B U R E A U   O F   P U B L I C   S E C R E T S


 

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching

(175+ Translations of Chapter 1)

 

 



The original text in Wade-Giles Romanization:


Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu)

tao k’o tao, fei ch’ang tao.
ming k’o ming, fei ch’ang ming.
wu, ming t’ien ti chih shih.
yu, ming wan wu chih mu.
ku ch’ang wu, yü yi kuan ch’i miao.
ch’ang yu, yü yi kuan ch’i chiao.
tz’u liang chê, t’ung ch’u erh yi ming.
t’ung wei chih hsüan.
hsüan chih yu hsüan.
chung miao chih mên.

 



The original text in Pinyin Romanization:


Dao De Jing (Laozi)

dao ke dao, fei chang dao.
ming ke ming, fei chang ming.
wu, ming tian di zhi shi.
you, ming wan wu zhi mu.
gu chang wu, yu yi guan qi miao,
chang you, yu yi guan qi jiao.
ci liang zhe, tong chu er yi ming.
tong wei zhi xuan,
xuan zhi you xuan,
zhong miao zhi men.

 



The tau (reason) which can be tau-ed (reasoned) is not the Eternal Tau (Reason). The name which can be named is not the Eternal Name.

Non-existence is named the Antecedent of heaven and earth; and Existence is named the Mother of all things. In eternal non-existence, therefore, man seeks to pierce the primordial mystery; and, in eternal existence, to behold the issues of the Universe. But these two are one and the same, and differ only in name.

This sameness (or existence and non-existence) I call the abyss — the abyss of abysses — the gate of all mystery.

Translated by John Chalmers (1868)



The TAO, or Principle of Nature, may be discussed [by all]; it is not the popular or common Tao.

Its Name may be named [i.e., the TAO may receive a designation, though of itself it has none]; but it is not an ordinary name, [or name in the usual sense of the word, for it is a presentment or ειδωλον of the Infinite].

Its nameless period was that which preceded the birth of the Universe,

In being spoken of by name, it is as the Progenitrix of All Things.

It is therefore in habitual passionlessness [the Quiescent phase of TAO] that its mystery may be scanned; and in habitual desire [the Active phase of TAO] that its developments may be perceived.

These two conditions, the Active and the Quiescent, alike proceed [from TAO]; it is only in name that they differ. Both may be called profundities; and the depth of profundity is the gate of every mystery.

Translated by Frederick Henry Balfour (1884)



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.

(Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth;
(conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.

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.

Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

Translated by James Legge (1891)



God (the great everlasting infinite First Cause from whom all things in heaven and earth proceed) can neither be defined nor named.

For the God which can be defined or named is but the Creator, the Great Mother of all those things of which our senses have cognisance.

Now he who would gain a knowledge of the nature and attributes of the nameless and undefinable God, must first set himself free from all earthly desires, for unless he can do this, he will be unable to penetrate the material veil which interposes between him and those spiritual conditions into which he would obtain an insight.

Yet the spiritual and the material, though known to us under different names, are similar in origin, and issue from the same source, and the same obscurity belongs to both, for deep indeed is the darkness which enshrouds the portals through which we have to pass, in order to gain a knowledge of these mysteries.

Translated by G.G. Alexander (1895)



A Tao that can be tao-ed is not lasting Tao.

A name that can be named is not lasting name.

Name-less — the beginning of Heaven and Earth.

Named — the mother of all things.

So, we must be always without desires to see the mystery:

If we always have desires we will see its limits:

These two are the same; once there is out-going, then there is difference of name.

As the same they are called obscure. The obscure of the obscure is the gate of all mysteries.

Translated by P.J. Maclagan (1898)



The way that may be traversed is not the Eternal WAY. The name which can be uttered is not the Eternal NAME.

Without name — Heaven and Earth (Nature) at the beginning were called the mother of all things. Thus it always is that (he who is) without passion can grasp the inner essence, while (he who is blinded) by passion can only apprehend the outer form. These two have really the same issue, and differ only in name. Together they are spoken of as the First Cause. The cause of the First Cause itself is the gateway of the Essential.

Translated by T.W. Kingsmill (1899)



The way that can be overtrod is not the Eternal Way,
     The name that can be named is not the Everlasting Name
Which Nameless brought forth Heaven and Earth, which Named, if name we may,
     The Mother of all the myriad things of time and space
     became.
Thereby we sound eternally the mystery divine,
     But only without desire to sound, for if desire abide
The portals of the issuing host our baffled sight confine,
     And deep within the eternal veil the mystery shall hide.
These two, the Nameless and the Named, they differ but in
     name,
For in their vast progression from the deep they are the same,
The deep of deeps, from whose eternal gate all spirit came.

Translated by I.W. Heysinger (1903)



The Providence which could be indicated by words would not be an all-embracing Providence, nor would any name by which we could name it be an ever-applicable name.

“Non-existence” is a name for the beginning of heaven and earth. “Existence” is a name for the genetrix of the innumerable objects of creation.

Hence, “absolute non-existence” suggests to us the miraculous working of what in “absolute existence” has become the resulting essence.

These two emanate from the same, though their namings are dissimilar, and jointly they are termed “state of colourless dissolution.” Dissolution, again, within dissolution this connects us with the various miraculous workings.

Translated by E.H. Parker (1903)



The Tao which can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao; the name which can be uttered is not its eternal name. Without a name, it is the Beginning of Heaven and Earth; with a name, it is the Mother of all things. Only one who is eternally free from earthly passions can apprehend its spiritual essence; he who is ever clogged by passions can see no more than its outer form. These two things, the spiritual and the material, though we call them by different names, in their origin are one and the same. This sameness is a mystery, — the mystery of mysteries. It is the gate of all spirituality.

Translated by Lionel Giles (1904)



The Tao that is the subject of discussion is not the true Tao.
The quality which can be named is not its true attribute.
That which was before Heaven and Earth is called the Non-Existent.
The Existent is the mother of all things.
Therefore doth the wise man seek after the first mystery of the Non-Existent, while seeing in that which exists the Ultimates thereof.
The Non-Existent and Existent are identical in all but name.
This identity of apparent opposites I call the profound, the great deep, the open door of bewilderment.

Translated by Walter Gorn Old (1904)



The Tao which can be expressed is not the unchanging Tao; the name which can be named is not the unchanging name.

The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth; the mother of all things is the nameable.

Thus, while the eternal non-being leads toward the fathomless, the eternal being conducts to the boundary. Although these two (the Tao and its twofold aspect) have been differently named they come from the same.

As the same they may be described as the abysmal. The abyss of the abysmal is the gate of all mystery.

Translated by C. Spurgeon Medhurst (1905)



The DAO that can be expressed
is not the eternal DAO.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name.

“Non-existence” I call the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
“Existence” I call the mother of individual beings.

Therefore does the direction towards non-existence
lead to the sight of the miraculous essence,
the direction towards existence
to the sight of spatial limitations.

Both are one in origin
and different only in name.
In its unity it is called the secret.
The secret’s still deeper secret
is the gateway through which all miracles emerge.

Translated into German by Richard Wilhelm (1910),
thence into English by H.G. Ostwald (1985)



The Principle that can be enunciated is not the one that always was. The being that can be named is not the one that was at all times. Before time, there was an ineffable, unnameable being.

When it was still unnameable, it conceived Heaven and Earth. When it had thus become nameable, it gave birth to the multitude of beings.

These two acts are but one, under different denominations. The unique act of generation; that is the mystery of the beginning; the mystery of mysteries; the door through which have issued, onto the scene of the universe, all of the marvels which it contains.

The knowledge that man has of the universal Principle depends on his state of mind. The mind habitually free from passion knows its mysterious essence; the habitually passionate mind knows only its effects.

Translated into French by Léon Wieger (1913),
thence into English by Derek Bryce (1999)



The Reason that can be reasoned is not the eternal Reason. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The Unnameable is of heaven and earth the beginning. The Nameable becomes of the ten thousand things the mother.

Therefore it is said:

“He who desireless is found
The spiritual of the world will sound.
But he who by desire is bound
Sees the mere shell of things around.”

These two things are the same in source but different in name. Their sameness is called a mystery. Indeed, it is the mystery of mysteries. Of all spirituality it is the door.

Translated by D.T. Suzuki and Paul Carus (1913)



The Tao that can be expressed
     is not the Everlasting Tao.
The Name that can be named
     is not the Everlasting Name.

He whose name is “Spirit in Man”
     is Life-spring of Heaven and Earth.
He whose name is “outward possessions”
     is Mother of all created beings.

Therefore constantly desire Inner Life
     in order to perceive mysteries.
Constantly desire possessions
     in order to perceive limitations.

These two: One in source but differing in Name
     are One in being called deep,
     Deep and yet more deep,
     Door of many mysteries.

Translated by Isabella Mears (1916)



The Tao-Path is not the All-Tao. The Name is not the Thing named.

Unmanifested, it is the Secret Father of Heaven and Earth; manifested, it is their Mother.

To understand this Mystery, one must be fulfilling one’s will, and if one is not thus free, one will but gain a smattering of it.

The Tao is one, and the Teh but a phase thereof. The abyss of this Mystery is the Portal of Serpent-Wonder.

Translated by Aleister Crowley (1918)



The Tao that can be understood cannot be the primal, or cosmic, Tao, just as an idea that can be expressed in words cannot be the infinite idea.

And yet this ineffable Tao was the source of all spirit and matter, and being expressed was the mother of all created things.

Therefore not to desire the things of sense is to know the freedom of spirituality; and to desire is to learn the limitation of matter. These two things spirit and matter, so different in nature, have the same origin. This unity of origin is the mystery of mysteries, but it is the gateway to spirituality.

Translated by Dwight Goddard (1919)



The doing that can be done is not the regular doing. The significance that can be signified is not the everlasting significance. The Divine that can be divined is not the Eternal Divine. Yet there is a lasting way beyond land and sea and sky which may be indicated. There is the Heavenly Way leading clear to the clear. Striving to go right ahead right I would tell now of the Heavenly Way.

What then is this Heavenly Way? What is this Divine which may be divined; and this Eternal Divine which cannot be divined? The Divine which may be divined is the Ever Moving Presence in the Never Moving. Rounding all moving is space. Rounding all sound is silence. But if we call this the Eternal Divine we say nothing.

I have no full name for the Heavenly Way. Some talk of the breath of the valley; some talk of the vim of vacancy. I know there is one pure power. Through every item of existence while it exists the one pure power will be coming and going on the double wing of the instant. There is a domain that is formal; and a domain numeral; and a domain moral. There may be other domains utterly diverse in the knowing of them. The valid presence of the pure power may be known through all domains. But because of its diversity in mode of manifestation we devise for it many names. Yet ever there is a way of unfoldment in line with the pure power; and in that there may be a return to that which is before every domain and every mode of existence.

Opening paragraphs of interpretive paraphrase by Tom MacInnes (1927)



The way to which mankind may hold
     Is not the eternal way.
Eternal truths cannot be told
     In what men write or say.

The name that may be named by man
     Is not the eternal name
That was before the world began
     Or human language came.

In that the namable took root,
     The tree of fire and force,
Which, having blossomed and borne fruit,
     Returns then to its source.

Who warms his body at that fire,
     Sees nothing but its smoke;
But he who puts aside desire,
     The flame’s self will invoke.

These two things are the same in source
     But different in name;
Who solves this mystery has recourse
To that from whence he came.

