Brief and brimming with timeless wisdom, each of these Tao Te Ching quotes pulled me right in. Since this classic text has been inspiring people all over the world for centuries, I thought it appropriate to share my favorite poetic passages with you here.
The foundation of my spiritual practice: swim with the mysteries.
Credited to the sage Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching is “one of the true classics of world literature” that basically sums up the spiritual essence of life and has left countless people pondering how they can follow the rhythm of nature. Uncovering the true meaning of the passages—that were written thousands of years ago in classical Chinese on bamboo, silk, and paper manuscripts using intentionally vague wording—is sort of like piecing together a puzzle.
Naturally, there are more than 250 translations floating around today.
Tao or Dao literally means “way” and implies the essential, unnamable process of the universe. Teh or Te means “virtue” or “integrity” and Ching or Jing in this context means “great book” or “classic.” Thus, the Tao Te Ching can be translated as the “Book of the Way and of Virtue” or “The Classic of the Way’s Virtue(s).”
Here is how the Tao is described in the book:
Silent and boundless,
Standing along without change,
Yet pervading all without fail,
It may be regarded as the Mother of the world.
I do not know its name;
I style it “Tao”;
And, in the absence of a better word, call it
The Tao is to the world what a great river or an ocean is to the streams and brooks.
Needless to say, I personally cherish my copy of the Tao Te Ching, translated by Dr. John C. H. Wu and I highly recommend this gem be on everyone’s nightstand for reflection and reconnection to the very essence of life.
Here are the quotes from the classic that really spoke to me.
27 Tao Te Ching Quotes That Speak to My Soul
1. “Between Heaven and Earth, / There seems to be a Bellows: / It is empty, and yet it is inexhaustible; / The more it works, the more comes out of it. / No amount of words can fathom it: / Better look for it within you.” — Tao Te Ching
2. “How do I know the way of all things at the Beginning? By what is within me.” — Tao Te Ching
3. “Indeed, the hidden and the manifest give birth to each other.” — Tao Te Ching“The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.” — Tao Te Ching tweet this
5. “Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub; / It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges. / We make a vessel from a lump of clay; / It is the empty space within that makes it useful. / We make doors and windows for a room; / But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable. / Thus, while the tangible has advantages, / It is the intangible that makes it useful.” — Tao Te Ching
6. “To return to the root is to find peace. / To find peace is to fulfill one’s destiny.” — Tao Te Ching
7. “Only simple and quiet words will ripen of themselves. For a whirlwind does not last a whole morning. Nor does a sudden shower last a whole day.” — Tao Te Ching
8. “To be great is to go on, / To go on is to be far, / To be far is to return.” — Tao Te Ching“Heaviness is the root of lightness. / Serenity is the master of restlessness.” — Tao Te Ching tweet this
10. “The world is a sacred vessel, which must not be tampered with or grabbed after. To tamper with it is to spoil it, and to grasp it is to lose it.”— Tao Te Ching
11. “He who knows men is clever; / He who knows himself has insight. / He who conquers men has force; / He who conquers himself is truly strong.” — Tao Te Ching
12. “Truly, humility is the root from which greatness springs, / And the high must be built upon the foundation of the low… / Truly, too much honor means no honor.”— Tao Te Ching
13. “All the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their embrace, / Deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital Breaths.”— Tao Te Ching“Few things under heaven are as instructive as the lessons of Silence.”— Tao Te Ching tweet this
15. “To know when you have enough is to be immune from disgrace. / To know when to stop is to be preserved from perils. / Only thus can you endure long.”— Tao Te Ching
16. “There is no calamity like not knowing what is enough. / There is no evil like covetousness. / Only he who knows what is enough will always have enough.”— Tao Te Ching
17. “To be frugal is to return before straying.”— Tao Te Ching
18. “Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on, / Good fortune is what bad fortune hides in. / Who knows the ultimate end of this process?”— Tao Te Ching“Use the lights, but return to your insight.”— Tao Te Ching tweet this
20. “If only the ruler and his people would refrain from harming each other, all the benefits of life would accumulate in the kingdom.”— Tao Te Ching
21. “Nip troubles in the bud. / Sow the great in the small.”— Tao Te Ching
22. “Big things of the world / Can only be achieved by attending to their small beginnings.”— Tao Te Ching
23. “Tackle things before they have appeared. / Cultivate peace and order before confusion and disorder have set in.”— Tao Te Ching
24. “A tree as big as a man’s embrace springs from a tiny sprout. / A tower nine stories high begins with a heap of earth. / A journey of a thousand leagues starts from where your feet stand.”— Tao Te Ching“Only when we are sick of our sickness / Shall we cease to be sick.”— Tao Te Ching tweet this
26. “Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water; / But, for attacking the hard and strong, there is nothing like it! / For nothing can take its place. / That the weak overcomes the strong, and the soft overcomes the hard, / This is something known by all, but practiced by none.”— Tao Te Ching
27. “When a great wound is healed, / There will still remain a scar.”— Tao Te Ching
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Which of these Tao Te Ching quotes inspired you today? What did you take away?
Share your favorite Tao Te Ching quotes with me in the comments, or with a spiritually-minded friend.
Here are my wise words: keep reading.