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Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.

Line 1

A Note

regarding the characters

chosen for this translation.

Lesson 14

What is






(a single stroke )

one, alone, a, an




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Line 2


Line 1

Look for it,

and you won't see it.

Call it 'imperceptible.'

視shì  之zhī  而ér 弗fú  見jiàn

look    (pron.)      and        not it    see


​名míng   之zhī  曰yuē   微wēi

name    (pron.)     say     tiny, minute

Look it, and not see it

Name it imperceptible.


​​​     We cannot see the source of our seeing, in the same way that we cannot see our own eyes, no matter how hard we look. 

. . . . . .


Line 2

Listen for it,

and you won't hear it.

Call it 'soundless.'


聽ting  之zhī  而ér  弗fú   聞wén 

listen     (pron.)     and      not it     hear     

名míng  之zhī 曰yuē  希xī  

name       (pron.)     say      rare     

Listen it, and not hear it.

Name it rarefied.

​​     We cannot hear the source of our hearing.


​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 3

​​Line 3

Reach for it,

and you won't find it.

Call it 'intangible.'


捪mín  之zhī 而ér 弗fú  得dé 

touch     (pron.)     and    not it    obtain    


名míng 之zhī 曰yuē 夷yí

​​name     (pron.)     say  level and smooth

Touch it and you won't get it.

Name it saying level and smooth.


    Reaching for the Way, for Oneness, already implies two: a reacher and what is being reached for.  It can't be done.



. . . . . . 

Line 4

Line 4

These three are unfathomable.

Therefore they blend as One

 三sān  者zhě   不bù  可kě  至zhì   計jì

three     one who      not      able     reach to    calculate

故gú   混hùn   而ér  為wéi  一yī

Therefore     blend     and      as/become     one  

These three are not able to reach calculation.

Therefore, they blend and as one.


      Again, the reason we cannot experience Oneness, the Way, is because Oneness is not “out there” apart from us to be experienced.

     Similarly, we cannot “know” the Way because our very knowing is itself within the operation of the Way.


​​. . . . . .

Line 5

Line 5

One cannot be fathomed

in its height or depth.*

一Yī    者zhě  其quī  上shàng  不bù  皦jiǎo 

one    one who      (pron)     high   not   scarce/bright


  下xià   不bù 忽hū  

under          not     exhaust


As to One, its height not illuminated

it's depth not exhausted.


     When we measure something, it is always in comparison to something else. But what is  outside the Way against which we can measure it?** 

*Reference Lesson 2.

**Reference Psalm 139: 7-12:


​​. . . . . .



Line 6

Line 6

It is endless!

It's is beyond description

And it is ever

returning home as no-thing.

尋xún    尋xún    呵hē    不bù  可kě  名míng 也yě

arm span    arm span        exclaim     not        can        name           (part.)     

復fù       歸guī    於yǔ   无wú   物wù

return    return home   (prep.)    not have    thing.

Arm span! It cannot be named.

Returning home in it's no-thing-ness.


       无wú 物wù, “without thingness” is not “nothing.” 无wú 物wù simply means that the Way as One exists, but without a physical form. Only its expressions, its appearances, have physical forms—the 10,000 things.

​​​​​​. . . . . .


Line 7

Line 7

We could say that it is a

shape with no shape

or the image of no-thing.

In other words,

the Way is simply imponderable.

​​      是shì  胃wèi  无wú  狀zhuàng 之zhī  狀zhuàng

this        say      not have  form         (poss.)    form


无wú  物wù  之zhī   象xiàng

not have    thing     (poss.)     image         

是shì 胃wèi  沕wù    望wàng 

this         say       endless    view from afar.


This is to say that it is a form not having a form,

an image of not-thing,

which is to say that it is endless to look at.


​​​​​​​​. . . . . .


Line 8
Line 9

Line 8

Follow it and you

won't see it's back.

Face it and you

won't see its front.

​​​​    隋suí 而ér 不bù 見jiàn 其qí  後hòu 

follow        and       not     see       (pron.)     back



迎yíng  而ér  不bù  見jiàn  其qí  首shǒu

meet        and       not       see       (pron.)    head


Follow and not see its back

Meet, and not see it's head.


​​​​​​​​. . . . . .


Line 9

Hold fast to the Way

of the present

and by this

attend to the affairs of present.


​​​​  執zhí   今jīn   之zhī  道tào 

hold      present      (poss.)    way


以yǐ       御yù     今jīn     之zhī     有yǒu 

by means of      manage       present        (poss.)         thing

Hold to the way of the present

and by this means

manage the things of the present.

     While the Way cannot be seen, touched, or heard, its operation--life and the life forms around us. are already and always present. That is where we discover it.


     But the present seems to eludes us, focused as we are on the future and past. Simply notice the present, that is all. Notice life. 

​​​​​​​. . . . . .


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Line 10

Line 10

Knowing the first beginnings

is called knowing

the continuity of the Way.

​      以yǐ     知zhī   古gǔ   始shǐ      

          by means   know  ancient/old   origin              


是shī   胃wèi   道tào  紀jì

         this          call         way        thread, record

By means of knowing the ancient origins,

is called the thread of the way.


     The "first beginnings” (古gǔ 始shǐ literally “the ancient origins”) is not a period in time, as when we say, “In days of old,” or “Once upon a time.” 古gǔ 始shǐ, "first beginning," is not in the past at all.


     古gǔ 始shǐ could also be translated "starting point" or "point of departure."  No matter how far we travel, our starting point doesn't change. Where we are now is in continuous relationship with it. That is the analogy Lao Tzu is asking us to contemplate.

     Or, consider an analogy to fire.  There are numerous fires and types of fires, from a lit match to a raging forest fire.  Different as they may be, and independent as they may seem, their source does not change. It is not time bound. That same source was present for the first fire, and it will be here tomorrow for the next.

     It is the same with life itself. It is individual, and yet there is one source. A life may come and go, but life doesn't go away. It stays. Life is One.


     古gǔ 始shǐ, "first beginnings,  is One, or life itself, including all living things at this present moment.  That is why this line follows the previous one regarding the present. 


​​​​​​​​​​​. . . . . .


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