Translated by Charles H. Mackintosh (1926)



The Way that can be told of is not an Unvarying Way;
The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.
Truly, “Only he that rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essences”;
He that has never rid himself of desire can see only the Outcomes.
These two things issued from the same mould, but nevertheless are different in name.
This “same mould” we can but call the Mystery,
Or rather the “Darker than any Mystery,”
The Doorway whence issued all Secret Essences.

Translated by Arthur Waley (1934)



The TAO that can be “tao-ed” can not be the infinite TAO (that is, the way that can be followed can not be the ultimate, pathless Way). It is the same with the name of things: if things are explicable, the names we give them can not be the original Name. (That is) The source of the universe is hidden in non-existence; existence is only the mother of its evolution.

Since human beings are a small likeness of the great Universe, they can only realize their Taohood by making close imitations of it. Before one can attain the supreme perfection of Taohood, he must first realize its inmost mystery, that is, he must enter the door of this mystery of mysteries.

There are two ways for effecting this realization, both of which can be followed by the human organism. One way to realize the wonderful mystery of TAO is to put away all thoughts and desires. The other way is to concentrate both true intention and sincere devotion. These two ways of realization have different names but they both lead to a realization of the mystery that we call TAO.

Translated by Bhikshu Wai-tao and Dwight Goddard (1935)



IT, if nameable, is not eternal. The name, nameable, is not eternal name. The Nameless is the root of Heaven and Earth, while that that can be named is the Mother of all beings. Therefore he who is without sees it within, he who wants, its boundaries. These two are of one end, though of different name. Unseparated, they are called dark, the Dark's doubly Dark, the Gate of all Reason.

Translated by Edwin Denby (ca. 1935)
 



The Tao that can be expressed is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be defined is not the unchanging name.
Non-existence is called the antecedent of heaven and earth;
Existence is the mother of all things.
From eternal non-existence, therefore, we serenely observe the mysterious beginning of the universe;
From eternal existence we clearly see the apparent distinctions.
These two are the same in source and become different when manifested.
This sameness is called profundity. Infinite profundity is the gate whence comes the beginning of all parts of the universe.

Translated by Ch’u Ta-Kao (1937)


The Tao that may be called Tao is not the invariable Tao. The names that can be named are not the invariable names. Non-being is the term given to the form from which Heaven and Earth sprang. Being is the term given to the mother that rears the ten thousand things (on earth). Of the invariable Non-being, we wish to see its secret essences. Of the invariable Being, we wish to see its borders. These two have issued together but are different in name. The two together we call the Mystery. It is the Mystery of Mysteries, the doorway of all secret essences.

Translated by Derke Bodde (1937)



Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven-and-earth, it is nameless:
As “the Mother” of all things, it is nameable.
So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence:
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.

Translated by John C.H. Wu (1939)



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 forms.

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.

Translated by Lin Yutang (1942)



Existence is beyond the power of words
To define:
Terms may be used
But are none of them absolute.
In the beginning of heaven and earth there were no words,
Words came out of the womb of matter;
And whether a man dispassionately
Sees to the core of life
Or passionately
Sees the surface,
The core and the surface
Are essentially the same,
Words making them seem different
Only to express appearance.
If name be needed, wonder names them both:
From wonder into wonder
Existence opens.

Translated by Witter Bynner (1944)



The Tao that can be expressed is not the Unchanging Tao;
The name that can be named is not the Unchanging name.
The Unnameable is that from which Heaven and Earth derived, leaving itself unchanged.
Thinking of it as having a name, let it be called the Mother of all things.
He who is without earthly passions and without desire can perceive the profound mystery of that Unmanifested Existence.
He who has not rid himself of desire can perceive only the Manifest, with its differentiations.
Nevertheless, the Manifest and the Unmanifest are in origin the same.
This sameness is the Mystery of Mysteries, the deep within the deep, the Doorway into all Mystery.

Translated by Hermon Ould (1946)



The Tao that can be named
     Is not the Absolute Tao;
The quality that can be named,
     Is not its abiding attribute.

The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.
The Named is the mother of all things.

Truly, only he who frees himself from desire
     Can ever see the secret Essences.
He who has not conquered passion,
     Can only see manifest results.

These two, the manifest and the unmanifest,
     Are identical in essence.
Though from the self-same mold,
     They are given different names.

This unity of essence is the cosmic mystery,
     The depth of the great deep,
     The doorway to the Secret of all Life.

Translated by Frederick B. Thomas (1948)



A way that can be described is not the Eternal Way:
A name that can be named is not the Eternal Name.
The source of the Cosmos is nameless:
The origin of an object rests in the possession of a name.
That which is ever without desire is to be accounted the Secret Essence:
That which manifests desire must be regarded as a phenomenon.
When two things that were one are differentiated they are then given different names.
Unity may be called “the Enigma” — “the Mystery of Mysteries” — “the Portal of the Secret Essence.”

Translated by Orde Poynton (1949)



The truth that may be told is not the everlasting Truth.
The name given to a thing is not the everlasting Name.
Nothingness is used to denote the state that existed before the birth of heaven and earth.
Reality is used to denote the state where the multitude of things begins to have a separate existence.
Therefore,
when the mind rests in the state of Nothingness, the enigma can be understood;
when the mind rests in the state of Reality, the bounds can be reached.
These two states, though bearing different names, have a common origin.
Both are mysterious and metaphysical.
They are the most mysterious, and form the gateway to all mysteries.

Translated by Cheng Lin (1949)



The Way that may truly be regarded as the Way is other than a permanent way.
The terms that may truly be regarded as terms are other than permanent terms.
The term Non-being indicates the beginning of heaven and earth; the term Being indicates the mother of the ten thousand things.
For, indeed, it is through the constant alteration between Non-being and Being that the wonder of the one and the limitation of the other will be seen.
These two, having a common origin, are named with different terms.
What they have in common is called the Mystery, The Mystery of Mysteries, the Gate of all Wonders.

Translated by J.J.L. Duyvendak (1954)



There are ways but the Way is uncharted;
There are names but not nature in words:
Nameless indeed is the source of creation
But things have a mother and she has a name.

The secret waits for the insight
Of eyes unclouded by longing;
Those who are bound by desire
See only the outward container.

These two come paired but distinct
By their names.
Of all things profound,
Say that their pairing is deepest,
The gate to the root of the world.

Translated by R.B. Blakney (1955)



Nature can never be completely described, for such a description of Nature would have to duplicate Nature.

No name can fully express what it represents.

It is Nature itself, and not any part (or name or description) abstracted from Nature, which is the ultimate source of all that happens, all that comes and goes, begins and ends, is and is not.

But to describe Nature as “the ultimate source of all” is still only a description, and such a description is not Nature itself. Yet since, in order to speak of it, we must use words, we shall have to describe it as “the ultimate source of all.”

If Nature is inexpressible, he who desires to know Nature as it is in itself will not try to express it in words.

To try to express the inexpressible leads one to make distinctions which are unreal.

Although the existence of Nature and a description of that existence are two different things, yet they are also the same.

For both are ways of existing. That is, a description of existence must have its own existence, which is different from the existence of that which it describes; and so again we have to recognize an existence which cannot be described.

Translated by Archie J. Bahm (1958)



The Tao described in words is not the real Tao. Words cannot describe it. Nameless it is the source of creation; named it is the mother of all things.

To see Tao the observer must be motiveless. Those with selfish motives see only the surface, not the innermost depths. These two kinds of observers look alike but differ in the insight of their observations.

They look alike because they are both human; within humanity is the key to the door of creation.

Translated by Frank J. MacHovec (1962)



The way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant way;
The name that can be named
Is not the constant name.
The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth;
The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;
But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.
These two are the same
But diverge in name as they issue forth.
Being the same they are called mysteries,
Mystery upon mystery —
The gateway of the manifold secrets.

Translated by D.C. Lau (1963)



The Tao that can be told of is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the mother of all things.

Therefore let there always be non-being, so we may see their subtlety,
And let there always be being, so we may see their outcome.
The two are the same,
But after they are produced, they have different names.
They both may be called deep and profound.
Deeper and more profound,
The door of all subtleties.

Translated by Wing-Tsit Chan (1963)



That Which Is Called The Tao Is Not The Tao

The flow of energy . . . . .

Here . . . . .
        It . . . . .
        Is . . . . .

Nameless . . . . .
Timeless . . . . .
Speed of Light . . . . .

Float . . . . . beyond fear . . . . .
Float . . . . . beyond desire . . . . .

Into . . . . . this Mystery of Mysteries
through this Gate . . . . . of All Wonder

“Adaptation” by Timothy Leary (Psychedelic Prayers, 1966)



Lodehead lodehead-brooking : no forewonted lodehead;
Namecall namecall-brooking : no forewonted namecall.
          Having-naught namecalling : Heaven-Earth’s fetation,
          Having-aught namecalling : Myriad Mottlings’ mother.
Affirmably,
Forewont
Have-naught
Desired — for to descry in view the minikin-subliminaria,
Forewont
Have-aught
Desired — for to descry in view the circuit-luminaria;
          These pairing ones at-one
          Egressing,
          Diverse namecall :
          At-one — bespeak such : Darkling,
          Adarkling such, again adarkling
          The thronging subliminaria’s gate.

“Translation” by Peter A. Boodberg (1968)



Dao that can be talked about is not the eternal Dao itself;
A name that can be given is not the eternal thing itself.
The nameless existed
Before the birth of Heaven and Earth — Universe
The names which were given were after
The birth of All Things.
By the eternity of unknown existence
Comprehend the common essence of things;
By the eternity of Existence
Observe the apparent differences.
These two came from the same origin — the unknown
But with different names.
They all are called the “profoundness”
Profoundly and profoundly it is the entrance
From which come all wonders.

Translated by Tang Zi-chang (1969)



The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
     this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

Translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English (1972)



The Tao that can be spoken of is not the Tao itself.
The name that can be given is not the name itself.
The unnameable is the source of the universe.
The nameable is the originator of all things.
Therefore, oftentimes without intention I see the wonder of Tao.
Oftentimes with intention I see its manifestations.
Its wonder and its manifestations are one and the same.
Since their emergence, they have been called by different names.
Their identity is called the mystery.
From mystery to further mystery:
The entry of all wonders!

Translated by Chang Chung-yuan (1975)



The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao;
The Name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
The Nameless [non-being] is the origin of heaven and earth;
The Namable [being] is the mother of all things.
Therefore constantly without desire,
There is the recognition of subtlety;
But constantly with desire,
Only the realization of potentiality.
The two come from the same source,
Having different names.
Both are called mysteries,
More mystical than the most mystical,
The gate of all subtleties.

Translated by Paul J. Lin (1977)



Tao, the subtle reality of the universe
     cannot be described.
That which can be described in words
     is merely a conception of the mind.
Although names and descriptions have been applied to it,
     the subtle reality is beyond the descriptions.

One may use the word “Nothingness”
     to describe the Origin of the universe,
     and “Beingness”
     to describe the Mother of the myriad things,
     but Nothingness and Beingness are merely conceptions.

From the perspective of Nothingness,
     one may perceive the expansion of the universe.
From the perspective of Beingness,
     one may distinguish individual things.
Both are for the conceptual convenience of the mind.

Although difficult concepts can be applied,
     Nothingness and Beingness
     and other conceptual activity of the mind
     all come from the same indescribable subtle Originalness.
The Way is the unfoldment of such subtle reality.
Having reached the subtlety of the universe,
     one may see the ultimate subtlety,
     the Gate of All Wonders.

