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Dao De Jing - A Modern Work by Matt Parsons

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So here is part of a project I’m doing to make a plain language Dao De Jing for modern Western types to understand the concepts of it. It’s not all flowery mystical language but rather a fairly simple thing but at times it does have very specific references to Daoist meditative practices. I will admit I am inspired by those who have really made efforts to make this understandable to everyone. Ted Slingerland’s conversation with Chris Ryan was very enlightening. Daniele Bolelli’s Taoist Lecture Series was very enjoyable and similar to what I’m trying to convey here. I’ll be doing this in 9 parts of 9 chapters each.


Understand, this is really difficult to put together as I’m working from translations, embodied practice of Daoist movement arts, philosophy from all over the world, and a very pragmatic, scientific viewpoint on the mystery of this universe I’ve seen with my own eyes. I’ve read a number of translations of the Tao Te Ching/Dao De Jing over the years and I’ve come to realize this is really deep, multi-layered stuff with roots not only in meditation and Chinese folk religion, but also the everyday life of a Chinese person of the era, as well as logic, algebra, numerology, and geometry. The two texts I’ve mainly consulted have been the Worldwide I-Kwan Tao Headquarters English translation and the compilation of various translations by B. Boisen at Boston University. The version because it is already an attempt at plain language from an organization that has been known to be associated with internal martial arts in the past. The B. Boisen compilation because it has a number of translations I can easily compare and glean multiple layers of meaning from. The text I provide in-blog is from the WITH translation and the attempt at a plain language interpretation is underneath.



Dao de Parsons – The First 9 Chapters


Chapter 1


Tao (The Way) that can be spoken of is not the Constant Tao’
The name that can be named is not a Constant Name.
Nameless, is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The named is the Mother of all things.
Thus, the constant void enables one to observe the true essence.
The constant being enables one to see the outward manifestations.
These two come paired from the same origin.
But when the essence is manifested,
It has a different name.
This same origin is called “The Profound Mystery.”
As profound the mystery as It can be,
It is the Gate to the essence of all life.


Once you start talking about it it can’t truly be known. The first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club – but everyone does. Once you label a variable it’s not really that thing it’s just labeling a variable, x is not really x but we call it that for convenience. This ineffable thing is the beginning of everything and has polarities as it arises toward and passes away from manifestation. Once you label something it is manifest as that label in your mind and you perceive it that way, affecting your perception of everything else. Better not to label something to truly understand it. While the polarities are arising, adding, and multiplying to generate everything at the same time; the very act of observation, divides and subtracts it into its constituent, manifest parts.


The void allows one to create a simulated observation ground. From unity comes polarity. Polarity is the basis of all outward observation and examination. When two objects orbit each other understand that centrifugal force and a centripedal force are really the same thing but centrifugal force is caused by properties of the centripedal. The middle of their relative orbits is kinda hard to find but it’s the place you have to start from to figure out everything else’s relationship to each other in space.


Chapter 2


As soon as beauty is known by the world as beautiful, it becomes ugly.
As soon as virtue is being known as something good, it becomes evil.
Therefore being and non-being give birth to each other.
Difficult and easy accomplish each other.
Long and short form each other.
High and low distinguish each other.
Sound and tone harmonize each other
Before and after follow each other as a sequence.
Realizing this, the saint performs effortlessly according to the natural Way without personal
desire, and practices the wordless teaching thru one’s deeds.
The saint inspires the vitality of all lives, without holding back.
He nurtures all beings with no wish to take possession of.
He devotes all his energy but has no intention to hold on to the merit.
When success is achieved, he seeks no recognition.
Because he does not claim for the credit, hence shall not lose it.


Shut off the wordy, desirous, narrative part of your mind so you can see the world without a perceptive filter. Look at what is instead of what you think it is. It’s pretty big and crazy out there and very much a mystery. Still, once you look at it – the principles of the universe – everything else you examine represents it.


Difficult and easy accomplish each other – until one puts the work in at a skill it won’t be easy. It’s better to develop a student by building groups of easy tasks in a step-by-step manner to develop into complexity than it is to throw a challenge on a person who is not ready. Still it’s two sides of the same coin.


Explore the world around you, climb up high, crawl down low. Listen to the silence and sound the emptiness – like a woman who enters a cave for the first time thinking it is dead but truly there is much happening within that only one who is silent and still herself can perceive. Trek through polarity and its many manifestations from high to low, long and short. Color in those shades of grey. The internal and external are part of the same thing, try to do both and bring them together.


