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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 33




​​​​   明míng

(月 moon shining through 囧 our window)

bright, wise, perceptive, enlightened.

     “Know thyself” is inscribed on the ancient Greek Temple of Delphi. Socrates augments this in saying,  "To know thy self is the beginning of wisdom."* 


     If this is so, then wisdom cannot be taught by our colleges and universities. It is discovered only through self-knowledge. As Lao Tzu tells us in Lesson 5:

 Hearing much leads

to many dead ends.

It is not as good as

heeding what is within.


     Our many psychologies seek to help us "find ourselves" or "go within ourselves."  But by this they mean uncovering our feelings, our values, beliefs, emotions and desires.


    Lao Tzu is not concerned with these. Nor are any of the other writings from the great wisdom traditions. They do not offer us a "way" to feel better about ourselves or to discover why we do the things we do. They are  unconcerned our fitting in, our thinking good thoughts, or that we find the right partner. These have nothing at all to do with wisdom.

     In fact, the word "wisdom" has been widely discarded from our social, psychological and even our spiritual vocabulary. When something is no longer even a point at issue, it falls from our lives just as it has from our vocabulary.

     Lao Tzu's words, as well as other words from the wisdom traditions, are a reminder to us of our own self, which is neither social nor psychological. Regardless of how ancient or modern the words, their aim is to remind us of our one-of-a-kind self with its own special "way"; a self which we may not even know we have lost or forgotten.

No man is free who has

not obtained the empire of himself.


I went to the woods because

I wished to live deliberately,

to front only the essential

facts of life, and see if I

could not learn what it had to teach,

and not, when I came to die,

discover that I had not lived.
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Why should we honour those

that die upon the field of battle?

A man may show as reckless a courage

in entering into the abyss of himself.

--William Butler Yeats

He who travels to be amused,

or to get somewhat which he does not carry,

travels away from himself, and grows old

even in youth among old things.

In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind

have become old and dilapidated

as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance


The hero obeys his own law.

--Henry David Thoreau, Journal 1852

People travel to wonder at the

height of mountains, at the

huge waves of the sea,

at the long courses of rivers,

at the vast compass of the ocean,

at the circular motion of the stars;

and they pass by themselves

without wondering.

--Saint Augustine


In this lesson, Lao Tzu adds his own words to these from the wisdom traditions.


For more regarding "wisdom," among other places, see also in "Who was Lao Tzu?", "How to read Lao Tzu's words," Lesson 6, Lesson 22, and Lesson 28.





Line 1


Line 1

One who knows

others is informed.

One who knows

himself or herself

is wise.


知zhī  人rén   者zhě  知zhī  也yě

​​know     person    one who     know    (part.)

自zì  知zhī 者zhě  明míng 也yě

self     know    one who     bright        (part.)

The one who knows people is knowledgeable;

One who know his or her self is bright.



Lao Tzu is quite consistent in his use of the character 明míng in referring to an understanding or insight that surpasses mere knowledge.  For example:

With all your 明míng insight

into the world, can you

keep from becoming clever? 

-Lesson 10.

To know the abiding

 is to be 明míng enlightened.

-Lesson 16

The 明míng enlightened way

seems dim [to the unenlightened].

-Lesson 41

By means of your

own lights,

return to  明míng wisdom.

-Lesson 52

To know the timeless

is called being 明míng enlightened.

Lesson 55


​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 2

Line 2

To triumph over others

is to have power.

To triumph over

oneself is be mighty.



 勝shèng 人rén    者zhě   有yǒu  力lì    也yě

victory     person   one who    have    power   (part.)

自zì   勝shèng  者zhě    強qiáng 也yě

self          I/we         victory     one who     strong       (part.)

One who is victorious over people has power;

one who is victorious over himself or herself, is strong.


     Like the word wisdom, to “triumph over oneself” is rarely a topic for our classroom discussion.


    ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. ​​​​. . . . .



Line 3

Line 3

The person who knows

what is enough

is already wealthy.

The person who does not

waver in this, has focus.


知zhī 足zú   者zhě   富fù  也yě

know    enough   one who   wealth  (part.)

強qiáng 行xíng  者zhě 有yǒu 志zhì 也yě  

strong      go/walk    one who  have     will/aim     (part.)

One who knows enough, has wealth.

One who walks strongly has will/aim.


     To accumulate ever more, is an admission that one is poor. To not waver in this is to prevail.


Note: "The person who does not waver in this…” is understood by many translators to refer to “persevering in the 道tào Way.” However, the 道tào Way is not an antecedent in this chapter. The antecedents would be “knowing” oneself and “conquering” oneself, and "knowing what is enough."

​​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .


Line 4

Line 4

The person who

does not lose their place,


​​ 不bù  失shī  其qí   所suǒ  者zhě   久jiǔ   也yě

not      lose     pron.    place   one who   long time  (part.)

The one who does not lose

​his or her place

lasts a long time.


     所suǒ as an object of sentence, refers to a “place.” In the context of the lesson, it is a metaphor for one’s 自zì self.  We have similar idioms in English, as when we say "He was beside himself," or, "She was out of her mind."

   ​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 5

Line 5

To die, and yet

not forget oneself

is to live a long life.*


​​​  死sǐ  而ér   不bù  忘wàng  者zhě 

die       and     yet  not      forget     one who    

壽shòu  也yě

long life    (part.)

​One who dies and yet

is not forgetting,

​is living long

    While​​​​​​​​​​​​ this may seem to be an odd statement, consider it in view of the previous tow lines and the next lesson.


*Instead of 忘wàng, “forget” found in both MWT texts, the standard texts read, 亡wáng, “to flee,” “disappear,” “perish.”  As such, this line is typically translated  in the sense of, “One who dies but does not perish, has life everlasting." Note that, because 忘wàng, “forget,”  typically takes an object, in the context of the previous lines’ concern for one’s 自zì  “self,” I have translated this line to include this as the presumed omitted object.  Note too that this is the only use of the character 忘wàng  in the MWT texts or the standard texts.

Note: To compare other references to 死sǐ die in the MWT texts, see chapters 6, 50, 50, 51, 67, 74, 75, and 80.


.​ ​​​​. . . . .


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