Tao Te Ching | Lao Tzu – Laozi | Spirituality Podcasts

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Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from Dwight Goddard’s translation of the Lao Tzu’s classic book the Tao Te Ching, published in 1919.

The Tao that can be understood cannot be the primal, or cosmic, Tao, just as an idea that can be expressed in words cannot be the infinite idea.

And yet this ineffable Tao is the source of all spirit and matter, and being expressed is the mother of all created things.

Therefore not to desire the things of sense is to know the freedom of spirituality; and to desire is to learn the limitation of matter. These two things, spirit and matter, so different in nature, have the same origin. This unity of origin is the mystery of mysteries, and it is the gateway to spirituality.

When everyone recognizes beauty to be only a masquerade, then it is simply ugliness. In the same way, goodness (if it is not sincere) is not goodness. So existence and non-existence are incompatible. The difficult and easy are mutually opposites — just as the long and the short, the high and the low, the loud and soft, the before and the behind, are all opposites, and each reveals the other.

Therefore the wise person is not conspicuous in their affairs or given to much talking. Though troubles arise they are not irritated. They produce but do not own; they act but claim no merit; they build but do not dwell therein; and because they do not dwell therein, they never depart.

The Spirit of the perennial spring is said to be immortal. She is called the Mysterious One. The Mysterious One is typical of the source of heaven and earth. It is continually and endlessly issuing forth and without effort.

True goodness is like water, in that it benefits everything and harms nothing. Like water, it ever seeks the lowest place, the place that all others avoid. It is closely kin to the Tao.

For a dwelling, it chooses the quiet meadow; for a heart, the circling eddy. In generosity, it is kind; in speech, it is sincere; in authority, it is order; in affairs, it is ability; in movement, it is rhythm.

Inasmuch as it is always peaceable, it is never rebuked.

An excess of light, blinds the human eye; an excess of noise, ruins the ear; an excess of condiments, deadens the taste. The effect of too much horse racing and hunting is bad, and the lure of hidden treasure tempts one to do evil.

Therefore the wise person attends to the inner significance of things and does not concern themselves with outward appearances. They ignore matter and seeks the spirit.

Holding fast to the Tao of the ancients, the wise one may understand the present, because they know the origin of the past. This is the clue to the Tao.

In olden times, the ones who were considered worthy to be called masters were subtle, spiritual, profound, wise. Their thoughts could not be easily understood. They were obscure like troubled waters. They were cautious because they were conscious of the deeper meanings of life and its possibilities.

We can clarify troubled waters by slowly quieting them. We can bring the unconscious to life by slowly moving them. But they who have the secret of the Tao do not desire for more. Being content, they are able to mature without the desire to be newly fashioned.

All things are in process, rising and returning. Plants come to blossom, but only to return to the root. Returning to the root is like seeking tranquillity; it is moving towards its destiny. To move toward destiny is like eternity. To know eternity is enlightenment, and not to recognize eternity brings disorder and evil.

Knowing eternity makes one comprehensive; comprehension makes one broadminded; breadth of vision brings nobility; nobility is like heaven.

The heavenly is like the Tao. The Tao is the Eternal. The decay of the body is not to be feared.

Humanity is derived from nature, nature is derived from Heaven, Heaven is derived from the Tao. The Tao is self-derived.

Good walkers leave no tracks, good speakers make no errors, good counters need no abacus, good wardens have no need for bolts and locks for no one can get by them.

The Tao in its eternal aspect is unnamable. Its simplicity appears insignificant, but the whole world cannot control it. As soon as the Tao expresses itself in orderly creation, then it becomes comprehensible. When we recognize the presence of the Tao, we understand where to stop. Knowing where to stop, we are free from danger.

To illustrate the nature of the Tao’s place in the universe, think about this: the Tao is like the brooks and streams in their relation to the great rivers and the ocean.

They who know others are intelligent; they who understand themselves are enlightened; they who are able to conquer others have force, but those who are able to control themselves are mighty. They who appreciate contentment are wealthy.

The Great Tao is all pervading! It can be on both the right hand and the left. Everything relies upon it for their existence, and it does not fail them. It acquires merit but covets not the title. It lovingly nourishes everything, but does not claim the rights of ownership. It has no desires; it can be classed with the small. Everything returns to it, yet it does not claim the right of ownership. It can be classed with the great.

Therefore the wise person to the end will not pose as a great individual, and by so doing will express their true greatness.