Translated by Hua-Ching Ni (1979)

 



The Tao that can be named is not the absolute Tao.
The name that can be uttered is not the name of the Eternal.
As the unmanifest it is the origin of heaven and earth; manifest it is the mother of all beings.
Whoever free from attachment looks inward with detachment attains the vision of the Unmanifest;
whoever is ego-bound and clings to greed sees but the outer show.
The Manifest and the Unmanifest although different in name are one in essence.
This unity is the mystery of the Tao the unfathomable of the primordial ground the starting point of all manifestation.

Translated by K.O. Schmidt (1979)



That which can be thought of as Tao (lit. Tao that can be tao’d) is not the absolute Tao. Whatever name that can be applied is not its absolute name. Nameless, it is the source of heaven and earth. Named, it is the mother of all things. Therefore, considered as absolute “non-being” we desire to see into its mystery; as absolute “being” we desire to observe its limitations. These two (non-being and being), though identical in origin, emerge under different names. Their common identity is called mysterious, mystery of mysteries, the gate of all mystery.

Translated by D. Howard Smith (1980)



The way that can be told is not the eternal way. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Therefore, give up your desires if you would observe its secrets. Keep your desires if you would observe its manifestations. These two are the same, but diverge in name as they issue forth. Being the same, they are called profound; profound and more profound, gateway to all mystery.

Translated by John R. Leebrick (1980)



The tao that can be said is not the everlasting Tao.
If a name can be named, it is not the everlasting Name.
That which has no name is the origin of heaven and earth;
That which has a name is the Mother of all things.
Thus, if always without desire, one can observe indescribable marvels;
If always desirous, one sees merest traces.
These two come from the same source but are differently named.
Both are called Mysterious.
The mystery of the Mysterious is the gateway to all indescribable marvels.

Translated by Tam C. Gibbs (1981)



The Tao which can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao;
The name which can be named is not the eternal Name.
“Non-Being” names this beginning of Heaven and Earth;
“Being” names the mother of the myriad things.
Therefore, some people constantly dwell in “Non-Being”
Because they seek to perceive its mysteries,
While some constantly dwell in “Being”
Because they seek to perceive its boundaries.
These two [“Non-Being” and “Being”] are of the same origin,
But have different names;
Together they are called abstruse —
Abstruse and again abstruse,
This is the gate of all mysteries.

Translated by Rhett Y.W. Young and Roger T. Ames (1981)


The way that can be defined to death is not the Way to Life.
The road that can be measured is not the endless road.
From nothing, the infinite universe began.
From no number, the countless things appeared.
From no name, their limitless sources will be known.

Looking out, its effects are seen;
Looking in, their cause is discovered.
With words, these are considered separate;
With vision, they are recognized as one.

Translated by Benjamin Hoff (1981)



The Tao that can be stated is not the Eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the Eternal Name.
The Unnameable is originator of Heaven and Earth.
The Nameable is mother of the ten thousand things.
Therefore,
Always be desireless, so as to discern Tao’s wonderful essence;
Always have some desire, so as to discern its manifestations.
These two come from the same source,
But are different in name.
Their identical nature is a mystery
Mystery of mysteries
That is the gate of all the wonderful essence.

Translated by Henry Wei (1982)



The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Send your desires away and you will see the mystery.
Be filled with desire
     and you will see only the manifestation.

As these two come forth they differ in name.
Yet at their source they are the same.
This source is called a mystery.

Darkness within darkness,
     the gateway to all mystery.

Translated by Tolbert McCarroll (1982)



The true Tao escapes definition,
Likewise, Tao is unburdened by Name.
Heaven and Earth originated unburdened by Name,
However, Name serves well to create All Things.

Unburdened by desire, the essence of Tao unfolds.
With desire, its manifestations alone appear.
The same source serves both essence and manifestation.

While viewed differently, both are characterized by deep mystery.
Deep mystery — wondrous mystery —
A gateway to the very essence of existence.

Translated by Alan B. Taplow (1982)



The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
The Nameless is the source of Heaven and Earth;
The named is the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.
Desireless, one may behold the mystery.
Desiring, one may see the manifestations.
Though one in origin,
They emerge with distinct names.
Both are mysterious —
Depth within depth —
The threshold of all secrets.

Translated by Raghavan Iyer (1983)



Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself.
Even the finest name is insufficient to define it.
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.

Translated by Stan Rosenthal (1984)



If Tao can be Taoed, it’s not Tao.
If its name can be named, it’s not its name.
Has no name: precedes heaven and earth;
Has a name: mother of ten thousand things.

For it is
Always dispassionate: see its inwardness;
Always passionate: see its outwardness.

The names are different but the source the same.
Call the sameness mystery:
Mystery of mystery, the door to inwardness.

Translated by Herrymon Maurer (1985)



Tao means how: how things happen, how things work.
Tao is the single principle underlying all creation.
Tao is God.
Tao cannot be defined, because it applies to everything.
You cannot define something in terms of itself.
If you can define a principle, it is not Tao.

Tao is a principle. Creation, on the other hand, is a process.
That is all there is: principle and process, how and what.
All creation unfolds according to Tao. There is no other way.

Tao cannot be defined, but Tao can be known. The method is meditation, or being aware of what is happening. By being aware of what is happening, I begin to sense how it is happening. I begin to sense Tao.
To become aware of what is happening, I must pay attention with an open mind. I must set aside my personal prejudices or bias. Prejudiced people see only what fits those prejudices.

The method of meditation works, because principle and process are inseparable. All process reveals the underlying principle. This means that I can know Tao. I can know God.
By knowing Tao, I know how things happen.

Translated by John Heider (1985)
 



The Tao that can be expressed
     Is not the Tao of the Absolute.
The name that can be named
     Is not the name of the Absolute.

The nameless originated Heaven and Earth.
The named is the Mother of All Things.

Thus, without expectation,
     One will always perceive the subtlety;
And, with expectation,
     One will always perceive the boundary.

The source of these two is identical,
Yet their names are different.
Together they are called profound,
Profound and mysterious,
The gateway to the Collective Subtlety.

Translated by R.L. Wing (1986)



The Tao is that on which one can always tread.
That on which one cannot always tread is not the Tao.
And fame is that of which one can always remember.
That of which one cannot always remember is not fame.
All things are without names prior to the formation of Heaven and Earth.
And names are brought out to classify various things.
Since there is no name in the very beginning, why should one care about fame!
Hence, those who are constantly free of desire of fame shall see the Tao’s subtle secret.
Those who bear desire shall see the end lying in front of them.
Both two types of men ferment their thinking in the same place, yet they will experience different fates.
Both their fates shall be up to Heaven.
Beyond our heaven, there are other heavens: whoever knows this shall find the gate of the Tao.

Translated by Shi Fu Hwang (1987)



The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Translated by Stephen Mitchell (1988)



As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way;
As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousands things;
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Therefore, those constantly without desires, by this means will perceive its subtlety.
Those constantly with desires by this means will see only that which they yearn for and seek.

These two together emerge;
They have different names yet they’re called the same;
That which is even more profound than the profound —
The gateway of all subtleties.

Translated by Robert Henricks (1989)



The way can be spoken of,
But it would not be the constant way;
The name can be named,
But it would not be the constant name.
The nameless was the beginning of the myriad creatures;
The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
Hence constantly rid yourself of desires in order to observe its subtlety;
But constantly allow yourself to have desires in order to observe what is after.
These two have the same origin but differ in name.
       They are both called dark,
       Darkness upon darkness
       The gateway to all that is subtle.

Translated by D.C. Lau (1989)



The Way that can be “Way”-ed
Is not the constant Way.
The name that can be named
Is not the constant name.
What has no name is the beginning of heaven and earth,
What has a name is the mother of the myriad things.
Therefore by constantly having no desire observe the sublimest in it,
By constantly having desire observe where it tends.
The two have the same source but different names:
Call it the same, the “Dark.”
The darkest of the dark
Is the gate of the sublime in everything.

Translated by A.C. Graham (1989)



Tao that can be spoken of,
Is not the Everlasting Tao.
Name that can be named,
Is not the everlasting name.

Nameless, the origin of heaven and earth;
Named, the mother of ten thousand things.

[Alternative:
Non-being, to name the origin of heaven and earth;
Being, to name the mother of ten thousand things.]

Therefore, always without desire,
In order to observe the hidden mystery;
Always with desire,
In order to observe the manifestations.

[Alternative:
Therefore, by the Everlasting Non-Being,
We desire to observe its hidden mystery;
By the Everlasting Being,
We desire to observe the manifestations.]

These two issue from the same origin,
Though named differently.
Both are called the dark.
Dark and even darker,
The door to all hidden mysteries.

Translated by Ellen M. Chen (1989)



The way that can be talked about is not the constant Way.
The name that can be named is not the constant Name.
Non-being is the name of the origin of Heaven and Earth;
Being is the name of the mother of all things.
Therefore:
Constantly in Non-being, one wishes to contemplate its (the Way’s) subtlety.
Constantly in Being, one wishes to contemplate its path.
These two come from the same source, but are different in name.
The same source is called Mystery.
Mystery and more mystery.
It is the gateway to myriad subtleties.

Translated by Yi Wu (1989)



The ways that can be walked are not the eternal Way;
The names that can be named are not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of the myriad creatures;
The named is the mother of the myriad creatures.

Therefore,
     Always be without desire
          in order to observe its wondrous subtleties;
     Always have desire
          so that you may observe its manifestations.

Both of these derive from the same source;
They have different names but the same designation.

Mystery of mysteries,
The gate of all wonders!

Translated by Victor H. Mair (1990)



A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path;
names can be given, but not permanent labels.
Nonbeing is called the beginning of heaven and earth;
being is called the mother of all things.
Always passionless, thereby observe the subtle;
ever intent, thereby observe the apparent.
These two come from the same source but differ in name;
both are considered mysteries.
The mystery of mysteries
is the gateway of marvels.

Translated by Thomas Cleary (1991)



The Tao that can be told is not the invariant Tao
the names that can be named are not the invariant Names.

Nameless, it is the source of the thousands of things
(named, it is “Mother” of the thousands of things).

Yes:
Always: being desireless,
     one sees the hidden essentials.
Always: having desires,
     one sees only what is sought.

These two lines are about The Merging —
it is when things develop and emerge from This
that the different names appear.

The Merging is something mysterious —
mysterious and more mysterious
the abode of all the hidden essences.

Translated by Michael LaFargue (1992)



The tao that can be described
is not the Constant Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the Constant Name.

Something-Without-A-Name is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
Something-Having-A-Name is the mother of all the ten-thousand things.

Therefore, constantly being without desire,
you can behold the subtleties.
Constantly having desire,
you can behold the manifestations.

These are two things.
They issue forth from the Sameness
but have different names.
This Sameness is called “Profound,”
the Profundity of the Profound,
the Gate of the Collective Subtlety.

Translated by Thomas H. Miles (1992)



The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth;
The named is the mother of the myriad beings.

Always remain free from desires —
And you can see its wonder.
Always cherish desires —
And you can only observe its outcome.

Both these develop together
But have different names;
They are part of the mystery.

Mysterious and more mysterious —
The gate of all that’s wondrous.

Translated by Livia Kohn (1993)



The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The named is the root of all things.
Therefore, the subtleties of Tao are always apprehended through their formlessness,
The limits of things are always seen through their form.
These two (the form and the formless) have the same source but different names.
Both of them can be called deep and profound,
The deepest and the most profound, the door of all mysteries.

