Translation by Joe Kelly PDF version

A Book Of
The Way

The map is not
the territory
The Way
A path walked, so to speak
Character (or ‘Nature’)
A book, written in the character of The Way, about The Way and its character
Classic book (or ‘to pass through’)
A classic book on the nature of The Way
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The Way that can be told is not the Way.
No definition we could hold can have its name.

It all begins without a definition.
Ten thousand things mapped out is not the same.

There’s no hope the unknown won’t remain.
With that hope you are in your own way.

It’s an on-and-off frame...
It’s an ongoing exchange...

You re-make the map,
hope the territory
is explained.

Continue to explore
what goes before
your definitions.

Walk through
door after door
towards Mastery.


Without exception...

When a good is decided, bad is compared.
When a right is established, wrong is declared.

A something makes nothings.
A difficult explains easies.
A long describes shorts.
A high arranges lows.

And vice versa.

The Master thinks in not-so-split distinctions.
Skill consists in not-so-strict instructions.

He brings the
bigger disposition.

Lets it go.

Lots of different
things arisen.

Not imposed.

He creates but doesn’t possess.
He enacts but doesn’t expect.
He achieves but doesn’t profess.

What succeeds
is not-so-rigid.

On it flows.


With no high positions
there’s no rivalry.

With no treasures to protect
there are no thieves.

With no hoped-for preconceptions
there’s no problem disagreeing.

The Master keeps the mind

The belly then
rarely unfills.

He uproots his beliefs;
disproves his ideas.

His will is not enforced
yet order builds.


The Way remains when poured away.
The well doesn’t dry but flows on.

See the ten thousand things
as each ends and begins.

And it always goes on.

The pointed smoothes over.
The tangled unwinds.
The glaring fades.
The dust settles.

What a mystery!

I see no way
we’d know or say
this nature.

It’s like a picture
with no edge to frame.


Nature has no favoured way.

All things rearranged
without a passion.

The Master has no favoured way.

All his concepts changed
with that detachment.

Look at ‘space’, for example.

See space, you can say,
is quite a few ways
like a bellows.

The emptiness!
The power when you use it!

The more that it’s moved
the more it produces!

All our symbols and words...
All our nouns and verbs...

Such useful things
most of the time.

But always know
they are not the same
as that to which they sign.


‘The Valley Spirit’

Rearranging spaces...
Endless changes...

There’s room for improving
and gaps to expand in.

Feels like more
a female sort of thing.

Always there
and ready to receive.


The heavens are endless...
The earth lasts ages...

How can this be explained?

They’re not products of themselves.
That’s how their growth is so sustained.

The Master puts himself back
and it brings him forward.

By so much growth
that’s not his own
he gets supported.

Odd how by this silence
of himself so much is gained.


The highest skill
is like water.

Water fits
with all of its

It’s unforced.

It flows in the
low places where
others change course.

It finds and aligns with the Way.

A good house is shaped to its grounds.
A good mind is shaped to its doubts.

A good speech is truthful.
A good plan adapts.

A good action is

So it lasts.

No course
that we enforce
secures things down.


Keep filling a bowl and it spills.

Use timing and distance...
Find what’s efficient...

This practice has
no end of skill.

Overprized treasures are never secure.
Oversharpened blades are quick to blunt.

Watch those who try
to highlight their
own worth...

They only ever
undermine their work.

Move on from work that’s over.
Don’t stray from the Way.


Who can find the focused mind
and stay on the path that it creates?

Where can you concentrate for days
while like a baby, soft-of-shape?

Where do preconceptions clear away
leaving ever fewer stains?

Where does cooperation reign
without being made?

Where do countless good decisions
come from no specific system?

Where does every piece of wisdom
mark the start of more tuition?

You could call this
‘Unending Development’.

It creates without possessing.
It enacts without expecting.
It inspires without directing.

This is Untold Power.


We join thirty spokes at a wheel’s hub.
The hole in the middle moves the cart.

We mould clay into a pot.
The emptiness inside makes it useful.

We build walls to make a house.
The space is where we live.

Adapt what is.
Use what is not.


The Five Colours blind people.
The Five Tones deafen people.
The Five Feelings numb people.

Search replaces sensing.
The Idea rides over the mind.

Mastery begins
with the actual things.

Not thoughts of
What You Will Find.


Glory or shame?
Same concern either way.

What does that mean,
“Same concern either way”?

Reputation and status.

