The Chinese characters employed as chapter headings are written in a style approximating to the period in which the original text was written. The style is commonly known as 'small seal script'. Readers wishing to use modern Chinese characters for their own researches may of course refer to any or each of the Chinese texts mentioned earlier, and there are of course many others.
'Small seal script' is by no means the earliest written form of Chinese, but it is certainly one of the most aesthetically pleasing and easiest to read. Being more pictographic than later forms, the symbolism of the images contained within the small seal characters is easier to understand than it is in later forms. Modern Chinese script is virtually always more stylized, and (if hand written) frequently more 'freehand', and therefore sometimes difficult for the inexperienced reader to decipher.
Each small seal script chapter heading provides an approximate rendering of either the English title beneath or beside which it appears, or of the key concept or concepts embodied in the text of that chapter. As with the Chinese text itself, there are a number of different 'authentic' chapter headings. In most instances I have used a 'traditional' heading, but where even the traditional meaning is unclear I have used the heading I believe to be most appropriate to the contents of the chapter. Following the usual conventions, horizontally presented script should be read from left to right, and vertically presented script should be read from top to bottom, the right hand column first.
As I have stated earlier, because of the cryptic nature of the original text, and also because of the difference between the structure of English and Chinese grammar, a completely literal translation of the Chinese text would make little if any sense to the reader not versed in both the written Chinese language and the concepts of Taoism. This means that virtually any intelligible English rendering of the Tao Te Ching is bound to be longer than the original Chinese text. The variation in the length of many English (and Chinese) texts of the Tao Te Ching will be readily apparent to the reader of those translations listed in the reference section.
There are many valid arguments for and against the inclusion of commentaries on the text in any edition of the Tao Te Ching, but in this instance I hope that the English rendering will 'speak for itself', thus serving the purpose for which it is intended. It is for this reason that no separate commentaries are included.
The text in this edition is somewhat longer than that found in most other translations. There are two reasons for this, the first being that it includes certain expansions resulting from points raised in discussion by my own students. In those instances where there was apparent lack of clarity in my original drafts, additions have been made to clarify the concepts involved. (Where additions have been made to the most commonly available Chinese and English editions, the addition and the reason for its inclusion are annotated in the appendix at the end of the book.) The second reason is the form of interpretation employed, the rationale of which is now briefly described.
I do not believe it is by accident that the Tao Te Ching can be interpreted at many different levels without contradiction. The actual interpretation placed upon the text by any translator will depend on many factors, as has already been discussed. However, there is no doubt that Tao-chia and Ch'an are both very much concerned with individual development, maintaining that this is essential to a healthy society.
It is from this particular viewpoint that the rationale for this interpretation has developed. Although other translators have certainly raised this issue, to the best of my knowledge this is the first rendering to give priority to this aspect of the Tao Te Ching. It was because my own students requested such an interpretation in English, and because we were unable to find such an interpretation that I undertook the translation and interpretation presented here.
British School of Zen Taoism
Cardiff, September 1984
Without words, the Tao can be experienced,
and without a name, it can be known.
To conduct one's life according to the Tao,
is to conduct one's life without regrets;
to realize that potential within oneself
which is of benefit to all.
Though words or names are not required
to live one's life this way,
to describe it, words and names are used,
that we might better clarify
the way of which we speak,
without confusing it with other ways
in which an individual might choose to live.
Through knowledge, intellectual thought and words,
the manifestations of the Tao are known,
but without such intellectual intent
we might experience the Tao itself.
Both knowledge and experience are real,
but reality has many forms,
which seem to cause complexity.
By using the means appropriate,
we extend ourselves beyond
the barriers of such complexity,
and so experience the Tao.
We cannot know the Tao itself,
nor see its qualities direct,
but only see by differentiation,
that which it manifests.
Thus, that which is seen as beautiful
is beautiful compared with that
which is seen as lacking beauty;
an action considered skilled
is so considered in comparison
with another, which seems unskilled.
That which a person knows he has
is known to him by that which he does not have,
and that which he considers difficult
seems so because of that which he can do with ease.
One thing seems long by comparison with that
which is, comparatively, short.
One thing is high because another thing is low;
only when sound ceases is quietness known,
and that which leads
is seen to lead only by being followed.
In comparison, the sage,
in harmony with the Tao,
needs no comparisons,
and when he makes them, knows
that comparisons are judgments,
and just as relative to he who makes them,
and to the situation,
as they are to that on which
the judgment has been made.
