Tao Te Ching

Joe Kelly

Tao Te Ching Chapter 1

The Way that can be told is never the Way.
Every definition is misleading.

Undefined means no divide.
Defining means a world of separate things.

Without your hoped-for notions, endless questions.
With them, you're in your own way.

It's an on-and-off wave, an ongoing exchange.
Re-draw your map — hope the territory is explained.

Continue to explore
what always goes before
your definitions.

This is the doorway to the subtlety of Masters.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 2

Without exception...

When good is decided, bad was declared.
When right is discerned, wrong was defined.

In the same way...
A something makes nothings.
A difficult explains easies.
A long describes shorts.
A high arranges lows.

And vice versa.

Wisdom thinks in not-so-split distinctions.
Skill consists in not-so-strict instructions.

The Master brings a bigger disposition — then it goes.
He's not opposed to either half of the process.

He creates, but doesn't possess;
he trials, but doesn't expect;
he succeeds, but doesn't profess.

A question always stays, and he keeps going.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 3

Where there's no-one higher than others,
there's no rivalry.

Where there's no treasure to protect,
there are no thieves.

Where there's no hope-filled preconceptions,
there's no problem disagreeing.

The Master keeps the mind not-so-preoccupied.
And the belly then rarely unfills.

He uproots his beliefs.
Disproves his ideas.

With not-a-thing to prove, things are ordered.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 4

The Way flows forth...
Billions of distinct configurations.

And all the while still it goes on.

The pointed smoothes over.
The tangled unwinds.
The glaring fades.
The dust settles.

Next is mystery!

I see no way we'd know or say this nature.
The picture has no edge to frame.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 5

Nature has no favoured way.
All things rearrange — and not a passion.

The Master has no favoured way.
All things in his thinking might so-change.

Take ‘space’ for example.

See space
(you can say)
is (in many ways)
the same as bellows.

It's empty — that gives it great power!
The more it gets moved, the more gets produced!

It seems...
Ideas and words (our nouns and verbs)
make many a misunderstanding.

They're never quite the that to which they sign.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 6

An ever-rearranging space.
Endless new creations.
Neverending changes.

Room for improving.
Gaps to expand in.

Feels more a female sort of thing.
Always there, forever ready to receive.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 7

The endless heavens, the ancient ground...
How is it they are still going?

They're not a product of themselves.
That's how their growth has been sustained.

The Master puts back ideas of himself,
and by this he's brought forward.

He loses himself,
and by this he unfolds.

Odd how in this silence of himself he is fulfilled.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 8

The height of a skill is like water.

Water fits, whatever its conditions — its form is never forced.
It stays with frustrations, remaining when many retreat.

...finding and aligning with the Way.

The Master's home is? Here.
His mind is? Not an answered question.

His speech is? Straightforward.
His plan is?
His work is? Efficient.
His action is? ... Timely.

So far as there's no shape which must be forced,
he's neither out of place nor off course.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 9

When a bowl becomes all the way full, it only spills.
Better to know when to stop.

Endless treasures are never secure.
Oversharpened blades are quick to blunt.

Those who try to highlight their own worth
only ever undermine their work.

Move on from work that's over.
There's no better way.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 10

Who can find fixation?
The single-focused mind.
Zero separation.

Where can you concentrate for days
still like a baby, soft-of-shape?

Where do preconceptions clean away,
so that instead of imperfections,
you see the view unstained?

Where does cooperation reign,
in people, rules, arenas,
without being made?

Where do countless good decisions
come from no specific system?

Where does each new piece of wisdom
mark the start of more tuition?

That's an ever-developing life.

It creates while not busy possessing;
trials while not busy expecting;
inspires while not busy controlling.

In this lies untold power.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 11

We join thirty spokes at a wheel's hub;
the hole in the middle moves the cart.

We mould clay into a pot;
the emptiness inside makes it useful.

We build walls to make a house;
the space is where we live.

Purpose-made things
make use of non-things.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 12

The Five Tone Scale restricts an ear.
The Five Colour Spectrum imprisons an eye.
The Five Flavour Palate limits a tongue.

Expectation takes over the senses.
Perfection consumes the mind.

The Master begins with the actual things;
before thoughts of What He Will Find.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 13

Glory and shame, they're one and the same.
Status is the fundamental menace.


Down with glory.
Beware of where you gain it.
Beware of where it's lost.

That's what it means!

Those who leave their status in the world
will not be short of loyalty.

Those who show where work is not their own
will be trusted with command.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 14

Look for it - you won't find it;
it's not hidden.

Listen for it - you won't hear it;
it's not faint.

Grasp at it - you won't catch it;
it's not there.

On their own, these three lead to nothing.
In their concert, one act blooms.

It's not bright.
It's not dull.

Like an endless thread's length, it refuses definition,
returning to no-thing-ness.

