Letters For Breakfast

The way is level and easy but people prefer the byways

The Tao – selected readings

The Tao And Its Characteristics by Lao Tzu

Go and read the complete Tao here, a lovely blog ::  http://www.thetao.info/english/english.htm

This extremely condensed version is for my own elucidation and I am slowly putting’ this together, editing,  correcting spellings to modern usage and taking it out of verse form.


Chapter 1
The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

 (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.  

Chapter 4

The Tao is (like) the emptiness of a vessel; and in our employment of it we must be on our guard against all fullness. How deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the Honored  Ancestor of all things!

Chapter 8

The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao.  

Chapter 9

It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to carry it when it is full. If you keep feeling a point that has been sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.

When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them safe. When wealth and honors lead to arrogance, this brings its evil on itself. When the work is done, and one’s name is becoming distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of Heaven.

Chapter 10
(The Tao) produces (all things) and nourishes them; it produces them and does not claim them as its own; it does all, and yet does not boast of it; it presides over all, and yet does not control them.  This is what is called ‘The mysterious Quality’ (of the Tao).

Chapter 11
Clay is fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from the walls) to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space (within), that its use depends. Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness.

Chapter 13

Favor and disgrace would seem equally to be feared; honour and great calamity, to be regarded as personal conditions (of the same kind).  What is meant by speaking thus of favor and disgrace? Disgrace is being in a low position (after the enjoyment of favor).

The getting that (favor) leads to the apprehension (of losing it), and the losing it leads to the fear of (still greater calamity):this is what is meant by saying that favor and disgrace would seem equally to be feared….

Chapter 14
We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it ‘the Equable.’ We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it ‘the Inaudible.’ We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we name it ‘the Subtle.’

With these three qualities, it cannot be made the subject of description; and hence we blend them together and obtain The One.
Chapter 18

When the Great Tao (Way or Method) ceased to be observed, benevolence and righteousness came into vogue. (Then) appeared wisdom and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy

Chapter 22

He whose (desires) are few gets them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray.

Chapter 23
Abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity of his nature. A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a sudden rain does not last for the whole day. To whom is it that these (two) things are owing?  To Heaven and Earth. If Heaven and earth cannot make such (spasmodic) actings last long, how much less can man!

Chapter 25
There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and  Earth. How still it was and formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)! It may be regarded as the Mother of all things.  I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tao (the Way or Course).

Chapter 29

If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp loses it.

Chapter 30
When things have attained their strong maturity they become old. This may be said to be not in accordance with the Tao: and what is not in accordance with it soon comes to an end.

Chapter 31
Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen, hateful, it may be said, to all creatures. Therefore they who have the Tao do not like to employ them.  The superior man ordinarily considers the left hand the most honorable place, but in time of war the right hand.

Those sharp weapons are instruments of evil omen, and not the instruments of the superior man; he uses them only on the compulsion of necessity.

Chapter 32
The Tao, considered as unchanging, has no name. The relation of the Tao to all the world is like that of the great rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.

Chapter 33
He who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is intelligent. He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes himself is mighty. He who is satisfied with his lot is rich; he who goes on acting with energy has a (firm) will.

Chapter 34

All pervading is the Great Tao! It may be found on the left hand and on the right.

Chapter 41 

The Tao is hidden, and has no name; but it is the Tao which is skillful at imparting (to all things what they need) and making them complete.

 Chapter 42

What other men (thus) teach, I also teach. The violent and strong do not die their natural death. I will make this the basis of my teaching.

Chapter 46

When the Tao prevails in the world, they send back their swift horses to (draw) the dungcarts.  When the Tao is disregarded in the world, the warhorses breed in the border lands.

There is no guilt greater than to sanction ambition; no calamity greater than to be discontented with one’s lot; no fault greater than the wish to be getting. Therefore the sufficiency of contentment is an enduring and unchanging sufficiency.

Chapter 48

He who devotes himself to learning (seeks) from day to day to increase (his knowledge); he who devotes himself to the Tao (seeks) from day to day to diminish (his doing).  He diminishes it and again diminishes it, till he arrives at doing nothing (on purpose).

Chapter 51

All things are produced by the Tao, and nourished by its outflowing operation. They receive their forms according to the nature of each, and are completed according to the circumstances of their condition. Therefore all things without exception honor the  Tao, and exalt its outflowing operation.  

This honoring of the Tao and exalting of its operation is not the result of any ordination, but always a spontaneous tribute.  

 Chapter 53

 The great Tao (or way) is very level and easy; but people love the byways. 

 Chapter 56

He who knows (the Tao) does not (care to) speak (about it); he who is (ever ready to) speak about it does not know it.  He (who knows it) will keep his mouth shut and close the portals (of his nostrils).

He will blunt his sharp points and unravel the complications of things; he will temper his brightness, and bring himself into agreement with the obscurity (of others). This is called ‘the Mysterious Agreement.’

Chapter 64

The tree which fills the arms grew from the tiniest sprout; the tower of nine stories rose from a (small) heap of earth; the journey of a thousand li commenced with a single step.

Chapter 76

Man at his birth is supple and weak; at his death, firm and strong.  So it is with all things.

Chapter 78

There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water,  and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing that can take precedence of it; for there is nothing (so effectual) for which it can be changed.  Every one in the world knows that the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in practice.

Chapter 80

In a little state with a small population, I would so order it, that, though there were individuals with the abilities of ten or a hundred men, there should be no employment of them; I would make the people, while looking on death as a grievous thing, yet not remove elsewhere (to avoid it).  

Though they had boats and carriages, they should have no occasion to ride in them; though they had buff coats and sharp weapons, they should have no occasion to don or use them.

I would make the people return to the use of knotted cords (instead of the written characters). They should think their (coarse) food sweet; their (plain) clothes beautiful; their (poor) dwellings places of rest; and their common (simple) ways sources of enjoyment. 

There should be a neighboring state within sight, and the voices of the fowls and dogs should be heard all the way from it to us, but I would make the people to old age, even to death, not have any intercourse with it. 

Chapter 81

Sincere words are not fine; fine words are not sincere.





4 thoughts on “The Tao – selected readings

  1. I love the Tao, have several versions of the translations into English.
    Lao Tzu, was the ultimate poetry and philosophy master, as well as direction for a balanced society and relationships and, he wrote short tweet like poems befor tweets were cool! lol 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That he did, but tweeting hadn’t occurred to me. 🙂 Being a traveller of sorts, I own no books so am dependent on the internet. I have a download of ‘Kim’ by Kipling to read soon I have seen that mentioned several times as a good source to understanding Western views on Buddhism. I think I am more of a Taoist than Buddhist, an ongoing exploration.

    Liked by 1 person

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