Tao Te Ching

Joe Kelly

1

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

Undefined, there's no divide.
Defining means a world of separate things.

See...
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.

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.

Thus...
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.

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.

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

Masters bring a bigger disposition — then it goes.
They're not opposed to either half of the process.

They create, but don't possess;
They trial, but don't expect;
They succeed, but don't profess.

A question always stays, and they keep going.

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.

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

He uproots his beliefs.
Disproves his ideas.

With nothing to prove, things are ordered.

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.

Thus...
Masters keep the mind not-so-preoccupied.
And the belly then rarely unfills.

They uproot their beliefs.
Disprove their ideas.

With nothing to prove, things are ordered.

4

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

And all the while still it goes on.

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

What a mystery!

I see no way
we'd know or say
this nature.

It's like a picture
with no edge to frame.

5

Nature has no favoured way.
All things rearrange without a passion.

The Master has no favoured way.
All beliefs can change in this same fashion.

Look at ‘space’.

See space, you can say,
is quite a few ways
like a bellows.

It's the emptiness that gives it such power!
The more it gets moved, the more gets produced!

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

They work differently
from that to which they sign.

5

Nature has no favoured way.
All things rearrange without a passion.

Masters have no favoured way.
All beliefs can change in this same fashion.

Look at ‘space’.

See space, you can say,
is quite a few ways
like a bellows.

It's the emptiness that gives it such power!
The more it gets moved, the more gets produced!

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

They work differently
from that to which they sign.

6

It's a rearranging space
of endless changes.

There's room for improving,
and gaps to expand in.

Feels like more
a female sort of thing.

Always there
and ready to receive.

7

The heavens are endless.
The earth lasts ages.

How can their duration be explained?

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

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

He loses himself,
and by this he unfolds.

Odd how in this
silence of himself
he's fulfilled.

7

The heavens are endless.
The earth lasts ages.

How can their duration be explained?

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

Thus...
Masters put themselves back,
and by this they're brought forward.

They lose themselves,
and by this they unfold.

Odd how in this
silence of themselves
they're fulfilled.

8

The highest skill is like water.

Water fits all its conditions — it's unforced.
It flows in low places where others change course.

It finds and aligns with the Way.

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

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

So far as there's no shape which must be forced,
he's never out of place or off course.

8

The highest skill is like water.

Water fits all its conditions — it's unforced.
It flows in low places where others change course.

It finds and aligns with the Way.

Thus...
The Master's home? Here.
Their mind? Not an answered question.

Their speech? Straightforward.
Their plan? Adapt.
Their work? Efficient.
Their action? ... Timely.

So far as there's no shape which must be forced,
they're never out of place or off course.

9

Once a bowl is 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.

10

Who can find a focus
and foundation?

The undistracted mind
without a hint of separation.

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

Where do preconceptions clear away
leaving ever-fewer stains?

Where does cooperation reign
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?

Endless development.

It creates without possessing;
trials without expecting;
inspires without controlling.

In this lies untold power.

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.

All our valued things
make use of nothing.

12

The Five Colours blind people.
The Five Tones deafen people.
The Five Feelings numb people.

See...
Search replaces sensing.
Success misguides the mind.

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

12

The Five Colours blind people.
The Five Tones deafen people.
The Five Feelings numb people.

See...
Search replaces sensing.
Success misguides the mind.

Thus...
Masters begin with the actual things,
before thoughts of What They Will Find.

13

Glory and shame...
At their base they're the same.

Status is a menace.

Aiming at status
is chasing low places.

Fear for its loss.
Hope for its gain.

Two ancient games
played on ancient terrain.

Those whose status fits the world
aren't short of loyalty.

Those for whom the world is felt their own
are trusted in command.

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.

These three can't succeed.

Attempting to sense it is part of it —
not located elsewhere.

It's nothing bright,
nothing dull.

It doesn't rise,
doesn't lull.

It refuses definition,
like a thread of neverending length.

So we give it weird names...

The Unformed Form.
The Elusive.
The Void.

The Inimitable
Un-image-able Mystery!

No face to meet.
No back to follow.

The ancient Way
is here today.

Leaving footprints.

15

The wisest ones of old
were skilled in never being told.

They could learn on their own,
act without being shown.

Deeply aware
of the edges around
the unknown.

So how did they approach the unknown?

Stay ready.
Move through it like a winter river.

Stay undecided.
Keep the possibilities alive.

Stay attentive.
Be its humble guest.

Stay smooth.
Turn the frozen wet.

Stay undesigned.
Don't carve the block early.

Stay undefined.
Let some things be murky.

