道 經: Early Dao, Text and Translation

© John Emerson
emersonj at g mail dot com

This is my text and translation of “Early Dao” (or the Daojing 經): which is what I call what I think the early layer of the Daodejing, 44 chapters scattered irregularly through chapters 1-66 and amounting to about half the book. Early Dao is defined by contrast to Sage Dao (or the Shengjing 聖 經), most of the remainder of the Daodejing and never mentions the Sage 聖人 at all. . I am initially presenting my text and translation plain, with only minimal commentary, but detailed textual notes and an interpretive commentary will follow. An explanation of the rationale behind my regrouping of the Daodejing is here: Early Dao and Sage Dao. (My more or less complete writings on the Daodjing are here: John Emerson on the Daodejing).

This reworked Daodejing in two parts is the culmination of a 40 year project. During the 1990s I published several articles taken from this project: “Yang Chu’s Discovery of the Body”, Philosophy East and West, Volume 46-4, October 1996, pp. 533-566; “The Highest Virtue Is Like the Valley”, Taoist Resources, Vol. 3 #2, May 1992, pp. 47-62; and “A Stratification of Lao Tzu”, Journal of Chinese Religions, Fall 1995 (#3), pp. 1-

The division of the Daodejing into Early Dao and Sage Dao is my main justification for adding one more English translation oo the 300-odd Daodejing translations already in existence, but when putting together my Chinese text I have also taken the newly-discovered Guodian (GD), Mawangdui A and B (MWDA, MWDB), and Beida (BD) texts into account My text is not intended as an approach to the “original Daodejing”, but just as a readerly, eclectic Daodejing text free of many of problems found in the other texts.

It is not controversial to hold that the Daodejing was put together from the work of many authors by a series of editors and the traditional sequence and chapter divisions of the Daodejing are generally recognized to be unhelpful. However, few have reworked the text as extensively as I have. Beyond defining two major groups, I have regroiups each of them into 7 historical / topical subgroups which I think are internally intelligible and intelligibly related to one another, and I believe that this regrouping makes the meanings and especially the coherence of the Daodejing easier to see.

CHAPTERS 13, 30, 31, 24, 44, and 46

I believe that the chapters below, especially chapters 13, 30, and 31, are both the oldest chapters in the Daodejing and its foundational chapters. These chapters are practical and plainly written, with no mystical or metaphysical subtleties, and five out of the six are included in the incomplete Guodian (GD) text, the oldest in existence by a century or so. Chapters 13, 30, and 31 in particular are garbled in a way which suggests that they were already old at the time when the Daodejing was being put together, and that the editors were having a hard time making coherent chapters out of them. Chapters 24, 44, and 46 are more smoothly written and seem to be later in origin but I have put them here because of their practical themes.

*13 GD
寵 辱 若 驚
大 患 若 身

何 謂
寵 辱 若 驚 ?
寵 之 為 下 也
得 之 若 驚
失 之 若 驚
是 謂
寵 辱 若 驚

何 謂 貴 大 患 若 身?
吾 所 以 有 大 患 者
為 吾 有 身 也
吾 無 身 有 何 患?

故 貴 為 身
於 為 天 下
若 可 託 天 下 矣

愛 為 身
於 為 天 下
若 可 以 寄 天 下 矣
Favor and disgrace are like warnings;
Honors and disasters are like your own person.

What does this mean:
“Favor and disgrace are like warnings”?
The favored one is in the inferior position.
Getting favor is like a warning;
losing favor is like a warning.
This is the meaning of
“favor and disgrace are like warnings”.

What does this mean:
“Honor a disaster like your own body”?
The reason I have disasters is that I have a body.
If I had no body what disaster could there be?

So someone who regards care of their body
as more valuable than rule of the empire
might be entrusted with the empire;

Someone who prizes the care of their body
more than rule of the empire
might be granted the empire.
*30 Partly in GD
以 道 佐 人 主 者
不 以 兵 強 天 下

其 事 好 還

師 之 所 居
楚 棘 生 焉
大 軍 之 後
必 有 凶 年

善 者 果 而 已 矣
毌 以 取 強 焉
果 而 毋 矜
果 而 毋 伐
果 而 毋 驕
果 而 毋 強
果 而 不 得 已 居

是 謂
果 而 不 強

物 壯 而 老
謂 之 不 道
不 道 早 已
Someone serving a ruler of men in accordance with Dao
doesn’t use weapons to bully the world.

These things tend to come back at you.

Where an army has camped
brambles and thorns grow.
In the wake of a mighty army
there will be famine years.

A good commander gets the job done and that’s it.
Don’t push your advantage.
Get the job done, but don’t brag.
Get the job done, but without arrogance.
Get the job done, but without excess.
Get the job done, but without bullying.
Get the job done if there’s no other way

This is the meaning of
“Get the job done without bullying”.

Wasted in your prime:
this is against Dao.
What is against Dao comes to an early end.

The different texts of this chapter are much different from one another and it is most probably that a series of editors were trying to lick into shape a disorganized but related group of related inherited passages. I have made my own rearrangement.

