Make your own free website on

Tao Te Ching

# 41 On Hearing of The Way

On hearing of the Way, the best of men
Will earnestly explore its length.
The mediocre person learns of it
And takes it up and sets it down.
But vulgar people, when they hear the news,
Will laugh out loud, and if they did not laugh,
It would not be the Way.

And so there is a proverb:
"When going looks like coming back,
The clearest road is mighty dark."
Today, the Way that's plain looks rough,
And lofty virtue like a chasm;
The purest innocence like shame,
The broadest power not enough,
Established goodness knavery,
Substantial worth like shifting tides.
Great space has no corners;
Great powers come late;
Great music is soft sound;
The great Form no shape.
The Way is obscure and unnamed;
It is a skilled investor, nonetheless,
The master of accomplishment.

[Translated by Raymond B. Blakney]

On hearing of the Tao,
the wise student's practice is with diligence;
the average student attends to his practice
when his memory reminds him so to do;
and the foolish student laughs.
But we do well to remember
that with no sudden laughter,
there would be no natural way.

Thus it is said,
"There are times when even brightness seems dim;
when progress seems like regression;
when the easy seems most difficult,
and virtue seems empty, inadequate and frail;
times when purity seems sullied;
when even reality seems unreal,
and when a square seems to have corners;
when even great talent is of no avail,
and the highest note cannot be heard;
when the formed seems formless,
and when the way of nature is out of sight".
Even in such times as these,
the natural way still nourishes,
that all things may be fulfilled.

[Translated by Stan Rosenthal]

When the great man learns the Way,
he follows it with diligence;
When the common man learns the Way,
he follows it on occasion;
When the mean man learns the Way,
he laughs out loud;
Those who do not laugh,
do not learn at all.

Therefore it is said:
Who understands the Way seems foolish;
Who progresses on the Way seems to fail;
Who follows the Way seems to wander.

For the finest harmony appears plain;
The brightest truth appears coloured;
The richest character appears incomplete;
The bravest heart appears meek;
The simplest nature appears inconstant.

The square, perfected, has no corner;
Music, perfected, has no melody;
Love, perfected, has no climax;
Art, perfected, has no meaning.

The Way can be neither sensed nor known:
It transmits sensation and transcends knowledge.

[Translated by Peter Merel]

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest are seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.

[Translated by S. Mitchell]

Tao Te Ching Translations

Back to Taoist Masters