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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.


Line 1   天下皆知美之為


Line 2   皆知善斯不善矣

Line 3   有无之相生也

Line 4   難易之相成也

Line 5   長短之相刑也

Line 6   高下之相盈也

Line 7    音聲之相和也

Line 8    先後之相隋恆也

Line 9    是以聖人居无為之事


Line 10   萬物昔而弗始也

Line 11   為而弗志也 成功而弗居也

Line 12   夫唯弗居  是以弗去


How the sage

is different.

     There are distinctions in our world, variations, varieties, diversities. We know that. Just look out the window and you (the subject) sees many things (objects) around you  Distinctions. Variations. Everywhere. This and that. High and low. Here and there. Me and you. And so on

     But while there are a myriad of distinctions, there is also Oneness. That is Lao Tzu point—not just in the previous lesson, but in each of his lessons. 


     We can't know Oneness with our senses, because our senses can only know what is "other than" the senses. So, my ears hear a sound, but obviously my ears are "other than" the sound. I feel the bark of a tree, but obviously my sense of touch is "other than" the things I touch.


     Again, the senses can only experience what is outside the senses, what is "other than" the senses. For that reason they cannot experience Oneness.  After all, if there is Oneness, then Oneness must encompass everything, and that would include our senses.

     So where is Oneness?  Lao Tzu's point throughout his lessons is that the One comes forth as the many things of our world. As we saw in the last lesson with respect to the Way and things, "These two are actually the same."


     There is one Way, and it comes for as the "ways" of each thing. This includes us. We each have our own "way" too, bestowed upon us by the Way. But differently, in no sense are we or anything else apart from the Way. That is Oneness.

     In this lesson Lao Tzu tells us that the sage is not caught up in the parade of distinctions around us. He or she acknowledges these distinctions, of course. They are inescapable.  But they are not the final word.  The sage understands this because the sage knows that her or she is one of the many distinction in the world, and yet the sage also keenly understands that her or she is an expression of the one Way.


     That is how the sage is different. Distinctions are present—the myriad of differences, varieties, contrasts and variances of the world. But the sage understands that these are each individual expressions of the Way.


     How does the sage come to understand this? By first realizing that he or she is a distinct and very customized expression of the Way. 


     As we'll see, this lesson is also Lao Tzu's introduction to wu wei, or “not doing.” "Not doing" is living out one's own unique expression of the Way.  In living this out, the sage "does nothing" of himself or herself. The sage merely lets his or her way "happen."



Click on each line number

for Chinese-English interlinear & commentary


When everyone knows

what is beautiful

it is only because

of their preference.



When everyone knows

what is good,

this is not good.


Being and nonbeing

arise from each other.


Difficult and easy

contrast each other.


Long and short

compare each other.


High and low

complement each other.


Sound and voice

participate in each other. 


Front and back always

follow each other.


That's why

the sage acts

by not doing,

and goes about

his or her teaching

with no talking. 



The teeming things arise

and it is not the sage

who has set them in motion.



The sage acts without a motive

and completes his or her work 

without taking credit for it.


Now, it is only because 

the sage does not

take credit for it,

that what is completed

lasts forever. 

​​. . . . . . .

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