*31 GD
夫 兵 者 不 祥 之 器 也
物 或 惡 之
故 有 道 者 弗 居

兵 者 非 君 子 之 器 也
恬 淡 為 上
不 得 已 而 用 之
弗 美 也

若 美 之
是 樂 殺 人 也
夫 樂 殺 人 者
不 可 以 得 志 於 天 下 矣

君 子 居 則 貴 左
用 兵 則 貴 右
吉 事 尚 左
凶 事 尚 右
偏 將 軍 居 左
上 將 軍 居 右
言 以 喪 禮 居 之

故 殺 人 眾
以 哀 悲 位 之
戰 勝
以 喪 禮 居 之
Now weapons are ominous devices.
There are beings which abhor them,
and the man of Dao does not abide with them.

Weapons are not the tools of a gentleman
Dispassion is best
Only if it’s unavoidable should they be used.
Do not glorify them.

To glorify them
is to delight in slaughter.
Someone who delights in slaughter
will never attain his goals in this world.

At home a gentleman honors the left
At war he honors the right.
On auspicious occasions we honor the left,
At funerals, we honor the right.
The lieutenant general stands on the left;
the commanding general stands on the right.
This means that we follow the protocol for funerals

When masses of men are slaughtered,
commemorate it with mourning and wailing.
Once the battle is won,
celebrate with funeral rites.
*24 not GD
企 者 不 立
跨 者 不 行
自 見 者 不 明
自 視 者 不 章
自 是 者 不 彰
自 伐 者 無 功
自 矜 者 不 長

其 在 道 也 曰
斜 食 贅 行
物 或 惡 之
故 有 道 者 弗 居 )
On tiptoes you’re unsteady.
Overstriding gets you nowhere.
Showoffs are not glorious.
The narcissist gains no renown.
The self-righteous are not admired
The braggart accomplishes nothing.
The self-important don’t last.

In Dao these are called
Unclean food and intolerable behavior.
There are beings which abhor them,
and the man of Dao does not abide with them.
*44 GD
名 與 身 孰 親?
身 與 貨 孰 多?
得 與 亡 孰 病?

甚 愛 必 大 費
多 藏 必 多 亡

知 足 不 辱
知 止 不 殆
可 以 長 久
Name or body, which is dearer?
Your body and your property, which is greater?
Gaining and losing, which is more harmful?

The greedy waste the most.
Hoarders lose the most.

Know what is enough and you will not be disgraced.
Know when to stop and you will not be imperiled
and may live long.
*46 (Part in GD)
天 下 有 道
卻 走 馬 以 糞
天 下 無 道
戎 馬 生 於 郊

罪 莫 厚 於 甚 欲
禍 莫 大 於 不 知 足

咎 莫 憯 於 欲 得

故 知 足 之 足
此 恒 足 矣
In an empire with Dao
fast horses are sent to fertilize fields.
In an empire without Dao
warhorses breed near the capital.

There is no crime greater than excessive desire.
There’s no misfortune greater than
not knowing what is enough.
There is no calamity more grievous than desiring gain.

The satisfaction of knowing what is enough
is the enduring satisfaction.


CHAPTERS 50, 51, 52a, 55a, 56b

This group develops the “nurturing of life” which was mostly negative in the previous group (avoiding death) in a positive direction. These chapters clearly point to the sorts of self-care found in Chinese meditation and longevity practices, though I don’t think that specific practices can be identified and suspect that these few chapters are merely key passages from a much larger body of writing.

Chapter 50 is hard to interpret, chapters 52 and 55 conclude with doubtful passages which I have moved elsewhere, chapters 52 and 52 are clearly composite chapters, and the doubtful chapters 54 and 59 might be associated with this group based on their location. I think that these are all reasons to think that this group is an inherited group that the later editors were not quite sure what to do with.

*50 not GD
出 生 入 死

生 之 徒 十 有 三
死 之 徒 十有 三
而 民 生 生 動 皆 之 死
地 亦十有 三

夫 何 故 也?
以 其 生 生 也

蓋 聞 善 執 生 者
陵 行 不 避 兕 虎
入 軍 不 被 兵 革
兕 無 所 投 其 角
虎 無 所 錯 其 爪
兵 無 所 容 其 刃

夫 何 故 也?
以 其 無 死 地 焉
Coming out is life, going back in is death.

One in three are of the party of life,
one in three are of the party of death,
and those whose initiatives living life
lead them to death are also one in three.

And why is this?
Because they live for life.

I have heard it said that one good at grasping life
crosses the wilds without fearing the rhino or the tiger
and enters battle without weapons or armor.
The rhino finds no place to drive its horn,
the tiger finds no place to dig its claws,
the sword finds no place to sink its blade.

And why is this?
Because for him there is no place of death.

There are many interpretations of 生 生, and mine is but one of them.

*51 Not GD
道 生 之 而 德 畜 之
物 刑 之 而 勢 成 之
是 以 萬 物 尊 道
而 貴 德

道 之 尊 也
德 之 貴 也
夫 莫 之 爵 也
而 恆 自 然 也

道 生 之 畜 之
長 之 育 之
亭 之 毒 之
養 之 覆 之

故 生 而 弗 有 也
為 而 弗 侍 也
長 而 弗 宰 也

此 之 謂 玄 德
Dao gives them life and Virtue cares for them.
Things shape them and circumstances complete them.
Thus all beings revere Dao
and honor Virtue.

Reverence for Dao,
honor of Virtue —
No one commands this,
it just comes naturally.

Dao gives them life and cares for them
raises them, tends them,
holds them up, heals them,
nurtures them, and shelters them

It gives life without possessing,
works without dominating
and rears without mastering.