Through his experience,
the sage becomes aware that all things change,
and that he who seems to lead,
might also, in another situation, follow.
So he does nothing; he neither leads nor follows.
That which he does is neither big nor small;
without intent, it is neither difficult,
nor done with ease.
His task completed, he then lets go of it;
seeking no credit, he cannot be discredited.
Thus, his teaching lasts for ever,
and he is held in high esteem.
The person who possesses many things,
but does not boast of his possessions,
reduces temptation, and reduces stealing.
Those who are jealous of the skills or things
possessed by others,
most easily themselves become possessed by envy.
Satisfied with his possessions,
the sage eliminates the need to steal;
at one with the Tao,
he remains free of envy,
and has no need of titles. By being supple, he retains his energy.
He minimizes his desires,
and does not train himself in guile,
nor subtle words of praise.
By not contriving, he retains
the harmony of his inner world,
and so remains at peace within himself.
It is for reasons such as these,
that an administration
which is concerned
with the welfare of those it serves,
does not encourage status
and titles to be sought,
nor encourage rivalry.
Ensuring a sufficiency for all,
helps in reducing discontent.
Administrators who are wise
do not seek honors for themselves,
nor act with guile
towards the ones they serve.
The Tao therefore cannot be said
to waste its charge,
but constantly remains
a source of nourishment
for those who are not so full of self
as to be unable to partake of it.
When tempered beyond its natural state,
the finest blade will lose its edge.
Even the hardest tempered sword,
against water, is of no avail,
and will shatter if struck against a rock.
When untangled by a cutting edge,
the cord in little pieces lies,
and is of little use.
Just as the finest wordsmith
tempers the finest blade
with his experience,
so the sage, with wisdom, tempers intellect.
With patience, tangled cord may be undone,
and problems which seem insoluble, resolved.
With wise administrators, all can exist in unity,
each with the other,
because no man need feel that he exists,
only as the shadow of his brilliant brother.
Through conduct not contrived for gain,
awareness of the Tao may be maintained.
This is how its mysteries may be found.
In this respect, the Tao is just the same,
though in reality it should be said
that nature follows the rule of Tao.
Therefore, even when he seems to act
in manner kind or benevolent,
the sage is not acting with such intent,
for in conscious matters such as these,
he is amoral and indifferent.
The sage retains tranquility,
and is not by speech or thought disturbed,
and even less by action which is contrived.
His actions are spontaneous,
as are his deeds towards his fellow men.
By this means he is empty of desire,
and his energy is not drained from him.
Since both energy and stillness,
of themselves, do not have form,
it is not through the senses
that they may be found,
nor understood by intellect alone,
although, in nature, both abound.
In the meditative state,
the mind ceases to differentiate
and that which may or may not be.
It leaves them well alone,
for they exist,
not differentiated, but as one,
within the meditative mind.
The sage does not contrive to find his self,
for he knows that all which may be found of it,
is that which it manifests to sense and thought,
which side by side with self itself, is nought.
It is by sheathing intellect's bright light
that the sage remains at one with his own self,
ceasing to be aware of it, by placing it behind.
Detached, he is unified with his external world,
by being selfless he is fulfilled;
thus his selfhood is assured.
In this way
it is like the Tao itself.
Like water, the sage abides in a humble place;
in meditation, without desire;
in thoughtfulness, he is profound,
and in his dealings, kind.
In speech, sincerity guides the man of Tao,
and as a leader, he is just.
In management, competence is his aim,
and he ensures the pacing is correct.
Because he does not act for his own ends,
nor cause unnecessary conflict,
he is held to be correct
in his actions towards his fellow man.
The blade is more effective
if not tempered beyond its mettle.
Gold and jade are easier to protect
if possessed in moderation.
He who seeks titles,
invites his own downfall.
The sage works quietly,
seeking neither praise nor fame;
completing what he does with natural ease,
and then retiring.
This is the way and nature of Tao.
The sage avoids their separation,
by breathing as the sleeping babe,
and thus maintaining harmony.
He cleans the dark mirror of his mind,
so that it reflects without intent.
He conducts himself without contriving,
loving the people, and not interfering.
He cultivates without possessing,
thus providing nourishment,
he remains receptive
to changing needs,
and creates without desire.
By leading from behind,
attending to that
which must be done,
he is said to have attained
the mystic state.