"It returns to non-existence."
Tao Te Ching 14
The Lao Tzu Taoist Classic
Translated and Explained
Look, it cannot be seen,
So it is called invisible.
Listen, it cannot be heard,
So it is called soundless.
Touch, it cannot be caught,
So it is called elusive.
These three cannot be examined,
So they unite into one.
Above it there is no light,
Below it there is no darkness.
Endlessness beyond description.
It returns to non-existence.
It is called the shapeless shape,
The substance without form.
It is called obscurely evasive.
Meet it and you do not see its beginning,
Follow it and you do not see its end.
Hold on to the ancient Way to master the present,
And to learn the distant beginning.
This is called the unbroken strand of the Way.
Now and then Lao Tzu marvels at the splendid mystery
of Tao, the Way, portraying it with obvious amazement, as
if intoxicated by it. This is one such occasion.
Here, he focuses on its obscurity as well as its
infinity. The latter is the reason for the former. Because Tao has
no limit in time or space, it cannot be described, not even
It's the law out of which the universe emerged. It
still rules the world and everything in it. So, nothing comes
before or after it. Nothing is outside of its reach.
Because it's the natural law that everything must
obey, you need to follow it to manage your life. That's the
only way to get some kind of bearing on your life – learning
the inner workings of life itself. Then you can avoid
futile struggle against the nature of things.
If your path is in accordance with Tao, the Way, you
can travel through life with ease. Otherwise, it's bound to
take you nowhere.
As you get to know the workings of Tao, you also
perceive its role in the world as a whole, all the way back to
the moment of its emergence. One thing led to the next,
which led to the next. That first thing was Tao, and it's still the
fundamental cause to every effect. Tao brought order to
chaos, whereby the world was shaped. Without Tao it would
return to shapeless chaos.
The unbroken strand is the eternity of Tao, from
before the world emerged and forever on. Even if the world
would collapse, Tao would remain the principle by which
the world could emerge anew. Our world is such that
everything perishes. But the laws by which things appear
and disappear, including the universe itself, remain
undamaged. The unbroken strand is the endless procreation according
to the law of Tao.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.