The race for high status
leads to low places.

Fear for its loss...
Hope for its gain...

This two-folded path
is the oldest of games.

What a pain there’s
no way not to play it.

Just don’t make it
the main motivation.

Those who walk in
the shoes of the world
end up trusted to shape it.


When you look for it
you won’t find it.

It’s not hidden.

When you listen for it
you won’t hear it.

It’s not faint.

When you grasp for it
you won’t catch it.

It’s not there.

None of those three
could succeed...

Your attempts
to make sense
are all part of it.

You’re not separate
and it’s not elsewhere.

It’s neither bright nor dull;
you can’t push it or pull.

It refuses definition.

It’s like trying
to pull a thread
of endless length.

So we give it odd names:

‘The Unformed Form’.
‘The Elusive’.
‘The Void’.

‘The Great Inimitable

No face to meet.
No back to follow.

The ancient Way...
Still going today...

Leaving footprints.


The wise men of old
were skilled in not being told.

They could learn on their own
in ways they weren’t shown.

Profoundly aware of
the boundaries of
the unknown.

What can we say of the way
that they’d face the unknown?

Stay ready.
Move through it like a winter river.

Stay undecided.
Keep the possibilities alive.

Stay attentive.
Be its humble guest.

Stay smooth.
Turn the frozen wet.

Stay undesigned.
Don’t carve the block early.

Stay undefined.
Let some things be murky.

Stay mixed.
Accept unsettled.

Whose muddy waters never settle
yet continuously clear?

Whose balance never centres
yet continuously appears?

Keep walking this way.
Gaps unfilled yet unswayed.

The path not-so-blemished
is endlessly replenished.



All things lack independent existence.
Each starts from and ends in dead stillness.

Ten thousand things have their beginnings;
now it’s their returns which we consider.

Everything returns into the stillness
it begins with—that’s consistent.

And knowledge of
consistent things
brings wisdom.

To not know of
consistent things
brings dissonance.

From consistent things
come principles...

From principles comes vision...

Vision puts people in ruling positions
who make far-reaching decisions
that set people’s conditions.

And the people
shape history’s limits.

Your death well met
is not a threat.

It’s part of existence.


The highest leadership builds understanding.

Other leadership builds admiration.
Other leadership builds fear.
The lowest builds hate.

Straight instruction isn’t enough;
it’s never straightforward.

The Master gives
this maximum

He succeeds
when other people say
“We do it on our own, our way.”


Where the Way doesn’t flow,
‘Correct’ sets in stone.

Where wisdom is routine,
deception succeeds.

Where families misalign,
children honour and obey.

Where peoples divide,
their Saints are ordained.


Throw away ‘Wise’ and ‘Adept’
then people gain them times a hundred.

Throw away ‘Proper’ and ‘Correct’
then what’s right can be discovered.

Throw away ‘Special’ and ‘Best’
then growth is unencumbered.

The three
written here
aren’t sufficient.

So as a pair of
more general

Reality isn’t so polished.
Hopes it is are best abolished.


Scrap the guidebooks.
Save your worries.

What’s the difference between
“Good day Sir” and “Hello”?

Does it matter?

Must we all walk
‘The One True Course’?

How stupid!

People fill up on that
like starving guests at a feast.

I say keep listening
like a baby figuring out speech.

They’re good at their
daily increase.

But what about the
daily decrease?

Hack away at the unessential.

I must be a fool
my mind is so empty!

People like light;
but there’s dark and unseen.

People seem sure;
things seem doubtful to me.

People get fixed;
they think everything stays.

I say...
While they’re trying to trap
The Mother’s tides...

Bring on Her waves.


Where character is real
nothing is adhered to but the Way.

As in...
The Way you can’t be told
and no-one can say.

The words we read don’t secure it.
The images we see just obscure it.

The definitions are endless
and constantly change.

All those definitions
share a basic composition.

In ancient times
and still today...

Specifics may look different
but there’s a pattern.

It’s the same.

How can it be ours?
Keep going.


Before complete, there’s unfinished.
Before straightening, the path bends.

Before full, there’s empty.
Before renewal, expense.

Before opportunity, limitation.
Before bewilderment, excess.

The Master combines the two faces;
not separate things but stages.

He looks for neither
and sees clearly.

He clings to neither
and moves free.

He targets neither
and succeeds.

He lifts up neither
without need.

The less he strives for one side
the less unwelcome strife he meets.


