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Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching]

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Chapter 38

About the Attributes of the Dao

Discourse on Virtue/ A Discussion About Virtue

  Original Legge's Translation Susuki's Translation Goddard's Translation
1 (Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the Dao) did not (seek) to show them, and therefore they possessed them
(in fullest measure). (Those who) possessed in a lower degree those attributes (sought how) not to lose them, and therefore they did not
possess them (in fullest measure).
Superior virtue is unvirtue. Therefore it has virtue. Inferior virtue never loses sight of virtue. Therefore it has no virtue. Essential de [teh] makes no show of virtue, and therefore it is really virtuous. Inferior virtue never loses sight of itself and therefore it is no longer virtue.

(Those who) possessed in the highest degree those attributes did nothing (with a purpose), and had no need to do anything. (Those who)
possessed them in a lower degree were (always) doing, and had need to be so doing.

Superior virtue is non-assertion and without pretension. Inferior virtue asserts and makes pretensions.

Essential virtue is characterized by lack of self-assertion (wu wei) and therefore is unpretentious. Inferior virtue is acting a part and thereby is only pretense.

(Those who) possessed the highest benevolence were (always seeking)
to carry it out, and had no need to be doing so. (Those who) possessed the highest righteousness were (always seeking) to carry it
out, and had need to be so doing.

Superior benevolence acts but makes no pretensions. Superior justice acts and makes pretensions.

Superior benevolence in a way is acting but does not thereby become pretentious. Excessive righteousness is acting and does thereby become pretentious.


(Those who) possessed the highest (sense of) propriety were (always seeking) to show it, and when men did not respond to it, they bared
the arm and marched up to them.

Superior propriety acts and when no one responds to it, it stretches its arm and enforces its rules.

Excessive propriety is acting, but where no one responds to it, it stretches its arm and enforces obedience.


Thus it was that when the Dao was lost, its attributes appeared; when its attributes were lost, benevolence appeared; when benevolence
was lost, righteousness appeared; and when righteousness was lost, the proprieties appeared.

Thus one loses Reason and then virtue appears. One loses virtue and then benevolence appears. One loses benevolence and then justice appears. One loses justice and then propriety appears.

Therefore when one loses Dao there is still de [teh]; one may lose de [teh] and benevolence remains; one may forsake benevolence and still hold to righteousness; one may lose righteousness and propriety remains.


Now propriety is the attenuated form of leal-heartedness and good faith, and is also the commencement of disorder; swift apprehension is (only) a flower of the Dao, and is the beginning of stupidity.

The rules of propriety are the semblance of loyalty and faith, and the beginning of disorder. Traditionalism is the flower of Reason, but of ignorance the beginning.

Propriety, alone, reduces loyalty and good faith to a shadow, and it is the beginning of disorder. Tradition is the mere flower of the Dao and had its origin in ignorance.

7 Thus it is that the Great man abides by what is solid, and eschews what is flimsy; dwells with the fruit and not with the flower. It is thus that he puts away the one and makes choice of the other.

Therefore a great organizer abides by the solid and dwells not in the external. He abides in the fruit and dwells not in the flower. Therefore he discards the latter and chooses the former.

Therefore the great man of affairs conforms to the spirit and not to external appearance. He goes on to fruitage and does not rest in the show of blossom. He avoids mere propriety and practices true benevolence.
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