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The pursuit of power, happiness, and life's meaning is as old as history itself, as the Tao Te Ching (The Book of the Way and Its Virtue) attests. Dating from two and a half millennia ago, this timeless text consists of 81 brief chapters that form one of the world's most profound and influential spiritual traditions. The Tao played a significant role in the development of Buddhist thought, and this classic of meditative insight continues to inform modern readers with its emphasis on mindfulness. Centered on the principle of wu wei, or naturalness and simplicity, its teachings outline an attitude of spontaneity and noninterference that fosters individuality and self-awareness. This high-quality gift edition of the authoritative James Legge translation is an enduring companion on the mystical path to spiritual freedom. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140441314
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/30/1964
Series: Penguin Classics Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 338,973
Product dimensions: 7.74(w) x 7.76(h) x 0.47(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

The founder of philosophical Taoism, Lao Tzu is a central figure in Chinese culture. He is traditionally acknowledged as the author of the Tao Te Ching, although the attribution — like much of Tzu's biography — is a matter of scholarly debate. According to legend, he was the longtime keeper of the imperial archives. Saddened by his contemporaries' reluctance to pursue virtue, Lao Tzu left the court. As he was crossing the Tibetan border, a guard asked him to write down his teachings, resulting in the enduring lessons of the Tao Te Ching.

