Tao Te Ching 34

Cosmic Energy is like a force of water,
   on meeting an obstacle it simply flows around it.

Everything depends on it for life, but it depends on nothing.
   It does what it does without thanks.
Providing an environment for millions of life-forms
   it makes no attempt to control them.

It wants for nothing –
   yet we take it for granted.
Its unlimited environment for life
   is one of the very greatest blessings.

Yet this force is indifferent to our opinions …
   therein lies its greatness.

Tao Te Ching 33

The intelligent understand others:
the enlightened understand themselves.

The world's warriors master others:
spirit warriors master themselves.

The wealthy live lives of ease:
the clear-minded live lives of energy.

Any who hold to their truth come throu their ordeals.
Any who transcend their fear of death do not die.

Tao Te Ching 32

Cosmic energy [/Tao] flows eternally, indefinably,
   obvious in effect, yet so subtle in operation
   that its patterns can never be taken for granted.

If the emperior [/conscious will] can hold to a virtuous course all will follow:
   heaven and earth will respond with rich dew,
   in sweet accord wherever people cooperate without coercion.

Once, existence was extremely simple:
   people knew little but collaborated.
But as they learnt more,
   societies became increasingly complex.
We should beware of this process
   lest we lose sight of the underlying unity that weds us to the earth.
That way disaster lies.

The cosmic environment within which energy flows
   is felt in the smallest of springs
   as they rise in wooded valleys,
   emerging into streams and rivers
that flow finally into the mighty oceans of the world.


Tao Te Ching 31

Strong armies are a source of misfortune:
Every living thing dreads them.
Those who understand the cosmic energy forces [/Tao] will shun them too.
Decent men who at home value peace are transformed into monsters by armed power.

Strong armies are a source of misfortune, not a resource for a civil society.

When necessity demands their use calm detachment should be the approach.
In victory avoid glorification.
Those who celebrate are glorying in murder
And murderers will never achieve their ends.

Events of good omen are found to the left-hand side:
   Events of ill omen on the right.
To the left of the emperor stand the men of peace:
   To the right warriors.

Victories should be treated as a funeral.
Those who have been killed should be mourned.
In war there is no cause for rejoicing.


Tao Te Ching 30

A councillor who respects the Tao [/cosmic energy flow] will be reluctant to recommend a military solution to conflict: since this inevitably leads to retaliation.
   Only thistles grow where armies have been.
   After a great war lean years follow.

A good commander scores tactical victories but does not seek total domination:
– in success does not humiliate:
– in success does not rejoice:
– in success is not pig-headed:
– in success avoids unnecessary violence:
– in success does not scheme to become emperor.

What waxes in size will inevitably wane.
To arrest this cycle is contrary to Tao.
Nothing contrary to Tao can last.


Tao Te Ching 29

Many try to seize control of the world –
   history show how all fail.

The earth is a sacred instrument,
   beyond the capacity of anyone to conquer.
Those who try are destined to failure …
   to grasp is to lose everything.

Natural balance is found in everywhere:
– leaders are limited by followers:
– enthusiasm by negativity:
– strength by inner weakness:
– herbivores by carnivores.

So the wise avoid extremes, excess and over-confidence.


Tao Te Ching 28

Know the masculine [/yang] – act as from the feminine [/yin].
Allow yourself to be a watercourse for the world's flow.
    Being a watercourse for the world's flow,
       see that it is a conduit for positive energy.
    Reengage your childhood vision of life.

Know clarity – act as from the opaque.
Allow yourself to be a beacon for the world's hope.
    Being a beacon for the world's hope,
       have faith that the underlying principles of existence remain true.
    Reengage the limitless imagination you were born with.

Know greatness – act as from obscurity.
Allow yourself to be the great valley of the world.
    The way the world evolved was its ideal form.
    Reengage the honest simplicty of nature.

Wood is a natural resource:
   when cut it can be transformed into objects, tools, paper.
The wise make use of all forms:
   when they lead the greater circle is complete.


Tao Te Ching 27

Good travelers walk the earth lightly.
Good speech is not critical.
Good accounting does not rely on calculation.
Good security does not depend on locks
   yet is impregnable.
Good bonds need no rope
   yet cannot be undone.

The wise realise that to abandon the weak is to diminish themselves:
   to assist in raising them is the enlightened path.

While the far-seeing person sets an example for the short-sighted,
   the myopic also exist to enable the far-sighted to develop acuity.
Intelligent folk who neither value their teachers nor the wisdom they offer spread confusion.
   This inexplicable behaviour.