If you want to be a decent person let others do whatever the hell it is they want. Let people and other creatures live within their natural way. Don’t be possessive of what is not yours. A lioness needs to feed her cubs, is the sheep any less her food because it roams a field you claim? Work for what you want with all you can and don’t expect reward or praise. If you’re not looking for outside acknowledgement what does it matter what those people think?


Everything arises around a good person but that doesn’t mean they want to take it for themselves. Do your work without narrative, you won’t suffer if you don’t tell yourself how hard you are working.  If you are not even aware of an accomplishment that skill will stay with you as it just a tool to be used. To teach this stuff is doing nothing, you can’t spout off about not talking.


Chapter 3


By not adoring the worthy, people will not fall into dispute.
By not valuing the hard to get objects, people will not become robbers.
By not seeing the desires of lust, one’s heart will not be confused.
Therefore the governing of the saint is to empty one’s mind, substantiate one’s virtue, weaken one’s worldly ambition and strengthen one’s essence.
He lets the people to be innocent of worldly knowledge and desire, and keeps the clever ones from making trouble with their wits.
Acts naturally without desire, then everything will be accomplished in its natural order.


Often people don’t know how good something was until they can look back at it. Those good party times might be seen as miserable a few years down the road, the bad times you think you are going through right now might be good in comparison to the shit storm later. Either way, it’s dependent on your label and perception of the moment, eventually it’s going to change. Given enough time most everything decays or transforms in nature in some way or another.


We shouldn’t really be praising people about stuff so much. People won’t be so contentious if everyone just does what they will. Why value things? They pass. No one will rob you if it has no value. These weird desires for things that pass or change isn’t worth it, if you’re not always looking for the next new toy you’ll be much happier with what you have.


To live a good life try not to think too much, practice what you preach, do not desire after stupid shit, eat healthy and exercise. If there is a dumbass among you let him continue on that way, don’t strive to educate him that will just make him mad and you more. If there is someone too smart for their own good, try to steer them away from the dummies so he doesn’t fuck with the whole town. Just do what feels right and for the most part things will click into place.


Chapter 4


Tao (The Way) can be infused into the nature and put to use without being exhausted.
It is so deep and subtle like an abyss that is the origin of all things.
It is complete and perfect as a wholeness that can
Round off sharp edges;
Resolve confusion;
Harmonize with the glory;
Act in unity with the lowliness.
Tao is so profound and yet in invisible, It exists in everywhere and anywhere.
I don’t not know whose Son It is, It existed before heaven and earth.


There is a constant cycle of arising and passing that is truly infinite. As one being is born and eats its mother – the child’s first meal is the very process of its own origin passing into the world as waste from a once living thing. Thus death and life sustain each other. The principles of the universe can be seen everywhere – it’s an infinite thing underlying all existence. The beginning is like a deep and subtle abyss or an emptiness or black hole that is the origin of all things. The universe and its principles exist in everywhere and anywhere. I don’t know how this thing got here, it was around before we were, and reflects whatever created this.


Chapter 5


Nature nurtures all things with the wholeness of complete virtue.
It shows the greatest and perfect kindness by giving life to let all things grow and accomplish them with the hastening of harvest.
Therefore, according to ancient custom, nature may seem unkind to regard all beings as a traditional straw dog for sacrifice. And likewise with a saint, he may seem unkind to regard people as a traditional straw dog for sacrifice.
The space between heaven and earth is like the bellows, it appears empty yet it gives a supply that never fails;
The more it moves, the more it brings forth.
Many words lead to exhaustion.
It is better to center on the true essence within.


Basically what this is saying is that we should give no more thought to the value of human life than we do to anything else we would use and discard. So humans are no more special than livestock, we have our place in the world and when we stray from that the universe is no kinder to us and we should not expect a kind place to live.

The heart and lungs are great analogs for bellows as both pump fluid, the lungs air and the heart blood. Together these two organs are responsible for a lot of positive and negative emotions in Chinese thought. For the heart/small intestine organ complex we have a primary emotion of joy and for the lungs/large intestine we have the primary emotion of grief. These two things together color almost every single human experience, red and silver respectively.


The space between heaven and earth is occupied by man, in the body the middle dantian or heart/mind center is associated with emotion. Basically it’s saying you can have emotions from joy to sadness, from grief to exuberance, from extreme lust to periods of chastity – there’s an infinite supply of emotions available and the more emotional you are, the more emotional you will be. It’s basically saying shut up and calm your tits – meditate while focusing on the center of the body or zhong ding/central channel.