Translated by Ren Jiyu et al. (1993)



The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao.
The name that can be named
                              is not the eternal Name.
Everything in the universe comes out of Nothing.
Nothing — the nameless
                              is the beginning;
While Heaven, the mother
                              is the creatrix of all things.
Follow the nothingness of the Tao,
     and you can be like it, not needing anything,
          seeing the wonder and the root of everything.
And even if you cannot grasp this nothingness,
You can still see something of the Tao in everything.
     These two are the same
          only called by different names
— and both are mysterious and wonderful.
All mysteries are Tao, and Heaven is their mother:
She is the gateway and the womb-door.

Translated by Man-Ho Kwok, Martin Palmer and Jay Ramsay (1993)



TAO called Tao is not TAO.

Names can name no lasting name.

Nameless: the origin of heaven and earth.
Naming: the mother of the ten thousand things.

Empty of desire, perceive mystery.
Filled with desire, perceive manifestations.

These have the same source, but different names.
     Call them both deep —
          Deep and again deep:

The gateway to all mystery.

Translated by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo (1993)



The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The named is the root of all things.
Therefore, the subtleties of Tao are always apprehended through their formlessness,
The limits of things are always seen through their form.
These two (the form and the formless) have the same source but different names.
Both of them can be called deep and profound,
The deepest and the most profound, the door of all mysteries.

Translated by He Guanghu, Gao Shining, Song Lidao and Xu Junyao (1993)



A way (dao) that one can be directed along is not the constant Dao. A name that can be given is not a constant name. Nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth. Named is the mother of the myriad creatures.

So, It is always by desirelessness that one sees the hidden (noumenal) aspect, and always by being in a state of having desires that one observes the outer (phenomenal) aspect. These two [aspects of all reality] emerge together and are differently named. Together, they are called the dark and mysterious. The most dark and mysterious of the dark and mysterious Is the portal of the multitudinous wonders.

Translated by Patrick E. Moran (1993)



The Tao of words is not the transcendental Tao.
The spoken name is not the transcendental name.

The nameless is the beginning of all things.
The named is the mother of all things.

Constantly desireless, one can see the subtlety.
Constantly desiring, one can only see the manifestations.
These two are the same but differ in name.
The mystery is in the unity.
Where the mystery is most profound is the gateway to all mystery.

Translated by Jerry O. Dalton (1994)



If you can talk about it, it ain’t Tao.
If it has a name, it’s just another thing.

Tao doesn’t have a name.
Names are for ordinary things.

Stop wanting stuff. It keeps you from seeing what’s real.
When you want stuff, all you see are things.

These two statements have the same meaning.
Figure them out, and you’ve got it made.

Translated by Ron Hogan (1994)



TAO (THE LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE) can be talked about,
but not the Eternal Tao (Laws of the Universe).
Names can be named,
but not the Eternal Name.
(You cannot name the unknown.)
As the origin of heaven-and-earth,
it is not describable:
As “the Mother” of all things,
it is describable.
(You cannot describe the unknown origin.)
As it is always hidden,
We should look at its Inner Sum and Substance (through philosophy and poetry):
As always visible,
We should look at its Outer Form (through science and observation).
These two flow from the same source
(the Laws of the Universe,)
though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Gate of all sum and substance.
(Beyond the gate of experience is the Way.
It is in all ways greater and more subtle than the world.)

Translated by John Louis Albert Trottier (1994)



Of the Dao it must be said: Let no man name It.
(For that which is named is that which is limited,
And that which is limited it that which is destroyed.)
No name can fully contain Its mystery.

That which cannot be named is from whence Reality springs,
That which can be named is the perceivable source.

Cleanse yourself from Lust of Result (Expectation) and you will see without constriction.
Remain ensnared in its grip, and you will only see the wall you have erected in front of you.

Beyond this wall is Reality, and the wall and Reality are one.

And both together are the Great Mystery.

Translated by Michelle Klein-Hass (1994)



The Tao that can be named
     is not the nameless Tao.
The Tao that can be known
     is not the unknowable Tao.

Nameless and unknowable,
     the Tao has been from the very beginning.
It is the wisdom of all that is,
     and the way of the Great Mother.

With desire,
     the Tao is hidden.
Without desire,
     the Tao is apparent.

The Tao and the Great Mother
     arose from the same dark source
Their names are different,
     but they are inseparable.

Together they are an endless wonder,
And the boundless mystery
     of everything’s oneness.

Translated by Ray Grigg (1995)



The Way that can be experienced is not true;
The world that can be constructed is not true.
The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
The world represents all that exists and may exist.
To experience without intention is to sense the world;
To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.
These two experiences are indistinguishable;
Their construction differs but their effect is the same.
Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

Translated by Peter Merel (1995)

The Tao that can be known is not Tao.
 The substance of the World is only a name for Tao.
 Tao is all that exists and may exist;
 The World is only a map of what exists and may exist.

 One experiences without Self to sense the World,
 And experiences with Self to understand the World.
 The two experiences are the same within Tao;
 They are distinct only within the World.
 Neither experience conveys Tao
 Which is infinitely greater and more subtle than the World.

“Interpolation” by Peter Merel,
based on the versions by Lin Yutang, Ch’u Ta-Kao,
Gia-Fu Feng/Jane English, Richard Wilhelm, and Aleister Crowley
 (in progress)


The Tao that can be described
in words is not the true Tao
The Name that can be named
is not the true Name.

From non-existence were called
Heaven and Earth
From existence all things
were born

In being without desires, you
experience the wonder
But by having desires, you experience
the journey.
Yet both spring from the same source
and differ mostly in name.

This source is called “Mystery”
Mystery upon Mystery
The womb giving birth to all of being.

Translated by John R. Mabry (1995)



The Tao that is utterable
Is not the eternal Tao;
The name that is namable
Is not the eternal Name.
The Nothingness is the name of the beginning of heaven and earth;
The Being (substance) is the name of the mother of all things.
Hence one should gain an insight into the beginning of the Tao by constantly observing the Nothingness,
And should perceive the end of the Tao by constantly observing the Being.
These two things, the Nothingness and the Being, are of the same origin but different in name.
They are both so profound as to be a key to the door of myriad secrets.

Translated by Gu Zhengkun (1995)



The tao that can be described
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken
is not the eternal Name.

The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of creation.

Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.
By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.

Yet mystery and reality
emerge from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness born from darkness.
The beginning of all understanding.

Translated by John H. McDonald (1996)



The Way that can be described is not the absolute Way;
the name that can be given is not the absolute name.
Nameless it is the source of heaven and earth;
named it is the mother of all things.

Whoever is desireless, sees the essence of life.
Whoever desires, sees its manifestations.
These two are the same,
but what is produced has names.
They both may be called the cosmic mystery:
from the cosmic to the mystical
is the door to the essence of all life.

Translated by Sanderson Beck (1996)



Tao is beyond words
     and beyond understanding.
Words may be used to speak of it,
     but they cannot contain it.

Tao existed before words and names,
     before heaven and earth,
     before the ten thousand things.
It is the unlimited father and mother
     of all limited things.

Therefore, to see beyond boundaries
     to the subtle heart of things,
     dispense with names,
     with concepts,
     with expectations and ambitions and differences.

Tao and its many manifestations
     arise from the same source:
     subtle wonder within mysterious darkness.

This is the beginning of all understanding.

Translated by Brian Browne Walker (1996)



The way that becomes a way
is not the Immortal Way
the name that becomes a name
is not the Immortal Name
the maiden of Heaven and Earth has no name
the mother of all things has a name
thus in innocence we see the beginning
in passion we see the end
two different names
for one and the same
the one we call dark
the dark beyond dark
the door to all beginnings

Translated by Red Pine (Bill Porter) (1996)



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.

Having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; having a name, it is the Mother of all things.

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.

Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

Translated by Richard Hooker (1996)



The tao (way) that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The emptiness can be called the origin of the universe.
The forming can be regarded as the mother of all particular things.

With emptiness you see the subtlety.
With naming you see the manifestations.
The "emptiness" is no different from the "form" intrinsically.
They both may be called deep and profound.
Deeper and more profound.
The gateway to all subtlety.

Translated by Edwin Sha (1996)



Daos can dao, but they are not constant (fixed, predictable) daos
Designations can designate, but they are not constant (fixed, predictable) designations
In the absence of designation, the world as a whole arises
In the presence of designation, infinite diversity is born
It is usually the case that, having no preferences, one observes subtle profundity
It is usually the case that, having preferences, one observes superficial limitations and distinctions
These pairs arise simultaneously, but are differently named —
Their simultaneity is termed “mysterious”
Mystery, and then further mystery —
The gateway into all wonder.

Translated by Alan Fox (1996)



The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth
While naming is the origin of the myriad things.
Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery
Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.
These two are the same —
When they appear they are named differently.
This sameness is the mystery,
Mystery within mystery;
The door to all marvels.

Translated by Charles Muller (1997)



The way that can be told of is hardly an eternal, absolute, unvarying one;
the name that can be coded and given is no absolute name.
Heaven and earth sprang from something else: the bright nameless;
the named is but the said mother that rears the ten thousand creatures of heaven and earth, each after its kind.

He that rids himself of base desire can see the secret essences;
he that didn’t and reached high being, he can see outcomes.
Still the two are the same; the secret and its manifestations came from the same ground, the same mould, but anyway sound different —
they’re given different names where they appear.
They can both be called the cosmic mystery, awesome deep
or rather more secret than so-called mystery.

There’s the deeper mystery: the gate and doorway from which issued all secret essences, yes, all subtleties,
and the subtle mysterial opening homewards.
Call it the door mystery or golden secret of all life.

Translated by Tormond Byrn (1997)



The infinity that can be conceived is not the
everlasting Infinity.
The infinity that can be described is not the
perpetual Infinity.

The inconceivable indescribable is the essence
of the all encompassing Infinite.
Conceiving and describing applies only to the
manifestations of Infinity.

Free from distinctions, experience the oneness of
Infinity.
Focus on distinctions and see only the
manifestations
of Infinity.

Yet distinction and non-distinction are one within
Infinity.

Potential within potential is
the essence of Infinity.

Translated by John WorldPeace (1997)



The Tao that can be spoken of is not the real way.
That which can be named is only transient.
The nameless was there before the sky and the earth were born.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
In nothingness you will see its wonders;
In things you will see its boundaries.
These two come from the same origin, although they have different names.
They emerged from somewhere deep and mysterious.
This deep and mysterious place
Is the gateway to all wonders.

Translated by Eva Wong (1997)



The true way is unknown and so is the untrue way
There are no names to understand it
Creation does not care that it is the source of creation
It emanates as some “thing”
And is not without nourishment
Mysteries are revealed
Become Its way
Attain Its perfection
Do not use words to describe its no-thing-ness

The three are the same but distinct
One is the Body
One is the Heart
One is the Mind
To understand it as one is the most you can do
It is the path to higher and lesser knowledge

Translated by Stephen F. Kaufmann (1998)



The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.

Translated by Ursula K. Le Guin (1998)



The Tao that refers to here can never be the mundane tao.
The Name that is used here to designate is not a mundane name.
The Tao that is unnameable is the Source of the Heaven and the Earth.
The name, once introduced, becomes the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.
Without desires one sees its profound mystery revealed.
With desires one can always see its countless appearances.
They are primarily one and same and yet differ in names.
These two ways of revelation are indeed the oldest mystery of dark mysteries.
To understand this is the gate to all mysteries.

Translated by Eiichi Shimomissé (1998)
 



The Finite cannot be all of the Infinite!
THOU by any specific name is not all there is to THOU.
The un-nameable is the Father of the myriads of things.
The nameable is the Mother of its own myriads of things.

Therefore; never wanting, one may observe the wondrously subtle;
Desiring, one may witness the manifestations.

