You may keep a bow taut,
but you cannot hold it so for long.
You may temper a blade until razor sharp,
but it will eventually lose its edge.
You may fill your rooms with gold and jade,
but you cannot guard them always.
Wealth and prestige fill you with pride,
and they will empty you too.
Step back when your work is done.
This is the way of the heavens.
The greatest power is like water;
water benefits the ten thousand things,
yet sinks to places undesired by man.
Thus it is like the way.
The power of a home is in its location,
the power of the mind is in its depth,
the power of giving is in generosity,
the power of speech is in truth,
the power of government is in order,
the power of work is in ability,
the power of action is in timing.
For this reason,
there is no contending,
there is no blame.
Heaven is eternal,
and earth is enduring.
What makes heaven eternal
and earth enduring?
They do not give birth to themselves.
That is why they are eternal and enduring.
For this reason,
the master withdraws,
but comes to the fore.
but is always present.
Free from desire,
aims are accomplished.
The spirit of the valley never dies.
It is called the mystical female.
The gateway of the mystical female
is called the root of heaven and earth.
Without substance, yet ever present.
Put to use, yet never exhausted.
Heaven and earth are not benevolent;
they treat the ten thousand things as straw dogs.
The masters are not benevolent;
they treat the common people as straw dogs.
The space between the heavens and earth:
how like a bellows it is.
Empty, but not exhausted,
the more it pumps, the more it produces.
Hearing too many words is exhausting;
better to remain in the center.
The way is an empty vessel.
When used, it remains full.
It is the source of the ten thousand things.
It blunts the sharp,
unravels the tangles,
mutes the glaring light,
joins with the dust.
It is hidden, but exists forever.
I do not know whose child it is,
only that it is older than the gods.
Don’t praise talent,
and people will not contend.
Don’t value possessions,
and people will not steal.
Don’t display treasures
and people will not envy.
The master, in ruling, will:
Empty people’s minds,
but fill their bellies;
Weaken their wills,
but strengthen their bones.
Always keeping the people
free from knowledge and desire,
the master keeps the erudite
from wrong action.
For those who practice not-doing,
everything will fall into place.
When everyone sees beauty as beauty,
then ugliness arises.
When everyone sees good as good,
then evil arises.
Being and non-being generate each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short measure each other.
High and low support each other.
Tone and voice harmonize each other.
Front and back follow each other.
Therefore the master
manages without doing,
teaches without saying.
The master lets things arise,
but does not start them.
The master acts,
but does not expect.
The master accomplishes,
but does not claim credit.
It is accomplishment without claiming credit
that makes it last forever.
The way of words is not the eternal way.
The spoken name is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of the universe.
The named is the mother of the myriad things.
Free from desire, you can see what is subtle.
Taken with desire, you can only see what is manifest.
Yet both arise from the same source, with different names.
Mystery within mystery,
the door to all wonders.
/ / /
I am working on a version of the Tao Te Ching. I am beginning today, publishing one of the poems from the book. My plan is to publish three a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.