Chapter 6


Spirit of the valley is immortal.
It is called the mystic nature.
The gate of the mystic nature is regarded as the root of the universe.
It is everlasting and cannot be consumed.


This has to do with very specific points and meditative methods it’s really not accessible until someone has put in the work. Why did the chicken cross the road? Who fucking cares. I believe the Spirit of the Valley has something to do with the occiputal junction or the corpus callosum. I’d have to check into it again, largely useless until one has some meditative training and understanding of Daoist alchemical processes.


Chapter 7


Heaven is everlasting and earth is enduring.
The reason that they are everlasting is because they do not exist for themselves.
Hence, they are long lived.
Thus, although the saint puts himself last, finds himself in the lead.
Although he is not self-concerned, finds himself accomplished. 
It is because he is not focused on self-interests and hence can fulfill his true nature.


Look at nature, there are things that keep going for a damned long time – and it’s because they don’t exist just for selfish reasons, they do not exist with a self at all. So don’t think about yourself, put your desires down and keep working, it will fit together. It’s talking about some kind of divine yin energy that is inexhaustible. Her gateway being the root of heaven and earth probably refers to the lower dantian as both the Conception and Governing Vessels begin in this general area and there are extant traditions that talking about developing this part of the body.


Chapter 8


A person of great virtue is like the flowing water.
Water benefits all things and contends not with them.
It puts itself in a place that no one wishes to be and thus is closest to Tao.
A virtuous person is like water which adapts itself to the perfect place.
His mind is like the deep water that is calm and peaceful.
His heart is kind like water that benefits all.
His words are sincere like the constant flow of water.
His governing is natural without desire which is like the softness of water that penetrates through hard rocks.
His work is of talent like the free flow of water.
His movement is of right timing like water that flows smoothly.
A virtuous person never forces his way and hence will not make faults.


Try not to be an asshole, try to help everyone and everything you come across, if you can help that is. Flow like water, with enough time it can get to the deepest parts of the earth and becomes closer to stillness. Adapt to what is going on around you. Continuing the water train of thought – let your mind be calm, let your heart flow freely to benefit all, and let every word flowing from your mouth be sincere.


If you need to correct someone in your life be soft, try to penetrate through the smaller channels to break hard rock. Let your work flow effortlessly from you – smooth out your movements so you don’t work too hard. Subsume your personal interest and don’t let it be easily seen. Just because one is not obviously selfish does not mean one does not work to one’s own goals. If you don’t compete in the first place no one loses.


Chapter 9


Those who overly pride wealth is like the overflowing water which shall cause damages. It is better to restrain early.
Those who are not content with fame is like polishing the edge of a knife.
The sharper it gets, the easier it is to break.
Wealth and treasures are but illusions that one cannot possess.
Those who are arrogant of their wealth and fame shall invite blame upon oneself.
The nature Tao teaches one to retreat after one’s success and not to hold on to the credit.


Those greedy fucks ruin everything around them, better to stamp that shit out early. Those who desire and acquire fame should understand – they are whittling themselves down until they break. Material stuff is illusory and those who are proud of it are shameful. Better to achieve a goal and then move on to something else than be overly proud of accomplishment.


Once you make a sword and sharpen its blade it will only get duller with use. If you have so much that you can’t keep track of it all, eventually someone will steal from you. So work to a point, accomplish that, and retire. Retirement is how one develops their spirit, you can’t take your toys with you when you die.

Edited by GreytoWhite
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Chapter 10


Can one unite the body and the spirit as one and embrace the “Oneness” without departing from the great Tao?

Can one achieve harmony with such gentleness by holding on to the true spirit within as if the innocence of an infant?

Can one free oneself from worldly knowledge and cleanse one’s mind, so that no faults shall be made?

Can a ruler love his people by governing with the natural Way without personal intention?

Can the mystic gate to all life essence be opened or closed without the virtue of the mysterious nature?

Can one gain the insight of nature and become a wise person without the effort of action?

The mysterious nature creates and nurtures all things without the desire to possess them.

It performs with all efforts without claiming for credit.

It flourishes all beings without the intention to take control of.

Such is the “Mystic Te” or “Mystic Virtue.”


Can you forget yourself for a moment and look at the universe as it really is? Can you still your body, mind, and spirit so they do not color your eyes? Can one forget words and become faultless? How does a ruler love his people without personal desire? (this next line is very esoteric references again to mystic gate, life essence being jing or hormonal, nutrition, and physical health) Can one see the universe and its principles without doing anything? The universe creates all things without want of them, performs all the work without claiming credit, it is the parent of all things without controlling its children. Such is the Dao.


