Several English language translations were made of Léon Wieger's 1913 French rendition of his Les Peres du Syteme Taoist. Below, is yet another translation of Wieger's French language translation of the ancient Chinese text.
1.1 The principle that can be enunciated is not the one that always was. The being that can be named is not the one that was at all times.
1.2 Before time there was an ineffable, unnameable being. When it was still unnameable, it conceived heaven and earth. When it had thus become nameable, it gave birth to the multitude of beings.
1.4 These two acts are but one, under two different denominations.
1.5 The unique act of generation; that is the mystery of the beginning; the effects.
2.1 Everyone has the idea of beauty, and from that by opposition that of not beautiful (ugly).
2.2 All men have the idea of good, and from that by contrast that of not good (bad).
2.3 Thus, being and nothingness, difficult and easy, long and short,
2.4 high and low, sound and tone, before and after, are correlative ideas, one of which, in being known, reveals the other.
2.5 That being so, the Sage serves without acting and teaches without speaking.
2.6 He lets all beings become, without thwarting them, he lets them live, without monopolizing them, and lets them act, without exploiting them.
2.7 He does not attribute to himself the effects produced, and in consequence these effects last.
3.1 Not making any special case of cleverness, of ability, will have the result that people will no longer push themselves.
3.2 Not to prize rare objects will have the result that no one will continue to steal.
3.3 To show nothing as alluring will have the effect of putting the people's hearts at rest.
3.4 Therefore the politics of Sages consists in emptying the minds of men and filling their stomachs, in weakening their initiative and strengthening their bones.
3.5 Their constant care is to hold the people in ignorance and apathy. They make things such that clever people dare not to act,
3.6 for there is nothing that cannot be sorted out through the practice of non-action.
4.1 The Principle produces in abundance, but without filling itself up.
4.2 Empty abyss, it seems to be (is) the ancestor (origin) of all beings.
4.3 It is peaceful, simple, modest, amiable.
4.4 Spilling itself out in waves, it seems to remain (it remains) always the same.
4.5 I do not know of whom it is the son (where it comes from). It seems to have been (it was) before the Sovereign.
5.1 Heaven and earth are not good to the things that they produce, but treat them like straw dogs.
5.2 Like heaven and earth, the Sage is not good for the people he governs, but treats them like straw dogs.
5.3 The betwixt of heaven and earth, seat of the Principle, the place from where its virtue acts, is like a bellows, like the bag of a bellows of which heaven and earth would be the two boards, which empties itself without exhausting itself, which moves itself externally without cease.
5.4 This is all that we can understand of the Principle and of its action as producer. To seek to detail it further using words and numbers would be a waste of time. Let us hold ourselves to this grand idea.
6.1 The expansive transcendent power which resides in the median space, the virtue of the Principle, does not die. It is always the same and acts the same, without diminution or cessation. This virtue is the mysterious mother of all beings.
6.2 The doorway of this mysterious mother is the root of heaven and earth, the Principle.
6.3 Sprouting forth, she does not expend herself; acting, she does not tire herself.
7.1 If heaven and earth last forever,
7.2 it is because they do not live for themselves.
7.3 Following this example, the Sage, in withdrawing, advances;
7.4 in neglecting himself, he conserves himself.
7.5 As he does not seek his own advantage, everything turns to his advantage.
8.1 Transcendent goodness is like water. Water likes to do good to all beings; it does not struggle for any definite form or position, but puts itself in the lowest places that no one wants. By this, it is the reflection of the Principle.
8.2 From its example, those who imitate the Principle, lower themselves, sink themselves. They are benevolent, sincere, regulated, efficacious, and they conform themselves to the times.
8.4 They do not struggle for their own interest, but yield. Therefore they do not suffer and contradiction.
9.1 To hold a vase filled to the brim, without spilling anything, is impossible; better not to fill it so.
9.2 To keep an over-sharpened blade without its edge becoming blunt, is impossible; better not to sharpen it to this extreme.
9.3 To keep a roomful of precious stones, without any of it becoming misappropriated, is impossible; better not to amass this treasure.
9.4 No extreme can be maintained for a long time. Every height is followed by a decline. Likewise for a man. Whomsoever, having become rich and powerful, takes pride in himself, prepares thereby his own ruin.
9.5 To retire at the height of one's own merit and fame, that is the way of heaven.
10.1 Keep your body and spermatic soul closely united, and ensure that they do not become separated.
10.2 Apply yourself such that the air you breath in, converted into the aerial soul, animates this composite, and keeps it intact as in a new-born baby.
10.3 Withhold yourself from considerations which are too profound, in order not to wear yourself out.
10.4 As for love of the people and anxiety for the state, limit yourself to non-action.
10.5 Let the gates of heaven open and close, without wishing to do something, without interfering.
10.6 Know all, be informed on everything, and for all that remain indifferent, as if you knew nothing.
10.7 Produce, breed, without taking any credit for what has been produced, without exacting a return for your actions, without imposing yourself on those you govern. There you have the formula for transcendent action.
11.1 A wheel is made of thirty perceptible spokes, but it turns due to the imperceptible central axis of the hub.
11.2 Vessels are made of perceptible clay, but it is their imperceptible hollow that is useful.
11.3 The imperceptible holes which make the doors and windows of a house, are its essentials.
11.4 It is the imperceptible that produces effects and results.
12.1 Colours blind the eyes of man. Sound makes him deaf. Flavours exhaust his taste.
12.2 Hunting and racing, by unchaining savage passions in him, madden his heart. The love of rare and difficult-to-obtain objects pushes him to efforts that harm him.
12.3 Therefore the Sage looks to his stomach, and not his senses. renounces this, in order to embrace that. (He renounces what causes wear, in order to embrace what conserves).
