The Tao Theme of
Te - Virtue

Te, virtue.

The Themes of the Tao Te Ching

Te, Virtue, is one of the most important concepts in Tao Te Ching, the old classic on Taoism. That's why the word is also in the title. It can be explained as the noble behavior of a person who follows Tao, the Way, which is virtuous in itself. We human beings, though, have to learn it.

       Below are those chapters, out of the 81 in Tao Te Ching, which deal mainly with the theme of Te, Virtue, and what is truly virtuous.

10 Modest Omnipotence

Can you make your soul embrace the One

And not lose it?

Can you gather your vital breath

And yet be tender like a newborn baby?

Can you clean your inner reflection

And keep it spotless?

Can you care for the people and rule the country

And not be cunning?

Can you open and close the gate of Heaven

And act like a woman?

Can you comprehend everything in the four directions

And still do nothing?

To give birth to them and nourish them,

Carry them without taking possession of them,

Care for them without subduing them,

Raise them without steering them.

That is the greatest virtue.

13 Fear

Praise and disgrace cause fear.

Honor and great distress are like the body.

What does it mean that praise and disgrace cause fear?

Praise leads to weakness.

Getting it causes fear, losing it causes fear.

This is why praise and disgrace cause fear.

What does it mean that honor and great distress are like the body?

The reason for great distress is the body.

Without it, what distress could there be?


He who treasures his body as much as the world

Can care for the world.

He who loves his body as much as the world

Can be entrusted with the world.

16 The Cycle of Life

Attain utmost emptiness.

Abide in steadfast stillness.

All things arise in unison.

Thereby we see their return.

All things flourish,

And each returns to its source.

Returning to the source is stillness.

It is returning to one's fate.

Returning to one's fate is eternal.

Knowledge of the eternal is realization.

Not knowing of the eternal leads to unfortunate errors.

Knowledge of the eternal is all-embracing.

To be all-embracing leads to righteousness,

Which is majestic.

To be majestic leads to the Heavenly.

To be Heavenly leads to the Way.

The Way is eternal.

Until your last day, you are free from peril.

19 Gain by Abandoning

Abandon wisdom, discard knowledge,

And people will benefit a hundredfold.

Abandon benevolence, discard duty,

And people will return to the family ties.

Abandon cleverness, discard profit,

And thieves and robbers will disappear.

These three, though, are superficial, and not enough.

Let this be what to rely on:

Behave simply and hold on to purity.

Lessen selfishness and restrain desires.

Abandon knowledge and your worries are over.

23 Deprived of Deprivation

To be of few words is natural.

Strong winds do not last all morning,

Hard rains do not last all day.

What cause them?

Heaven and Earth.

If Heaven and Earth are unable to persist,

How could man?

Those who follow the Way are one with the Way.

Those who live virtuously are one with virtue.

Those who deprive themselves are one with deprivation.

Those who are one with the Way are welcomed by the Way.

Those who are one with virtue are welcomed by virtue.

Those who are one with deprivation are deprived of deprivation.

Those who do not show trust will not be trusted.

28 Be Like Uncarved Wood

Knowing the manly, but clinging to the womanly,

You become the valley of the world.

Being the valley of the world,

Eternal virtue will never desert you,

And you become like a little child anew.

Knowing the bright, but clinging to the dark,

You become a model to the world.

Being a model to the world,

Eternal virtue will never falter in you,

And you return to the boundless.

Knowing honor, but clinging to disgrace,

You become the valley of the world.

Being the valley of the world,

Eternal virtue will be full in you,

And you return to the state of uncarved wood.

When the uncarved wood is split,

Its parts are put to use.

When the sage is put to use,

He becomes the head.

The best way to carve is not to split.

33 Longevity

Those who understand others are clever,

Those who understand themselves are wise.

Those who defeat others are strong,

Those who defeat themselves are mighty.

Those who know when they have enough are rich.

Those who are unswerving have resolve.

Those who stay where they are will endure.

Those who die without being forgotten get longevity.

38 The Highest Virtue

The highest virtue is not virtuous.

Therefore it has virtue.

The lowest virtue holds on to virtue.

Therefore it has no virtue.

The highest virtue does nothing.

Yet, nothing needs to be done.

The lowest virtue does everything.

Yet, much remains to be done.

The highest benevolence acts without purpose.

The highest righteousness acts with purpose.

The highest ritual acts, but since no one cares,

It raises its arms and uses force.

Therefore, when the Way is lost there is virtue.

When virtue is lost there is benevolence.

When benevolence is lost there is righteousness.

When righteousness is lost there are rituals.

Rituals are the end of fidelity and honesty,

And the beginning of confusion.

Knowing the future is the flower of the Way,

And the beginning of folly.


The truly great ones rely on substance,

And not on surface,

Hold on to the fruit,

And not to the flower.

They reject the latter and receive the former.

54 Cultivate Virtue

What is well planted will not be uprooted.

What is well held will not escape.

Children and grandchildren will not cease to praise it.

Cultivate virtue in yourself,

And it will be true.

Cultivate virtue in the family,

And it will be overflowing.

Cultivate virtue in the town,

And it will be lasting.

Cultivate virtue in the country,

And it will be abundant.

Cultivate virtue in the world,

And it will be universal.


See others as yourself.

See families as your family.

See towns as your town.

See countries as your country.

See worlds as your world.

How do I know that the world is such?

By this.

55 The Virtue of the Infant

The one who is filled by virtue is like a newborn baby.

Wasps, scorpions, and serpents will not sting him.

Birds of prey and wild beasts will not strike him.

His bones are soft, his muscles weak,

But his grasp is firm.

He has not experienced the union of man and woman,

Still his penis rises.

His manhood is at its very height.

He can shout all day without getting hoarse.

His harmony is at its very height.

Harmony is called the eternal.

Knowing the eternal is called clarity.

Filling life exceedingly is called ominous.

Letting the mind control the vital breath is called force.

Things exalted then decay.

This is going against the Way.

What goes against the Way meets an early end.

Tao Themes

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