top of page
Marble Surface
Control h-1.jpg

Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.



the Way

A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 29


the World





(耳ear + 又 right hand.)

take, seize, obtain



Line 1


Line 1

As for those who

want to take control

of the world

    and act upon it . . . 


​​​​將jiāng  欲yù    取qǔ   天tiān   下xià  

   future      desire      seize      heaven      under

而ér    爲wéi 之zhī

  and       do/act       (pron.)

Future desire to take

all under heaven,

and act upon it


      Considering the previous lesson, it is the folly of our masculine energy to seek action where none is needed.  Of itself, masculine knows neither when nor how to act. 



.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 2

Line 2

I see that they

cannot succeed.


​​   吾wú 見jiàn  其qī   弗fú  得dé  已yǐ

I       see     (pron.)   not it    obtain   complete

​I see they not

​obtain this end.


     Again with reference to the previous lesson, masculine energy will fail where it is not guided by feminine energy.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. ​​​​. . . . .


Line 3

Line 3

For the world

is a sacred vessel

that cannot

be acted upon.


夫fū 天tiān 下xià  神shén 器qì  也yě

 (intro.)  heaven    under    spirit     vessel   (part.)

非fēi 可kě 爲wéi 者zhě  也yě

not      able    do/act   one who     (part.)

Now, the world is spiritual vessel,

not in the category* of things

which can be acted upon.

      That a thing is sacred, or 神shén “spirited,” is a way of saying that each has its own inborn way. We have no power to further these ways. We cannot assist a cat to be a cat or teach an elm what kind of leaves it should have.


     But what about helping others? The sage has no plan of action to help others, no ready-made program. But neither does a mother. She hears the baby cry and so she feeds it. Simple. It is the same with the sage. He or she sees what is needed and spontaneously meets that need. No plan of action is required. No ambition is involved.


     Note too, Lao Tzu's sue of the term, 器qì, meaning vessel or receptacle. He does not refer to the world as a 物wù thing. A receptacle is feminine.  (See the previous lesson.)  It does not act on its own, but is open to, and welcoming of, the designs of the Way






​*The use of the character 非fēi, “not”, is significant here.  It has a very different sense from the simple negative 不bù, “not.”  非fēi  has the sense of  “not in the category of X.” The line could be translated, “For, the world is a sacred vessel, and it is 非fēi not in the category of things which can be acted upon.” Note the important use of this character in Chapter 1.


​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .





Line 4

Line 4

Those who act

upon the world

only destroy it,

and those who would

seize control of

of the world

only lose it.


 爲wéi  者zhě  敗bài 之zhī

 do/act   one who   defeat   pron.

執zhí   者zhě   失shī 之zhī

take up   one who      lose    pron.

   The one who acts on it, destroys it;

the one who seizes it, loses it.

    To 爲wéi act upon the world and others is to impose our wills upon them. History books tell us how that turns out.

    Rather than 爲wéi act, the sage does 无wú 爲wéi  “not act.” That is, no personal will is involved. The sage sees a need and spontaneously fills it. That is all.


     ​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 5
Line 6

Line 5

When it comes to things,

some go forth,

and some follow;

some run hot,

and some run cold;

some are strong,

and some are weak;

some increase,

and some decrease.




​  物wù  或huò  行xíng   或huò  隨suí

​​thing      some     walk       some      follow

  或huò   炅 jiǒng  或huò  吹chuī

some    bright/hot     some         breathe on   


  或 huò   強qiáng   或huò 羸léi

 some        strong         some       weak

  或huò  陪péi    或huò   撱tuǒ

some       add/pile up some   shorten


As for things,

​some walk some follow;

some hot some exhale;

some strong, some weak;

some build up, some shorten.

    Up to a point we already have the understanding that things have their own way. That is why we do not expect a dog to climb a tree. It is why the farmer does not plant in wintertime and expect so sow in spring. Lao Tzu asks that we extend this same understanding to all things and ourselves as well.  Each has its own way.


Note: This passage is, of course reminiscent of another:

To every thing there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heaven


A time to be born,

and a time to die;


a time to plant,

and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

a time to kill,

and a time to heal;

a time to break down,

and a time to build up;

a time to weep,

and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn,

and a time to dance;


 a time to cast away stones,

and a time to gather stones together;


 a time to embrace,

and a time to refrain from embracing;

 a time to get,

and a time to lose;

a time to keep,

and a time to cast away;

 a time to rend,

and a time to sew;


a time to keep silence,

and a time to speak;


 a time to love,

and a time to hate;

a time of war,

and a time of peace.

 –Ecclesiastes 3,

(King James Version)

​​   ​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 6

That is why

the sage

avoids extremes,

avoids arrogance

and avoids excess.


​​ 是shī   以yǐ     聖shèng  人rén

(for this reason)     sage        person

 去qù   甚shén

depart   very  

去qù 大dà 

depart  great

去qù   諸chǔ

depart   many/various

For this reason,

the sage departs from extreme,

departs from greatness,

departs from surplus.

    Going to extremes, puffing oneself up in grandeur, and indulging oneself in extravagance, are endeavors of the ordinary person. The verb 去qù is significant here. It means, to depart, remove, forego. Again, it is not what the sage 爲wéi does that is different from others, but what the sage does 无wú 爲wéi not do.






. . . . .





bottom of page