Tao Te Ching 26

Gravitas outweighs levity.
Stillness calms restlessness.

Therefore on their journey throu life,
   the wise keep their eye on the larger picture
   rather than organise things to their own advantage.

It would be improper for those who conduct affairs of state to be light-hearted.

To be frivolous
   is to lose sight of dignity.
To lose contact with your centre
   is to give away your power.

Tao Te Ching 25

In the ├Žons of deep space before the worlds were even gas clouds
    there was a silent beauty
            unformed yet coherent
               pervading all
                   pregnant with life.

   we call it Tao [/cosmic energy flow].
Beyond attribute,
   we call it stupendous.
Yet size implies growth
   and growth implies decay:
Growth and decay together imply cycles.

There are four unstoppable forces:
   Tao, the heavens, the earth, and the emperor.

For cosmic order all four must work in harmony.
   For humans' relationship to the earth
      depends on the earth's relationship to the sky
         which depends on its own relationship to the cosmic energy flow.

            Thus Tao governs all existence.


Tao Te Ching 24

Stand on tiptoe and you will fall over.
Stand akimbo and you cannot walk.

If you'd discovered what your life is really about
   why would you need people to love you?
If there was anything remarkable about you
   would you try to become a celebrity?
If you'd done anything truly excellent
    why would you need to boast?
Will anyonelse continue praising your work when you leave off?

Those with a sense of the cosmic energy flow [/Tao]
   view all such things as the trash left after a party –
      even when it's in full flower …
Those with a real sense of the cosmic energy flow
    know better than to get sucked into that kind of thing.


Tao Te Ching 23

Use few words, well chosen.
    Better a short life well lived,
       than a long one with no purpose.
    Storms pass. Winds blow themselves out.
Change is nature's re-creation.

Those who immerse themselves in cosmic energy flow [/Tao]
   go with the flow.
       Those who practice virtue
          grow virtuous.
               Those who immerse themselves in illusion
                  grow deluded.
Those in the cosmic energy flow
   become identified with it.
       The virtuous
          become synonymous with virtue.
               Those possessed by delusion
                  end up with nothing.

If you don't trust others
   you will find nobody trusts you.


Tao Te Ching 22

Give way to retain integrity.
Bend to be straight.
Be unassuming to be enriched.
Be empty to allow fulfilment.

Possess little to be open to abundance.
Possess much to be jaded by care.

So the wise seek to focus on simplicity.
   They're noteworthy for avoiding conspicuous consumption.
   They're distinguished for their modesty.
   They're respected for keeping a sense of proportion
   Their achievements endure because they're discreet.
By offering no resistance they meet no resistance.

This is why ancient wisdom says 'Give way to retain integrity'.

Or do you think these are just empty words?

Integrity is a virtuous spiral.
   Seek clarity to find wholeness –
   Be whole-hearted to find empowerment.


Tao Te Ching 21

Cosmic energy flow [/Tao] manifests a powerful dynamic –
   yet who can analyze or define it?
It's like the invisible, infinitely complex, sub-oeanic currents
   which contain the basic organisms of all life.

Within that energy lies the primordial impulse to be,
   that has inspired all beings everywhere since the dawn of time.
This cardinal principle is innate to all life-forms:
   To understand its nature to understand all mysteries.

How do we place ourselves within this cosmic energy flow?
Read this page again! 


Tao Te Ching 20

Abandon books – end grief!

   Respect or scorn?
     How can you really tell what people think of you?
   Good or bad?
     What's the difference?
Yet I'd be a fool to ignore the common people's superstitions.

How isolated I am;
   how vast the gulf between me and those unaware of their mortality.
They are excited as before a party
   or when climbing to the terraces in springtime.

I watch alone like a forgotten child,
   as weary as a refugee.
They all have abundant energy:
   I alone am lacking.

Oh I have the heart of a fool.
   For all my vaunted knowledge I have learnt nothing.
They're happy: I'm confused.
   They're canny: I'm dumb.

What strange contrasts there are in the world:
   Looking at a beautifully peaceful sea, who could imagine a tornado? 

The populace work steadily for material goals;
   I sit figuring it all out, possessing none of what they take for granted.

I know I don't belong -
   yet I feel the pulse of eternity.


Tao Te Ching 19

Don't imagine you know better than anyonelse:
   Abandon your theories:
Everyone will benefit.