So we arrive at odd names...
The form unformed; a nothingness; void.

Ever-elusive and inexpressable,
it is an un-image-inable mystery!

No face to meet,
no back to follow.

Not out in history,
but fresh in this moment.

We see some olden patterns now,
newly re-beginning.

This is the Way, they might say, and its footprints.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 15

We study the skillful...

And there's a subtlety that defies explanation;
what they perceive can't be described.

Our descriptions can only speak of the way they appear...

So alert! More so than crossing a frozen river.
So observant! More so than with threats from all sides.
So attentive! More so than the humblest of guests.

So effortless! Like ice turning to water.
So natural! Like uncarved wood.
So open! Like a wide valley.

And all of it at once.

Who can let these muddy waters settle, and see things clear?
Who can not rush, trusting action to rise by itself?

He who is walking this path
isn't trying to attain it.

So far as there's no sense of arrival, he goes on.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 16

As for the very end of everything,
I see only peace; still beyond imagining.

All things begin,
and explode in their activity.

But then we ask, "Well what of their return?"

Each of them returns
to how they were before beginning.
The same stillness.

There is always this return...

In understanding this arrangement lies clarity.
Those with faith in an escape excite ambition and despair.

Not escaping ever-present patterns,
a man stays open.

Open, thus not expectant.
Not expectant, thus not constrained.
Not constrained, thus natural.
Natural, thus of the Way.
Of the Way, thus free of known ends.

When is not-being a problem?

Tao Te Ching Chapter 17

Exceptional leadership builds understanding.

Other leadership builds admiration.
Other leadership builds doubt and fear.
Other leadership builds hate.

Straight instruction isn't enough;
it's never straightforward.

The Master understands this well.

He succeeds when a hundred types can say,
"We do it on our own, our way."

Tao Te Ching Chapter 18

When the Way no longer flows,
Right and Wrong gets set in stone.

When wisdom is a learned routine,
deception succeeds.

When family ties destabilize,
there's honoring of names.

When disorder strikes a country,
loyal ministers obtain.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 19

Throw away "wisdom".
Try not to capture its technique.
This is a hundred times more effective.

Forget the correct way to be.
Don't hope to reach "fair and even".
Enjoy the rhythm.

Dump the clever and special.
Don't try to salvage these values.
Do without the distraction.

Three good adjustments,
yet no foundation.

Whatever the framework, I'd say...

Appreciate the plain; deal with what's essential;
focus your goals; sharpen your technique.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 20

Scrap the rigid guidebooks.
Save your worries.

Is there really such a difference
between "good day to you, sir" and "hi"?

Does it matter?

Must all men walk a single course?
How stupid!

People get so mesmerized,
as caught up as a guest at a feast.

While I seem anchored blank with wonder,
more like a baby figuring out speech.

Most seem absorbed in daily increase.
What of daily decrease..?
Hack away at the unessential.
I must be a fool my mind is so emptied!

Most like to stay where the light shines.
I don't mind the unseen.

Most seem so sure and so certain.
Things seem more doubtful to me.

Still on we all go...
This doesn't rest, nowhere is safe.

While they try to trap the tides, bring on the waves.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 21

There is no map to Mastery, there's the Way.
There's not a thing to follow.

So what is the Way?
No idea.

No chain of words ever holds it;
each image conceived just obscures it.

Still going now...
Its rhythm isn't thinkable.
And never has it been!

Yet still we've seen, in history, its pattern.
How can this pattern be ours?

Keep going.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 22

Before completion, things are unfinished.
Before straightening, the path bends.

Before filling comes emptiness.
Before renewal comes use.

Before opportunity there's limitation.
Before confinement there's freedom to choose.

The Master sees not separateness, but stages.

He looks for neither,
and his vision is clear.

He strives for neither,
and he moves free.

He fears for neither,
and he succeeds.

He dwells on no success,
and he goes further.

So far as nothing is opposed, opposition isn't met.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 23

The natural is succinct.

The strongest winds aren't always blowing.
The heaviest rain doesn't fall every day.

These two are natural movements.
Neither is too long sustained.

Why on Earth should a person be different?

While men make many statements of "The Way"...

Deliberating over the Way
is a part of the Way.

Deliberating over character
is a part of character.

Deliberating over neither
is a part of neither.

So seen, these things are suddenly complete.

Straight instruction isn't enough;
it's never straightforward.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 24

The tallest stance is not the firmest.
The longest stride is not the fastest.

Those who try to seem bright do not shine.
Those who try to seem faultless make problems.

Only unapparent virtues need proclaiming.
Only doubtful truths need defense.

The Way does not need overstatement.
The Master does not need pretense.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 25

There's a simple mix of things, fulfilled and finished.
It's there before any ideas of the world.

It flows unspoken.
Unwritten. Out of reach.
Playing always.