Natural means succinct.

Strong winds aren’t always blowing.
Heavy rains don’t fall every day.

These are both natural movements.
Neither is too long sustained.

Why on Earth
should a person
be different?

We see many men make
major proclamations of the Way...

They deliberate over the Way
as part of their Way.

They deliberate over its character
as part of their character.

They deliberate over losing it
as part of losing it.

Straight instruction isn’t enough;
it’s never straightforward.


The tallest stance is not the firmest.
The longest stride is not the fastest.

Those who try to seem bright do not shine.
Those who try to seem faultless make problems.

Only unapparent virtues need proclaiming.
Only doubtful truths need defence.

The Way needs no overstatement.
The Master needs no pretense.


There are times when it all goes together
before any conception comes to be.

The silence that this delivers
is complete and unique.

One whole course of action, with no other aim.
Continuous flow, nothing else in the way.

How might this be
the way that we
do everything?

You can’t really define it in technique.
I call it the Way—a path walked, so to speak.

Don’t dwell on its definition.
Short form beats long description.

Walk the Way
as a natural condition.

That’s to say...

Make the Way great.
It matters.

The source of
great thoughts
and great actions.

Great rule-making too.
Though that comes after.

Those are Four Great Spaces
that we enter.

Great rule-makers
keep the Way centre.

Through people, their actions,
thoughts, and ways...

The Way each walks is theirs,
but walked the same.


Heavy actions need play.
Great storms need patience.

Wisdom isn’t ‘Living Without A Blizzard’.
Skill is many days spent heavy-laden.

How can light play work
in a great general’s framework?

He needs lightness
so the wise can self-root.

The storm comes,
his men will self-move.


Expert steps are well-taken, not followed.
Expert words are well-chosen, not echoed.
Expert values well-reckoned, not shadowed.

It’s not just tricks and locks;
if you gather up keys, it won’t open.

It’s not like tying a knot;
if you fasten it down, it’s broken.

The Master will discern
an expert person then return.

He never abandons his practice.

You could call this
‘Keeping The Lights On’.

An expert isn’t made
by being expert.

An expert is made
by being not-expert.

Always respect a good lesson.
But follow no-one without question.

Irrespective of how clever,
that’s a fundamental error.

Doubt is essential.


Knowing the masculine
keep the feminine.

Go beneath.

The two are never separate;
each brings the other into being.

Knowing the light
keep the dark.

There’s no seam.

The two are never distant;
each holds the other’s meaning.

Knowing the lofty
keep the lowly.

Like a ravine.

The two are cut together;
for each the other is needed.

They’re like bits of plain wood
we split apart to make tools.

The Master makes use of
the longest-lived rules.

The Great System
is not in pieces.


They try to force the world towards
their liking—that won’t happen.

The world itself has its own wealth
of timings—can’t combat them.

It’s those who wish
the world were fixed
who break it.

It’s those who keep
the tightest grip
who lose it.

Sometimes leading means you follow.
Sometimes speed means you move slow.

Sometimes strength means being weak.
Sometimes victory means defeat.

The Master knows
you never know for certain.

He avoids
excessive actions
and extremes.


Good rule-making
makes room for the Way.

Forcing isn’t how
it’s all maintained.

Force means opposition.

The path our army walks
has many thorns.

The field after the war
produces slower
than before.

The Master moves to action
as trees give rise to fruit.

He doesn’t go further.

He prevails
but not for glory.

He succeeds
but not for show.

He achieves
not for distinction.

He guides
not for control.

Overgrown means frail.

What’s not the Way
is not sustained.


Military excellence
means discipline
and hesitance.

There isn’t joy in its deployment.
But there is in its development.

Those who walk the Way
are not untrained.

It’s ever-present.

In their success
two sides are kept.

Soldier right.
Civilian left.

Military excellence
means discipline
and hesitance.

They know war,
not how it’s dressed.

The task is adopted
if there’s no better option.

The feeling is neutral at best.

The joy of victory isn’t attractive;
it depends on others’ deaths.

If you delight in requiring
that others are dying...

That’s the highest
of dysfunctions.

Nothing less.

For good times, the left side.
For bad times, the right.

The enemy gets a vote, as they say.
It’s not only you who decides.

Two sides and two values
of two different kinds.

Develop them both.
Keep the funerals in mind.


The Way won’t be defined.

That’s a small and simple rule
that will not be outsized.

Not by anyone.

