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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.



the Way

               第 三十

Line 1  昔之得一者


Line 2  天得一以清  





Line 3   致之也  

Line 4   胃天毌已清將恐裂











Line 5 故必貴而以賤爲本


Line 6   夫是以侯王自孤

           寡 不 穀

 Line 7   此亓賤之本與非也

 Line 8   故致數與无與


 Line 9    是故不欲祿祿若玉







Just One


      Lao Tzu’s lessons are not cumulative. Each lesson may be considered to containing the whole of his teaching, though presented it in a number of different ways.  

   We won't find he character 道, or Way, in this lesson. Instead Lao Tzu uses the  character  一, or "One," as a stand-in for the Way. The Way is  “One.”

    But if the way is One, what's with all the multiplicity we see around us? And, doesn't Lao Tzu characterize our world as made up of the 10,000 things? Can there be One and at the same time many individual things?  Wouldn't that be a contradiction?

    Put differently, which is real?  The One?  Or the many things around us?


​​    The answer to these questions is at the very core of Lao Tzu's teaching: The Way comes forth as the manifested world that we witness around us, but without becoming estranged from the many things.  In other words, the Way is at once One and many. This is the 玄 之 有 玄 "mystery upon mystery" of which Lao Tzu speaks at the end of Lesson 1.



    Don't try to figure this out. It's not a puzzle to be worked on.  Nor is it some sort of brain teaser that only smart people can get. Instead, Lao Tzu invites us to consider that, if the Way--the One, comes forth as the many things in our world, then have I been confused as to my identity? Am I the food-body that goes with me wherever I go? Or might I be something else?   

Click on each line number

 for Chinese-English interlinear

& commentary


From the beginning

these have

been One.


















Heaven has

been One,

and as a result,




Earth has

been One,

and as a result,


Spirits have

been One,

and as a result,


Valleys have

been One,

and as a results,



The standard editions include an

additional line here:

[ The 10,000 things

have been one,

and as a result

fruitful. ]


Nobles and kings

have been one,

and as a result,

upright and true.





Base on this

we can conclude:







That if heaven

were not

wholly clear,

it would be in danger of 

falling to pieces.




That if earth

were not

wholly stable,

it would be in danger of

being dislodged

That if the spirits

were not

wholly efficacious,

they would be in danger of

dying out.

That if the valleys

were not

wholly replenished,

they would be in danger of

running dry.


The standard editions include an

additional line here:

[That if the 10,000 things

where not wholly fruitful

they would be in danger of

perishing. ]



And, if the nobles and kings

were not perfectly virtuous

in their high offices,

they would be in danger of














Therefore, it must be the

case that what is worthy

has humility as its root,

just as what is high

has the low

for its foundation.
















Now, this is why

nobles and kings

refer to themselves

as "orphans, lonely,

and unfortunate."








This being so,

humility is the root,

is it not?







Therefore, regard

your benevolence

as not yours at all.












desire not

rewards such as jade,

for it is no more

than rough stone.





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