Wisdom of Lao-Tzu: 12 Quotes from the Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching (roughly translated as “The Book of the Way of Virtue”) is an ancient Chinese text consisting of 81 verses mainly about the Tao (“the Way”). It offers wisdom on how to live and lead with virtue. Although its true author is not (or cannot be) absolutely verified, the text is attributed to Chinese philosopher and writer Lao-Tzu (also, Lao-Tse or Laozi).

I first learned of the Tao Te Ching when I read the book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Frey, who was an alcoholic going through rehab (more on this at a later post!), wrote that he found comfort in reading the Tao Te Ching:

“They speak to me, make sense to me, reverberate within me, calm ease sedate relax still pacify me. They ring true and that is all that matters the truth. Although I am no expert on this or anything related to this or anything at all except being a fuck-up, I seem to understand what this book this weird beautiful enlightened little book is saying to me.”  ~ James Frey, A Million Little Pieces

Frey related several verses from the Tao Te Ching in his own words, which I had copied into my own Journal, as I found comfort in them, too. I go back to those pages when nothing seems to make sense anymore. Because though on the surface, the Tao’s teachings seem self-contradictory (“Those who live with the Tao act without doing“, “Stay behind and get ahead“), upon deeper reflection they do reveal certain truths. I guess that’s how wisdom works.

Now, sharing with you some of my favorite quotes from it, hoping that they may offer you wisdom and maybe some comfort, too:

Chapter 2

“When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.”

Chapter 8

“In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.”

Chapter 9

“Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”

Chapter 10

“Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.”

Chapter 11

“We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.”

Chapter 15

“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.”

Chapter 23

Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.”

Chapter 24

“He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand form.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.”

Chapter 27

“A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.”

 

Chapter 33

“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.”

Chapter 66

“All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.

Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.”

Chapter 69

“The generals have a saying:
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.”

Reference: Tao Te Ching. Translation by Stephen Mitchell (1998).

This entry is part of my undertaking a 30-day challenge Matt Cutts talked about at TED2011. The premise is to “think about something you’ve always wanted to add to your life and try it for the next 30 days.” I am challenging myself to post one blog entry a day for 30 consecutive days. [But apparently, I’ve now failed at the “consecutive” part of this😔]

Today is Day 14.

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6 thoughts on “Wisdom of Lao-Tzu: 12 Quotes from the Tao Te Ching

  1. Why do you worry about your ‘consecutive days’, you are gracing me with your journey, thank you.
    And more importantly, you are doing you…accept that and you have created much wisdom kind lady.
    Expectations are only built on fears, face the fear and understand them, they then lose their power and that will set you free…of yours and others expectations ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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