When a rule-maker knows how to not-define well,
ten thousand things can align by themselves.

The whole takes on a shape...
It’s like a sweetness-catching lattice.

There’s no-one who controls it
yet continuous rebalance.

The rules you make
define a shape.

It’s automatic.

The skill in this
to minimise risk?

Remember to abandon.

Our ordered paths are to the Way
as tiny streams are to the sea.


The clever know another’s path.
The truly able know their own.

The impressive compare to others.
The truly great compare to none.

Some know sufficiency.
They’re the wealthy.

Some improve relentlessly.
They work the belly.

There are those for whom
these two cohere.

They go the furthest.

There are those who’ve died
and haven’t disappeared.

They’re not finished.


Great actions are expansions of the Way;
a mastering of the back and forth exchange.

Ten thousand things’ beginnings
which it gives no opposition.

There’s much achieved
it gives no definition.

Ten thousand things it fed
without ruling their conditions.

There’s no desire to get
or stay in those positions.

The less the better.

Ten thousand goals
the future holds.

But no ruling

The more the merrier.

Great actions can be made
when being great is not the aim.


We’re all drawn towards great stories;
away from harms to guarantees.

Rich and blissful visions
take their prisoners.

The Way?

It’s far too bland
compared to these!

Looked for, it’s invisible.
Listened for, it’s inaudible.
Worked for, it’s inexhaustible.


Try to shorten it, that lengthens it.
Try to weaken it, that strengthens it.

Try to undermine it, that reinforces it.
Try to reduce it, that adds more of it.

It’s subtle.

Flexible beats firm.
Adaptive beats unyielding.

Just like the fish
which can’t live
without water:

It’s an active current
that we must swim in.

It takes living skills
which only build
with practice.

It can’t be given.


The Way in fact
has no set path
of action.

It’s never just do this
and don’t do that.

When a rule-maker knows
how to walk down this path...

Ten thousand things
don’t get told—they adapt.

Hopes arise
where a change
has thrived.

These I’d say
it’s better not to have.


Don’t carve the block
before its time.

Outside your
hoped-for notions
all is not so misaligned.


Real character isn’t a character.
That’s why it has character.

Low character is only a character.
That’s why it lacks character.

Real character can’t be enacted.
There’s no way to make it.

Low character can be enacted.
It’s traits emulated.

The most well-made actions
have no defined shape.

And the most ‘Correct’ action
is a shape we must make.

Strict-order actions
that all of us hate.

You just obey
and imitate.

You lose the Way through a character.
You lose character through ‘Well-made’.
You lose well-made through ‘Correctness’.

And past ‘Correct’ there’s nothing left...
Just orders followed more or less.

Empty meditations aimed
at traces of the Way.

The source of
all sorts of

The Master takes care of the depths
and lets the surface sort itself.

Not gathered leaves
but rooted tree.

He builds upon
the way things are.

Not on ‘What Should Be’.


See the oldness in the holders
of the ‘One True Way’.

Only one belief is clear;
one set of actions must appear.

The one-way quiet mind
blocks out all the undefineds.

Everything developing
must fit the One True Shape.

Every king and rule-maker
must keep the world One Way.

Beliefs must fall to pieces
in order to get clearer.

Actions must be adapted
to match the arena.

The mind must keep still
with gaps it can’t fill.

Universal rules
for any leader.

Overvaluing things is costly.
Exalting things too highly brings decline.

Below the most skilled leaders
the ground is recognised.

They say, “Alone we
have no value.”

And so pay
no such

It’s not from any single part of a chariot
that its ‘chariotness’ is gotten.

If a shining jewel seems high and bright
look to the rocks at the bottom.


When you enact ‘The Way’
you’ve gone against it.

When you apply ‘The Way’
you’ve lessened it.

These are bits of what it is
turned into what it isn’t.


The highly academic hear ‘The Way’
and they begin strict practice.

The half academic hear ‘The Way’
and they go part in part out.

The non-academic hear ‘The Way’
and they joke and laugh loud.

Those who can’t laugh
have not left a path
for the Way.

Often we say...

Ways of ‘Light’ conceal.
Ways of ‘Progress’ hold back.

‘Equalness’ distinguishes.
‘High Character’ is a low track.

What’s ‘Pure White’ is a stain.
What’s ‘Rich’ creates lack.

Intention does not
mean impact.

Great discipline is outside the boundaries.
Great practice is not-so-complete.