Don't patronise people
   by claiming your methods are better:
They can find their own ways to help each other.

If you stop cheating and profit gouging
Criminals will have no role model.

This advice only scratches the surface:
    Use plain speech:
    Be straightforward:
    Don't seek personal advantage:
    Live simply.


Tao Te Ching 18

When respect fot the principles of Tao [/cosmic energy flow] fades
   the legacy is wise rule and justice.
When mind games and political expediency take over
   deception becomes the norm.

When relationships within a family fracture
  acts of exceptional kindness and respect occur.
When a country is in chaos
   loyal ministers emerge.


Tao Te Ching 17

The best leader – one who is invisible.
Second best – one whom the people applaud,
Next, one whom they fear.
The worst leaders are those held in contempt.

If they have no trust in you:
– place no trust in them.

    [As a leader]
Take things in your stride,
maintain quiet authority,
bring matters to a good conclusion
– allow everyone to think it happened by itself.


Tao Te Ching 16

Empty your mind to the open sky:
Let your natural tranquillity hold you in perfect stillness.

All around you whirls the world,
Be the fulcrum that holds it steady.

After flowering and setting seed
each plant returns to the dark earth.
Dying back to the root is peaceful;
It is a life-form's essence asserting itself.

This process also governs the transmission of perennial wisdom
which holds the key to all understanding.
Without tradition*
we are unaware of the delicate meanings that bind us together.

Knowing it helps us find where we belong;
the right place is where we no longer strive.
There we find the power of belonging –
a power not our own,
but coming from being centred in the cosmic energy flow, [/Tao]
which is without beginning or end.

Here the self merges with the timeless
and is beyond death.

*roots or cultural context


Tao Te Ching 15

Those who first discovered the principle of cosmic energy flow [/Tao]
stood quietly within life's cognitive dissonances
until its turbid depths clarified and patterns became discernible.

They were
… hesitant, as if crossing a river in winter –
… cautious, as if being watched by neibours –
… reticent, like house guests –
… as fluid as melting ice –
… as plain as oak –
… as open as the countryside –
yet as opaque as muddy waters.

If you're terminally confused
   stay perfectly still until the clouds pass.
If you know serenity
   bring its dynamic into your actions.

Someone who understands Tao avoids wastefulness
and, because s/he sees how to optimise resources,
rarely needs to initiate a radical departure.


Tao Te Ching 14

   It's invisible.
   … silence.
Reach out!
   … empty space.

Sense where these three enigmas converge
   and you there have the heart of the mystery.

The wise discern a contour in what is immaterial,
an invisible arc that spans the universe yet is never held by it –
a subliminal reality – like music borne on the wind,
fading as you seek to hold on to it.
   Follow and it disintegrates:
   Stand still and it moves on past you.

Learn the principle of cosmic energy flow [/Tao]
and time dissolves, revealing the power of the ancients to the present day.

Understand the principles of cosmic energy [/Tao Axiom]
and you see to the very dawn of the planet.


Tao Te Ching 13

Fortune and misfortune destabilize us:
   yet we ourselves are the authors of our greatest misfortunes.

How so?
   Fortune excites us:
      misfortune depresses us.
   Gaining one
      makes us fear the other.

Much misfortune arises from the ego preventing us seeing objectively.
Let its anxious posturings go
   and your misfortunes will fade away.

Learn to keep things in proportion
   and you can accept both fortune and misfortune with equanimity.

When you love yourself and others equally
   you can safely be entrusted with the very greatest gifts.


Tao Te Ching 12

Hyperstimulation results in ennervation:
   Loudness leads to deafness:
Addiction to strong flavours corrupts taste.
   Cruel sports make one indifferent to suffering:
Obsessional acquisition results in ruthlessness.

The wise therefore become discriminating, centred,
and learn not to follow every impulse.

Today the sad news of Robin Williams' suicide was announced.
Parts of this seem like an epitaph.


Tao Te Ching 1

This version is an interpretation of the words, rather than as a translation. I arrived at it by meditating on a literal translation, one chapter at a time, and allowing the meanings within the sometimes-perplexing baldness of the words to speak to me.

The cosmic energy flow [/Tao] we can comprehend
   is only a fraction of what pervades the entire universe.
Words can never capture the immensity of this force.
It is the well-spring of all created matter
   and governs the myriad forms it takes.

At its heart exists a duality
   where energy arises
   from desire and desirelessness
   perpetually encircling each other –
   one being perfect in thought,
   the other perfect in form.

