Literary Notes - The Tao Te Ching

All translations are by James Legge, corresponding to the Barnes & Noble Classics version. Direct quotes are in quotations, while paraphrases are not.

“The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name” (I.1).

“Always without desire we must be found,

If its deep mystery we would sound;

But if desire always within us be,

Its outer fringe is all that we shall see” (I.3).

“So it is that existence and non-existence give birth to (the idea of) one another” (II.2).

“All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement)” (II.4). This quote portrays nature as going about its processes, not for the sake of rewards or recognition, but for the sake of the processes themselves.


“The sage outs his own person last, and yet it is found in the foremost place; he treats his person as if it were foreign to him, and yet that person is preserved. It is not because he has no personal and private ends, that therefore such ends are realized?” (VII.2).

“The law of the Tao is its being what it is” (XXV.4).

“Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness is the root of movement” (XXVI.1).

“Simplicity without a name, is free from all external aim. With no desire, at rest and will, all things go right as of their will” (XXXVII.3).

“When the Tao is lost, its attributes appear” (XXXVIII.5).

“All things under Heaven sprang from the Tao as existing; that existence sprang from the Tao as non-existent” (XL.2).

“The government that seems the most unwise,

Oft goodness to the people best supplies;

That which is meddling, touching everything,

Will work but ill, and disappointment bring” (LVIII.1).

laozi (1).jpg

“That whereby the rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams, is their skill in being lower than they—it is thus that they are the kings of them all. So it is that the sage, wishing to be above men, puts himself by his words below them, and, without to be before them, places his person behind them” (LXVI.1).

“To know and yet think we do not know is the highest attainment; not to know and yet to think we do know is a disease” (LXXI.1).