Jul 26, 2019

Lao-tzu, on All-Around Mastery

The Way to Wisdom According to Classic Taoism

Thomas Cleary (Tr.)

A traditional image of legendary Lao-tzu, or Laotse


The following fragment reproduces chapters
4 and 5, pages 6-8, from the book “Wen-tzu,
Understanding the Mysteries”, Further Teachings of
Lao-tzu, translated from the Chinese by Thomas Cleary,
Shambhala, Boston and London, 1992, 184 pages.



Lao-tzu said:

Sagehood has nothing to do with governing others but is a matter of ordering oneself. Nobility has nothing to do with power and rank but is a matter of self-realization; attain self-realization, and the whole world is found in the self. Happiness has nothing to do with wealth and status, but is a matter of harmony.

Those who know enough to deem the Self important and consider the world slight are close to the Way.[1] Therefore I have said, “Reaching the extreme of emptiness, keeping utterly still, as myriad beings act in concert, I thereby observe the return.”

The Way molds myriad beings but is ever formless. Silent and unmoving, it totally comprehends the undifferentiated unknown. No vastness is great enough to be outside it, no minuteness is small enough to be inside it. It has no house but gives birth to all the names of the existent and nonexistent.

Real people embody this through open emptiness, even easiness, clear cleanness, flexible yielding, unadulterated purity, and plain simplicity, not getting mixed up in things. Their perfect virtue is the Way of heaven and earth, so they are called real people.

Real people know how to deem the Self great and the world small; they esteem self-government and disdain governing others. They do not let things disturb their harmony, they do not let desires derange their feelings. Concealing their names, they hide when the Way is in effect and appear when it is not. They act without contrivance, work without striving, and know without intellectualizing.

Cherishing the Way of heaven, embracing the heart of heaven, they breathe darkness and light, exhaling the old and inhaling the new. They close up together with darkness, and open up together with light. They roll up and roll out together with firmness and flexibility, contract and expand together with darkness and light. They have the same mind as heaven, the same body as the Way.

Nothing pleases them, nothing pains them; nothing delights them, nothing angers them. All things are mysteriously the same; there is neither right nor wrong. [2]

Those who are physically injured by the tortures of extreme climatic conditions find that the spirit is suffocated when the body is exhausted. Those who are psychologically injured by the afflictions of emotions and thoughts find that the body is left over when the spirit is exhausted. Therefore real people deliberately return to essence, relying on the support of spirit, thus attaining completeness. So they sleep without dreams and awake without worries.

When Confucius asked him about the Way, Lao-tzu said:

Straighten your body, unify your vision, and the harmony of heaven will arrive. Concentrate your knowledge, rectify your assessment, and the spirit will come to abide. Virtue will be receptive to you, and the Way will be there for you.

Gaze straight ahead like a newborn calf, without seeking the wherefore; let your body be like a withered tree and your mind like dead ashes. Realize genuine knowledge, and don’t use twisted reasoning. Keep yourself open, unminding, and you may attain clarity and all-around mastery. How could this be unknowing?


[1] “The Way” - the Way is the Tao in the Taoist translations of Thomas Cleary. (CCA)

[2] There is neither right nor wrong as seen by superficial and superstitious minds; yet selfishness produces pain, just as generosity produces wisdom, and wise action results in happiness. Immortals and Adepts, as well as aspirants to wisdom, carefully evaluate the results of their future actions, choosing those which will be most beneficial. See the next paragraphs. (CCA)


The above text was published in the associated websites on 26 July 2019.


See in the associated websites the ancient book “The Tao Teh Ching”, in the version prepared by Lin Yutang.  


On 14 September 2016, a group of students decided to found the Independent Lodge of Theosophists. Two of the priorities adopted by the ILT are learning from the past and building a better future.