(born about B.C. 570)
I would say that it is Lao Zi’s book of Tao one of the profoundest books in the world’s philosophy.
The message of the book is simple and its dozen ideas are repeated in epigrammatic form again and again.
Briefly the ideas are: the rhythm of life, the unity of all world and human phenomena, the importance of keeping the original simplicity of human nature, the danger of over government and interference with simple life of the people, the doctrine of wu-wei or ,,inaction”.
Some of the paradoxes in this book are:
”Never be the first in the world”
”The greatest cleverness appears like stupidity; the greatest eloquence seems like stuttering”
”The farther one pursues knowledge, the less one knows”
”When two equally matched armies meet, it is the man of sorrow who wins”
”Even in victory, there is no beauty, and he who calls it beautiful delights in slaughter”
”A victory should be celebrated with the Funeral Rite”
”For love is victorious in attack and invulnerable in defense. Heaven arms with love those it would not see destroyed”
”He who knows does not speak, and he who speaks does not know”
”Rule a big country as you would fry small fish”
The book of Tao
The Tao that can be told of
Is not the Absolute Tao;
The Names that can be given
Are not Absolute Names.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the Mother of All Things.
Therefore, oftentimes, one strips oneself of passion
In order to see the Secret of Life;
Oftentimes, one regards life with passion,
In order to see its manifest results.
These two ( The Secret and its manifestations)
Are (in their nature) the same;
They are given different names
When they become manifest.
They may both be called the Cosmic Mystery:
Reaching from the Mystery into the Deeper Mystery
Is the gate to the Secret of All Life.
When the people of the Earth all know beauty as beauty,
There arises (the recognition of) ugliness.
When the people of the Earth all know the good as good,
There arises (the recognition of) evil.
Therefore, being and non-being interdepend in growth;
Easy and difficult interdepend in completion;
Long and short interdepend in contrast;
High and low interdepend in position;
Tones and voice interdepend in harmony;
Front and behind interdepend in company.
Therefore the Sage, manages the affairs without action;
Preaches the doctrine without words;
All things take their rise, but he does not turn away from them;
He gives them life, but does not take possession of them;
He acts, but does not appropriate;
Accomplishes, but claims no credit.
It is because he lays claim to no credit
That the credit cannot be taken away from him.
Exalt not the wise,
So that the people shall not scheme and contend;
Prize not rare objects,
So that the people shall not steal;
Shut out from sight the things of desire,
So that the people’s heart shall not be disturbed.
Therefore in the government of the Sage:
He keeps empty their hearts
Makes full their bellies,
Discourages their ambitions,
Strengthens their bones;
So that the people may be purified of their thoughts and desires.
And the cunning ones shall not presume to interfere.
By action without deeds
May all live in peace.
Tao is an empty vessel,
And its use is inexhaustible!
Like the fountain head of all things.
Its sharp edges rounded off,
Its tangles untied,
Its light tempered,
Its turmoil submerged,
Yet crystal clear like still water it seems to remain.
I do not know whose Son it is,
An image of what existed before God.
Nature is unkind:
It treats the creation like sacrificial straw-dogs.
The Sage is unkind:
He treats the people like sacrificial straw-dogs.
How the universe is like bellows!
Empty, yet it gives a supply that never fails;
The more it is worked, the more it brings forth.
By many words is it exhausted.
Rather, therefore, hold to the core.
Emptiness never dies.
It is called the negative (yin),
The Door of the negative
Is the root of Heaven and Earth.
It seems to remain.
Draw upon it
And it serves you with ease.
The universe is everlasting.
The reason the universe is everlasting
Is that it does not live for Self.
Therefore it can long endure.
Therefore the Sage puts himself last,
And finds himself in the foremost place;
Regards his body as accidental,
And his body is thereby preserved.
Is it not because he does not live for Self
That his Self achieves perfection?
The best of men is like water;
Water benefits all things
And does not compete with them.
It dwells in (the lowly) places that all disdain, –
Wherein it comes near to the Tao.
In his dwellings, (the Sage) loves the (lowly) earth;
In his heart, he loves what is profound;
In his relations with others, he loves kindness;
In his words, he loves sincerity;
In government, he loves peace;
In business affairs, he loves ability;
In his actions, he loves choosing the right time.
It it because he does not contend
That he is without reproach.
Stretch (a bow) to the very full,
And you will wish you had stopped in time.
Temper a (sword-edge) to its very sharpest,
And the edge will not last long.
When gold and jade fill your hall,
You will not be able to keep them safe.
To be proud with wealth and honor
Is to sow the seeds of one’s own downfall.
Retire when your work is done,
Such is Heaven’s way.
In embracing the One with your soul,
Can you never forsake the Tao?
In controlling your vital force to achieve gentleness,
Can you become like the new-born child?
In cleansing and purifying your Mystic vision,
Can you strive after perfection?
In loving the people and governing the kingdom,
Can you rule without interference?
In opening and shutting the Gates of Heaven,
Can you play the part of the quiet (yin)?
In comprehending all knowledge,
Can you remove the mind?
To give birth, to nourish,
To give birth without taking possession,
To act without appropriation,
To be chief among men without managing them-
This is the Mystic Virtue.
Thirty spokes unite around the nave;
From their not-being (losing of their individuality)
Arises the utility of the wheel.
Mould clay into a vessel;
From its not-being (in the vessel’s hollow)
Arises the utility of the vessel.
Cut out doors and windows in the house,
From their non-being (empty space) arises the utility of the house.
Therefore by the existence of things we profit.
And by the non-existence of things we are served.
The five colors blind the eyes of man;
The five musical notes deafen the ears of man;
The five flavors dull the taste of man;
Horse-racing, hunting and chasing madden the minds of man;
Rare, valuable goods keep their owners awake at night.
Therefore the Sage:
Provides for the belly and not for the eye.
Hence, he rejects the one and accepts the other.
”Favor and disgrace cause one dismay;
What we value and what we fear are as if within our Self”
What does this mean:
”Favor and disgrace cause one dismay?”
Those who receive a favor from above
Are dismayed when they receive it,
And dismayed when they lose it.
What does this mean:
”What we value and what we fear are as if within our Self”
We have fears because we have a self.
When we do not regard that self as self,
What have we to fear?
Therefore he who values the world as his self
May then be entrusted with the government of the world;
And he who loves the world as his self-
The world may then be entrusted to his care.
Looked at, cannot be seen-
That is called the Invisible (yi).
Listened to, but cannot be heard-
That is called the Inaudible (hsi).
Grasped at, but cannot be touched-
That is called the Intangible (wei).
These three elude all our inquiries
And hence blend and become One.
Not by its rising, is there light,
Not by its sinking, is there darkness.
It cannot be defined,
And reverts again to the realm of nothingness.
That is why it is called the Form of the Formless,
The Image of Nothingness.
That is why it is called the Elusive:
Meet it and you do not see its face;
Follow it and you do not see its back.
He who holds fast to the Tao of old
In order to manage the affairs of the Now
Is able to know the Primeval Beginnings
Which are the continuity of Tao.