Stay mixed.
Accept unsettled.

Whose unsettled edges never perish
but continuously clear?

Whose balance never centers
but continuously appears?

To stay this way
do not be swayed
by Fulfillment.

The path not-so-blemished
gets endlessly replenished.

16

It all ends in stillness.

Where billions of things begin,
I'd say returns should be considered.

Each returns to
the condition it was in
before beginning.

This seems consistent.

With recognition
of consistent things
comes wisdom.

Otherwise dissonance.

When we distill
what is consistent
into principles...

It shapes our vision
of a larger system.

That shapes the people
in ruling positions.

They shape big pictures
with far-reaching decisions.

That sets conditions
that shape people's ways.

The people shape history,
defining our age.

The death of this body
is not the worry.

17

The highest 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 other people say,
“We do it on our own, our way”.

17

The highest 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.

Masters understand this well.

They succeed when other people say,
“We do it on our own, our way”.

18

When the Way no longer flows,
‘Correct’ sets in stone.

When wisdom is routine,
deception succeeds.

When family ties destabilize,
people honour names.

When disorder strikes a country,
loyal ministers obtain.

19

Throw out ‘Wise’.
Abandon ‘Known’.
Too narrow.

Forget ‘Correct’.
Drop ‘Fair and Even’.
Just tides.

Lessen the clever.
Taper the favoured.
Intrusions.

Three good adjustments
but no foundation.

So...
Appreciate plainness.
Deal in essential.
Focus goals.
Sharpen technique.

20

Scrap the guidebooks.
Save your worries.

What's the difference between
"good day to you, sir" and "hi"?

Does it matter?

Must all of us walk
a single course?

How stupid!

These people seem dazed...
They're like hungry guests at a feast.

I'm still here listening...
More like a baby figuring out speech.

They're absorbed in the daily increase.
But what of the daily decrease?

I must be a fool
with all that I've emptied!

Most like to shine.
I don't mind to be unseen.

Most seem so sure.
Things seem doubtful to me.

Most will go on,
believing things stay.

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

21

Where character is real
nothing is adhered to but the Way.

As in...
The Way you can't be told
and no-one can say.

The words we read don't secure it.
The images we see just obscure it.

The definitions are endless
and constantly change.

Still...
All those definitions
share a similar composition.

In ancient times
and still today...

Characteristics rearrange...
But the movement?

It's the same.

How can it be ours?
Keep going.

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, freedom to choose.

Thus...
The Master sees no
separateness, just stages.

He looks for neither
and sees clearly.

He strives for neither
and moves free.

He fears for neither
and succeeds.

He stays with neither
and keeps going.

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

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, freedom to choose.

Thus...
Masters don't see separateness,
they see stages.

They look for neither,
and see clearly.

They strive for neither,
and move free.

They fear for neither,
and succeed.

Then they leave
and keep going.

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

23

What's 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?

See...
While many make great 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.

Seeing this is how these things complete.

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

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 needs no overstatement.
The Master needs no pretense.

25

There are times when events go together,
before any conceptions come to be.

What a silence this delivers!
Something truly unique.

There's one course of action and no other aim.
Everything flows, nothing gets in the way.

We can make this be
the way that we
do anything.

You can't really define it in technique.
I call it the Way — a path walked, so to speak.

Don't sweat the definition.
Take a tour, not a Great Expedition.

Walk the Way
as a natural condition.

That's to say...

Make the Way great.
It matters.

The source of great thoughts
and great actions.

And great rule-making too.
But after.

These are the four great spaces we enter.
Ruling is the smallest in the center.

Remember...
People are never separate
from actions.

Actions are never separate
from thoughts.

Thoughts are never separate
from the Way.

The Way they walk is theirs.
But the same.

26

Massive actions need play.
Massive storms need patience.

See...
Wisdom isn't living without a blizzard.
Skill is many days spent heavy-laden.

So...
How can light games work
in the grandest-scale framework?

You need lightness
so the wise can find roots.

You need storms
so the skillful have room.

27

Expert steps
aren't just followed.

Expert words
aren't just hollow.

See...
It's not just tricks and locks.
Gather up keys — it won't open.

It's not just tying a knot.
Fasten it down — it's broken.

Thus...
The Master will discern
an expert person
then return.

He never abandons his practice.

You could call this
"keeping the lights on".

Experts aren't made
by training to be expert.

Experts are made
by failing to be expert.

So...
Always respect a good lesson.
But never adhere without question.

Irrespective of how clever,
that's a fundamental error.

Doubt is essential.

27

Expert steps
aren't just followed.

