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Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.


A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 19

Finding the Way



​​​​​ jué

(糹thread + 卩person kneeling + 刀 knife)

cut off, sever, terminate


     Seeking the Way is like seeking something that we already hold in our hand. There is nothing we can do to find it. But there is much to 无wú 為wéi "not do."


​. . . . . .  ​​​


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Line 1


Line 1

Do away with sageliness.

Abandon cleverness.,

And the people will

benefit a hundredfold.


​​​絕jué  聖shēng  棄qì   知zhī  

cut off/sever   sage     abandon    know

民mín  利lì*   百bǎi 倍bèi

the people   sharp   100    many-fold

 Cut off sageliness and abandon knowing,

the people will be advantaged 100 fold.

     ​  No one can "become" a sage. Our own personal 道 way, our 自zì 然rán or authentic self is already with us. That is our sagehood. Uncover it, and sagely wisdom and action appear on their own. Our "not doing,"  or 无wú 為wéi, is our only part in this.


*利lì, "sharp" is used here as it sometimes is in English, meaning to "have an edge," and to "benefit."

Line 2

Line 2

Do away with kindness!

Abandon righteousness!

And the people will

return to their national affections.


​​​​絕jué   仁rén   棄qì   義yì

​​cut off    humanity abandon righteous

民mìn  復fù   孝xiào  慈

the people  return     filial piety  compassion

Cut off humanity, abandon righteous,

the people will return to filial compassion.

   In the last lesson we saw that 仁rén kindness and  義yì  righteousness are Confucian virtues to be actively cultivated. These are noble goals and they will certainly benefit the family and society.

   But our need to cultivate kindness and righteousness is also a confession that we are not yet kind and not yet righteous, and therefore they must be cultivated.

    For Lao Tzu, no such cultivation is necessary. We are originally kind and we originally understand right action. All the virtues are present to us now.  Just 復fù return to what we already are, and all the rest will follow. 

​​​  ​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 3

Line 3

Do away with cunning!

Abandon favoritism!

And there will be

no more robbers and thieves.


​​​​​絕jué  巧qiǎo 棄qì   利lì

cut off   skill     abandon  sharp

​盜dào  賊zéi   无wú   有yǒu

rob      outlaw   not have  have/exist

End craftiness and abandon advantage,

and robbers and outlaws cease to be.

     "Cunning" is the cleverness we use in order to get our way. "Favoritism" is also in the service of one's personal advantage. 


​​​  ​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 4
Line 5

Line 4

These three are

valuable sayings,

and yet they are not enough

in themselves.


此cǐ  三sān  言yán 也yě

this      three      say     (part.) 

以yǐ   為wéi  文wén*  未wèi  足zú

(regard as)    learning    not yet      sufficient.


​​Country is confused and disordered,

guided by loyal ministers.

     “These three” obviously refer to the first three lines. While fine as far as they go, they are still insufficient.



*文wén, has a number of meanings, including "literature," “writing,” “refine,” “embellishment,” and “pattern.”


​​​. . . . . .


Line 6

Line 5

So it is necessary

to add this:


故gù  令lìng  之zhī  有yǒu  所suǒ   屬chǔ

therefore  command  (pron.)   have   that which attach

Therefore, order it to be attached:


  ​​​. . . . . .



Line 6

See the pure.

Embrace the simple.

Make less of yourself.

Have few desires.


見jiàn   素

see    unadorn/plain

抱bào  樸pú 

embrace uncarved wood

少shǎo  私sī*

few, deficient  me/personal



而ér  寡guǎ  欲yù

and     sparse    desire

​​​See the plain

Embrace the uncarved wood

lesson your person

and decrease desire.


     Wisdom is so simple that we overlook it. That’s why this final line is so crucial, and so simply stated.




*私sī , “me," "personal," can also refer to one’s personal affairs and personal benefits. With the negative, 無wú "not have"  私sī "myself," it can refer to being unselfish, altruistic, and selfless. See Lesson 7, line 6 for the only other appearance of this character, used there, according to Wang Bi,  in the sense of having no personal goals.  


  ​​​. . . . . .

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