13.1 Favour, because it can be lost, is a source of worry. Greatness, because it can be ruined, is a source of fear.
13.2 What do these two sentences mean? The first means that the care required to keep in favour, and the fear of losing it, fill the mind with worry.
13.3 The second points out that ruin generally comes from caring too much for one's own greatness. He who has no personal ambition does not have to fear ruin.
13.4 He who is only concerned about the greatness of the empire (and not that of himself), he who only desires the good of the empire (and not his own good), to him the empire should be confided (and it would be in good hands).
14.1 Looking, one does not see it, for it is invisible. Listening, one does not hear it, for it is silent. Touching, one does not feel it, for it is impalpable.
14.2 These three attributes must not be separated, for they designate one and the same being.
14.3 This being, the Principle, is not light above and dark below, as are opaque material bodies. Like a slender thread, it unwinds itself (as continuous existence and action). It has no name of its own. It goes back as far as the time when there were no other beings but itself.
14.4 It has no parts; from in front one sees no head, from behind no rear.
14.5 It is this primordial Principle that has ruled, and rules, all beings right up to the present. Everything that has been, or is, since the ancient origin, is from the unwinding of the Principle.
15.1 The ancient Sages were subtle, abstract, profound, in a way that cannot be expressed in words.
15.2 Therefore I am going to use illustrative comparisons in order to make myself as clearly understood as possible. They were circumspect like on who crosses an ice-covered river; prudent like one who knows that his neighbours have their eyes on him; reserved like a guest in front of his host.
15.3 They were indifferent like melting ice (which is neither one thing nor the other). They were unsophisticated like a tree trunk (the rough bark of which conceals the excellent heartwood). They were empty like a valley (with reference to the mountain that form it). They were accommodating like muddy water, (they, the clear water, not repelling the mud, not refusing to live in contact with the common people, not forming a separate group).
15.4 (To seek purity and peace by separating from the world is to overdo things. They can be found in the world). Purity is to be found in the trouble (of this world) through (interior) calm, on condition that one does not let the impurity of the world affect oneself. Peace is to be found in the movement (of this world) by one who knows how to take part in this movement, and who is not exasperated through desiring that is should be stopped.
15.5 He who keeps to this rule of not being consumed by sterile desires arising from his own fancy, will live willingly in obscurity, and will not aspire to renew the world.
16.1 He who has reached the maximum of emptiness (of indifference) will be firmly fixed in peace.
16.2 Innumerable beings come out (from non-being), and I see them return there. They spring forth, then they all return to their root.
16.3 To return to one's root, is to enter into the state of rest. From this rest they emerge for a new destiny, and so it goes on, continually, without end. To recognize this law of immutable continuity (of the two states of life and death), is wisdom. To ignore it, is foolish. Those ignorant of this law cause misfortune (through their untimely interference in things).
16.4 He who knows that this law weighs heavily on beings, is just (treats all beings according to their nature, with equity), like a King, like Heaven, like the Principle.
16.5 In consequence he lasts until the end of his days, not having made himself any enemies.
17.1 In the early days (when, in human affairs, everything still conformed to the action of the Principle), subjects scarcely knew that they had a prince (so discreet was the action of the latter). After this the people loved and flattered their prince (because of his good deeds), but later on, they feared him (because of his laws), and scorned him (because of his unjust acts).
17.2 They became disloyal, though having been treated disloyally. They lost confidence in him though receiving only good words which were never put into effect.
17.3 How delicate was the touch of ancient rulers. When everything prospered under their administration, the people believed they had done everything themselves, of their own free will.
18.1 When action conforming to the Principle dwindles, (when men cease to act with spontaneous goodness and fairness), artificial principles of goodness and fairness, prudence and wisdom (are invented).
18.2 These artificial principles soon degenerate into politics.
18.3 When parents no longer live in natural harmony, they try to make up for this deficit by inventing artificial principles of filial piety and paternal affection.
18.4 When states had fallen into disarray, they invented the loyal minister stereotype.
19.1 Reject (artificial, conventional, political) wisdom and prudence, (in order to return to primal natural uprightness). and the people will be a hundred times happier.
19.2 Reject (artificial, conventional) goodness and fairness, (filial and fraternal piety), and the people will come back (for their well-being, to natural goodness and fairness), to spontaneous filial and paternal piety.
19.3 Reject art and gain, and evildoers will disappear. (With the primordial simplicity, they will return to primordial honesty).
19.4 Renounce these three artificial categories, for the artificial is good-for-nothing.
19.5 Be attached to simplicity and naturalness. Have few personal interests, and few desires.
20.1 Give up learning, and you will be free from all your worries. What is the difference between yes and no (about which the rhetoricians have so much to say)? What is the difference between good and evil (on which the critics never agree)? (These are futilities that prevent the mind from being free. Now freedom of mind is necessary to enter into relation with the Principle).
20.2 Without doubt, among the things which common people fear, there are things that should be feared; but not as they do, with a mind so troubled that they lose their mental equilibrium.
20.3 Neither should one permit oneself to lose equilibrium through pleasure, as happens to those who have a good meal or view the surrounding countryside in spring from the top of a tower (with the accompaniment of wine, etc.). I (the Sage) seem to be colourless and undefined; neutral as a new-born child that has not yet experienced any emotion; without design or aim.
20.4 The common people abound (in varied knowledge), but I am poor (having rid myself of all uselessness) and seem ignorant, so much have I purified myself.
20.5 They seem full of light, I seem dull. They seek and scrutinize, I remain concentrated in myself. Indeterminate, like the immensity of the oceans, I float without stopping.
20.6 They are full of talent, whereas I seem limited and uncultured. I differ thus from the common people, because I venerate and imitate the universal nourishing mother, the Principle.
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