Like a Mother to all individual things...
The that from which their entire pattern springs.

Its name doesn't matter...
It eludes every description, but I'm calling it the Way.

When I try, if it must be described,
I can only say "bigger".

Boundless, more than thoughts, more than limits.
It's just reflections that are seen.

It seems...
The Way is without limit, it goes on to no end.

So these Heavens,
and everything with them,
go on to no end.

The Master, in turn, goes on to no end:

He's unfolding with the Earth.
Earth is unfolding with the Heavens.
The Heavens are unfolding with the Way.

The Way is going on.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 26

Playfulness is the root of momentous actions.
Calmness is the key to heated actions.

That's why...
The powerful go for days though heavy-laden.
No matter how lively the scene, they're not moved.

And as for high commanders?

We have to wonder
how the games work
in their worlds.

Show playfulness, lose support.
Show excitement, lose control.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 27

The most expert of steps
are not followed.

That part of skill has no tricks and no lock;
it's not by a key that it's opened.

You don't tie it down with a specified knot;
no such bind is made or broken.

The Master never neglects this.

He keeps the natural expert in others.
He keeps the natural expert in things his own.

You could call this: "keeping the lights on".

In practicing...
Those above give vital inspiration.
Those below bring indispensable support.

To ignore this support,
or credit none as inspirations,
is quite clever, but gravely mistaken.

This is fundamental.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 28

He who knows the male
and keeps the female
carves ravines...

New space into which he keeps growing.

He who sees the figure
and keeps the background
frees potential...

His course won't dead-end or get trapped.

He who knows the formal
and keeps the free
discovers great valleys...

Wide landscapes: vast power to adapt.

Like the uncarved block...

Once fixed into shape for a purpose,
this power has dispersed.

The Master's rise through new heights finds no rut
so far as The Structure still hasn't been cut.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 29

There are those who want to grasp the world,
and forge a picture to their liking.

I have never seen it work.

If there's magic in anything,
it's that you can't do that.

Those who try to fix all things do harm.
Those who try to manage all things lose control.

See, the world has parts...
Parts which lead.
Parts which follow.
Some parts loud.
Some parts mellow.
Parts with power.
Parts without.
Some build up.
Some burn out.

The Master departs any template.
He doesn't impose a particular style of unfolding.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 30

When those who lead nations align with the Way,
every land is not conquered by force.

Force entails a state of opposition.

It seems...
The path an army walks has many thorns.
For years a field of war produces slower than before.

The Master moves to action
as a tree gives rise to fruit.

And ventures no further.

He prevails but not for glory.
Succeeds but not for show.
Achieves but not for distinction.
Guides but not for control.

Anything overgrown becomes frail.
This can't be sustained.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 31

Weaponry may be magnificent,
but signifies rivalry.

The Master has roots down elsewhere.

It's rarely a very good tool.
In conflict, he's indifferent, swift and cool.

His fulfillment
doesn't come with the victory.

To thrive on the victory
is to thrive on conflict with others.

And that which thrives on conflict with others
cannot carry all of life's momentum.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 32

The Way is not a still target.

While an uncarved block seems like nothing,
nothing is more powerful.

Around the leader who keeps it, things attune;
the world joins with his direction.

Whenever rules are introduced,
there's a target.

Whenever there's a target,
the adept are prepared to depart.

Every tightly ordered path compares to the Way
like a stream compares to the sea.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 33

To master someone else's path is clever.
To master ourselves is our peak.

Outdoing others brings toughness.
Outdoing ourselves brings ease.

To forge a path at will takes riches.
To create things we need takes zeal.

Those who cling to life live long.
Those we don't forget live on.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 34

The Way floods on.
No matter which direction!

Ten thousand things rise up...
they're not designed.

Heights are reached...
they're not named.

Ten thousand things go on...
there's no command.

Hopeful notions...

Ten thousand things pass by...
there's no command.

Through refusing to presume What Matters,
The Master makes way for what matters.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 35

All the world is drawn to grand conceptions.
Drawn to what secures and guarantees.

Rich and blissful visions take their prisoners.
The Way? It seems so bland compared to these!

When looked for,
no finished picture is there to be seen.

When listened for,
no sacred sound is there to be heard.

When lived,
no solid promise is there to relieve.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 36

Rigid expansions rely on things shrinking.
Inflexible forces rely on things being weak.

Enforced structures guarantee suppression.
Fixed ways of being guarantee frustration.

For these reasons...

The gentle and adaptive is superior
to the hard and unyielding.

That's subtlety.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 37

The Way forces nothing,
yet nothing is not what's done.

When leadership can keep this course,
things ripen on their own.

As things ripen, fixed ideals will spring all over.

These submerge
within the formless course
of the uncarved block.

The uncarved block obeys no preference.
Free from notions of how to be stable, the world rearranges.

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