Expert words
aren't just hollow.

See...
It's not just tricks and locks.
Gather up keys — it won't open.

It's not just tying a knot.
Fasten it down — it's broken.

Thus...
Masters will discern
an expert person
then return.

They never abandon their practice.

You could call this
"keeping the lights on".

Experts aren't made
by training to be expert.

Experts are made
by failing to be expert.

So...
Always respect a good lesson.
But never adhere without question.

Irrespective of how clever,
that's a fundamental error.

Doubt is essential.

28

To know what's male
means keeping what's female.

Make them one stream.

Real character's in that stream
like a baby would be.

To know what's light
means keeping what's dark.

Make them one means.

Real character's in that means
and at neither extreme.

To know what's virtuous
means keeping what's vicious.

Make them one valley.

Real character's in that valley
or else without value.

Neither shape serves us
unless there's real purpose.

So then...

Carve these blocks wiser...
go further and higher.

But there's no splitting them.

29

You try to force
the world towards
your liking.

But it doesn't happen.

The world itself
has its own wealth
of timings.

You can't combat them.

It's those who wish
the world were fixed
who break it.

It's those who keep
the tightest grip
who lose it.

Take anything...

It might seem like leading.
Maybe it's followed.

It might seem to be loud.
Maybe it's mellow.

It might seem like strength.
Maybe it's weak.

It might seem like victory.
Maybe it's defeat.

Thus...
The Master knows
you never know
for certain.

He shuns
excessive action
and extremes.

29

You try to force
the world towards
your liking.

But it doesn't happen.

The world itself
has its own wealth
of timings.

You can't combat them.

It's those who wish
the world were fixed
who break it.

It's those who keep
the tightest grip
who lose it.

Take anything...

It might seem like leading.
Maybe it's followed.

It might seem to be loud.
Maybe it's mellow.

It might seem like strength.
Maybe it's weak.

It might seem like victory.
Maybe it's defeat.

Thus...
Masters know
you never know
for certain.

They shun
excessive action
and extremes.

30

Good rule-making accomodates the Way.
Forcing isn't how it's all maintained.

Force means opposition.

The path your army walks
has many thorns.

The field after the war
produces slower than before.

See...
The skillful move to actions
as trees give rise to fruits.

They don't go further.

When they prevail,
it's not for glory.

When they succeed,
it's not for show.

When they achieve,
it's not for distinction.

When they guide,
it's not for control.

Overgrown means frail.

What's not the Way
is not sustained.

31

The finest soldiers
find it joyless.

Maybe it's not right.

For those who walk the Way
it has no special weight.

But it's not taken light.

High success
is two sides kept.

Enforcer right.
Civilian left.

The finest soldiers
find it joyless.

They know the fight,
not how it's dressed.

The task is adopted,
since there isn't an option.

But the feeling is neutral, at best.

See...
Victory is serious.

Joy can't rest
on others' deaths.

To delight in requiring
that others are dying...

That's the height
of dysfunction.

Nothing less.

So...
Generals go left in the good times,
and right when times are bad.

Two twin paths throughout their lives
until their funeral's had.

32

The Way will never be defined.

That's a small and simple rule,
but it'll never be outsized.

Not by anyone.

When rule-makers are capable
of not-defining well...

The world of separate things
begins aligning by itself.

The whole takes on a shape...
It's like a sweetness-catching lattice.

There's no-one who controls it
but continuous rebalance.

The rules you make
define a shape.

Defining is automatic.

The skill in this
for minimum risk?

Remember to abandon.

Our ordered paths are to the Way
as tiny streams are to the sea.

33

It's clever when you
know the path of others.

Truly able people know their own.

It's strength when you
succeed compared to others.

Truly strong successes stand alone.

Some know what
sufficient means.

They're the wealthy.

Some improve
relentlessly.

They work the belly.

There are those for whom
these two cohere.

They go the furthest.

There are those who died
and didn't disappear.

They haven't finished.

34

Great actions
are expansions
of the Way.

Both can form
a back and forth
exchange.

Wherein...

There's a million new beginnings
which it gives no opposition.

There's much achieved
it gives no definition.

There's a million
things it feeds.

But no ruling
conditions.

There's no
desire for those
positions.

The less the better.

There's a million goals
the future holds.

But not ruling
positions.

The more the merrier.

Great actions can be made
when being great is not the aim.

35

There's a set
of great conceptions
we're all drawn to.

Away from pains.
Towards what guarantees.

Rich and blissful visions
take their prisoners.

The Way is pretty bland
compared to these!

When looked for,
it's invisible.