Both of these are attributes of the same Source.
They have different ’nameabilities’ but the same designation:

Mystery of Mysteries,
the Gate of all wonders!

Translated by Jerry C. Welch (1998)



The Dao which one can explain is not the unchanging Dao.
The name which one can name is not the unchanging name.
Nothingness is the name of the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
Existence is the name of the mother of all things.
Therefore one should always emphasize nothingness if one desires to observe the marvelousness of the Dao;
one should always emphasize existence if one desires to observe the limits of the Dao.
These two have the same origin but different names;
one can call both of them profound.
More profound than profound,
they are the gate of all marvelous things.

Translated by Gregory C. Richter (1998)



The Dao that can be described in language is not the constant Dao; the name that can be given is not its constant name.

Nameless, it is the origin of the myriad things; named, it is the mother of the myriad things.

Therefore, always be without desire so as to see their subtlety. And always have desire so as to see their ends.

These two emerge together but have different names. Together, we refer to them as mystery: the mystery upon mystery and gateway of all subtleties.

Translated by Richard John Lynn (1999)



There are things that cannot be described by or understood through language. A complete description and understanding of the purpose and operation of the Way is beyond the power of language.

Whether you try to reason your way through life or act through emotion, the words associated with each path can be traps, not bridges, because they hide what is common to each: the presence of mystery.

Translated by Richard Degen (1999)



Tao is not a way that can be pointed out.
Nor an idea that can be defined.

Tao is indefinable original totality.
Ideas create the appearance of separate things.

Always hidden, it is the mysterious essence.
Always manifest, it is the outer appearances.

Essence and appearance are the same.
Only ideas make them seem separate.

Mystified?
Tao is mystery.
This is the gateway to understanding.

Translated by Timothy Freke (1999)



The Dao that can be described in language is not the constant Dao; the name that can be given it is not its constant name.

Nameless, it is the origin of the myriad things; named, it is the mother of the myriad things.

Therefore, always be without desire so as to see their subtlety.

And always have desire so as to see their ends.

These two emerge together but have different names. Together, we refer to them as mystery; the mystery upon mystery and gateway of all subtleties.

Translated by Wang Bi (1999)



The Tao that can be spoken of is not the ineffable Tao.
The name that can be spoken is not the ineffable name.
The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth;
The named is the mother of the myriad things.
Thus, cleave to nonbeing in order to observe its etherealities;
Cleave to being in order to observe its manifestations.
These two emerge together but are differently named;
Together they are referred to as the Dankly Mysterious.
More abstruse than mysterious,
The gate to a myriad etherealities.

Translated by Ralph D. Sawyer and Mei-chun Lee Sawyer (1999)



The Tao that can be defined is not the real Tao.
The name that can be named is not the real Name.
The unnamable [Tao] is the source of Heaven and Earth.
Naming is the mother of all particular things.
Free from desire, you experience reality.
Trapped in desire, you see only appearances.
Reality and appearance have different names,
but they emerge from the same source [i.e., the Tao].
This source is called darkness, deep darkness;
and yet it is the way to all wisdom.

Translated by George Cronk (1999)



Tao (Truth) can be talked about (theorized in any manner each person considers viable), though hardly of these theories will be eternally valid;

Names (Descriptions) can be ascribed [to Tao in any fashion each person deems workable], yet hardly of these names (descriptions) will last forever.

The beginning of the Universe (Heaven and Earth) [is beyond us, so in all honesty it] is indescribable;

[Nevertheless,] whatever is namable (describable) by us served as the mother (origin) of [our knowledge of] myriad (all and every) things and creatures.

Accordingly,

I constantly refrain from my selfish (subjective) desires for the purpose of exploring its (Nature’s) manifested (apparent) wonder;

I also constantly maintain my will [to seek objective knowledge] in order to pursue its (Nature’s) deep-seated enigma.

These two (Tao and Te) were originated from the same source, but they were described with different names by us.

They are both depicted as profound [as each is intricate in its own right];

The profundity (complexity) intensifies as we fathom its mystery further and deeper;

Eventually, it will [lead us] to the gateway of all mysteries.

Translated by Lee Sun Chen Org (2000)



A Way become Way isn’t the perennial Way.
A name become name isn’t the perennial name:

the named is mother to the ten thousands things,
but the unnamed is origin of all heaven and earth.

In perennial nonbeing you see mystery,
and in perennial being you see appearance.
Though the two are one and the same,
once they arise, they differ in name.

One and the same they’re called dark-enigma,
dark-enigma deep within dark-enigma,

gateway of all mystery.

Translated by David Hinton (2000)



Words and names are not the way
They can’t define the absolute
It’s better that you look within
Hold your tongue and just be mute

Look within and look out too
You will not find a separation
Out there you see appearance
Within you see origination

Look within with wonder
At emptiness and bliss
For wonder names totality
Where nothing is amiss

The space within is always there
If you can moderate desire
A place of utter emptiness
And possibility entire

Translated by Jim Clatfelter (2000)



Ways can be told,
But not the lasting way.
Names can be named,
But not the lasting name.

Nameless was the beginning
Of heaven and earth.
Names were the birth
Of the ten thousand things.

Those without desire
Will see its inner core;
Those with desire
Will see its outer form.

Both are simply aspects
Of the same mysterious whole
That has worn different names.
Both are curiosities.

When curiosity is greatest
The gateway to eternity opens wide.

Translated by Gerald Schoenewolf (2000)



A path is just a path, a name is just a name
What is, is, without sense or differentiation
And only divides itself into things when we give names

Forget the names of things and you sense fit and flow
Use their names and you see uniqueness, significance
Each perspective is as true as the other

How can something be both fragmentary and complete?
There’s a mystery here calling for a deeper perception
A perception from which all spirituality springs

Translated by Ted Wrigley (2000)



Tao that can be described is not the constant Tao.

Name that can be named is not a constant name.

The beginning of heaven and earth has no name,
naming is the beginning of all things.

So, constantly observe it with no-mind, one [can] see the mystery [of Tao];
to be ever distinctive, one [can] see the manifestations [of Tao].

[Originally,] these two phenomenon (the mystery and the manifestations)
are springing from the same source, only names are different.

To see (comprehend) them as the same makes deep wonder;
wonder upon wonder,
[intuitive comprehension is] the gateway to all mysteries [of Tao].

Translated by Ichin Shen (2000)
 



The Way as “way” bespeaks no common lasting Way,
The name as “name” no common lasting name.
Absent is the name for sky and land’s first life,
Present for the mother of all ten thousand things.
Desire ever-absent:
Behold the seed germs of all things.
Desire ever-present:
Behold their every finite course.
Forth together came the two
As one and the same
But differ in name.
As one, a dark recess
That probed recedes
Past that portal whence
The milling seed germs teem.

Translated by Moss Roberts (2001)



The way of ways is not the true Way.
The name of names is not the true Name.
The Nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
That with name is the mother of all creation.
Thus, with true Nothingness one may view the mystery,
And with true Being one may perceive the barrier.
These two are of the same origin, yet their names differ.
These two are called Profound.
Beyond the Profound lies the gateway to the Universal Mystery.

Translated by Robert Stevenson (2001)



A way that can be walked
     is not The Way
A name that can be named
     is not The Name

Tao is both Named and Nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things.

A mind free of thought,
     merged within itself,
     beholds the essence of Tao
A mind filled with thought,
     identified with its own perceptions,
     beholds the mere forms of this world

Tao and this world seem different
     but in truth they are one and the same
The only difference is in what we call them

How deep and mysterious is this unity
     How profound, how great!
It is the truth beyond the truth,
     the hidden within the hidden
It is the path to all wonder,
     the gate to the essence of everything!

Translated by Jonathan Star (2001)


Spoken Tao is not eternal Tao
Spoken name is not eternal name

Nameless is the source of all
Named is the source of the myriad things

Ever desireless one sees wonders
Ever desiring one sees manifestations

These two are the same in origin yet differ in name

The origin is the great mystery
Gateway to all understanding.

Translated by Jeff Rasmussen (2001)


Direction, as expressed, is no ordinary direction;
as named, no ordinary name.
Null identifies the universe at the beginning.
Ull [all] identifies the mother of myriad matters.
Thus, visit Null to observe its intricateness.
Visit Ull to observe its limitlessness.
These two spring from the same sort; only their identifications differ.
Both are profound.
Profound upon profound, it is the portal to all intricacies.

Translated by David H. Li (2001)



The way that can be talked about is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
“Nothing” is the name of the origin of heaven and earth.
“Being” is the name of “the mother” of all things.
So, in eternal Nothing, we should look at the wonderfulness of the Way.
In eternal Being, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named; and both are called mysteries.
Mysterious and more mysterious.
That is the door of all wonders.

Translated by Tien Cong Tran (2001)



Any dao given by language
is not a constant dao,
Any labeling given by words
is not constant labeling.
“Absence” names the beginning of the universe,
“permanence” names the matrix of all things.

Therefore:
Treat “absence” as constant
if you desire to view its wonders,
Treat “presence” as constant
if you desire to view its manifestations.
These two emerge in union
but are named differently,
their union speaks of mystery:
mystery upon mystery —
the gateway to a whole mass of wonders!

Translated by Stephen Hodge (2002)



The Tao that can be told
is not the universal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the universal name.

In the infancy of the universe,
there were no names.
Naming fragments the mysteries of life
into ten thousand things and their manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestation
spring from the same source:
The Great Integrity
which is the mystery within manifestation,
the manifestation within mystery,
the naming of the unnamed,
and the un-naming of the named.

When these interpenetrations
are in full attendance,
we will pass the gate of naming notions
in our journey toward transcendence.

Translated by Ralph Alan Dale (2002)



The Tao that can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be defined in words is not the name that never changes.
Non-existence is what we call the source of heaven and earth.
Existence is the mother of all things.
From eternal non-existence, therefore, we observe the beginning of the existence of the many hidden qualities of the universe.
From eternal existence, therefore, we clearly observe the overt qualities of the universe.
These two, the hidden and the overt, are originally the same at source, and become different where they manifest themselves.
This same origin is “the smallest of the small.”
The absolute “smallest of the small” is the gate from which the beginning of all the parts of the universe emerges.

Translated by Chou-Wing Chohan, Abe Bellenteen and Rosemary Brant (2002)



The Way (Tao) that can be named, is not the Ultimate Way.
The name given is not the eternal name.
Without name is the source of Heaven and Earth.
With a name is what creates all things.

Without desires the essence of things can be seen.
Who has desires sees only the manifestation of things.

Both aspects have the same source,
They become different, subject to perception.
But are equal in the depth of depth,
From where everything comes into existence.

Translated by Octavian Sarbatoare (2002)



The perceived Way is not the eternal Way.
The common name is not the eternal Name.

The Beginning of Heaven and Earth has no name.
The Mother of all things has a name.

Free of desire, behold its mystery.
Bound by desire, observe only its form.

These two are the same, but their forms bear different names.
Together, they are a mystery, subtle and profound,
the gateway to understanding.

Translated by Karl Kromal (2002)



The DAO can be talked about, but that is not the ever-lasting DAO.
The NAME can be called, but that is not the ever-lasting NAME.
Nothingness is called the origin of the world.
Existence is called the root of everything.
Therefore,
You should stay in nothingness if you want to see the true essence of the world:
you should stay in existence if you want to see the different entities of the world.
They are from the same source but named differently: both are called XUAN.
Understanding the XUANs is the key to the kingdom of truth.

