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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 27




​​​   ​​​xiá

(玉jade + the phonetic 叚jiǎ, skin)

Flaw in a gem. Fault, defect.

         Our books and computers are chock full of facts. Computers, for example, are quite handy when we want to know how many miles it is from San Francisco to Philadelphia, and the cheapest flight to get there. But they can't tell me whether we should go or to stay.


    If facts and knowledge were the same as insight, then we could ask a good book or a computer what to study, whom to marry, and where we should get married at all.


    Choices require judgment, not knowledge. Ultimately, when it comes to making life-decisions, and even our many moment to moment decisions, we are always thrown back upon our own adequacy. Because our individual lives and a particular occasion never happened before, there is no life-formula to guide us.


    A life well-lived depends on two things: Insight and the courage to follow through. 




Note: A key character in this lesson is  善shàn. It combines the meanings of “good,” “skilled,” “honest,” “well-versed,” “competent” and “efficient.” Perhaps 善shàn can be best brought over into English by our word “master.”


​​​​​.  .  .  .  .  .




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Line 1


Line 1

A master journeyer

leaves no trace.


善shàn   行xíng   者zhě  

skill/good     walk    one who   


无wú     勶ché       迹jī

not have   clear away/tracks    footprint  

​One who is good at walking

​does not have footprints.



     Note how in this lesson the emphasis once again is not so much on "doing," but "not doing."

.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 2

Line 2

A master speaker

speaks without a flaw.


善shàn   言yán   者zhě  

skill/good   speak   one who

无wú     瑕xiá   謫zhé

not have   fault/defect   blame/disgrace

One who is good at speaking

has no defects.


​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 3

Line 3

A master of numbers

does not need

a tally sheet


善shàn   數shù   者zhě 

skill/good   number   one who

不bù   以yǐ   檮táo      策cè

not use wood block bamboo slips

One who is good at number

does not use bamboo slips.


​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 4

Line 4

A master guard

does not need a lock or key

and yet no one can

get through the gate.


善shàn    閉bì    者zhě

skill/good  close/defend  one who

  无wú    關guān   籥yuě

no have    close/barrier     key

而ér   不bù   可kě   啟qǐ   也yě

and      not     able     open     (part.)

One who is good a defending

does not have a bar or key

and no one is able to open it.


   ​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 5

Line 5

A master at

binding things

may have no cord,

and yet no one can

unbind them.


善shán    結jié   者zhě

good/skill   tie    one who

 无wú    纆mò 約yuē

not have   cord   bind up

而ér  不bù  可kě  解jiě  也yě

and   not  able   untie    (part.)

One who is good at tying

does not have a cord
and no one can untie it.

.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 6
Line 7

Line 6

In the same way,

the sage is ever a master

at helping others,

and does not deny anyone.


​​是shì    以yǐ   聖shèng 人rén

(this reason)    sage     person  


恆héng   善shán   救jiù   人rén

constant     good/skill  save/help person    

 而ér     无wú     棄qì     人rén

and   not have reject/discard  person


For this reason the sage

is constantly good a helping people

and does not reject people


​​     As we've seen in so many lesson, the initial lines are a lead in to Lao Tzu's recurring theme--the sage. Here Lao Tzu draws analogies to those who are masters by virtue of what they do not do. This is of course 无wú 為wéi. The sage spies the need of the moment and then spontaneously meets that need. There is no personal agenda or personal preference on the part of the sage. And as this line tells us, he or she denies no one.


.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 8

Line 7

Nor does the sage

dismiss the worth

of anything.




​​​物wù   无wú    棄qì   財cái*

thing    not have   reject  wealth

​​As to things,

there is not rejection

of their value.



*cái meaning "riches," "value,"  is also a variant and homonym of 才cái, "talent," "ability."


.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 9

Line 8

This is called

drawing upon

one's light.


​​​是shì   胃wèi  曳yè  明míng 

this/to be    say      pull along   clear/bright

​​This is said to be

pulling along brightness.


      We are taught many things. But it is rare that a teacher or a parent will encourage one to seek out their light.

.​ ​​​​. . . . .




Line 10

Line 9

Therefore, the master is

a teacher of masters.


故gù     善shàn 人rén

therefore   good/skill    person  

善shàn 人rén 之zhī   師shī  

good/skill   person  (poss.) teacher/model

Therefore, a good person

is the good person's teachers.



Note the important character 故gù, "therefore."  It announces that what came before leads directly to this conclusion

.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 11

Line 10

And, the one

who is not a master

is a gift

to the master.

不bù 善shàn 人rén

not good person

 善shàn    人rèn    之zhī   齎jī *   也yě

good     person     (poss)   present/resource  (part.)

The not good person is

the good person's present.



*齎jī, means "present,"  "to hold in one hands, as in an offering, a gift." The B Text of the Ma-wang-tui, as well as other editions, have 資zī property, wealth, resource. In each of these cases, the inadequate person is the occasion, or the “material,” for the sage to express himself or herself. 

.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 12

Line 11

If one does value

their teacher, or

if a teacher does not

cherish their gift,

they may have

great knowledge,

they are

nevertheless blind. 


不bù 貴quì  其qí  師shī 

not   precious  (pron.)  teacher  

 不bù 愛ài  其qí  齎jī*

not    love    (pron.) present


 唯wéi  知zhī  乎hū   大dà   眯mǐ**

 indeed   know   (exclaim)  great   blind

As to one who does not value

his or her teacher, or

one who does not value their gift,

though indeed knowledgeable,

great blindness.

     Blindness is the opposite of insight.  Those who do not recognize the opportunities around them--whether it be a student who does not value their teacher, or, if a teacher who does not cherish the challenge and opportunity of teaching--such a person is oblivious.  Consider how the tennis player is grateful for the net. Without the net, there is no challenge, and therefore no opportunity to become a master at tennis.


*MWT B text and other editions have 資zī, "resources," "supply."

**MWT B text and other editions have 迷mí, "confused." The idea is similar.

.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 12

This is an

essential tenet

of the Way

是shì   胃wèi  眇miǎo  要yào 

this/to be    say  subtle/essence key point

This is called an

essential point

      Though unstated, "of the  Way" is the presumed topic of this line.

.​ ​​​​. . . . .



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