There are sounds
no-one hears.

There are things
no-one sees.

The Way is not something
carved and concrete.

No definition, beginning and finish.
The only way it’s achieved.


We name ‘The Way’
in hopes of framing everything.

Soon one, two, three,
ten thousand separate things.

So many ‘Yangs’
wrapped up with ‘Yins’.

Is it ‘Harmony’?

It’s a fear to
move alone.

People stick to
what they know.

Leadership requires
that we don’t.

Things we think disastrous
turn out as blessings.

Things we think blessings
turn out disastrous.

I’ve learned this
same as others.

For those who force their
‘One True Course’ of action:

No assurance.

Wisdom is in knowing
things aren’t certain.

That I’m sure of.


The softest things
overcome the hardest.

The things with no set shape
need pass through no set gate.

That’s why there’s such value
in the No Set Path action.

But it can’t be learned
by studying words.

So many people
never get its pattern.


There’s who you are
and how you’re known.

Which of them stays closer?

There’s what you are
and what you own.

Which of them goes further?

There’s what you have
and what you don’t.

Which is more disturbance?

Any of these extremes
will have its cost.

There’s a point at which
more creates loss.

Think sufficient,
not less than.

There are limits,
don’t have no plan.

Aim at a way that can last.


Great achievements may seem incomplete.
Great fulfillments may seem to deplete.

These aren’t useless.

The straightest path may sometimes turn.
The highest skill may seem unlearned.

The strongest part of speech
may be the stammers
not the words.

Things don’t stop moving.

Maybe fast
and with heat.

Maybe cool
and low speed.

Each new ideal
may look to stand still
but that’s not how it works.


The world’s horses are
forces for cycling manure.

They are not bred to fight
on the frontlines of war.

We can want things.

That’s our worst
corrupting factor.

We don’t know
what enough is.

That’s what makes
our worst disasters.

The worst of our flaws
is to just pursue ‘More’.

When enough know enough
the worst has a master.


You don’t go through ‘The Door’
and then know everything for sure.

You don’t look through ‘The Window’
and see the Way once and for all.

The further these grow
the more they limit
what you know.

The Master doesn’t stay
at what he knows.

He doesn’t stop
at what he’s shown.

He doesn’t aim
at what he’s done.


Deliberateness builds up in learning.
The Way is in shaving it down.

More and more goes
until free from the known.

No do or don’t
to be found.

It’s only ever whole
when The Known
is not the goal.

We lose the whole
when that goal is around.


The Master’s mind
is not persistent.

It shapes to fit
with all of its

He’s good with the good times.
And good with the bad.

That’s what good is.

He keeps integrity when
others show integrity.

And when others
show none back.

That’s what integrity is.

Wisdom lives within the world
as part of larger actions.

Nothing is caught
in structured thought
but temporary fractions.


Coming to life means
going to death.

Three tenths to handle your living.
Three tenths to handle your death.

And three tenths to those
alive after you’ve left.

Each of these
brings meaning.

There’s a lot said and written
on these skills of living.

They say, “Blend them well
then some powers are given.”

So wherever you go
you could never get bitten.

No armour yet nowhere
for spears to go into.

Is there a way
this is true?

Those alive after you.


Any ‘Way’ that we make
takes a charactered shape.

We separate things
by their valuable traits.

Take anybody’s world
of separate things.

‘The Way’ and its character
are always baked in.

The Way should be raised
and its character respected.

But they’re both as they are
and they can’t be directed.

For each ‘Way’ you make,
take its charactered shape...

Flip and rotate it.
Break and re-make it.

Less wrong.
Less defective.

It creates without possessing.
It enacts without expecting.
It inspires without directing.

This is Untold Power.


Without exception...

Everything has something else it started in.
That’s to say: a mother it’s arisen with.

This mother isn’t different
from its children.

It’s included.

A complete picture of one
gives you the other.

Disprove it?

Your death well met
is not a threat.

It’s part of existence.

There’s an opening
this gives us.

So far as we don’t close it
growth continues.

If we keep it open
and follow it through...

Then our everyday boundaries
can’t be called true.

When we see this small thing,
that brings wisdom.

With these limitations lifted,
that brings strength.

Apply this to be lighter.

And feed clarity
in ways that
never end.


People make Great Ways.
Systems of adherence.

The cost is lots of pedantry
and pointless interference.

They say ‘The Great Way’
for the narrowest lanes.