Translated by Xiaolin Yang (2002)



Ways that can be spelled out
cannot be the eternal way.
Names that can be named
must change with time and place.
Emptiness is the origin of heaven and earth;
Existence is the mother of everything that had a birth.
Appreciate Emptiness, that we may see the nature of the Dao’s versatility;
Appreciate Existence, that we may see the extent of the Dao’s possibilities.
These two, Emptiness and Existence, came from the same source.
Though they bear different names, they serve the same mystical cause.
A mystery within a mystery,
such is the gateway to all versatility.

Translated by Lok Sang Ho (2002)


Who would follow the Way
     must go beyond words.
Who would know the world
     must go beyond names.

Nameless, all things begin.
Named, all things are born.

Empty of intent, one may be filled with awe.
Full of intent, one may know what’s manifest.
One source, different fonts.
Wonders both.

From wonder into wonder,
existence opens.

Translated by Douglas Allchin (2002)



The Tao is the unobstructed breath.
The Tao holds the opposing forces of the eternal Tao.

The Name is the unobstructed breath.
The Name holds the opposing forces of the eternal Name.

Heaven and Earth were without names (consciousness) in the beginning.
The names of the ten-thousand things (everything) arose through its mother.

If you are eternally without deep-seated desires, then you perceive its mystery.
If you have deep-seated desires, then you perceive its outer form.
These both (the essence and outer form) have the same origin but have different names.

Oneness (the Source) is called the mystery.
The mystery will always be mysterious.
All people are at the door of this mysterious One.

Translated by Alan Sheets and Barbara Tovey (2002)



A Way that can be followed is not a constant Way.
A name that can be named is not a constant name.
Nameless, it is the beginning of Heaven and Earth;
Named, it is the mother of the myriad creatures.
And so,
     Always eliminate desires in order to observe its mysteries;
     Always have desires in order to observe its manifestations.
These two come forth in unity but diverge in name.
Their unity is known as an enigma.
Within this enigma is yet a deeper enigma.
The gate of all mysteries!

Translated by Philip J. Ivanhoe (2003)



Way-making that can be put into words is not really way-making,
And naming that can assign fixed reference to things is not really naming.

The nameless is the fetal beginning of everything that is happening,
While that which is named is their mother.

Thus, to be really objectless in one’s desires is how one observes the mysteries of all things,
While really having desires is how one observes their boundaries.

These two — the nameless and what is named — emerge from the same source yet are referred to differently.

Together they are called obscure.
The obscurest of the obscure,
They are the swinging gateway of the manifold mysteries.

Translated by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall (2003)



The Tao can be explained, but this is not the real Tao.
Names can be given, but these are only a designation.

The origin of Heaven and Earth is called Emptiness.
The mother of all things is called Existence.

When we focus on Emptiness,
we become aware of the wonder of it all.
When we focus on Existence,
we become aware of the nature of all things.

These both emerge together, but have different names.
Both are called a Mystery. Mystery within Mystery.
The doorway to all wonders.

Translated by Roderic Sorrell and Amy Max Sorrell (2003)
 



A tao that can be spoken about
Is not the constant Tao;
A name that can be named
Is not the constant name.
Nonbeing names
The ten thousand things’ beginning;
Being names
The ten thousand things’ mother.
Therefore, constantly be desireless,
Whereby to observe its minutiae;
Constantly be desirous,
Whereby to observe where it ends.
The two issued from the same origin,
And, though different in name,
Refer to the same thing.
Deep and remote, doubly deep and remote,
Gate of multitudinous minutiae.

Translated by Chichung Huang (2003)



As for the road,
The Road that can be told is not the eternal Road.
As for names,
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousand things.
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Therefore, ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Those constantly with desires,
will only see what they yearn for and seek.
These two spring from the same source.
They have different names; yet they are called the same.
That which is even more profound than the profound
The gateway to all mystery.

Translated by Bram den Hond (2003)



The Way — cannot be told.
The Name — cannot be named.
The nameless is the Way of Heaven and Earth.
The named is Matrix of the Myriad Creatures.
Eliminate desire to find the Way.
Embrace desire to know the Creature.
The two are identical,
But differ in name as they arise.
Identical they are called mysterious,
Mystery on mystery,
The gate of many secrets.

Translated by A.S. Kline (2003)



Dao that can be expressed in words is not the absolute Dao.
The names that can be given are not the absolute names.
Non-being is before the dawn of time,
Being is when everything begins to emerge.
Therefore, maintaining a passive and receptive mode,
You can watch the secret of life;
Maintaining an active and attentive mode,
You can perceive the rhythm of life.
These two cognitive processes, though differing in names,
Are in the same continuum.
Both are known as the inscrutable Mystery,
Which is the greatest of all mysteries.
And it is through these perspectives that we can observe the marvellous phenomena of Nature.

Translated by Han Hiong Tan (2003)

 



No Tao that may be Tao is the constant Tao;
No name that may be a name is the constant name.
By non-being you name the beginning of Heaven and Earth;
By being you name the mother of the ten thousand things.
Therefore, always free of desire you see the secret;
Always with desire you see its appearance.
These two
Are the same in origin yet different in name.
Their sameness may be called a mystery.
It is the mystery beyond mysteries,
The gate to myriad secrets.

Translated by Ha Poong Kim (2003)



The Way cannot be said in words.
Infinity cannot be described.
Eternity cannot be named.
Naming is the basis of temporary things.
Without desire there is mystery.
Bound to desire we are trapped in the known.
Mystery and the known are not separate.
It is naming which separates us.
The entry to all understanding lies in this paradox.

Translated by enlightenedbuddha.com (2004)



The “Tao” is too great to be described by the name “Tao.”
If it could be named so simply, it would not be the eternal Tao.

Heaven and Earth began from the nameless (Tao),
but the multitudes of things around us were created by names.

We desire to understand the world by giving names to the things we see,
but these things are only the effects of something subtle.

When we see beyond the desire to use names,
we can sense the nameless cause of these effects.

The cause and the effects are aspects of the same, one thing.
They are both mysterious and profound.
At their most mysterious and profound point lies the “Gate of the Great Truth.”

Translated by thetao.info (2004)



To guide what can be guided is not constant guiding.
To name what can be named is not constant naming.
“Not-exist” names the beginning (boundary) of the cosmos (Heaven and earth)
“Exists” names the mother of the ten-thousand natural kinds.
Thus, to treat “not-exist” as constant is desiring to use it to view its mysteries.
To treat “exists” as constant is desiring to use it to view its manifestations.
These two emerge together yet have different names.
“Together” — call that “obscure.” “Obscure” it and it is more obscure. . . .
the gateway of a crowd of mysteries.

Translated by Chad Hansen (2004)



The Tao that can be spoken is not the constant Tao
The Name that can be named is not the constant Name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly free of desire
One observes its wonder
Constantly filled with desire
One observes its manifestations
These two emerge similarly but differ in name
The unity is the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

Translated by truetao.org (2004)


This book can tell you nothing;
the Tao leaves you where you began.
A maiden can leave things nameless;
a mother must name her children.
In innocence or experience, you still return.
Calling things by name loses what unites them.
Failing to call things by name loses them into what unites them.
Words are limits that make experience possible.
But form and formlessness are the same.
Tao and the world are the same,
though we call them by different names.
This unity is dark and deep, but on the other hand it is deep and dark.
It opens into the center of everything.

Translated by Crispin Sartwell (2004)



The TAO that can be spoken is not the forever TAO.
The name of the TAO uttered is not the forever TAO.

That which is unnamable is real forever.
Origins start with names.

When you become desireless you will realize the mystery.
When you are trapped by desire you see only the physical side of things . . . the manifestations.

Manifestations and this mystery arise from the same center which is nothingness.

Nothingness within nothingness the pathway to understanding all.

Translated by Stanley Atamanchuk (2004)



The way that can be shown is not the Eternal Way.
The name that can be named is not the Eternal Name.

The source of the Heavens and the Earth is nameless.
Naming is the Mother of the ten thousand things.

Willingly we find the mystery;
Willfully we find the forms.

The forms and the mystery are the same
And yet their names are different.
Together they are called the Profound;
The mystery within the Mystery;
The Gateway to Salvation.

Translated by Maury Merkin (2004)



If Tao can be described, then it is not general Tao.
If a name can be denied, then it is not a general name.
The invisible is the origin of the universe.
The visible is the mother of all things.
By constantly thinking the invisible, we understand the universe;
By constantly observing the visible, we can see how the natural laws work.
Thinking and observing are two different things.
Yet they serve the same goal: to theorize.
Theorizing and evolving these theories is the gate to marvels.

Translated by Thomas Z. Zhang (2004)



A dao that can be defined,
is not the eternal Dao;
concepts that can be conceived,
are not eternal concepts!
Inconceivable is Heaven’s and Earth’s origin,
conceivable is the myriad things’ mother.

Therefore, always without desire,
so see its mystery;
ever with desire,
so see its surface.

These two: together emerging,
yet differing in names —
together they are called mysterious.
The mystery of mysteries —
the Gate to all Mysteries.

Translated by Hilmar Klaus (2004)



Alas this very spoken Dao
is not the constant one.
So find a name for name and you
have nothing but a pun.

The nameless was the source that made
the planet and its sky.
The named one is all creatures’ mom,
and maybe this is why.

The mystery of the Dao is felt
through nothing — that’s the key.
Its limits manifest themselves
in everything we see.

Now both of these share ancestors
though they share names no more.
A mystery within mystery
and every mystery’s door.

Translated by Clifford Borg-Marks (2004)



The Tao Eternal is beyond definition.
No name given can capture its eternality.
Nameless, it is the origin of the Kosmos.
Named, it is the beginning of all things.
Nothingness, it is the inner being of the Kosmos.
Thingness, it is the outer distinctions of the Kosmos.
These two, though different in names, arise from the same source:
The source called the Invisible.
Invisible beyond the invisible,
It is the entry into the myriad wonders of the Eternal Kosmos.

Translated by Yasuhiko Genku Kimura (2004)



The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.
The Name that can be spoken is not the eternal name.
The Nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
The Named is the mother of all creatures.
Observe the mysteries of the Tao without longing.
Survey its appearance with desire.
Both mysteries and appearance come from the same origin but wear a different name;
they are enigmatic.
The greatest mystery is the gate to all mysteries.

Translated by Chao-Hsiu Chen (2004)



Tao: speak the tao. It is not the eternal tao.
Name: speak the name. It is not the eternal name.

Unnamed at first, sky and earth emerge.
Naming generates ten thousand things.

So: never seeking, we glimpse infinitesimals.
Always seeking, we mark boundaries.

Both there from the start, given opposite names.
Out of the deep,
Deep mirrored in deep,
Infinitesimals multiplied open all gates.

Translated by Richard Blumberg (2005)



The Way that can be spoken of
      is not the changeless DAO.

The name that can be named
      is not the changeless Name.

Namelessness: the blank that was before both heaven and earth.
Naming: the mother of all living things.

To understand the mysteries of DAO, empty yourself of all desire;
      to understand its outward forms, fill yourself with all desire.

DAO and the world flow from the same source, but differ in name.
Their oneness is a mystery, a mystery upon a mystery,
      the gateway to the essence of everything that is.

Translated by Tim Chilcott (2005)



A path fit to travel
Is not a general path
A name fit for calling
Is not a generic name
      “Nothing” names the origin of heaven and earth
      “Being” names the mother of the myriad beings
And so, always be dispassionate
In order to see the mysteries
Always be passionate
In order to see the objectives
      These two mean the same (when) emerging
      While diverging in significance
      The sameness tells of their mystery
Mystery leading to greater mystery
(Is) the gateway to every mystery

Translated by Bradford Hatcher (2005)



The Cosmic Consciousness described
Is not quite the timeless Origin.
The Name that one puts into words
Fails to hold the Essence.

