Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching Chapter 41

Translations at a glance

J Legge    J H McDonald   Lin Yutang

Tao Te Ching Chapter 41

J Legge

Scholars of the highest class, when they hear about the Tao, earnestly carry it into practice. Scholars of the middle class, when they have heard about it, seem now to keep it and now to lose it.

Scholars of the lowest class, when they have heard about it, laugh greatly at it. If it were not (thus) laughed at, it would not be fit to be the Tao.

Therefore the sentence-makers have thus expressed themselves:–

‘The Tao, when brightest seen, seems light to lack; Who progress in it makes, seems drawing back;

Its even way is like a rugged track.
Its highest virtue from the vale doth rise;
Its greatest beauty seems to offend the eyes;
And he has most whose lot the least supplies.
Its firmest virtue seems but poor and low;
Its solid truth seems change to undergo;
Its largest square doth yet no corner show
A vessel great, it is the slowest made;
Loud is its sound, but never word it said;
A semblance great, the shadow of a shade.’

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 Tao Te Ching Chapter 41

J H McDonald

When a superior person hears of the Tao,
She diligently puts it into practice.
When an average person hears of the Tao,
he believes half of it, and doubts the other half.
When a foolish person hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud at the very idea.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The brightness of the Tao seems like darkness,
the advancement of the Tao seems like retreat,
the level path seems rough,
the superior path seem empty,
the pure seems to be tarnished,
and true virtue doesn’t seem to be enough.
The virtue of caution seems like cowardice,
the pure seems to be polluted,
the true square seems to have no corners,
the best vessels take the most time to finish,
the greatest sounds cannot be heard,
and the greatest image has no form.

The Tao hides in the unnamed,
Yet it alone nourishes and completes all things.

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 Tao Te Ching Chapter 41

Lin Yutang

When the highest type of men hear the Tao (truth),
they try hard to live in accordance with it.
When the mediocre type hear the Tao,
they seem to be aware and yet unaware of it.
When the lowest type hear the Tao,
They break into loud laughter –
If it were not laughed at, it would not be Tao.

Therefore there is the established saying:
“Who understands Tao seems dull of comprehension;
Who is advance in Tao seems to slip backwards;
Who moves on the even Tao (Path) seems to go up and down.”

Superior character appears like a hollow (valley);
Sheer white appears like tarnished;
Great character appears like infirm;
Pure worth appears like contaminated.
Great space has no corners;
Great talent takes long to mature;
Great music is faintly heard;
Great form has no contour;
And Tao is hidden without a name.
It is this Tao that is adept at lending (its power)
and bringing fulfillment.

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