It has been said of old, only those who attain unity attain self-hood. . . . Heaven attained unity and thereby is space. Earth attained unity, thereby it is solid. Spirit attained unity, thereby it became mind. Valleys attained unity, therefore rivers flow down them. All things have unity and thereby have life. And the highest unity is that which produces unity.

If heaven were not space, it might crack; if earth were not solid, it might bend. If spirits were not unified into mind, they might vanish; if valleys were not adapted to rivers they would be parched. Everything if it were not for life would burn up. Even kings and queens, if they overestimate themselves and cease to be standards, will presumably fall.

Therefore leaders of nations must find their roots among the commoners; the high is always founded upon the low. A true self-hood does not desire to be overvalued as a gem, nor to be undervalued as a mere stone.

The superior scholar who considers the Tao, earnestly practices it; an average scholar listening to the Tao, sometimes follows it and sometimes loses it; an inferior scholar listening to the Tao, ridicules it. Were it not thus ridiculed, it could not be regarded as the Tao.

Therefore the writer says: Those who are most illumined by the Tao are the most obscure. Those advanced in the Tao are most retiring. Those best guided by the Tao are the least prepossessing.

The simplest chastity resembles the fickle; the greatest square has no corner; the largest vessel is never filled. The greatest sound is void of speech; the greatest form has no shape. The Tao is obscure and without name, and yet it is precisely this Tao that alone can give and complete.

The Tao produces unity; unity produces duality; duality produces trinity; trinity produces all things. All things bear the negative principle (yin) and embrace the positive principle (yang). Immaterial vitality, the third principle (chi), makes them harmonious.

I am teaching the same things which are taught by others. Not going out of the door, I have knowledge of the world. Not peeping through the window, I perceive heaven’s Tao. The more one wanders to a distance, the less you know.

Therefore the wise person does not wander about, but they understand; they do not see things, but they define them; they not labor, yet they complete.

Life is a going forth; death is a returning home. Of ten, three are seeking life, three are seeking death, and three are dying. What is the reason? Because they live in life’s experience. (Only one is immortal.)

It is said that when the sage travels, they are never attacked by rhinoceros or tiger, and when coming among soldiers does not fear their weapons. The rhinoceros would find no place to horn the sage, nor the tiger a place for his claws, nor could soldiers inflict a wound. What is the reason? Because the sage is invulnerable.

All the world calls the Tao great, yet it is by nature immaterial. It is because a thing is seemingly unreal that it is great. If a person affects to be great, how long can they conceal their mediocrity?

The Tao has three treasures which it guards and cherishes. The first is called compassion; the second is called economy; the third is called humility. A person who is compassionate can be truly brave; a person who is economical can be truly generous; a person who is humble can become a useful servant.

If we discard compassion and are still brave, abandon economy and are still generous, forsake humility and still seek to be serviceable, our days are numbered. On the other hand, if we are truly compassionate, in battle we will be a conqueror and in defense we will be secure. When even Heaven helps people it is because of compassion that she does so.

My words are very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice, yet in all the world no one appears to understand them or to practice them.

Words have an ancestor (a preceding idea), deeds have a master (a preceding purpose), and just as these are often not understood, so I am not understood.

They who understand me are very few, and on that account I am worthy of honor. The wise person wears wool (rather than silk) and keeps their gems out of sight.

Courage carried to daring leads to death. Courage restrained by caution leads to life. These two things, courage and caution, are sometimes beneficial and sometimes harmful. Therefore, the wise person acts carefully.

The Tao of heaven does not quarrel, yet it conquers. It speaks not, yet its response is good. It issues no summons, but things come to it naturally because its devices are good. Heaven’s net is vast, indeed! its meshes are wide but it loses nothing.

The Tao of heaven resembles the stretching of a bow. The mighty it humbles, the lowly it exalts. They who have abundance it diminishes and gives to them who have need.

That is Tao of heaven; it depletes those who abound, and completes those who lack.

The human way is not so. We take from those who lack to give to those who already abound. Where is the person who by their abundance can best serve the world?

The wise person makes but claims not; they accomplish merit, yet are not attached to it, neither do they display their excellence.

Faithful words are often not pleasant; pleasant words are often not faithful. Good men and women do not dispute; the ones who dispute are not good. The learned ones are often not the wise ones, nor the wise ones, the learned.

The wise person does not hoard, but ever working for others, they will the more exceedingly acquire. Having given to others freely, they themselves will have in plenty.

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