This is called the Dark Virtue.
*52a Not GD
天 下 有 始
以 為 天 下 母
既 得 其 母
以 知 其 子
既 知 其 子
復 守 其 母
沒 身 不 殆

塞 其 兌
閉 其 門
終 身 不 勤
開 其 兌
濟 其 事
終 身 不 救
The world has a beginning;
call it the mother of the world .
Once you’ve got the mother
then know the child;
once you know the child
again hold to the mother:
to the end of your life without danger.

Block the holes
shut the doors:
to the end of your life be free of travail.
Open the doors
increase your activities:
to the end of your life be beyond help.

Many chapters of the Daodejing are composites composed of passages which are not necessarily closely related and are from more than one source, and I have occasionally divided these chapters to redistribute the parts. A number of chapters also include passages (usually as end tags) which I think are extraneous and unworthy, and I have put these doubtful passages together in a group. The conclusion of chapter 52 is one of these passages. these passages.

塞 其 兌
閉 其 門
和 其 光
同 其 塵
銼 其 銳
解 其 紛
是 謂 玄 同
Block the holes
shut the doors
soften the glare
settle the dust
blunt the edges
loosen the knots —
This is called the dark unity

Chapter 56 is one of several chapters in which I had trouble finding a thread of meaning, and I have divided it. I have put the beginning of this chapter next to the beginning of chapter 81 and ending at end of chapter 14, where they seem to fit better. This middle section has been left here because of its relationship to the closing passage of chapter 52. I suspect that these two passages are two versions of a chant which had taken several different forms in oral circulation; a third version is found in some texts of chapter 04.

*55a GD
含 德 之 厚 者
比 於 赤 子
蜂 蠆 虺 蛇 弗 螫
攫 鳥 猛 獸 弗 搏
骨 弱 筋 柔
而 握 固
未 知 牝 牡 之 會
而 朘 怒
精 之 至 也

終 日 號 而 不 嚘
和 之 至 也.
One filled with the fullness of Virtue
can be compared to a newborn baby.
Bees and wasps will not sting it,
eagles and wolves will not not carry it off.
Its bones are soft and its sinews supple,
but its grip is firm.
It has never known the union of male and female,
but its penis rises:
the ultimate of vitality.

It howls all day long but never gets hoarse:
the ultimate of harmony.

I have moved the ending of this chapter to the doubtful group.

CHAPTERS 04, 05b, 06, 10, 28a, 14a, 35b, 5b6, 15, 20b 21a, 25a

This group includes most of the Daodejing’s mystical poetry and all of the Daodejing’s references to the mother 母 or the female 雌 / 牝 and is incl;udes the chapters most beloved by readers of a mystical persuasion.

*04 Not GD
道 盅 而 用 之有 弗 盈
淵 兮 似 萬 物 之 宗
湛 兮 似 或 存
吾 不 知 其 誰 之 子
象 帝 之 先
Dao is empty, but in use somehow it cannot be filled
Deep!….like the ancestor of all beings.
Drowned!…. as if something were there.
I do not know whose child it might be —
it seems older than God
*05b GD partial
天 地 之 間
其 猶 橐 籥 乎
虛 而 不 屈
動 而 愈 出
Isn’t the space between heaven and earth
like a bellows?
Empty but never exhausted,
work it and more comes out.
*06 Not GD
谷 神 不 死
是 謂 玄 牝
玄 牝 之 門
是 謂 天 地 之 根
綿 綿 若 存
用 之 不 勤
The valley spirit doesn’t die:
it is called the subtle female.
The entrance of the subtle female
is called the root of heaven and earth.
Gossamer, it seems to exist.
Use it without toil.

I have left out a passage in some texts of Chapter 04 which is also seen almost verbatim in chapter 52. Along with chapter 28, chapter 05 is one of only two chapters which I have had to divide to make my Early Dao / Sage Dao distinction work, putting the beginning of the chapter which mentions the Sage in Sage Dao. The part of chapter 05 included here is the only part of the chapter included in the GD text, and it fits well between chapter 04 and 06. I have grouped the chapter’s ending, based on similarity of themes, as an independent aphorism together with the ending of chapter 56 and the beginning of chapter 81.f chapter 56 and the beginning of chapter 81. ,

載 營 魄 抱 一
能 毋 離 乎?
專 氣 至柔
能 嬰 兒 乎?
滌 除 玄 覽
能 毋 有 疵 乎?
天 門 啟 闔
能 為 雌 乎?
明 白 四 達
能 毋 以 知 乎?

故 生 之 畜 之
生 而 弗 有
為 而 弗 恃
長 而 弗 宰

是 謂 玄 德
Carrying your busy soul and embracing oneness,
can you never separate from them?
Concentrating your breath to extreme gentleness,
can you become an infant?
Wiping and cleansing the dark mirror,
can you become flawless?
When Heaven’s gates open and close
can you become female?
Seeing clearly in every direction,
can you not use knowledge?

Give birth to them, rear them:
give birth without owning,
act without presuming,
rear them without mastering them.

This is called the Dark Virtue.

I have put chapters 10 and 28 next to one another because they share the rhyme-words 離, 嬰 兒, and 雌. The closing passage of Chapter 10 is very similar to the endings of chapter 51 above and of chapter 02 in Sage Dao.