I see very tidy courts
but fields of weeds
and empty stores.

Fancy clothes
and sharpened sword.

Sought-after things
and life engorged.

It leads us to
thieves and

Not the Way.


Good grounding comes through
what we can’t uproot.

Good keeping comes through
what we can’t remove.

This practice means
the sacrifice of
many things.

When applied...

It leads to new truths
for you and your group.

It means society improves
and a civilisation blooms.

It means everything
together moves.

People, homes, families...
Districts, towns, nations...

Each applying
by itself creates a
co-active foundation.

How do I know that’s true?
Because I apply this practice.


Real character has fathomless potential;
infant-like and pre-developmental.

A venomous snake yet to bite.
A fearsome beast yet to fight.
A predatory bird yet to strike.

It’s soft-of-shape yet sure-of-grip.
It’s men and women; it’s a mix.

Endless possibilities...

It shouts full-lung all day and then
it rests its voice and goes again.

Endless balance...

There’s endless surface difference
but the character is consistent.

And knowledge of
consistent things
brings wisdom.

The more that it’s accorded with
the more good that it delivers.

But if you’re forcing
hoped-for things
into fruition?

Overgrown means frail.

What’s not the Way
is not sustained.


Those who know don’t say.
Those who say don’t know.

It can’t be put in words
and can’t be told.

The pointed smoothes over.
The tangled unwinds.
The glaring fades.
The dust settles.

You could call it a
‘Never-defined Whole’.

It’s not about attaching words.
It’s not about not attaching words.

They can’t be fit to it.
They can’t not be fit to it.

It’s not distinctive
nor indistinctive.

What’s really

All of it.


We formalise a state
by laws and their infraction.

We utilise an army
by surprises and distraction.

We control the world
by neither course of action.

Why do I think
that’s true?


The more you build
that system of restrictions...

The more you stifle
people’s decisions.

As you force people to fit...

It means they don’t
use their own vision.

Over-specialise technique...

The more you find
surprise conditions.

Just prohibit everything...

That makes more
criminal positions.

The Master knows:

For people to adapt themselves
you have to not do it.

For people to order themselves
they must be left to it.

For people to stand for a value
they have to choose it.

For people to handle untruth
they must remove it.


In governing...

Handling great doubt is how to serve us.
Pretending certainty does everyone disservice.

There’s never fortune
without bad circumstances.

There’s never disaster
without good circumstances.

Who thinks
there’s a list of
finished answers?

Or rules?

A rigid set of rules begets surprise.
Skill consists in not-predestined eyes.

Be sure
this endures
through your life.

The Master seeks:

To see wholes, not divides.
To understand, not join a side.

To speak straight, not to deny.
To shine a light, not to blind.


There’s no course towards
the highest accord.

It follows from real character
which nobody can force.

So to order it:

Throw away restrictions;
keep the least we can afford.

That’s a condition
for real character to form.

It’s ruled out by strict instructions.
It’s not some fixed construction.

The path to it is fathomless...

Countless recorrections.
Countless rebalances.

We can’t say any
more than this.

Nations are created

Unforeseen new changes
keep sustaining us.

Lose this guarantee and
we’re foundationless.

To remain
never stray
from the Way.

The deepest roots
are laid like this.


When you govern a big country
as you’d fry a small fish...

And you allow the Way to permeate
through everything there is...

So-called ‘Sinful’ and ‘Unsacred’ Ways?
Not entirely sinful and unsacred.

So-called ‘Sacred’, ‘Harmless-natured’ Ways?
Not entirely sacred or harmless-natured.

It’s by Mastery
of crafts that we
stop harm to people.

Everything meets limits.
Everything collides.

Real character?

That’s what keeps
the harms to people
harnessed on all sides.


Great nations are systems of lowest positions.
The bottom-most places the world flows down into.

Things collide in everything.
Great means space for all of it.

You could say it’s the feminine.
Receptive to the masculine.

The main thing is
the lowering.

The big picture lives downstream of the specifics.
The specifics downstream of the big picture.

The back and forth exchange
keeps them consistent.

In a great system:

The big picture
doesn’t hinge
on individuals.

The specifics
don’t infringe
on individuals.

Hope tries to find
a ‘Perfect Balance’.

Great goes lower down
and not-so-static.


Maps of separate things can’t fit the Way.
The moment they begin is when they fail.

The skilled do not expect
that they’ll reveal it.

