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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 23

The Authentic





(爻cross threads + 巾cloth)

thin, rare

. . . . . .

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Line 1


Line 1

It is natural

to say little.


A gusty wind

doesn't last long.



希xī 言yán 自zì  然rán 

thin, rare  speak    self    be so    

​飄piāo 風fēng 不bù  終zhōng    朝zhāo

​​(world wind)         not        to end/through  morning

Few words are natural.

A world wind does not

last through the morning.

     There is a way that things in our world naturally and authentically are. Including us. That's all.



​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 2

Line 2

A violent downpour

won't last long either.


暴bào  雨yǔ  不bù  終zhōng  日rì  

violent    rain      not    to end/through   day 

​​Violent rainstorm does

​not last through the day.


​  ​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 3

Line 3

Why not?

Because it is the

way of heaven and earth.


​​ 孰shú   為wéi  此cǐ  

(interrog.)   make/do       this

天tiān  地dì

heaven   earth

What makes this?

 Heaven and earth.


        A feature of the world, including ourselves, is limitation. We each have this way bestowed on us, not that way.


     Our physical existence, our life,  is obviously limited as well. We may wish for it to be different, and may even ignore this fact as we get on with our day.  To forget our limitation is to forget an aspect of who we are.

​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 4

Line 4

If heaven and earth

can't make these last long,

how can any of us?


而ér  弗fú  能néng 久jiǔ   有yǒu*

and         not it      able        continue    have/exist

​​況kuàng 於yú  人rén  乎hū

much more   (prep.)   person   (interrog.)

And not able to continue it,

how much more for people? 


     Heaven and earth (meaning "the world") are not in charge. They do not govern themselves. There are fixed natural laws they they too must follow. These are the laws of what Lao Tzu calls the Way.



Gram. note: Here 而ér“and” comes between the implied subject, “heaven and earth,” in the previous line, and the verb 能néng. In such a case the sentences becomes conditional: “If … then.”

​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 5

Line 5

Therefore, when what we do

is in accord with the Way,

we are One with the Way itself.


故gù  從cóng 事shī 而ér道tào 者zhě

therefore    follow    act/duty   and     way     one who   

同tóng   於yú 道tào  

same      (prep.)    way

​ Therefore, the one whose acts follow the Way

is same with the Way.



       Now we see the point of this lesson. It is not about "saying little," "gusty winds," or "downpours."  Those were just a prelude to Lao Tzu's counsel to us, as indicated by 故gù, “therefore.”


    故gù "Therefore," is a clear if-then marker for us: “If” the first three lines are the case, “then” what is said in this line and the next lines naturally follow.

     This lesson is about personal authenticity. We are not like the natural world, which necessarily follows the Way. The natural world has no other choice due to the laws inherent to it.


    But here Lao Tzu implies that our own doings need not follow these laws.  We have a choice.  Follow the Way or not. And, when we do follow the Way, by living out our personal way, we are one with the Way itself.  This is to live out one's authentic self, what elsewhere Lao Tzu refers to as our 自zì 然rán, our "self-so-ness." This authentic self is who we genuinely are..

.​ ​​​​. . . . .




Line 6

Line 6

When we abide

in the Power of the Way

we are One with the very Power

德dé   者zhě  同tóng  於yú  德dé 

power    one who   same    (prep.)  power

he person who (follows/expresses the)

power of the Way,

is one with that power.

     The character 同tóng is important here. It means "same," "same as", and "united." We saw this character in Lesson 1, where Lao Tzu described the two qualities of reality--the mysterious and hidden Way, and then also the manifested around us. He then said:


"These two are tóng the same."

     Lao Tzu is making the same point here. When one is on the narrow path of his or her way, he or she embodies the activity of 道the Way; they are 德dé empowered by the Way itself. There is no difference. They are tóng the same.

     It may be handy for us to distinguish between 道 the Way itself and it 德dé Power.  But the Way is what it does.  They are 同tóng the same. And, what the Way does is create and then further each thing, according to that things own authentic way, to its completion


     We saw this in Lesson 10, where Lao Tzu encouraged us to humbly go about being this 德dé power in our own lives.