*28 Not GD

知 其 雄
守 其 雌
為 天 下 谿
為 天 下 谿
恒 德 不 離
復 歸 於 嬰 兒

知 其 白
守 其 𪑾
為 天 下 谷
為 天 下 谷
恒 德 乃 足
復 歸 於 樸

知 其 白
守 其 黑
為 天 下 式
為 天 下 式
恒 德 不 忒
復 歸 於 無 極

Know the male
Keep to the female
Be a ravine in the world.
A ravine in the world,
Let the eternal Virtue not depart,
and return to infancy.

Know the white,
keep to the smudged,
Be a valley to the world.
A valley to the world,
Let the eternal Virtue be sufficient,
and return to simplicity.

Know the white,
keep to the black,
Be a model to the world
A model to the world
Let the eternal Virtue be without blemish,
return to the limitless.

This chapter has a very complicated textual history. I have moved the ending of this chapter, like the beginning of chapter 05, to Sage Dao.

*14a Not GD
*56c GD

道 之 出 言 也 曰
淡 乎 其 無 味
視 之 不 足 見
聽 之 不 足 聞
用 之 不 足 既 也

視 之 而 弗 見
名 之 曰 微
聽 之 而 弗 聞
名 之 曰 希
搏 之 而 弗 得
名 之 曰 夷

三 者 不 可 至 計
故 混 而 為 一
一 者:
其 上 不 皦
其 下 不 昧
尋 尋 呵 不 可 名 也
復 歸 於 無 物
是 胃 無 狀 之 狀
無 物 之 象
是 胃 忽 望
隨 而 不 見 其 後
迎 而 不 見 其 首
故 不 可 得 而 親
亦 不 可 得 而 疏
不 可 得 而 利
亦 不 可 得 而 害
不 可 得 而 貴
亦 不 可 得 而 賤

故 為 天 下 貴
The words of Dao
are bland and flavorless.
Look for them, and they’re barely visible
Listen for them, and they’re barely audible
But live them, and they’re inexhaustible.

Look for it without seeing it —
call it minute.
Listen for it without hearing it —
call it faint;
Grab for it but can’t get it —
call it smooth.

These three cannot de distinguished
and fuse into one.
The One:
Its topside is not bright,
its underside not dim;
Boundless, it cannot be named
and returns to a non thing.
It is called the formless form,
the non=thing image,
it is called flurried and vast.
Follow it and you don’t see its back,
Meet it and you don’t see its face.

So you can’t get close to it,
And you can’t drive it away,
You can’t help it,
And you can’t harm it;
You can’t ennoble it,
And you can’t degrade it.

So is it most honored in the world

I have attached the ending of chapter 35 to the beginning of this chapter, and the ending of chapter 56 to the end of it.

*15. GD
古 之 為 士 者
微 眇 玄 達
深 不 可 識
故 強 為 之 容 曰:

豫 兮 若 冬 涉 川
猷 兮 其 若 畏 四 鄰
嚴 兮 其 若 客
浼 兮 其 若 冰 之 澤
沌 兮 其 若 樸
混 兮 其 若 濁
廣 兮 其 若 谷

濁 而 靜 之 徐 清
安 以 動 之 徐 生

保 此 道 者 不 欲 盈
是 以 能 敝 而 不 成
The masters of ancient days
were subtle, mysterious and darkly perceptive,
deep and impossible to know.
If forced I just make comparisons:

Cautious, like crossing a frozen stream
Watchful, like fearing every neighbor
Correct, like a guest
Yielding, like melting ice
Plain, like undressed lumber
Confused, like murky water
Open, like a valley.

The murky when stilled gradually clears,
The inert when stirred gradually quickens.

One who embraces this Dao does not want fullness
and so can be worn and incomplete.

The next to last couplet has very significant variants.

*16a GD
至 虛 極 也
守 靜 篤 也
萬 物 旁 作
居 以 顧 其 復 也
天 物 雲 雲
各 復 其 根
Utter emptiness is the ultimate
Holding to stillness is integrity
The myriad beings rise beside me,
I sit and watch their return.
Heaven’s beings teem,
Each returns to its root.

These few lines have an extraordinary number of significant variants, though the word 復 “return” does not vary. I have moved the ending of the chapter to the doubtful group.

*20c Not GD
荒 兮 其 未 央 哉!

衆 人 熙 熙
如 享 太 牢
如 春 登 臺
我 獨 怕 兮 其 未 兆
如 嬰 兒 之 未 孩
儽 儽 兮 若 無 所 歸
衆 人 皆 有 餘
而 我 獨 若 遣
我 愚 人 之 心 也 哉!
沌 沌 兮
俗 人 昭 昭
我 獨 若 昏
俗 人 察 察
我 獨 悶 悶
沒 兮 其 若 晦
飂 兮 若 無 止
衆 人 皆 有 以
而 我 獨 頑 似 鄙
我 獨 異 於 人
而 貴 食 母
Vast! – and not yet at the limit!  

The crowd isjoyful,
as if attending a feast
or climbing a springtime terrace.
Only I am quiet and show nothing,
like an infant who has not yet smiled;
forlorn, like a dog with no home to go to.
The crowd all have plenty,
only I am as if emptied.
I have the mind of a fool –
Dull, dull!
Ordinary people are radiant,
only I am dim.
Ordinary people are penetrating,
only I am slack.
Drowned! like the dark of the moon.
Gusting! as if never to cease.
The crowd all have their angles —
Only I am stubborn and crude.
I want to be uniquely different from others
and to honor the nurturing mother.