Beyond the empty division of heaven and earth,
The Nameless is —
The living ground of being.

The Nameless bears the Essence;
The names reveal the functions
Of all the numberless compressions of Being,
Born of the vast and silent Mother.

Release your attachment to appearances,
And the Tao will be there.

The manifest and the immanent
Are of the same Cosmic Origin —
The living, teeming darkness.
Eternal, shimmering darkness,
Reflecting itself in transformation,
Beyond all form and name —
Through the gateway of your own heart.

Translated by Brian Donohue (2005)



The Tao you can tell is not the true Tao.
The names you can name are not the true names.
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of the myriad things.
Always desireless you see its very essence.
Always desiring you see its outer edge.
The source of these two is the same
Yet they are differently named.
They are called the mystery,
Mystery upon mystery,
The gateway to the essence of all.

 Translated by Agnieszka Solska (2005)



The Dao that can be told is not the timeless Dao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
Heaven and earth emerged from the nameless.
The named is the mother of all things.
Lose desire to see the Dao’s essence.
Have desire to see the Dao’s manifestations.
These two have the same source but different names.
Their sameness is a mystery,
mystery of mysteries,
gateway of untold secrets.

Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping (2005)



The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the root of all things.
Therefore, by being free from passion and desire,
the subtleties of Tao can be experienced.
The things existing in the world of duality can be well known
by possessing passions and desires.
The two above mentioned have the same source but are given different names.
The ability of transformation between the two is a most mysterious thing,
or the door of all mysteries.

Translated by Hu Xuezhi (2006)



The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly free of desire
One observes its wonders
Constantly filled with desire
One observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

Translated by Derek Lin (2006)



The Tao that can be put in words is not the ever-abiding Tao;
The name that can be named is not the ever-abiding name.
The Nameless gives rise to Heaven and Earth.
The Named is the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.

Therefore:
It is always so that without desires you can behold its mystery;
Always so that having desires you can behold its manifestations.
These two are one and the same, and differ only in name.
This being so is profound, mysterious, and dark:
The threshold to all secrets.

Translated by Keith H. Seddon (2006)


Dao may be accepted as “Dao”, but that would conflict with the constant motion of Dao.
A name may be accepted as a “Name”, but that would conflict with the constant motion of what’s been given a name.

Everything started out without needing to be named or categorized.
When they were seen as things that needed to be nurtured, they were then given names.

Therefore:
When we’re in the frame of mind of not wanting anything, we look at even the smallest things as being significant.
When we’re in the frame of mind of wanting things, we observe boundaries and limits.

Both of those attitudes can fit together with each other, even though they’re thought to be quite different.
Trying to fit them together is said to be one of the most profound mysteries.
That’s the doorway to even more mysteries.

Translated by Nina Correa (2007)


One cannot know Tao only by speaking about It.

One cannot name by human name that Origin of the sky and earth Which is the Mother of everything.

Only he who is free from worldly passions can see It; and he who has such passions can see only Its Creation.

Tao and Its Creation are One in essence though called by different names. The passage which exists between them is the door to all the miraculous.

Translated by Mikhail Mikolenko (2007)



Tao defined is not the constant Tao.
No name names its eternal name.

The unnamable is the origin of heaven and earth;
named, it is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Emptied of desire, we see the mystery;
filled with desire, we see the manifestation of things.

Two names emerge from a single origin,
and both are called mysterious,

and the mystery itself is the gateway to perception.

Translated by Sam Hamill (2007)



The Dao that can be defined is not the eternal Dao; and the name of the Dao that can be given is not the name of the eternal Dao.
Nothing is what the universe begins with; and something is the mother of all things.
Thus through nothingness we are able to observe Dao’s subtlety; and through somethingness we are able to see its boundary.
The two come from the same source yet with different names. Both of them are described as profundities, but Dao is even more profound, and a gateway to all mysteries.

Translated by Wenliang Tao (2012)


 

The Way that can be articulately described
      is not the Unchanging Way.
The name that can be said out loud
      is not the Unchanging Name.
With your mouth unopened, and things left undefined,
      you stand at the beginning of the universe.
Make definitions, and you are the measure of all creation.
Thus, being forever without desire,
      you look deeply into the transcendent.
By constantly harboring desire,
      your vision is beset by all the things around you.
These two enter the world alike,
      but their names are different.
Alike, they are called profound and remote.
Profound and remote and again more so:
This is the gate to all mysteries.

Translated by William Scott Wilson (2012)



Words won’t bring you to me

A named thing becomes real
I can’t be named

Desire is blindness
Leave it and you’ll find me

Your path begins in the deepest shade of darkness
Where questions and answers whisper

Translated by Rick Julian (2013)



The Way that can be spoken of is not the eternal Way;
the name that can be named is not the Immortal Name.
Nameless the Source of earth and sky,
names engender every thing.
Unfettered by desire, the mystery reveals itself;
wanting this
gives rise to that.
Beyond named and nameless, reality still flows;
unfathomable the arch, the door, the gate.

 

Translated by Robert Rosenbaum (compiled from six other translations) (2013)



the Profound Mystery of the Eternal Tao cannot be elucidated
even using the name Tao is putting a name to That which cannot be named

the Unnameable conceives the illusion of Duality — space/time, within/without, seeking/finding
clothed with form and name, the Primal Feminine generates the myriad things

sincerely seeking within the brightest light — one is only immersed in illusion
without seeking, with no effort — one may experience Reality

illusion and Reality are different names and appear to be separate things
but there is no separation and no things — there is simply One

this Singularity is absolute perfect Darkness
the entrance to the Incomprehensible Source

Translated by dragonfly (2014)



The Tao described in words is not the real Tao.
Words cannot describe it.
Nameless, it is the source of creation.
Named, it is the mother of all things.

To see Tao the observer must be motiveless.
Those with selfish motives see only
the surface, not the innermost depths.

These two kinds of observers look alike,
but differ in the insight of their observations.
They look alike because they are both human.
Within humanity is the key to the door of creation.

Translated by C. Ganson (date unknown)



Tao that can be spoke of, not the eternal Tao.
Name that can be named, not the eternal name.
Nameless, the beginning of heaven and earth.
Named, mother of everything.
Desireless, sees the mystery.
Desiring, sees the manifestations.
These two, from the same source, differ in name; both are original.
Original of original, gate of all mystery.

Translated by Tienzen Gong (date unknown)



A tao that one can tao
    Is not the entire tao
A name that one can name
    Is not the entire name.

In the absence of names
    Lies the origin of heavens and earth
The presence of names
    Is mother to the 10000 things.

So viewing entireness without desire
    One may see subtleties
Viewing entireness with desire
    One may see boundaries.

That which is these both
    Goes about as itself yet there are different names.
Categorizing them together there is insight
    Very deep insight
The gateway to collective subtleties.

Translated by David Lindauer (date unknown)



The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The names that can be given are not the eternal names.
The Nameless is the origin of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of all things.
Therefore, without intentions, I see the Subtle Essence.
And with intentions, I see the Manifest Forms.
These two are the same, though each has many names.
Both may be called the Mystery.

Translated by Ned Ludd (date unknown)



The spirit one can talk about is not the eternal spirit, and what you can name is not the eternal name. Nameless-Tao is the beginning of the heavens and the Earth. If you name it — it is no more than Matter.

Therefore: he who conceives of nature freely grasps this Spirit and he who strives for material things is left with only the shell. Spirit and matter are both one in their origin, yet different in appearance. This unity is a mystery — truly the mystery of all mysteries, the gate to all spirituality.

Translated by Andre Gauthier (date unknown)



A Dao which can be spoken, is not an enduring Dao. [OR Daos can  guide, but they are not enduring Daos/guides.]
A name which can be named, is not an enduring name. [OR Names can be named, but they are not enduring names.]
Not named, (Dao is) the origin of the Heavens and the Earth.
Having a name, (we call it) the Mother of the myriad things.
Therefore, if we are always without desire (to know),
We will observe the subtle and unlimited.
Always with desire (to know),
We will only observe the obvious and limited.
These two aspects emerge together and are named differently.
This we call a mystery.
The mystery of mysteries,
The gateway to a multitude of profound subtleties.

Translated by Bao Pu (date unknown)

 



The Flow of the universe is not one you can explain,
And its true name is not one you can speak.

For the universe began without words,
And then we gave names to all things.
In the world of non-being, we embrace its mysteries,
And in the world of being, we interact with it.

These two flow into one another
And are separated only by name.

Together they form a mystery.
Enigma in enigma —
Gateway to all wonders.

Translated by Sonja Elen Kisa (date unknown)



The Way (Tao) that can be told of is not an unvarying Way;
The name that can be given is not an unvarying name.
Nameless is the beginning of the World.
Named is the mother of the myriad creatures.

One experiences without Self to sense the World,
And experiences with Self to understand the World.
The two experiences are the same within Tao;
They are distinct only within the World.
Neither experience conveys Tao
Which is infinitely greater and more subtle than the World.

Translation at City University of Hong Kong website (translator and date unknown)



The TAO that can be expressed in words is not the all-embracing and immutable TAO: the Name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name. Without a name, It is the Beginning of The Universe and Our World: conceived as having a name, It is the Progenitrix of all things. Those alone who are free from earthly passions can perceive the deep mystery of the Unmanifested One: those who are possessed by desires can only behold the Manifest’s outward form. These two, the Manifest and the Unmanifest, although differing in name, in essence are identical. This sameness is the mystery, the deep within the deep, the door of many mysteries.

Translation by Steven Ericsson Zenith (date unknown),
 based on the version
published by The Shrine of Wisdom (1924)



The Tao that is spoken of, cannot be truly explained.
The grandest eloquence cannot define it.
It has no name, and is the creator of Heaven and Earth.
Forced to name it, we can call it the Tao (the Way), and accept that it is great.
When we are lost in desire we can see only the outer manifestations of this greatness.
If we free ourselves from desire we can experience the unfathomable depths,
and know the mystery of the great Tao.
The Mystery and the Manifestations are separate, yet they arise from the same source.
This source is deep; so deep its depths cannot be plumbed.
Within its depths is darkness. The Great Mystery within the darkness,
it is the gateway to all understanding.

rivenrock.com (translator and date unknown)



The Way that can be experienced is not true;
The world that can be constructed is not true.
The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
The world represents all that exists and may exist.

To experience without intention is to sense the world;
To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.
These two experiences are indistinguishable;
Their construction differs but their effect is the same.

Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

Translated by Isis (date unknown)



The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Translated by Kiyoashi (date unknown)



The Tao that can be expressed is not the Tao of the Absolute.
The name that can be named is not the name of the Absolute.
The nameless originated Heaven and Earth.
The named is the Mother of all things.

Thus, without expectation, one will always perceive the subtlety;
and with expectation, one will always perceive the boundary.

The source of these two is identical, yet their names are different.
Together they are called profound, profound and mysterious.
The gateway to the collective subtlety.

Translated by David Tuffley (date unknown)



The tao that can be tar(1)ed
is not the entire Tao.
The PATH that can be specified
is not the full PATH.

We declare the names
of all variables and functions.
Yet the Tao has no type specifier.

Dynamically binding, you realize the magic.
Statically binding, you see only the hierarchy.

Yet magic and hierarchy
arise from the same source,
and this source has a null pointer.

Reference the NULL within NULL,
it is the gateway to all wizardry.