The unskilled think
protect it and conceal it.

Well placed words can be acclaimed.
Well praised acts can be ingrained.

They cannot guarantee
a person wields it.

With no way for One
to perceive it:

Heaven-Borns find Three
to disagree with.

Each of them alone succeeds
but four is more strategic.

There’s no comparison to progress
on the Way when all four lead it.

Those who know don’t say
‘The Way To Seek It’.

Any path like that
gets superseded.

Welcome the adjustments
as they’re needed.


Move without thoughts about action.
Do without thoughts about work.
Taste without thoughts about flavour.

Thin them out
and slim them down.

They’re in the way
of the behaviour.

They make complex out of simple.
They make large out of small.

Take simple steps,
things grow complex.

And out of this
the large will fall.

Great actions can be made
when being great is not the aim.

Light preconceptions;
less disturbance.

Simple things;
complex emerges.

The Master walks his path
without a complicated purpose.


The stable path stays.
The risk-free path retraces.

The unchanged path is fragile.
The unwalked path is wasted.

These are ‘easy’ ways
in which disorder
gets created.

Giant trees were once tiny seeds.
Great cities began as dirt heaps.

The thousand-mile journey
begins at the feet.

It’s those who wish
the world were fixed
who break it.

It’s those who keep
the tightest grip
who lose it.

The Master doesn’t.

People stick to ways
that fix and break.


In Mastery risk remains.

The Master prefers no-preference
and lets go of treasures.

He learns what’s not a lesson
and knows human errors.

The world of separate things
will bring what it brings.

He adapts himself to it
and does so forever.


Skill is not a system
of other people’s wisdom.

Masters in the past
fit their techniques
to the conditions.

All clever things
are symptoms.

A nation is misled by what’s clever.
Its fortune is fed by what isn’t.

Learn to see both things
and tell the difference.

You could call this
‘Seeing The Hidden’.

The Hidden isn’t limited
and it isn’t taught or given.

Things are followed their own way
which brings unfiltered broader vision.


Watch the great rivers lead.

They’re like the kings
of many streams.

How can it be

Because they go lower.

When people want to lift up the Master
he instinctively notes his low path.

When others want to place him ahead
he instinctively puts himself back.

When he goes above
it adds no weight.

When he goes in front
it’s no constraint.

Everything moves free
in its own place.

There’s less striving overall
and less unwelcome strife is faced.


Everyone says...

“The Way sounds very important,
but it doesn’t make sense!”

If the Way
could be made
that straightforward,
it would matter much less.

There are many
important factors
in any great action.

If someone asked me
to name a top three...

The first thing would be:

The second would be:

The third would be:
a map that never
leaves behind
the territory.

Understanding means
engaging the uncertainty and risk.

Efficiency means
more achieved using less.

The territory
means all beliefs
can pass actual tests:

Where your map meets the world
there is measured success.

inefficiencies, not testing.

Each can stop the Way dead.

Understanding proceeds
by attacking ideas.

And keeping whatever is left.

Truly Timeless Principles
will always manifest.


A good commander can win without war.
A good warrior is neither angry nor bored.

A good victory needs not much accord.
A good leader goes lower than it all.

It’s not about the conflicts
and confrontation.

It’s about strong leaders
and coordination.

Into Heaven.
Into History.

These are the extreme


There’s a military saying:

Beware to give orders but end up the guest.
Beware to gain inches but end up with less.

You could call this
‘Advancing Without Advancing’.

There’s enforcement yet nothing achieved.
There’s hostility yet nothing it yields.
There’s war yet nothing seized.

There’s no bigger threat
than when this cost
is not perceived.

Its weight is

Resources just leaked.

The less our forces fail like this
the more victory we meet.


In speech...

We simplify knowledge
and simplify action.

No words can say the knowledge;
no words can say the action.

Specific words are just precursors;
it’s the task they do that matters.

If we don’t unlearn known patterns
our own knowing can’t happen.

To know on your own is uncommon
yet nothing replaces that value.

Words explaining Mastery
are only mere clothing.

Some may say its
substance has
been spoken.

But it hasn’t.


If you know and consider
you don’t know, that’s best.

If you don’t know and believe
that you know, that’s a defect.

By defecting from a defect
we stop its effects.

Mastery defects...
and defects...
and defects...

And the defects grow less.


‘The People Against All Authority’
bring a greater authority into being.

They don’t prevent it, it’s replaced.
They don’t stop it, it’s re-made.