The opening lines of this chapter, the only ones included in the GD text, do not seem to belong with the remainder of the chapter, and it is hard to say where to put them except for the opening phrase which works either at the end of chapter 19, where it is in the WB text, or at the end of chapter 48, where it is in the GD text. The next lines look like two independent aphorisms; the couplet 唯 之 與 阿 相 去 幾 何 / 善 之 與 惡 相 去 若 何 resembles the opening couplet of chapter 02, and the following line 人之所畏 不可以不不畏人 resembles 信不足 安 有不信信不足 安 有不信 in chapters 17 and 23. But it’s impossible to be sure about any of this.

*21a Not GD
孔 德 之 容
唯 道 是 從
道 之 為 物
唯 恍 唯 忽
忽 兮 恍 兮
其 中 有 象 兮
恍 兮 忽 兮
其 中 有 物 兮
窈 兮 冥 兮
其 中 有 精
其 精 甚 真
其 中 有 信
The countenance of great Virtue
follows only Tao.
Tao as a thing —
vast and vague!
Vague and vast!
There’s an image inside it.
Vast and vague!
In it there are things.
Shadowy and dim!
In it there’s an essence.
This essence is very real
In it there’s trust.

I have added the conclusion of this chapter to the doubtful group.

*25a GD

有 物 混 成
先 天 地 生
寂 兮 寥 兮
獨 立 不 改
周 行 而 不 殆
可 以 為 天 地 母

吾 未 知 其 名
字 之 曰 道
強 為 之 名 曰 大
大 曰 逝
逝 曰 遠
遠 曰 反
There is a thing confusedly formed,
Born before Heaven and Earth.
Silent and empty,
It stands alone and unchanging,
it can go anywhere unendangered.
It can be considered the mother of Heaven and Earth.

I do not yet know its name,
I call it “Dao” ,
If forced I title it “Great”.
“Great” means passing,
“Passing” means far,
“Far” means return.

I have moved the final passage of this chapter to the doubtful group. The lines now at the end probably depend on a series of puns.

CHAPTERS 01, 11, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, and 48

The chapters of this group speak in a more sophisticated way of metaphysics, logic, and philosophy of language and are the ones contemporary Western philosophers are most likely to take an interest in. I believe that they are in some way related to the debates of the Jixia acadamy, the School of Names, and other schools of that era (around 300 BC, roughly the time when the GD text was interred). These schools philosophized in a more abstract, less practical way than those who had preceded them.

*01 Not GD
道 可 道 也
非 恆 道 也
名 可 名 也
非 恆 名 也
無 名 萬 物 之 始 也
有 名 萬 物 之 母 也

故 恆 無 欲 也 以 觀 其 妙
恆 有 欲 也 以 觀 其 徼

同 出 異 名
同 謂 之 玄
玄 之 又 玄
衆 妙 之 門
The way can be shown.
It is not the universal way.
A name that can be called
It is not the invariant name.
The nameless was the beginning of all things.
The named is the mother of all things.

Thus always in intentionless, to see the fine points,
but always intentional, to see the outcomes.

These emerge together but are differently named,
Together they are called dark.
Darkness upon darkness,
the gateway to the many mysteries.
*11 Not GD
三 十 輻 同 一 轂
當 其 無 有 車 之 用 也
埏 埴 以 為 器
當 其 無 有 器 之 用
鑿 戶 牖 以 為 室
當 其 無 有 室 之 用

故 有 之 以 為 利
無 之 以 為 用
Thirty spokes meet in one hub
The wagon’s usefulness lies in what’s not there.
Mold clay to make a pot.
The pot’s usefulness lies in what’s not there.
Cut windows and a door and make a room.
The room’s usefulness lies in what’s not there.

What’s there is what you own
What’s not there is what you use.

*40 GD
反 也 者 道 之 動 也
弱 者 道 之 用 也
天下之 物 生 於 有
有 生 於 無
The movement of Dao is reversal,
The action of Dao is gentle.
The things of the world are born from presence;
presence is born of absence.
*42a GD
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
唯 孤 寡 不 穀
而 王 公 以 自 命

故 物 或 損 之 而 益
或 益 之而 損

人 之 所 教
我 亦 議 而 教 人
Dao gives birth to Oneness
Oneness give birth to polarity.
Polarity gives birth to triplicity,
And triplicity gives birth to all things.

The things of the world shoulder Yin and embrace Yang,
Blending their energies into a harmony.

What people most abhor is to be
orphaned, bereft, and ill-fated
Yet that is how kings and lords describe themselves.

Some things are benefit from harm
some are harmed by benefits.

What people teach,
I will consider and also teach them.

I have placed chapter 42 here because it follows chapter 40 in the MWB texts, and the opening lines do seem as though they might be a followup to chapter 40. I have placed the closing line of the chapter in the doubtful group; nobody has ever really figured out what it is supposed to mean.posed to mean.

*39 Not GD

昔 之 得 一 者:
天 得 一 以 清
地 得 一 以 寧
神 得 一 以 靈
谷 得 一 以 盈
侯 王 得 一 以
為 天 下 正

其 致 之 也:
天 無 已 清 將 恐 裂
地 無 已 寧 將 恐 廢
神 無 已 靈 將 恐 歇
谷 無 已 盈 將 恐 渴
侯 王 無 已 貴 高
將 恐 蹶

故 必 貴
以 賤 為 本
必 高
以下 為 基

是 以 侯 王 自 謂
孤 寡 不 穀
此 非 以 賤 為 本 耶?
非 乎?

