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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 32

Dividing Up

the World.


​​   名míng

 (夕moon +口mouth)

name, title, position, fame

       When we give something a name we are saying that it belongs to a particular classification of things. Elm is a type of tree. Skyscraper is a type of building. Tulip is a type of flower, and so one. 

     But what if there were only one of something?  There could not then be a classification for it. For example, if there were only one color, white, then what other color could we compare it to? 

    The 道tào Way is like that. Because the Way is One, it does not fit into any classification of things. The Way is not even a thing, but rather the singular source and inner shepherd of each thing.

Line 1


Line 1

The Way is ever

without a name.


​​道tào   恆héng  无wú  名míng

way    constant    not have     name.

​As for the Way,
it constantly has no name.


      Things have names. The Way is not a thing.

​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 2

Line 2

It is so simple, so small,

and yet no one

in the world dare
try to control it.


樸pú*     唯wéi  小xiǎo

uncarved wood   only/and    small

而ér   天tiān  下xià   弗fú   敢gǎn  臣ché

and/and yet   heaven   earth    not it    dare   official/servant


     Music comes into full being only against a silent background. The Way, too, stays in the background as it comes forth as each thing and each person.

    In this line Lao Tzu notes that no one can govern the Way or the ways of things. They cannot be tampered with. Even our own personal way persists inwardly, whether we allow ourselves to be guided by it or not.


樸pú means simple, plain, genuine, unadorned; something in its original state, like wood before it is carved. See the use of this character also also in lessons 15, 19, 28, 37, and 57,

    ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. ​​​​. . . . .


Line 3

Line 3

If our rulers could

harness the Way,

then all things

would become themselves.


​​侯hóu 王wáng 若ruò 能néng 守shǒu之zh

marquis    king     same as   able      hold        it

萬wàn 物wù  將jiāng 自zì  賓bīn

a10,000     thing    (future)     self    submit

​If Marquis and kings were able to hold on to it,

the 10,000 things would submit themselves.


     Of course, lords and kings cannot harness the 道tào Way. Lao Tzu’s point is that things in the natural world are already submitting to their own inner 道tào ways, which is why a dog does not try to climb a tree or daffodil thrive in a pond like a water lily. Things have their own 道tào way. That’s all.

     We each have our own inner way, too. The difference between us and the rest of the natural world is that we can choose to follow our way, or not.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 4

Line 4

The the world

would then come together

as single river, flowing like

the sweet river Luo.*

​​ 天tiān  地dì  相xiāng 合hé

heaven     earth    mutual   join/combine

以yí      俞yú   甘gān    洛luò

by means  agree   sweet     river Luo

Heaven and earth mutually combine,

and by means of this they

reach an accord

like the sweet river Luo.


*洛luò is a tributary of the Yellow River. In place of 洛luò the standard texts have 露lù, dew.

  ​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 5

Line 5

And even though

no one would command it,

the people of themselves

would be in accord.


​​ 民mín   莫mò 之zhī 令lìng

    people    no one  (poss.) to decree

而ér   自zì     均jū  焉yān

and   self/begin  even  (pron.)

As to people, then none command,

​and they harmonize themselves from this.


.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 6

Line 6

Once we start

dividing up the world,

it is then that

there are names.


​​​​​ 始shǐ   制zhì   有yǒu 名mín

begin  cut/system have    name

Begin to cut,

you have names; 


     When we see the world as just things, we overlook the 道tào way-ness of the things that we see. Marvel first at their -ness—their squirl-ness, or their fish-ness, or perhaps even electricity-ness. We can find the One Way within the individual ways of each thing.

​​​ . . . . .


Line 7
Line 8

Line 7

In truth, when it comes

to naming things,

isn't it time to stop?


​​​​​​​   夫fū    亦yì   將jiāng    知zhī    止zhǐ


(intro)   as for  future  know     stop

Now then, as for [names],

should know to stop.

    The problem is not with names. The problem is with us, when we mistake a thing for its name, and overlook the -ness or 道tào way of the things around us.


    Seeing things as names, our world appears crowded with all the separate things, each seeming to compete with the other. But if we just were to 止zhǐ stop and behold their 道tào way, what we would see then appears newly transformed; for now we behold the world as a series of inner laws, each thing’s 道tào way being steered by a mysterious and invisible hand.

  . . . . . .


Line 9

Line 8

If you know to stop,

then you will not

fall into danger.


​​​​​   知zhī 止zhǐ   所suǒ     以yǐ   不bù  殆dài

 know     stop   that which  by means  no    danger.

​Knowing to stop is that by

​which there will be no danger.


    Marvel at the inner law of each thing rather than look only its outer form.

     . . . . . .


Line 9

The humble presence

of the Way in our world

is like a small valley stream

flowing to

the rivers and seas.



​​卑bēi    道tào  之zhī 

 low, humble  way   (poss.)  

 在zài  天tiān 下xià 也yě

exist   heaven  earth     (part.) 

猷yǒu    小xiǎo     浴yù

      plan     small    valley/valley stream

之zhī  與yǔ  江jiāng 海hǎi 也yě

(pron)  give/join  river      sea     part.

​The existence of the

humble way in the world.  

is a designed like a river

that is joining a river and sea.


     Again, the Way does not control things or people. It serves each through its gentle guidance, all the while staying humbly out of sight.

​​​​ . . . . .



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