The Tao Teh Ching: Revealed by Lao Tzu Rendered by Charles Scamahorn Preface

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The Tao Teh Ching:

Revealed by Lao Tzu

Rendered by Charles Scamahorn

The path called Tao that can be described
Can never be the perfect Tao, because
The words cannot be the Tao;
They can only be a description of the Tao.
There was an origin of everything--
Of Heaven, of Earth, of Self, and
Of the words with which we allude to them. And
It must be with this feeble metaphor in words
That I will lead you to what I know of the Tao.
I will speak to you in a special way,
When I want you to search out for yourself
The uncommunicable essence of the Tao, and
I will speak to you in the ordinary way
When I want you to receive the communicable
Effects of the Tao.
The paths I will lead you along,
While we approach the Tao in one way,
May be the same paths I lead you along
When we approach it in another. Yet
This same Tao seems to possess different qualities
When we approach it in different ways.
Both the Tao and the approaches to it
Are parts of the answer to the universal mystery; and
Your moving along the paths with one description of the Tao, and
Along the paths with yet another description of the Tao,
Opens the gates along the ways to your deepest knowing.


When people call one thing beautiful,

They generate a contrast, and thus
Ugliness is also brought into being.
When you declare one thing to be good,
Others will see its opposite as bad.
Any idea, brought to their attention,
Stimulates its opposite idea to be with them also.
When they think of something as difficult,
It is in relation to easy.
If something is thought to be long,
It is in relation to short.
When one thing is called up,
It is in relation to down.
If they hear a sound,
It is in relation to a silence. And
When you call one side the front,
The other side automatically becomes the back.
You may take care of your life and its problems
With special kinds of attractive actions.
Attractive actions draw out the proper kind of reactions. And
You may teach others with a special kind of teaching,
Which will draw out a proper kind of learning from these others.
Everything that can happen will happen, and
You may draw it out at any time.
You may create as you wish, and
There is no need for you to own things;
You may control the reactions of things, and
There is no need for you to force them;
You may accomplish whatever needs to be done, and
There is no need for you to take credit for it.
If you are not seen doing something,
Then no one will seek to prevent you from doing it.


Do not give arrogant people valuable titles, or

Others will scheme to get them also.
Do not place value upon objects, or
People will seek to steal them.
Do not focus people's attention upon difficult-to-obtain things,
And their hearts will remain calm.
In your social relations, make people empty of desires;
Make their emotion contentment;
Discourage their ambitions, and
Encourage their simplicity.
When people are free of troubling thoughts,
Of anxious desires, and
Of inflaming ambitions,
They will not contend with one another.
By creating reactions without performing visible deeds,
You may lead all to live in harmony.


The way to do these things

Is to perfect your ability to create voids.
All things are born of voids, and
All things are drawn to voids.
Sharpness is created and blunted,
Knots are made and untangled,
Light is given and absorbed, yet
The void is more lowly than dust.
Through it all, your personal void remains,
Like a clear deep pond, and
You alone can see into its depths.
It is a void that exists, and
From its depths you create the existence you live within.


Nature contains a void:

It responds to everything in the universe as excess, and
Everything is drawn into its void.
You contain a personal void:
You too may respond to everything in the universe as excess, and
Everything can be drawn into your void.
The Universe and all within it is like a bellows:
Emptiable, yet it gives a supply that never fails;
The more you use it, the more it gives you.
However, overworking brings you to exhaustion and imbalance; and
It is healthier for you to stay near your responsive middle
and remain balanced.


The power to create voids never vanishes.

It is the magic source.
Everything came from this magic source.
Forever and forever it exists and appears, but
Your use of it requires a special kind of effort.


The Universe is eternal and the Earth is long-lasting;

They have existence, yet they do not strive for self.
Likewise, when you openly put yourself last,
You are soon in the foremost place;
When you openly reject your self,
You are preserved by others;
Isn't it when you have no interest in your self
That you may best serve the interests of others' selves?


Water is a good mentor:

Water does not contend;
Water benefits all.
Water seeks those places which others think low;
In that way it illustrates following the proper path.
The good person follows the example of water and
Dwells with good Earth,
Creates with good thoughts,
Gives with good emotions,
Speaks with good words,
Regulates with good laws,
Does with good acts,
Provides with good times.

It is because water does not contend

That water is not contended against.


When you fill a cup to the very brim it is hard to use;

When you sharpen a knife to its very keenest,
It is dull at the first stroke.
When wealth and honor are yours in superabundance,
You cannot use them.
Use excess to begin your tasks;
Use perfection to finish them;
Vanish when your personal role is done.
That is Heaven's way.