Read an Excerpt

Gateway to All Marvels
The Tao that can be Told
Is not the True Tao;
Names that can be Named
Are not True Names.
The Origin of Heaven and Earth
Has no Name.
The Mother of the Myriad Things
Has a Name.
Free from Desire,
Contemplate the Inner Marvel;
With Desire,
Observe the Outer Radiance.
These issue from One Source,
But have different Names.
They are both a Mystery.
Mystery of Mysteries,
Gateway to All Marvels.
The River Master
The Tao that can be Told is the mundane Tao of the Art of Government, as opposed to the True Tao of Nature, of the So-of-Itself, of Long Life, of Self-Cultivation through Non-Action. This is the Deep Tao, which cannot be Told in Words, which cannot be Named. The Names that can be Named are such worldly things as Wealth, Pomp, Glory, Fame, and Rank.
The Ineffable Tao
Emulates the Wordless Infant,
It resembles
The Unhatched Egg,
The Bright Pearl within the Oyster,
The Beauteous Jade amongst Pebbles.
It cannot be Named.
The Taoist glows with Inner Light, but seems outwardly dull and foolish. The Tao itself has no Form, it can never be Named.
The Root of the Tao
Proceeds from Void,
From Non-Being,
It is the Origin,
The Source of Heaven and Earth,
Mother of the Myriad Things,
Nurturing All-under-Heaven,
As a Mother Nurtures her Children.
Magister Liu
The single word Tao is the very Core of this entire Classic, its lifeblood. Its Five Thousand Words speak of this Tao and of nothing else.
The Tao itself
Can never be
We can but witness it
Its Origin,
Mother of the Myriad Things.
The Tao itself can never be
It cannot be Told.
And yet we resort to Words, such as Origin, Mother, and Source.
Every Marvel
Every Radiance
Issues from this One Source.
They go by different Names,
But are part of the same
Greater Mystery,
The One Tao, the Origin, the Mother.
In freedom from Desire,
We look within
And Contemplate
The Inner Marvel,
Not with eyes
But inwardly
By the Light of Spirit.
We look outward
With the eyes of Desire,
And Observe
The Outer Radiance.
Desire itself, in its first Inklings, in the embryonic Springs of Thought, is born within the Heart-and-Mind. Outer Radiance is perceived through Desire, in the World, in the opening and closing of the Doors of Yin and Yang. This is the Named, the Visible, these are the Myriad Things. Thus, both with and without Desire, we draw near to the Mystery of Mysteries, to the Gateway that leads to all Marvels, to the Tao.
John Minford: The Tao and the Power says to its reader at the very outset, "Only through experience, only through living Life to the full, in both the Inner and Outer Worlds, can the True Nature of the Tao be Understood and communicated. Not through Words." Desire and the Life of the Senses are part of that experience. Through Desire we witness and enjoy the Beauty of the World, we Observe the Outer Radiance of the Tao. We live Life, we bask in its Radiance. Taoists do not deny the Senses. But Contemplation, the Light of Deep Calm, of meditative experience, goes further. It reveals the Inner Marvel, the Mystery of Mysteries. Outer Radiance and Inner Marvel issue from one and the same Source, which is the Tao. This twofold path is one of the central themes in Magister Liu's commentary, one to which he returns again and again, exhorting the Taoist Aspirant to begin from Observation of the Outer Radiance, and to proceed through Contemplation of the Inner Marvel to a deeper level of Self-Cultivation, to a deeper Attainment of the Tao. "It is Contemplation that gives spiritual significance to objects of sense."
The Book of Taoist Master Zhuang: The Great Tao cannot be Told. The Great Discussion lies beyond Words . . . Where can I find someone who Understands this Discussion beyond Words, who Understands the Tao that can never be Told? This True Understanding of the Tao is a Reservoir of Heaven-and-Nature. Pour into it and it is never full. Pour from it and it is never exhausted. It is impossible to know whence it comes. It is Inner Light.
Arthur Waley: Not only are Books the mere discarded husk or shell of wisdom, but Words themselves, expressing as they do only such things as belong to the normal state of consciousness, are irrelevant to the deeper experience of the Tao, the "wordless doctrine."
Jan Duyvendak: The ordinary, mundane Tao (the one that can be easily Told, or talked about) is unchanging, static, and permanent. The True Tao is Elusive and Ineffable, is in its very Essence Perpetual Change. In the Tao, nothing whatsoever is fixed and unchanging. This is the first great paradox of this Classic, the ever-shifting Cycle of Change, of Being and Non-Being, in which Life and Death constantly yield to and alternate with each other.
Richard Wilhelm: In the Taoist Heart-and-Mind, Psyche and Cosmos are related to each other like the Inner and Outer Worlds.
JM: A Tao that could be Told might be any one of the Prescriptions for Living and Ruling that were being proposed in the ferment of the Chinese Warring States period (475-221 BC). All of them would have been called a Tao, a Way, a Recipe for Life. One such Tao, for example, was contained in the little book from that period known as The Art of War (Sunzi bingfa), whose "author," Sun-tzu (Sunzi), is every bit as lost in the mists of legend as Lao-tzu (Laozi). The Deep Tao, the True Way, and the inexhaustible Inner Power or Strength that flows from the experience of the Tao, are the subjects of this whole Five Thousand Word text. But they are beyond Telling. Words and Names are nothing more than disjointed bits and pieces; they fragment the whole, the One Tao. The paradoxical Mystery of Mysteries is that the Taoist fuses Being on the one hand (the Radiance, Magnificence, and Beauty of the Outer World, as perceived through the Senses, through Desire), and Non-Being on the other (the Dark Intangible Marvel and Mystery of the Inner World). This fusion, this Gateway to Marvels, does not lend itself to any simplistic Name or Label. Names were the preoccupation of more worldly schools of thought, especially the Confucians, for whom Names needed to correspond precisely to Things. As with so much of this short and densely ambiguous Classic, the Chinese word used here for Name, ming, has more than one meaning. It also means Fame, Renown, or Reputation (it is after all by being Famous that one acquires a "Name" for oneself). Taoists care nothing for Fame. They hide their Light. They are incognito. And yet, despite these protestations about the vanity of Words and Names, and the powerlessness of Words to describe the True Nature of the Tao, despite the futility of even attempting to define or dissect the Tao, paradoxically, The Tao and the Power itself is written in an intensely poetic language (sometimes mesmerizingly and bafflingly so), which edges imperceptibly toward the Wordless Truth, it is an inaudible Song with neither Words nor Music, it sings the Silence that is the Tao. The Tao needs to be experienced, not talked about. This Classic and its countless Commentaries do talk, they propose all manner of Images (see the Taoist Florilegium appended at the end of my translation for a selection of these). But these are merely pointers toward the Tao, toward the gnosis of Taoist experience, parts of a hermetic vocabulary for initiates. In that sense these Names are No-Names.