至 數 譽 無 譽
故 不 欲 琭 琭 如 玉
珞 珞 如 石
Those of old who achieved oneness:
Heaven achieved the oneness of clarity
Earth achieved the oneness of tranquillity
The spirits the oneness of evanescence
The valley attained the oneness of fullness
Lords and Princes attained oneness of
the standard for the world

But f this were to continue:
An endlessly clear Heaven would likely burst
An endlessly tranquil Earth would likely collapse
Endlessly evanescent spirits would likely evaporate
Endlessly full valleys would likely run dry
Endlessly lofty and proud lords and princes
would likely stumble.

The proud must necessarily
have the humble at their root
The lofty must necessarily
have the lowly as their base.

Lords and princes call themselves
“orphans”, bereaved” and “ill-fated”
Isn’t this taking the lowly as the base?
Isn’t it?

Thus the greatest praise is no praise.
You don’t want to tinkle like jade
or clunk like rocks.

This chapter repeats 孤 寡 不 穀 from chapter 42 so I have put it here.

*43 Not GD
天 下 之 至 柔
馳 騁 於 天 下 之 至 堅
無 有 入 無 間
吾 是 以 知 無 為 之 有 益 也
不 言 之 教
無 為 之 益
天 下 希 能 及 之
The softest thing there is
runs through the hardest thing there is.
The substanceless penetrates what is without gaps.
From this is I know the value of wuwei..
The wordless teaching,
the value of wuwei –
few in this world can attain these.
*41 GD
上 士 聞 道
勤 能 行 之
中 士 聞 道
若 存 若 亡
下 士 聞 道
大 笑 之

弗 笑
不 足 以 為 道
是 以 建 言 有 之 曰

明 道 若 昧
進 道 若 退
夷 道 若 纇
上 德 若 谷
太 白 若 𪑾
廣 德 若 不 足
建 德 若 偷
質 真 若 渝
大 方 無 隅
大 器 晚 成
大 音 希 聲
大 象 無 形

道 隱 無 名
夫 唯 道 善 始 且 成
When the finest student hears the Way
He barely can practice it.
When the average student hears the Way
Now he gets it, now he doesn’t.
When the poor student hears the Way
He laughs out loud.

If he didn’t laugh it wouldn’t be the Way

So the Established Sayings have it:

The bright Way seems dim
The way forward seems to recede,
The smooth way seems rough
The highest eminence is like a valley
The whitest white seems smudged
The broadest Virtue seems insufficient
The established Virtue seems sneaky
The solidest reality seems unstable
The largest square is without corners,
The largest vessel is last finished
The finest music is soft
The greatest image is shapeless.

Dao is secret and nameless
Only Dao is good at beginning and at completing.
*45 GD
大 成 若 缺
其 用 不 敝
大 盈 若 盅
其 用 不 窮
大 巧 若 拙
大 直 若 屈
大 盛 若 詘

躁 勝 寒
靜 勝 熱
清 靜 為 天 下 正
The greatest completeness seems deficient
but in practice it never wears out.
The greatest fullness seems empty
but in practice it is never exhausted.
The greatest skill seems clumsy.
The greatest uprightness seems crooked.
The greatest flourishing is humble.

Activity overcomes cold,
Stillness overcomes heat.
Clarity and stillness can set the world right.
*48 GD
為 學 者 日 益
為 道 者 日 損
損 之 又 損
以 至 於 無
為 無 為 而 無 不 為

取 天 下 恆 無 事
及 其 有 事
不 足 以 取 天 下
Studying, you daily get more,
Living Dao, you daily have less.
Less and again less,
until you have reached wuwei –
doing nothing, but getting everything done.

To get it, never be busy.
If you’re busy
you’re not good enough to get it.

CHAPTERS 17 18 19 23 38

These five chapters are polemical, speaking against the moralizing philosophy of the Confucians and Mohists and also against the cunning methods of the Legalists. In the Guodian text chapters 17 and 18 are joined into one, and in the Beida text chapters 17, 18, and 19 are joined.d 19 are joined.

*17 *18 *19 GD
太 上 下 知 有 之
其 次 親 譽 之
其 次 畏 之
其 次 侮 之

信 不 足 焉 有 不 信

猶 兮 其 貴 言 也
成 事 遂 功
而 百 姓 皆 曰
我 自 然 也
The greatest ruler is just known to be there;
The next best is beloved and praised;
The next best is feared;
And the worst is treated with contempt.

The unreliable can rely on no one.

How sparing are his proclamations!
He finishes up, the job is done,
and the people all say
“We’re jnaturally this way”.
故 大 道 廢
安 有 仁 義
智 慧 出
安 有 大 偽
六 親 不 和
安 有 孝 慈
邦 家 昏 亂
安 有 正 臣
Thus: when the Great Way fails
you get benevolence and righteousness.
When wisdom and craft appear ,
you get the Big Lie.
When family relationships are unsettled
you get deference and filiality.
When the state is in chaos
you get upright ministers.
絕 聖 棄 智
民 利 百 倍
絕 仁 棄 義
民 復 孝 慈
絕 巧 棄 利
盜 賊 無 有

此 三 者
以 為 文 不 足
故 令 有 所 屬
見 素 抱 樸
少 私 寡 欲
Get rid of sageliness and cast off wisdom
and the people will be a hundred times better off.
Get rid of benevolence and cast off righteousness
and the people will return to filiality and compassion.
Get rid of cleverness and cast off calculation
and there will be no more thieves and bandits.

