An Interpretation of the 1st Three Verses of the Tao Te Ching
by Lao Tzu

Image_tao_chinese_characterThey say Lao-tzu, the author of the Tao (the way) Te Ching, lived sometime between 551-479 BCE. Nothing more conclusive can be said about this. Little is known about him, and some scholars even suggest he may have been a composite of Chinese writers of the period whose work was collected under one name. It’s all very murky. Translator, Stephen Mitchell says, “…all the information that has come down to us is highly suspect.”

Lao Tzu left no trace other than this book. But for someone who may not have existed, he’s made a lasting impression. Mitchell even calls his book, “… one of the wonders of the world.” I’m good with that.


If you talk about it, it’s not Tao.
If you name it, it’s something else.

What can’t be named is eternal.
Naming splits the eternal to smithereens.

Not tangled in desire you embrace the unknown.
Tangled in desire you see only what you want.

But the unknown and what you want
have one source. Call it no place.

No place or darkness.
The gate.


A beautiful thing means some things are ugly.
A good thing means some things are bad.
To say something is, means something is not.

What is and what is not are each other’s author.

A short thing makes a long thing long.
A high thing makes a low thing low.
Before and after form an endless loop.

So, a master’s doing is doing no thing.
A master’s saying is saying no thing.

Things come. She doesn’t grab.
Things disappear. She lets them go.

Not grabbing, she has.
Not expecting, she does.

And after work is over she walks away
having done what lasts forever.


If you inflate some to greatness
others necessarily diminish.
If you covet possession
you’ll create a circus for crooks.

The wise lead by hosing-out minds,
refreshing their centers, recalibrating aspiration,
and strengthening resolve.

They help others discard
what they think they know
and stupidly desire.

They create positive confusion
in order to expose false knowledge.

Go no place to do no thing
and everything you do will be a
true thing.

Interpretation by R. Bob