).
When the pooh lost, it becomes things,
and sages set up systems to manage them.
However, the true sage will not divide (the original).
Note: Some Taoist's schools interpret this chapter as that man must learn from woman, not to ejaculate, to be a down stream lake valley the same as woman.

Can you alter the universe?
I don't think so.
The universe is sacred (invariant, yet ever flowing),
cannot be altered.
Try to alter, you fail.
Try to hold on, you lost it.
Things (phenomena), could be moving ahead, following behind,
as hard, as soft, as strong, as weak.
Thus, the sages avoid extremes, excesses, and complacency.

Advise a ruler with Tao,
Not use military to conquer the world.
For it would only cause resistance.
The terrain army passes is always filled with thorned bushes.
After war, famine will come.
For those who know the right way to conquer,
never use force.
After the conquer,
never glory in them,
never boast,
never be proud.
Even the conquer is necessary,
never force it.
Potency (strength) is always followed by aging (weakness).
Doing so, is not the way of Tao.
Non-Tao, dies young.
Note: For Taoists, love making is a game of war or a game of conquering. By yielding, women often win.

Good weapons, instruments of bad omen,
all creatures hate them,
followers of Tao never use them.
The wise man prefers the left.
The man of war prefers the right.
Weapons, instruments of bad omen,
not a wise mean's tools.
He uses them only when he has no choice.
Peace and quiet are great virtues,
victory causes no rejoicing.
Who rejoices in victory, delights killing.
Who delights killing, cannot come to power in the world.
Good omen prefers the left.
bed omen to the right.
The generals stand on the left,
The commander-in-chief on the right,
same as conducting a funeral.
Many people are killed,
should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.
Victory ceremony must be like a funeral.

The Tao has no name.
Pooh (the pure Tao) is minute, yet no one can grasp (manage) it.
If kings and lords could harness it,
everything would come and obey.
Heaven and earth couple,
gentle rain fall; people needs not to pray for it.
After the rise of civilization, there are names.
Now, enough names,
must know when to stop.
Knowing to stop, eternal again.
Tao to the world is like a river flowing home to the sea.

Knowing others is wisdom.
Knowing self is enlightenment.
Managing others has power.
Managing self needs strength.
Who satisfies, rich.
Who persists, success.
Keep your place, endure.
Dead, yet present, immortal.

The great Tao flows, to the left, to the right,
everything arises from it.
Fulfills its purpose, making no claim.
Nourishes everything, yet not their lord.
It has no claim, could name it minute (lowly).
Everything returns to it, could name it Great.
By not showing its greatness, it could be truly great.

Up held the great sign (of Tao), all men come,
for safety, for peace, and for happiness.
Traveler stop for music and good food.
As for Tao, not flavor for mouth,
not beauty for eyes,
not good music for ears,
but use it and cannot be exhausted.

To shrink it, expand first.
To weaken it, strengthen first.
To throw it away, get first.
To rob him, give first,
This is called deception. Soft and weak overcome hard and strong.
Fish cannot leave water.
Do not show a country's strength.

Tao abides Wu-Wei (no action against Tao).
yet, nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this,
everything would manifest naturally.
If they desired to do something (against Tao),
I would stop them with nameless pooh.
Nameless pooh has no desire.
No desire is till (invariance and eternal).
Everything will manifest according to its own path.

Next, book II