These three sayings
don’t seem quite complete,
so an appendix is required:
display the pure and embrace the simple,
minimize selfishness and reduce desire

*23a Not GD
希 言 自 然
飄 風 不 終 朝
暴 雨 不 終 日
孰 為 此 者?天 地.
天 地 而 弗 能 久
而 兄 於 人 乎?

故 從 事 於 道 者
同 於 道
德 者 同 於 德
失 者 同 於 失

故 同 於 道 者
道 亦 得 之
同 於 失 者
道 亦 失 之

信 不 足 焉 有 不 信

To speak sparingly is natural.
A sudden storm doesn’t last all morning,
A hard rain doesn’t last all day.
Who makes these? Heaven and Earth.
If Heaven and Earth can’t make things last,
How much less can man?

Thus if you conduct yourself according to Dao
you are at one with Dao;
With Virtue, you are at one with Virtue;
With loss, you are at one with loss.

If you are at one with Dao
Dao will also gain you;
If you are at one with loss,
Dao will also lose you.

The unreliable can rely on no one.
*38 Not GD
上 德 不 德
是 以 有 德
下 德 不 失 德
是 以 無 德
上 德 無 為
而 無 以 為
上 仁 為 之
而 無 以 為 也
上 義 為 之
而 有 以 為 也
上 禮 為 之
而 莫 之 應 也
則 攘 臂 而 扔 之

故 失 道 而 後 德
失 德 而 後 仁
失 仁 而 後 義
失 義 而 後 禮

夫 禮 者 忠 信 之 薄 也
而 亂 之 首 也
前 識 者 道 之 華 也
而 愚 之 首 也

是 以 大 丈 夫 居 其 厚
而 不 居 其 薄
居 其 實 而 不 居 其 華
故 去 被 而 取 此
The highest Virtue does not gain,
So it has virtue;
The lesser Virtue keeps its gains
so it lacks virtue.
The highest Virtue does not act
and does not make assumptions;
The highest benevolence acts
but without assumptions;
The highest righteousness
acts upon assumptions;
The highest propriety acts,
and if anyone fails to respond,
rolls up its sleeves and and drags them.

So lose Dao and get Virtue,
Lose Virtue and get benevolence,
Lose benevolence and get righteousness
Lose righteousness and get propriety.

Now propriety is the husk of reliability
and the beginning of confusion,
Foreknowledge is the blossom of Dao
but the first sign of stupidity.

Thus a big player holds to the solid
and not to the flimsy,
holds to the fruit and not to the blossom.
They hold to the former and let go of the latter.

CHAPTERS 32, 33, 34, 35, 37

In this group Dao is treated as a mysterious, perhaps magical entity conferring power, and these chapters are more oriented toward political rule than those of the earlier groups.

*32 GD
道 恒 無 名
樸 雖 小
天 地 弗 敢 臣
侯 王 若 能 守 之
萬 物 將 自 賓
天 地 相 合
以 輸 甘 露
民 莫 之 令
而 自 均 焉

始 制 有 名
名 亦 既 有
夫 亦 將 知 止
知 止 所 以 不 殆

譬 道 之 在 天 下 也
猶 小 谷 之 與 江 海
Dao is always nameless
Though the primal simplicity is tiny,
nothing in heaven or earth can master it
If lords and princes could hold to it
all things would submit themselves
Heaven and earth would come together
to send down sweet dew.
Without anyone’s command
the people would live in equitably there.

But now names are first established.
Once there are names,
you need to know to stop
If you know to stop there will be no trouble.

Compare Dao in the world
as the little valleys to the rivers and seas.
*33 Not GD
知 人 者 知
自 知 者 明
勝 人 者 有 力
自 勝 者 強
知 足 者 富
If you understand others you are smart,
If you understand yourself you are wise.
If you conquer others you are powerful,
If you conquer yourself you are strong.
If you know what is enough you are rich…..

The ending of this chapter has been moved to the doubtful group.

*34 Not GD
道 泛 兮
其 可 左 右 也
萬 物 恃 之 而 生 而 弗 辤
成 功 遂 事
而 弗 名 有 也

故 恒 無 欲
可 名 於 小
萬 物 歸 焉 而 弗 為 主
可 名 於 大

以 其 終 不 自 為 大
故 能 成 其 大
Dao overflows,
it goes in every direction.
All things trust in it to live and it rejects none;
it achieves it goal and gets the job done
but never claims possession.

Always desireless,
it might be called small;
All things return to it yet it does not act as master,
so it might be called great.

Because it does not claim greatness
it can achieve its greatness.
*35a GD
執 大 象
天 下 往
往 而 不 害
安 平 大
樂 與 餌
過 客 止
Grasp the great image
and the world moves.
Moves without harm,
peace and harmony are complete.
Music and treats
make passing travelers stay.

I have moved the conclusion of this chapter to the beginning of Chapter 14, where it fits better. I have no idea what thebeginning of this chapter is doing in the Daodejing.

*37 GD
道 恒 無 為 也
侯 王 若 能 守 之
萬 物 將 自 化

化 而 欲 作
吾 將 正 之 以 無 名 之 樸

夫 亦 將 知 足
知 足 以 靜
萬 物 將 自 正
Dao is never activist.
If Lords and Princes could hold to it
All things could transform themselves.

And if, transformed, they want to to rise
I can make them right with the nameless simplicity.