Since it can’t be stopped
they’ll never stop.

The Master understands
them as they are.

They’re not their
outward appearance.

What matters is
what they’re making.

Not the claims
made by adherents.

One is to be watched,
the other isn’t.


When you engage in a way
that’s all preordained...

That will kill it.

When you engage in a way
that’s not preordained...

Then it lives.

Each may bring you good or bad.
Heaven keeps no promises of which.

The Master doesn’t overcomplicate
and he avoids becoming fixed.

He moves his way
and Heaven moves its.

It can’t be contended?
Good: find the victory that fits.

It can’t be dictated?
Good: be responsive to this.

It can’t be designed?
Good: practice off script.

It’s hard to predict?
Then the strategy is...

Give some weight
to every possibility.

There are many ways
the evidence may shift.

With your net kept wide open
Heaven’s entrances aren’t missed.


The people can’t be controlled
by fear and threats of death.

For those who would try,
what do you expect?

“All who transgress know what they’ll get!”
“So who would ever dare to overstep?”

Now someone is responsible
for the penalty being met.

You’ve swapped
reporting on a crime
for the act of killing itself.

You could call this displacing
‘The Great Carver’s Edge’.

In the end you get
the reverse of the
hoped-for effect.


When leaders feed on
leaving people hungry...

That’s how both get starved.

When leaders sort out
all of people’s difficulties...

That’s how both lose charge.

When leaders decide
the purpose of lives...

That’s how light deaths start.

The exemplary
do none of these...

That’s what sets them apart.


People are born soft and adaptive.
They reach death hard and inflexible.

While alive they make their
map of separate things.

Just like the trees
make their green limbs:

Soft-of-shape in the beginning.
At death all withered up and crisp.

The dying pattern: harden until fixed.
The living pattern: soften at the tips.

Only force, never yield?
Success is missed.

Just like branches
snap if they won’t give.

Strongness at the bottom and
softness at the top is how trees live.


The Great Way Of Nature
is made of behaviours
that act like a bow.

There’s pull-down from highs; lift-up from lows.
What’s too much reduces; what’s not enough grows.

While the too-much reduces
and the too-little grows...

People don’t walk
the same road.

We reduce the already-too-little
so the already-too-much overflows.

Who can adapt the too-much
so it adds to the whole?

Only those who
walk the Way.

The Master enacts but doesn’t expect.
He achieves but doesn’t profess.

We have never
reached ‘The End’.

That hope never shows.


Nothing does soft-and-adaptive
better than water.

Many hard things cross its path
and each is thwarted.

No simple method
explains its way
of succeeding.

Flexible beats firm.
Adaptive beats unyielding.

That’s free for everyone to see
yet no-one brings it into being.

There are some things
that Masters say...

We’re in a stream
of constant change.

The way a nation tolerates
mistake-making and failures...

You could call that
its greatest cultivation.

The way disorder is absorbed
and the misfortune it affords...

You could call it king
of reconfiguration.

Writing more strict laws
may be an adverse adaptation.


Great Injustice

If the way to set it straight
is by a new injustice you create...

How will that ever be good?

The Master can be owed a debt
which he will never collect.

With this character he can handle
a progression of transactions.

Without this character he adds to
a perpetual imbalance.

Heaven’s Way is never made
by straightening history.

It’s made by those who
cultivate this talent.


Back in the days of small nations
and tribe populations...

The people would train militarily
but not so they’d use it.

Any deaths were valued heavily
but all remained rooted.

There were wagons
that wouldn’t be ridden.

There were weapons
that wouldn’t be shown.

The order of things was recorded
with fine-knotted rope.

They’d eat food.
They’d wear clothes.

They’d make homes.
They’d share oaths.

Their neighbours would be close;
their dogs heard barking.

People died by aging.

Not by wars of retaliation
that were never worth starting.


There are true words that aren’t pretty.
There are pretty words that aren’t true.

There are many with good views
who aren’t convincing.

There are many who convince
without good views.

There are those who know
with no sophistication.

There are those well-learned
who never really knew.

Mastery is not-so-acquired.
The Way is not-so-pursued.

Each has their own
course of action.

Each their own
ways to improve.

Nature’s Way does not
contend with anyone.

Its action
is the base
for all we do.

The Master’s Way?
That’s made the same.

All rivalry removed.

Joe Kelly Joe Kelly

Translation by Joe Kelly

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