When training your self in the use of your secret source,

Hold close to your essence and thus avoid dispersal;
Direct your vital energy to induce tenderness, and
You can attract safety like a newborn child.
Use and refine your wisdom, and
You will approach perfection.
Be very good to people, and
Interact with everyone with attractive actions.
When opening and closing the doors to your secret source,
Give to each and everyone, like a mother bird to her chicks, and
You may illuminate the whole world with your attractive knowledge.
You may create and nurture anything, and
Give birth without desire for owning;
Act without desire for credit;
Raise others to power without desire for control; because
Your secret source is much deeper than the use of power.


Thirty spokes may be united at the nave of a wheel, yet

From the void within arises the utility of the wheel.
Clay may be molded into a cup, yet -
From the void within arises the utility of the cup.
Doors and windows may be built into a house, yet
From the void within arises the utility of the house.
There may be profit in the existence of things, yet -
We are served by the void within things.


The artists' colorful works make your eyes too sensitive;

The musicians' melodic notes make your ears too delicate;
The gourmets' succulent flavors make your tongue too refined.
By contrast, horse racing, chasing and hunting
Will turn your heart toward violence;
And gold, and jewels, and treasure
Will turn your mind toward intrigue.


Honors and dishonors will disturb your equanimity; and

When you think highly of your self,
Your body will be filled with suffering.
Why do both honors and dishonors disturb your peace of mind?
Honors set you up, and then you may be knocked down.
Thus, not having honor,
You are anxious that you may get it;
Or, having honor,
You are anxious that you will lose it.
Why is your body filled with suffering
When you think highly of your inner self?
To have suffering requires that
You be tied to an injurable self, but
When your essence is tied to your uninjurable void,
How can there be suffering?
One who loves his country as this self
May be trusted by his country;
One who treats his country as this self
May be entrusted with its care.


When looking at people,

Also see from their point of view;
When listening to people,
Also listen from their listening place;
When speaking to people,
Also hear from their understanding place.
These three form a special kind of observation;
Use them to form a void for their reaction.
By bringing this into view you produce clarity.
By removing this from view you create obscurity.
Now and forever you may bring anything into being, but
Everything reverts again and again into the eternal void.
It is emptiness with form, and
The void which creates and destroys.
Can we call it elusive?
It is more than elusive. Yet,
Before something exists, you may draw it into existence; and
After it exists, you may draw it into non-existence.
Entwine your self with this older-than-ancient path, and thereby
Be in accord with the eternal law.
Known to the ancients from the beginning,
This thread of the path draws always and all things.


The ablest doers, since ancient times,

Have been subtle, profound, spiritual and foresighted.
So entirely are they imbued with these qualities,
That one may only allude to their behavior.
Are they cautious? Like one crossing a frozen stream?
Or bold? Like one fearless of all danger?
Are they polite? Like one who is a guest?
Or direct? Like one who is at home?
Are they slippery? Like ice beginning to melt?
Or simple? Like a log of unsawn lumber?
Are they empty? Like a grand canyon?
Or full? Like a swollen river?
It is impossible to predict sages' obscure behavior, but
Their actions always seem simple and obvious. Yet
After they act they are obscure again.
Postulating their method may help you perceive their actions.
You may follow your secret path, and never seem full; and
Not seeming full you may glide through your life:
You are never exploited and never exhausted.


Reach into your perfect void, and

Attain the essence of tranquillity.
All things take their turn to activity.
By this you may know each shall return to its origin.
When flowers bloom in spring, you know
They shall return to Earth from which they grow.
Know the source of your origin;
It is your destiny. For
Returning to the source is the eternal law.
When you go against the eternal law, you provoke disaster.
While you flow with the eternal law, you are enlightened, all-loving, godly
and in tune with nature.
While you flow with the eternal law, you are on the proper path, and
The end of your personal existence
Is not the end of your personal essence.


When you lead people best you use the invisible void, and

They never become aware of your involvement.
When you lead them simply, they love you;
When you lead them ably, they fear you;
When you lead them with strength, they hate you.
When people lack faith
Expose a void to draw their faith into existence.
If you command people, they will obey you with reluctance, but
Whatever behavior of yours they see,
Each will attempt to be like that himself.


When you expose the proper path,

Everyone will behave with benevolence and uprightness; but
If they see your wisdom,
They will soon behave with cleverness and hypocrisy.
If your family relationships are seen in conflict,
Those you lead will behave like angry parents and sad sons.
If your government is seen as chaos and misrule,
Your people will be responsive only to open coercion.


When you abandon the image of enlightened wisdom,

Your people will be benefitted a hundred times over; and
When you abandon benevolent righteousness
Your people shall return to love of their family; and
When you abandon cunning profit,
Your people will be blessed with the disappearance of thieves.
Those must be removed from external observation, but
Your people must see something which they may follow. So
Reveal your simple self:
Embracing the valueless,
Lowering self, and
Diminishing intelligence.


Anxieties drift away when you avoid rigid etiquette.