This paradox holds the ultimate mystery of existence
   and is the lens to all that is holy.


Tao Te Ching 2

If the world acknowledges beauty
   ugliness is also found.
If the world acknowledges goodness
   its shadow will be present.

The material and the immaterial revolve around each other:
   easy and hard are linked:
   long and short, high and low are inseparable:
   singer and melody interdependant:
   front and back, two sides of the same.

Therefore the wise study the underlying psycho-dynamic of events,
   consider people's motivations,
   and observe how things interact naturally.

When they initiate
  they do not seek to possess.
When they engage
   they do not claim ownership.

By not vaunting success
   jealousy is kept in check
and so their work endures.


Tao Te Ching 3

If you glorify the successful
   it leads to conflict among the populace.
Do not assign value to rarety
   or you will encourage thieves.
Do not flaunt your possessions
   lest people become inflamed by greed.

Wise government
   satisfies hunger without inflating desire,
   encourages health but not acquisitiveness.

If the nation is founded on sincerity and social justice
   trouble-makers lacks a reason to foment unrest.

Act sincerely and all things are within your reach.

Tao Te Ching 4

The Tao is a void;
   when drawn on it is not depleted,
   so vast as to appear bottomless.

It blunts aggression,
   unravels knots,
   gives perspective,
   survives individual consciousness.

So nebulous
   it barely exists.
Without origin,
   it was present before humankind


Tao Te Ching 5

Nature forms no judgment
   – it fears nothing.
The wise are without prejudice
   – nothing alarms them.

The space inside a bellows is empty
   yet it is inexhaustible.
The universe may seem a void
   yet is full of infinite riches.

Busy bodies often lose their way:
   the discreet need no instruction.


Tao Te Ching 11

What is not
   may be as useful as what is.

A wheel is useless without an axle arch.
The size of a pot is described by its emptiness.
A house is useful in proportion to its space.

Intention creates form –
   form creates meaning –
but stillness creates both.


Tao Te Ching 10

Stay centred
among the conflicting currents of life.

Listening to the breath,
listening to the heart,
restores the clarity and energy we were born with.

Who is untainted by the world's corrosion?
Even the noblest objectives may involve duplicity.
Can anyone truly see the bigger picture yet remain heart-led?

Conceiving something,
nurturing it:
can you let it go?

Encountering success yet avoiding arrogance –
guiding to fruition without dictating –
being strong yet invisible –
this is the ultimate life skill. [/Mystical Vision]


Tao Te Ching 9

Which is better
– to fill the cup below the brim
or let it spill over?
– to extend the life of a knife by using it carefully
or to whet it and blunt it?

Can the rich ever store their wealth securely enough?
   With money comes delusion,
   with delusion a loss of intuition.
   Without intuition who is forewarned?

When you've made it
   stand back.
When the nail is in
   stop hammering.

Search for the best economy of means,
   the sweet spot between chaos and control.
   Elegant solutions hold cosmic energy. [/Tao]


Tao Te Ching 8

The highest good resembles water.

Water benefits the whole planet effortlessly
flowing always to the lowest point,
just as cosmic energy [/Tao] is found where there is no pretension –

... forming a pool naturally
... reflecting each heart's depth
... refreshing all who seek
... responding preciely to each environment
... sweeping all before it without distinction
... infinitely flexible
... taking alternative forms in extreme conditions

Seeking no advantage for itself
its force is beyond argument, appeal or reproach.

Tao Te Ching 6

The valley is eternally sacred to the feminine spirit.

The archway of the great mother
is the gate between heaven and earth –

from it a continuous flow of subtle energy
that never depletes when drawn upon.


Tao Te Ching 7

I recently picked a 1980s copy of the Tao Te Ching from my bookshelf and started to read it. The translation was so incomprehensibly klunky that I felt compelled to soften it. But then I thought that reading the book critically was preventing it speaking to me; so I bought another which was lauded as entirely accurate and having footnotes.

But the problem was that whereas one obscured meanings by attempting to be contemporary (and merely seeming dated), the literality of other was equally opaque. Neither translator had any real command of poetic english. So Ive accepted the inevitable, and begun to make my own version as I did with Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus

So I began with #7

Sky and earth are eternal
because they are eternally without self-interest.

Thus the disinterested are often propelled to the forefront of affairs.
That they survive this is due to their detachment from appetite-driven emotions.

By these means the common good is best served.