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Lao Tzu for Everyone
Students, Scholars,
& Seekers
Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.

Hiking Girls 2.jpg

A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 43

More on

'Not Doing.' 


 (木 tree + 矛 phonetic- spear)

soft, pliant, gentle

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What is most gentle

in the world,

overcomes what is

hardest in the world.

 天tiān 下xià  之zhī   至zhì   柔róu   

heaven    under  (poss.)  reach/extreme  gentle/pliant

馳chí   騁chěng   於yú    天tiān 下xià 

go swiftly  galloping      (prep.)   heaven   under

之zhī 致zhì  (至zhì)  堅jiān

(poss.)    cause   reach/extreme   hard

   The gentlest under heaven

swift galloping horses (overcome)

of the hardest under heaven.


      In a number of lessons Lao Tzu tells us that what is soft, weak, pliable, and feminine, overcomes what is hard, strong, inflexible, and masculine.* Not only is this the natural way of our physical world, it is also our own natural way.  As he counsels us in Lesson 28

Know the masculine

while you hold

to the feminine,

and be a

valley to the world.

When you are

​a valley to the world

​the constant power

​of the Way

​does not leave you.

      "Soft, weak, pliable, and feminine" does not mean feeble or debilitated. It means, quite simply, that we have accepted that we are not in charge. We did not birth ourselves. Nor do we beat our own hearts or will our breathing. If even the smallest things are beyond our control, then what else?       


     "Soft, weak, pliable, and feminine" means that we are not our own guides. The person who lives this way is every listening for the wisdom and guidance of the way, and then follows it.


*See also lessons 10, 36, 52, 55, 76, and 78.

. . . . . .

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Line 2

What has no being

enters where

there is no space

​​​​无wú    有yǒu   入rù   於yú   无wú   jiān

 not have have/being   enter   (prep.)  not have  interval/space

Not having being

enters into not having space.

I for this reason know

not doing’s benefits.

      The Way has no physical presence any more than the natural laws of the universe have a physical presence. But we  know these natural laws exist by observing their effects.


      If there are laws guiding our natural world, why would there not be laws guiding our own natural self as well? 

      . . . . . .


Line 3

That's how I know

the worthiness 

of not doing (wu wei).

五wǔ (吾wú) 是shì  以yǐ   知zhī

 five            I      (for this reason)      know   

无wú  為wéi  之zhí  有yǒu  益yì  也yě

 not have    do       (poss.)   have    benefit   (part.)

I, for that reason, know

the benefit of not doing.

     If there are indeed laws to guide me in my 道 way, both as a species and as a unique person, then there is no need for me to push my way through life, joining the many "movers and shakers" of our world.  I might simply listen for the Way, become attuned to it, and  acquiesce to its counsel. This is wu wei, or  "not doing"  anything of ourselves. Is it my will, then, or the Way's, that is being done? 


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When it comes to

teaching without words

and the worthiness

of not doing of our own self,

rare it is that anyone

attains to it!

      不bù  言yán   之zhí  教jiào   

 not        speak        (poss.)    teaching

  无wù   為wéi  之zhī  益yì     

not have     do      (poss.)   benefit

  天tiān  下xià     

heaven   under   

希xī     能néng  及nái    之zhī   矣yǐ

rare/hope    able          reach to      (pron.)      exclaim

Teaching’s no-speaking, 

not doing's benefit, 

under heaven,

few are able to reach to it!

     Rare, indeed, is the person who uncovers his or her own natural 道 way, and is at ease in the world. That why Lao Tzu concludes this lesson with an exclamation. 

​​​​. . . . . .


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