Arthur Waley, whose translation from the 1930s remains one of the best, gives us a pithy summary of this first Chapter and of the whole book. "In dispassionate Vision the Taoist sees a world consisting of the things for which language has no Name. We can call it the Sameness or the Mystery. These Names are however merely stopgaps. For what we are trying to express is Darker than any Mystery."
The Tang dynasty poet Bo Juyi (772-846) jested:
Those who speak
Know nothing;
Those who Know
Are silent.
Those Words, I'm told,
Were uttered
By Lao-tzu.
If we're to believe
That he himself
Was someone who Knew,
Why did he end up
Writing a Book
Of Five Thousand Words?
A Wordless Teaching
That which All-under-Heaven
May also be considered
That which All-under-Heaven
May also be considered
Being and Non-Being
Engender one another.
Hard and Easy
Complete each other.
Long and Short
Generate each other.
High and Low
Complement each other.
Melody and Harmony
Resonate with each other.
Fore and Aft
Follow one another.
These are Constant Truths.
The Taoist dwells in
A Wordless Teaching.
The Myriad Things arise,
And none are rejected.
The Tao gives Birth
But never Possesses.
The Taoist Acts
Without Attachment,
Without dwelling
On Achievement,
And so never loses.
The River Master
The Taoist rules through Non-Action, through the Tao. The Taoist guides through Wordless Teaching, by example. The Primal Breath-Energy of the Tao gives Life to the Myriad Things, but never Possesses them.
The Tao seeks
No recompense.
The Taoist,
Having Achieved,
Retires to Seclusion
And never dwells on
Magister Liu
Non-Action and Wordlessness are the Core of this Chapter, Freedom from so-called Knowledge. Whosoever goes beyond False Knowledge is freed from "opposites" such as Beautiful and Ugly, High and Low. From this Higher Knowledge flows a Life without Possession or Attachment. The Heart-and-Mind of Opposition (such as that between Beautiful and Ugly) brings a Diminution of Life-Essence, a loss of Spirit, a confusion of Emotion. All of these damage Life. The Taoist abides in Non-Action. Freed from all such distinctions, which melt away in the Taoist Heart-and-Mind, the Taoist Returns to Non-Action, to the Wordlessness that leaves no trace.
White is contained
Within Black,
Light shines
In an Empty Room.
This is the Taoist Vision.
The Taoist finds Joy
In unalloyed
Serenity and Calm.
The Book of Taoist Master Zhuang: Every That is also a This, every This is also a That. A thing may not be visible as That, it may be perceived as This. This and That produce each other. Where there is Birth there is Death. Where there is Death there is Birth. Affirmation creates Denial, Denial creates Affirmation. Right creates Wrong, Wrong creates Right. The Taoist's This is also a That, the Taoist's That is also a This.
Waley: The first great principle of Taoism is the relativity of all attributes. Nothing in itself is either long or short. If we call a thing long, we merely mean longer than something else that we take as a standard. What we take as our standard depends on what we are used to . . . All antinomies, not merely high and low, long and short, but Life and Death themselves, merge in the Taoist identity of opposites. The type of the Sage who in true Taoist manner "disappeared" after Achieving Victory is Fan Li (fifth century BC) who, although offered half the kingdom if he would return in triumph with the victorious armies of Yue, "stepped into a light boat and was heard of no more."
The poet Su Dongpo (1037-1101):
Truest words
Cannot be spoken.
Truest sound
Cannot be heard.
The tides of the Ocean
Reach beyond the Mountains,
The subtlest echoes
Are deep in the clouds.
Not to Honor the Worthy
Puts an end to Contending
Among the folk.
Not to Prize Rare Goods
Puts an end to Theft
Among the folk.
Not to Display Objects of Desire
Removes Chaos
From the Heart-and-Mind
Of the folk.
The Taoist rules by
Emptying Heart-and-Mind
And Filling Belly,
By softening the Will to Achieve,
And strengthening Bones.
The Taoist frees the folk
From False Knowledge and Desire.
Those with False Knowledge
No longer dare to Act.
The Taoist Accomplishes
Through Non-Action,
And all is well Ruled.
The River Master
The Worthy are those who have Achieved High Rank, and have as a consequence become estranged from the Tao, by involving themselves in worldly affairs. If however they are not publicly rewarded, if they do not receive Honor and Riches, then ordinary folk are not driven by ambition to emulate them and strive for Fame and Glory. Instead they can Return to the Calm of their True Nature. If Rare Goods are not prized in public, then ordinary folk will not be driven by Greed to Acquire them. If the Ruler returns gold to the mountains, casts pearls and precious pieces of jade back into the waters of the Abyss, if the Ruler is pure and uncorrupted, then the common folk will not feel Greed. The Taoist Rules the Nation as if it were Self, emptying Heart-and-Mind of Desire, and the folk Eschew Chaos and Confusion. The Taoist Fills Belly with the Tao, with the One. The Human Heart-and-Mind grows Supple and Soft. The folk no longer Contend.
The Marrow grows full,
The Bones firm.
Free from False Knowledge
And Desire,
The folk Return
To Calm,
To Simplicity and Purity.
They find Peace
In Non-Action,
In the Rhythms of Nature.
Magister Liu
Once False Knowledge and Desire have been extinguished, once the Worthy are no longer honored and Rare Goods are no longer prized, then there is no Contending, no Theft, but instead there is Order, a full Belly, and firm Bones. When the Multitude see such things as Fame and Wealth lying beyond their grasp, they will strive to Acquire them. When rare and highly prized Objects of Desire are put on show, they will steal in order to lay their hands on them.
The Heart-and-Mind,
Free of Desire,
Turns inward
To True Knowledge,
To the Knowledge
That Knows without Knowing.
Then Action is Eschewed,
And all is Accomplished
Through Non-Action,
Through the Pure Breath-Energy
Of the Tao.
JM: Confucius advocated Honoring the Worthy. So did Master Mo (the "neglected rival of Confucius," advocate of Universal Love, ca. 470-ca. 391 BC). One whole section of the Book of Master Mo is entitled "Honoring the Worthy," and contrasts with this teaching of Lao-tzu:
This prevalence of poverty, scarcity, and chaos arises because Rulers have failed to Honor the Worthy and to employ the capable in their government. When the Worthy are numerous in the state, Order will be stable; when the Worthy are scarce, Order will be unstable. Therefore the task of the Ruler lies in multiplying the Worthy.
This conventional Honoring of the Worthy was a pillar of the Chinese meritocracy for centuries, and has lasted to the present day, with all of its concomitant ills-an obsession with social status, ambition, corruption, nepotism, and deadening conformity. The Taoist shuns all of this. In an important sense, Non-Action implies Anarchy.

Table of Contents

Lao Tzu
" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="5" border="0"Introduction

Book One
Book Two
List of Passages for Comparison
1. The Problem of Authorship
2. The Nature of the Work
Chronological Table

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