Translated by Jeffrey Sorensen (date unknown)



Words cannot describe the Tao, and The Tao cannot be named. That which is eternal is unnameable. Naming is the basis of things. Free from desire you are a mystery. Caught in desire you are known. The mystery and the known are not separate. It is naming which separates us. Only through paradox can you understand.

Translated by David Bullen (date unknown)



The Ineffable, about which is spoken, is not the eternal Ineffable
A name for the Unnameable, is but a name
The Unnameable is what makes everything what it is
By naming things you divide the Indivisible
Only one who gives up all his desires can experience the Indivisible
One who still cherishes desires, will experience only dissension
Both will see the same reality, but experience it differently
One who goes from the false reality into the other,
Will pass through the narrow gate and receive the secret of true life

gospelofthomas.fol.nl (translator and date unknown)



The Tao that is voiced is no longer that of eternal Tao.
The name that has been written is no longer that of eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of the cosmic universe.
The named is the mother of the myriad creatures.
Being at peace, one can see into the subtle.
Engaging with passion, one can see into the manifest.
They both arise from a common source but have different names.
Both are called the mystery within the mystery.
They are the door to all wonders.

Translated by Edward Brennan and Tao Huang (date unknown)



There are ways to follow,
But what is followed is not the true Way.
There are names to give,
But what is given is not the true Name.
Let us call non-being the beginning of the universe
And let us call being the development of all things.
When we follow non-being
We approach the wonder of the Way.
When we follow being
We approach the farther-end manifestation of the Way.
Each has the same origin,
And here exists a metaphysical door to true wisdom.

Translated by Liu Qixuan (date unknown)



Tao that can be described is not the universal and eternal Tao;
Name that can be named is not the universal and eternal name.
The beginning of Heaven and Earth is nameless;
The mother of everything is naming.
Thus:
Be always objective, one discover the wonders;
Be always subjective, one only sees the manifestations.
Both emerge from the same source, but with different names.
Both are mysterious.
The mystery hidden inside of mysteries
Is the door to all wonders.

Translated by Cheng (date unknown)



A way can be shown: it is not the constant way.
A name can be named: it is not the constant name.
The nameless is the embryo of Heaven and Earth;
The named is the mother of the myriad beings.
Thus: constantly desireless, to observe the subtleties;
Constantly desirous, to observe the evident.
There two come out the same, but are named differently:
Together they are called dark.
The further darkness of darkness:
The gateway to the many subtleties.

Translated by John Emerson (translation in progress)


Words and names are not the way
They can't define the absolute
It's better that you look within
Hold your tongue and just be mute
Look within and look out too
You will not find a separation
Out there you see appearance
Within you see origination
Look within with wonder
At emptiness and bliss
For wonder names totality
Where nothing is amiss
The space within is always there
If you can moderate desire
A place of utter emptiness
And possibility entire

Translated by Headless (date unknown)



Way told is varying
Name distinguishes
Way is from no name

Name desires kind

Way being devoid of desire
Intimates Essence

Desires mother outcomes
With both from same mould

From which Way appears mystery
Darker than mystery

Portal of Essence

Translated by James Edwards (date unknown)

 


 

Verbatim Version


Possible readings of the characters in the first line:

tao   Tao / Way / Path / way / path / “That” / “The Absolute” / “Nature”

k’o   can / able to / can be / “becomes”

tao   Tao / path / way / walked / trodden // be told / talked about / spoken of

fei   not / cannot / surely not / opposes / “other than” / “not identical with” [the]

ch’ang   eternal / everlasting / constant / unchanging / always / fixed // the Absolute / the Eternal

tao   Tao / way / path

 

Some possible interpretations of the first line:

The Tao that can be told (/walked/perceived) is not the eternal (/unchanging) Tao.

A way that can be walked is not the eternal way.

The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. (Legge)

The Tao (that your mind) conceives of as Tao, is decidedly not the True Tao. (Ming)

The way that can be walked is not the way to the Eternal.

Paths can be walked but not the Eternal Path.

The Tao that can be expressed is not the Tao of the Absolute. (Wing)

Tao becomes Tao; it is not just an eternal Tao. (Ming)

Let the Tao become your Tao. It is not just an Eternal Tao.

Tao is ever-becoming Tao; there is no fixed Tao.

 

Possible readings and interpretations of the remainder of the first chapter:

ming   Name / names / the Name

k’o   can / can be / able / “becomes”

ming   named / name / given a name / spoken of / ~divided

fei   not / surely not / opposite to

ch’ang   eternal / everlasting / fixed / constant // the Absolute / the Eternal

ming   Name / names / the Name

The name that can be named is not the Eternal Name.

Names can be named, but not the name of the Eternal.

The name that can be named is not the Eternal’s name.

 

chih   ’s / of / its

shih   origin / beginning / starting place // “maiden” (Red Pine) / “virgin” / ~that which gives birth

yu   with / having / possessing // being / existence

ming   name / names / the Name / the Word

wan   ten thousand / myriad / all

chih   ’s / its / of

mu   mother / the Mother

Without name (the Nameless) is the origin of all things;
With name (the Named) is the mother of all things.

Non-being is the name of all things’ origin.
Being is the name of all things’ mother.

 

ku   Therefore / thus / hence / for / indeed / now / (reason)

ch’ang   always / ever / constant / permanent / unchanging // the Eternal / the Absolute // ~a permanent state / ~established in / ~identified with

wu   without / free of / not having / rid // non-being / non-existence

  deep-seated desire / mental patterns / desire / longing / attachment / thought-constructs / “paradigm”

yi   then / what follows / “so we may” / “in order to”

kuan   perceive / see / truly see / recognize / observe / witness / behold // display / reveal / manifest / make evident

ch’i   its / his / ’s / ~Tao’s / ~the world’s / ~the mind’s

miao   essence / mystery / subtlety / secret / true nature / wonderfulness / excellence / spirituality / marvels // the Essence / the nature of the Absolute // one’s true nature

ch’ang   always / ever / constant / permanent / unchanging // the Eternal / the Absolute

yu   have / possess/ ~identify with // being

  deep-seated desire / attachment / mental activity / thought-constructs / mental patterns

yi   then

kuan   perceive / see / truly see / recognize / witness // display / reveal / make evident

ch’i   its / his / ’s / ~Tao’s / ~the world’s / ~the mind’s

chiao   outer forms / manifestations / outcome / outer shell / end / limit / external / bounds / border / world appearance

Ever without desires (/attachment) then perceive its essence (/your true nature)
Ever with desires (/attachment) then perceive its manifestation (/your individual form)

Identifying with [the mind’s] pure awareness reveals its true nature
Identifying with [the mind’s] limited awareness reveals the world of thoughts

The state of wu yü reveals, “I am the Essence”
The state of yu yü reveals, “I am the body”

The Eternal, [seen] through one’s pure awareness, reveals its essence
The Eternal, [seen] through one’s ego-concepts, reveals its outer forms

The Eternal appears in its true wonder to one whose mind is perfectly still
The Eternal appears ordinary, as the apparent forms of this world, to one whose mind is dictated by its thoughts

By constant Non-being, we desire to perceive its essence
By constant Being, we desire to perceive its manifestation

Therefore let there always be non-being, so we may see their subtlety, and let there always be being, so we may see their outcomes. (Chan)

In eternal non-existence, therefore, man seeks to pierce the primordial mystery; and, in eternal existence, to behold the issues of the Universe. (Chalmers)

The thought-free awareness, brought about by the mind turned within, lets a person behold his true nature — eternal, wondrous, the manifestation of one reality.
The awareness that results from the mind turned outward lets a person see his life in this world — passing, ordinary, filled with differences.

A mind that is perfectly still and turned inward reflects the pure awareness of its boundless nature;
A mind that is restless and turned outward lives in the cage of its own thoughts.

 

tz’u   These / this

liang   two / both / pair / pairs / dual / duality / sameness

chê   those / (they are) / >makes the preceding character or clause into a noun

These two are alike in origin but differ in name.

These two are the same but we think of them in different ways.

These pairs of opposites form a unity though we think of them as being different.

 

t’ung   alike / the same / one / together / unified / unity / merged / “issue from the same” // the One

ch’u   origin / source / birth // manifest / issue forth / arise / emerge

erh   but / yet / though

yi   differ / different / diverge [in]

ming   name / what they are called / ~how they are / ~how they are called forth / ~how they manifest

Unity is its (the world’s) primal origin (first beginning).
It is the origin of the origin,
The opening that leads to (/reveals) the true nature of the Absolute.

That which we call “the One” is hidden.
It is hidden within the hidden yet it is the Essence which reveals everything (/yet it is the One, Underlying Principle that becomes everything).

Oneness is the principle that underlies all things.
It is the origin of the origin, the root of the root, the cause of all causes,
It is that which reveals the essence of everything.

 

t’ung   unity / oneness / likeness / sameness / together / both / “being the same” / “commonality” // the One / ~the Absolute

wei   call / they are called / called forth / “appear as”

chih   its / (the) / [can be left untranslated]

hsüan   mystery / secret / profound / hidden / dark / deep / obscure / mysterious / abyss // incomprehensible [Alternative reading: yüan (origin, first cause, original or primal principle)]

Unity, by what we call it, cannot be known

This unity can be spoken of, but remains a mystery

This unity is incomprehensible, beyond the reaches of the mind

T’ung wei (the One and what it calls into being) is a mystery

The One, Absolute, is its (the world’s) origin

There is only one original substance (yüan)

Oneness is the nature of its origin

 

hsüan   mystery / secret / profound / hidden / dark / deep / obscure [Alternate reading: yüan (origin, first cause, primal)]

chih  it is // (passes) / (becomes)

yu   again / also / ~to a higher degree / ~more

hsüan   mystery / mysterious / profound / secret / obscure / dark / deep [Alternative reading: yüan (origin, primal)]

Mystery is again a mystery
There is a secret within this secret
It is the origin of the origin

This unity is hidden.
It is the hidden within itself, it is . . .

 

chung   all / everything / “manifold”

miao   essence / mystery / subtlety / wonder / excellence // ~one’s true nature

chih   ’s / of / its

mên   gate / gateway / door / opening / entrance // house / abode

“the gate to the essence of everything”

“the door to all spirituality”

“the opening to the essence of existence”

“the gate to the true nature of everything”

“the opening into all things divine”

“the insight that leads to wonder”

“the door of all subtleties!” (Chan)

“the gateway to all indescribable marvels” (Cheng)

“the gateway of the manifold secrets” (Lau)

“the Gate to the Secret of All Life” (Yutang)

“the door to inwardness” (Maurer)

“the gateway through which all miracles emerge” (Wilhelm)

“the portal leading to the realization of the Cosmic Divinity” (Au-Young)

“the door to all beginnings” (Red Pine)


(Excerpts from the “Verbatim Translation” and “Commentary” in
Jonathan Star’s Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition, Tarcher/Penguin, 2001)

 


I have reproduced here all the different English versions of the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching that I have come across. There are now over 175. I will continue to add others as I discover them.

Copyright notice. Most of these translations are copyrighted by the respective translators. I believe that my reproduction of these excerpts constitutes “fair use.” They form part of my review of Lao Tzu’s original work (in the Eastern Religion and Philosophy section of Gateway to the Vast Realms) and are not being used for any commercial purpose. The main reason I have reproduced them here is to give readers a chance to compare examples of different versions in order to decide which ones they might want to get.


[Passages from other recommended works]

[Gateway to the Vast Realms]

[Rexroth essay on the Tao Te Ching]

 

  

 


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