Chapter 11


Thirty spokes unite around one hub to make a wheel.

It is the presence of the empty space that gives the function of a vehicle.

Clay is molded into a vessel. It is the empty space that gives the function of a vessel.

Doors and windows are chisel out to make a room.

It is the empty space in the room that gives its function.

Therefore, something substantial can be beneficial.

While the emptiness of void is what can be utilized.


When you have too many cooks in the kitchen – they fuck everything up. Your wheel may have thirty different spokes to keep it together but they all touch the wheel and the hub – the outside and inside need to be joined – the spokes have no real purpose alone. The emptiness defines the function of a jar – who stole the cookies? You can make a room by cutting holes into a house – what that room is for is up to the occupants. By envisioning something and adding elements of nothing we create in this world – it all comes from somewhere.


Chapter 12


The five colors can blind one’s eyes.

The five tones can deafen one’s ears.

The five flavors can dull one’s taste buds.

The pursuit of pleasures can derange one’s mind. The hard-to-get valuables can distort one’s behavior.

Therefore, a saint cultivates himself with virtues and does not indulge himself in sensory pleasures.

He rejects those outer temptations and chooses this True Nature.


The world is a big place with a bigger appetite. Indulging oneself in sensorial pleasures whether it be art, music, or grand culinary creations can blunt one’s ability to perceive and process what is truly good. To stay grounded to your body when meditating breathe into your belly so as not to lose track of your mind. Internal alchemy is a long, hard process – if you pay attention to other stuff you probably won’t achieve much.


Chapter 13


Honor and disgrace can surprise a person.

The greatest distress lies in one’s physical body.

What does it mean by “Honor and disgrace can surprise someone?”

Honor is inferior, because one who wins the favor is afraid of losing it.

And one who loses the favor is frightened with distress.

This is the significance of “Honor and disgrace can surprise someone.”

What does it mean by “The greatest distress lies in one’s body?”

We have fear because we worry about our physical self.

If one’s body does not exist, how can one has fear?

Therefore, he who values the world as much as he values himself, can be entrusted with the ruling of the world.

He who loves the world as much as he loves himself, can be entrusted with the guidance of the world.


High or low – one can be surprised by merit or gossip. Seeking after honor from one’s peers is a silly thing – the judges are biased. Losing another person’s good opinion of you should also be accepted in stride – we cannot blame others for their boundaries. Most people are too troubled with their bodily needs to be able to function in a wider society. Don’t you get it? We’re all in pain here. If you value the world as much as yourself then it’s probably a good idea to make you a leader. If you feel the whole world is of no more than one’s own body then it’s probably safe to trust you with the hard decisions.


Chapter 14


What cannot be seen is called the invisible.

What cannot be heard is called the inaudible.

What cannot be touched is called the intangible.

These three cannot be examined and comprehended.

And hence are mixed together as one.

This “Oneness” is not much brighter in the sky, as It is not much dimmer on earth.

It is not more glorious in a saint as It is not more fainter in an ordinary person.

It is everlasting and cannot be named.

It is the original void of “non-being.”

This “Oneness” is the Tao which is invisible, and formless.

It may be regarded as vague and intangible.

When the Oneness Tao comes forward, Its front cannot be seen.

When one tries to follow It, one cannot see Its rear.

By abiding with the original Tao, one can master the presence.

He who knows this “Origin,” shall know the teaching and principle of the Great Tao.


There are many things we cannot see, taste, hear or touch in this life that we can still think about. When one factors in the blueprints of the Divine, the manifestations that arise on Earth, and the entropy of the Universe breaking it all down it can become overwhelming. We’ll just call that whole ball of yarn “unknown” for now. The Dao exists without those who can see it, it exists without those that can speak of it. It is truly all-pervading and invigorating. The Universe is chock full of polarities and odd exceptions without consideration for man’s want of order. The original animal perception is our goal – if we are not reacting with emotion to every stimulus we will be more aware of the now. If we are not reacting with emotion when contemplating past and future we will become greater. Knowing just who and what one is and one’s goals while staying present is an incredibly powerful way of existing.


Chapter 15


The ancient Tao cultivators were subtle and mysterious.

They were of immeasurable profundity.

Because they were too subtle to be known, so reluctantly they were being described as follow:

Cautious, as if crossing an icy river.