​Give birth to things and raise them,

but without owning them.

Be nurturing, but without

lording over others.

This is known as the

profound 德dé power of the Way.

     It may be that most people have encountered their own personal way at one time or another, but have lost it or forgotten it. This is why Lao Tzu offers us the corrective of  復fù return, returning to one's way.*  Recalling that Lao Tzu's lessons are therapeutic, this corrective to our lives is why Lao Tzu wrote to us in the first please. As such, whether  stated or not, 復fù return is one of the underlying themes of this lesson and each of his other lessons



* Regarding, 復fù return, see lessons 14, 16, 19, and 28, among others.

Note: Consider that our personal way may be at the core of other traditions as well.

"For it is better to do one's own duty poorly,

than to do someone else's duty well." Gita 3:3. 

". . . narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life,

and few there be that find it." Matt. 7:13 (KJV)

​    ​​​. . . . . .

Line 7

Line 7

And when we lose

our personal way,

we are one with that loss.


失shī  者zhě  同tóng  於yu  失shī

loss   one who     same      (prep.)     loss

​The one who is lost,

​is the same  with that loss.


​​      Our personal way is always present to us. If we have lost it, and have forgotten that we have lost it, we are "one with that loss."  We are in a double bind then, because if we have forgotten something, how will we know that we have forgotten it?


​​​   ​​​. . . . . .



Line 8

Line 8

But when we are one

with the Power of the Way,

it is the Way

that is empowering us.

同tóng  德dé   者zhé

same     power  one who

道tào  亦yì   德dé   之zhī

way      also       power      (pron.)

As for the person who is

one with the power,

the Way also empowers him.


     Again, the "Power" of the Way, 德dé, is Lao Tzu's term for what the Way does. 德dé is the inner vitality of each individual thing or person, a vitality that is directed along the path provided to it by the Way. 


     Here we encounter another of Lao Tzu's underlying themes, whether it is stated or not. 无wú 為wéi, or "not doing." This is to live spontaneously in accord with the Way.

     To live "spontaneously" is not a far-fetched notion. For example, in general conversation with others, we don't plan or rehearse what we are about to say. Words just seem to arrive on their own, their content reflecting the inner quality, or lack there of, of the person speaking. 

     It is the same when we go for a walk. We do not plan each footstep, but we somehow seem to know where our foot should fall along the path, avoiding this rock or that puddle. In no sense do we give up free will, our personal agency, in doing so.

     The sage is like this. In meeting life's perils and opportunities, his or her responses are natural. They just seem to happen. That is what it means to 无wú 為wéi

​​​. . . . . .


Line 9

Line 9

And to be sure,

when we lose the Way,

the Way is lost to us.


同tóng   於yú   失shī  者zhě

same     (prep.)  lose   one who   

道tào   亦yì   失shī 之zhě

way      also        lose        (pron.)

​​The person who is one with loss,

the way also loses him.  

      Perhaps this is what Simone Weil (1909-43) meant when she said: “He who has not God in himself cannot feel His absence.”*




*Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, (London: Routledge Classics, 2002)

​​   ​​​. . . . . .



  Note: The later editions of this lesson, received by us through the commentaries of Wang Bi, Fu Yi, and Heshang Gong, include an additional line not found in the earlier two Ma Wang Tui editions.


   Two possible reasons for this may be: 1) this final line was not included in the oral tradition which was passed down through certain lineages until it was written down, and 2) this line is a later addendum or teaching commentary provided to students of the text, and it later became incorporated into the body of the text.  It does seem to be out of place in this lesson.

When your own faith is not sufficient,

others will have not faith in you.

信xìn   不bù  足jù

true words   not     sufficient

焉yān  有yǒu  不bù  信xìn  焉yān*

    ​thereupon    have      not     true words   (pron.)

​​​​True words not sufficient,

thereupon, have no true words in them.



*焉yān has a number of functions, including "thereupon," "how," and "where." In this line works as a fusion of the preposition 於yú "in/by" and 之zhě, a common pronoun, "he/she/it."

​​   ​​​. . . . . .



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