When listened for,
it's inaudible.

When applied,
it's inexhaustible.

36

You try to shorten something
but that lengthens it.

You try to weaken something
but that strengthens it.

You try to undermine something
but that reinforces it.

You try to subtract something
but that adds more of it.

It's subtle.

Flexible beats firm.
Adaptive beats unyielding.

It's a fish
which can't live
without water.

It's an active current
we all swim in.

These living skills are only built
with practice, never given.

37

The Way in fact
has no set path
of action.

It's never just do this
and don't do that.

When rule-makers are capable
of walking on this path...

There's a world of separate things
that isn't told, it just adapts.

Hopes arise
where a change
has thrived.

These I'd say
it's better not to have.

Re-undefine.

Don't carve the block
before its time.

Outside your hoped-for notions,
things are not so misaligned.

38

Real character
is not an exercise
in character.

That's why it has character.

Low character
is all an exercise
in character.

That's why it lacks character.

Real character
has no set path
of action.

It's not a destination.

Low character
has lots of paths
of action.

It's full of emulation.

See...
Truly well-made action
doesn't have a given shape.

Truly ‘Correct’ action
has shapes that you instate.

Truly ordered action
everyone hates.

...just forced
to imitate.

So...
You lose the Way
by aiming at character.

You lose character
by acting well-made.

You lose well-made
through ‘Correctness’.

And past ‘Correct’ there's nothing left...
Just orders followed more or less.

Empty meditations aimed
at traces of the Way.

The source of
all sorts of
disorder.

Thus...
The Master tends the depths.
The surface sorts itself.

He doesn't gather leaves,
he roots the tree.

He improves upon the way things are,
not thoughts of What Should Be.

38

Real character
is not an exercise
in character.

That's why it has character.

Low character
is all an exercise
in character.

That's why it lacks character.

Real character
has no set path
of action.

It's not a destination.

Low character
has lots of paths
of action.

It's full of emulation.

See...
Truly well-made action
doesn't have a given shape.

Truly ‘Correct’ action
has shapes that you instate.

Truly ordered action
everyone hates.

...just forced
to imitate.

So...
You lose the Way
by aiming at character.

You lose character
by acting well-made.

You lose well-made
through ‘Correctness’.

And past ‘Correct’ there's nothing left...
Just orders followed more or less.

Empty meditations aimed
at traces of the Way.

The source of
all sorts of
disorder.

Thus...
Masters tend the depths.
The surface sorts itself.

They don't gather leaves,
they root the tree.

They improve upon the way things are,
not thoughts of What Should Be.

39

Oldness is in holding
One True Way.

Wherein...
Just one belief is clear.
One set of actions must appear.

The one-way quiet mind
eclipses all that's undefined.

Everything developing
must fit the One True Shape.

Every king and rule-maker
must keep the world One Way.

But see...
Beliefs must fall to pieces
to get clearer.

Actions must adapt
to the arena.

The mind must keep still
in gaps it can't fill.

Universal rules for
any leader.

So...
Overvaluing things is costly.
Exalting things too highly brings decline.

Thus...
Under every high-skilled leader
the ground is recognised.

They say, “We alone
are unworthy”.

And so pay
no such price.

Note...
You can gather all the parts of a chariot.
Doesn't mean you've got one.

Don't just see
the shining jewels.

Look to the rocks
at the bottom.

40

When you enact ‘The Way’
you've gone against it.

When you apply ‘The Way’
you've lessened it.

Without exception...

They're all just bits of what it is
turned into what it isn't.

41

Top academics hear ‘The Way’
and diligently practice.

Middle academics hear ‘The Way’
and move among crowds.

Non-academics hear ‘The Way’
and laugh aloud.

If we can't ever laugh
there isn't a path
for the Way.

So...
Often we say...

Ways of ‘Light’ conceal.
Ways of ‘Progress’ hold back.

‘Equalness’ distinguishes.
‘High Character’ is a low track.

What's ‘Pure White’ is a stain.
What's ‘Rich’ creates lack.

Intention does not
mean impact.

See...
Where there's great discipline
it isn't in boundaries.

Where there's great training
it never completes.

There are sounds
no-one hears.

There are forms
no-one sees.

The Way isn't
carved and concrete.

No definition.
Beginning and finish.

That's how the real thing's achieved.

42

🚧 Work in progress.

道生一
一生二
二生三
三生萬物
萬物負陰而抱陽
沖氣以為和
人之所惡
孤寡不榖
而王公以為稱
故物
或損之而益
或益之而損
人之所教
我亦教之
強梁者
不得其死
吾將以為教父