Hesitant, as if fearful of the surroundings.

Reverent, like an honorable guest.

Dispersed, like winter ice began to melt in spring.

Simple and sincere, like a genuine virgin.

Open-minded, like an empty valley.

Harmonized, like the turbid water.

How can one turn the turbid water into clarity?

A person of Tao would maintain peace in order to achieve pureness of the mind.

And therefore shall not be disturbed by the worldly desires.

After achieving pureness of the mind, how can one let it be everlasting?

A person of Tao would unify and harmonize himself with all beings which shall lead to eternity.

Those who abide by this Tao will not indulge themselves in the desire of greed.

It is because of this humbleness that enables one to embrace the original “Oneness,” the Great Tao.


We only have writings about what the previous sages did – they were incredible people. They were cautious of all pragmatic danger. The sages always paid attention to their surroundings. The men of old were usually very polite. Listening to all men who chose to speak – the old men gained knowledge. Without cunning they spoke only the truth. The best of the ancients had the ability to maintain their point of view while still listening to another’s. Turbid water only comes to clarity when it is still – how does one stay calm and carry on in the midst of a hurricane? Becoming one with the Earth and its inhabitants keeps one grounded. Not seeking fulfillment but rather simple satiation of desires is a superior path.


Chapter 16


Human must achieve the ultimate void and maintain calmness with sincerity in order to observe the growth and flourish of all beings.

It is in this way that one can understand the law of nature.

All things and beings will eventually return to the original source.

This is called “peace.”

“Peace” means returning to one’s original nature.

This original nature is the eternal law. To know the nature’s law is to be enlightened.

He who is ignorant of the nature’s law shall act recklessly, and thus will invite misfortune.

To know the constant law of nature is to be generous.

Being generous, one is impartial.

Being impartial, one is the sovereign.

Sovereign is the nature itself.

Nature is Tao. Tao is everlasting.

When one’s physical body dies away, Tao still long endures.


Achieve emptiness internally to understand the laws of Nature. Everything dies eventually – how else does one return to Nature? What other peace is there than death? Considering that one might die every day can return one’s focus to the Universe. If you act against Nature it will eventually destroy you and yours. If you invent without understanding of Nature you will cause harm. Those who know the eternal law strive to be tolerant, impartial, and above their peers’ drama. Let Nature rule and you will know the Way because Nature and the Way are united eternally.


Chapter 17


In early ancient mankind, Tao has been in existence in one’s true nature.

Men possess It without knowing.

One then acts with virtue and honor which is inferior to Tao.

The less superior is to act with fear.

And the least superior is to act with disgrace.

This occurs because one does not have enough faith, and hence has no confidence.

The nature of Tao is distinguished by wordless teaching with the natural act of virtue without action.

As such, people would act effortlessly and harmonize with the Nature Tao.


Being Emperor is a no-win game. No matter what someone will hate you and judge your efforts as lacking. Great rulers only speak truth and sparingly at that – their words are valued highly so the rarity must be maintained. Even if the best plans are put forth and executed, the people at the bottom will think it was simply Nature’s way of accomplishing the goal. That’s one way to get the populace to embrace the Way.


Chapter 18


When Great Tao declines, virtue of humanity and righteousness shall arise.

When knowledge and intelligence appear, great hypocrisy shall arise.

When the six various family relationships are not in harmony, filial piety and compassion shall arise.

When a country is in chaos, the loyal officials shall appear.
No matter how fucked up things may be there is usually a solution already at hand. Usually those who proclaim their expertise are simultaneously wrong and act like they don’t care. When the family structure is broken between the ruler and his subjects, between father and son, between brothers, between husband and wife, between friends, and with oneself a new family and its piety will arise. Even when the whole country is in turmoil the loyal officials will always rise and set things to rights.

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Well done


A good thing for westerners is that knowledge is NOT an impression but an expression. Western system is Greek with two opposing forces, not related and hostile to each other (very weird) because nature is not like that at all.


knowledge is not something known because there is no know-er or known. For there to be a know-er they would need to be not part of all things, separate, opposing and hostile to all that is not them. Difference depends on sameness, they crete each other, this theme is used over and over again, Yin and Yang addressing all aspects of life with the classic Taoist text.


The background or outer world is necessary with knowledge. If I look at a person with no background I can not see the edges of the person maybe just some eyes and a mouth hanging in space. The background being the entire universe is us and eternal. We can not have one without the other.


Polar complete philosophy can be hard to understand with western mind / rational mind or a knowing mind.

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