And they will also know what is enough.
Knowing what is enough through stillness,
All things will make themselves right.


Chapter 54 and ten chapter-ending tags are included in this group. I think that these passages were added to the Daodejing, possibly by an enthusiastic but not terribly perceptive patron, at a fairly early period. (Most have been added to Early Dao chapters, and several are included in the GD text,, so they cannot be called “late additions”). The problem with these passages isn’t that they have been added to the chapters they are part of, since many chapters of the Daodejing are composites. The problem is that they consist mostly of truisms unrelated to much of anything else in the Daodejing, and are basically unworthy of the Daodejing.

Chapter 54 GD
善 建 不 拔
善 抱 者 不 脫
子 孫 以 祭 祀 不 輟

修 之 於 身
其 德 乃 真
修 之 於 家
其 德 有 餘
修 之 於 鄉
其 德 乃 長
修 之 於 邦
其 德 乃 豐
修 之 於 天 下
其 德 乃 普

故 以 身 觀 身
以 家 觀 家
以 鄉 觀 鄉
以 邦 觀 邦
以 天 下 觀 天 下

吾 何 以 知 天 下 然 哉?
以 此
What is well established cannot be uprooted.
What is firmly held cannot be torn away.
Heirs in an unending line will offer sacrifice.

Cultivate it in your person
and your virtue will be real.
Cultivate it in your family
and your virtue will be abundant.
Cultivate it in your neighborhood
and your virtue will be long-lived.
Cultivate it in your state
and your virtue will be rich
Cultivate it in the empire
and your virtue will be comprehensive.

So look at your person in terms of your person,
look at your family in terms of your family,
look at your district in terms of your district,
look at your state in terms of your state,
look at the empire in terms of the empire.

How do I know that the empire is so?
From this.

Nothing in this chapter seems to relate to anything else in the Daodejing, and it all seems more Confucian than anything else.ore Confucian than anything else.

08b Not GD

居 善 地
心 善 淵
與 善 仁
言 善 信
正 善 治
事 善 能
動 善 時
In residence value location,
In mind value depth,
In giving value humaneness,
In speech value reliability,
In governance value order,
In action value ability,
In movement value timeliness.

14b Not GD

執 今之道
Hold to the Dao of today
to manage today’s reality,
and thus know the ancient beginnings.
This is the leading thread of Dao.
21b Not GD
From now back to ancient times
its fame is not lost
and by it we follow the fathers of all.
How do I know that the fathers of all are so?
From this.
22b Not GD
古 之 所 謂 曲 全 者
幾 語 哉
誠 全 而 歸 之.
豈 虛 言 哉!
The ancient saying “Bent yet intact”
is really something!
Certainly wholeness comes with it!
How could these be empty words?
33b Not GD
強 行 者 有 志 也
不 失 其 所 者 久 也
死 而 不 忘 者 壽 也
The forceful get their way.
Those who don’t lose their their place endure.
Those who die unforgotten are long-lived.
42b GD
強 梁 者 不 得 死
吾 將 以 為 學 父
A bandit who is not killed —
I will take him for my teacher.
16b Not GD

是 謂 復 命
復 命 曰 常
知 常 曰 明
不 知 常 妄 作 凶
知 常 容
容 乃 公
公 乃 王
王 乃 天
天 乃 道
道 乃 久
沒 身 不 殆
Stillness is called returning to destiny.
Returning destiny is called constancy.
Knowing the constant is called discernment
Not knowing the constant you rashly bring disaster.
To know the constant is all-embracing;
if all-embracing, impartial;
if impartial, royal;
if royal, of Heaven;
if of Heaven, of Dao
What is of Dao is enduring
To the end of your life without peril.
25b GD
故 道 大
天 大
地 大
王 亦 大

域 中 有 四 大
而 王 居 一 焉

人 法 地
地 法 天
天 法 道
道 法 自 然
Thus Dao is great
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
The king is also great.

In the universe there are four Great Ones,
and the king is one of them.

Man is modeled on Earth,
Earth is modeled on Heaven,
Heaven is modeled on Dao,
And Dao is modeled on what is naturally so.
*52b Not GD
見 小 曰 明
守 柔 曰 強
用 其 光
復 歸 其 明
毋 遺 身 殃
是 為 習 常
To perceive the small is to be discerning
To protect the weak is to be strong.
Use the light
Return to discernment
Do not bring misfortune on yourself.
This is called following the norm.
*55b GD
知 和 曰 常
知 常 曰 明
益 生 曰 祥
心 使 氣 曰 強

物 壯 則 老
謂 之 不 道
不 道 早 已
To know harmony is the constant.
To know the constant is discernment.
To increase vitality is good fortune
For the mind to control the vital force is strength.

To be wasted in your prime
is called non-Dao.
The non-Dao soon comes to an end.

*59b GD

夫 唯 嗇
是 謂 早 服
是謂 重 積 德
重 積 德
則 無 不 克
無 不 克
則 莫 知 其 極
莫 知 其 極
可 以 有 國
有 國 之 母
可 以 長 久

是 謂 深 根 固 柢
長 生 久 視 之 道
Now only the frugal
are called early ready;
Early readiness
accumulates great virtue.
With great virtue
you cannot be resisted.
If you cannot be resisted
your limit cannot be known.
If your limit cannot be known
You can possess a state.
If you possess the mother of the state
You can endure long.

This is called deep roots and a firm foundation,
The Dao of long life and enduring vision.