The differences between 'yes' and 'yeah' are fleeting conventions.
But the differences between happiness and suffering are real.
Even things which the people dread can be drawn away into the void.
Emptiness is without limits.
The void is vast.
When evil is drawn away,
Your people may be happy and always laughing,
As when they are picnicking, or touring old monuments.
You alone seem simple, and are slow to comprehend all things.
You seem like a child, and don't know when to smile or frown.
You alone seem forlorn and lost, without a place of refuge.
The people are filled with plenty but you are empty.
Your behavior is simple, even for an idiot.
You seem even more than ignorant, even more than stupid.
All the people are filled with knowing and luminosity, but
You are empty; You are stupid and dim;
All the people are sharp, indeed very sharp; but
You alone are dull and
Desolate as the open sea,
Lost, anchor less, adrift.
All the people are worthy and useful;
You alone are awkward and unable;
You alone differ from the others;
You alone draw your sustenance from your void.


The energy of power moves into the relative void,

The energy of this path also moves into the void.
Is this concept elusive?
Yes, and it is evasive also!
Is it evasive? - Yes, and it is elusive also!
Yet within this nothing much can be found!
Very elusive?
Yes, and it is evasive! Yet within this nothing is the way!
Perhaps you understand.
It is very obscure. Yet
Within this nothing is the ultimate energizing source, and
This source of energy is very real.
So much does this energy permeate everything
That only the one using it can see it
And even then only while using it.
The ancient sages knew this source of energy, and
The sages' use of the Tao echoes down through the ages.
This energy has been named many times; but
The Tao vanishes even while you watch it.
It's only while you are using it that you can glimpse it.
How may this power be described?
A power that vanishes even while you observe it.
Unfortunately the best way to point to it is with words.

to get yours
Send $15 to Charles Scamahorn, Box 962, Berkeley, CA, USA

(The numbers and the -- marks are traditional breaks.)

The TAO TEH CHING: Revealed by Lao Tzu
and rendered by Charles Scamahorn
Mail, WEB page

Last night [1997/08/22] I picked up my old Tao Teh Ching and read it for the first time in years and was pleasantly surprised at just how vital a book it is. I worked on it so very long ago that it seems as if some other person wrote it. Whenever I happen to pick up one of the other translations, I always feel that there is something wrong with them but not this one. It has a style that really appeals to me. I do think it might be helped some by a short introduction which explained that the book is intended to be read by a Prince or other sovereign person, or at least by a person responsible for the overall well-being of a group of other people. However, can be used by a person who is functioning as an individual, such as a sage. Most people do not function in their daily lives at that level of sophistacation and therefore do not have much reason to apply the principles. However, if they were to do so they would no doubt be uplifted and made into more fully functioning individuals. This of course is circular reasoning, but in a good way. There is a problem with the central concept of this book, of course and that is that it requires an intelligent person with a great deal of time and focused interest to develop the personal control necessary, to apply the principles purposefully. Personally I think I did very well years ago, approximately 1965, when I was only thirty, when I chose to work on this book. My goal at first was to understand itbut the more I read the existing translations the more it became necessary to make written-in clarifications in my own copy. After a while these required copying out into a clean page to maintain readability. This was in the da·s before word processors and I had to do this many times. The present copy is therefore a working copy produced after some ten years of rewriting.

Perhaps I should tell the story now of how I got into such a long task. My relationship with this book began as a search for Wisdom one afternoon in about 1965 at the Mediterraneum Caffe'‚ in Berkeley, California. I was talking to an old friend, Bob Westerburg, about various subjects, probably Gurdjieff, Kant, Jesus and other folks of that ilk when Bob quoted the Biblical injunction, "Get wisdom, my son, and with all thy getting, get understanding." He liked to make pronouncements like that and there was nothing particularly powerful about the way he said it at that time. It was just a part of the ongoing flow of the conversation, but I thought and said at the time, "That is a good idea! I am going to do just that." Well we both chuckled a bit and then I said, "How shall I go about it?" I realized from our conversations that neither he nor I, nor anyone we knew, really knew what wisdom was. A lot of my friends were into Gurdjieff, but not one of them had followed the preface to All and Everything in which G said to read the book three times in a very specified manner. They had, instead, all joined groups and were studying the materials that way. I had in fact followed G's instructions, which took several years, and had come to a very different understanding than they had and I believe a more profound one although one not filled with so many knowing looks and so much jargon. I often wondered if the time was well spent but one thing that study did do for me was convince me that I personally shouldn't follow a guru, at least not in the usual servile, master speak and student obey, manner that you see most people doing. That if I were to follow at all it was to be as an equal and not as a slave. An equal, that is, following only in the sense that I was thinking through the same mental processes as one who had gone before me. I might get some clues from my predecessor but I had to do the thinking and the experiments myself, and observe the results myself and draw my own conclusions. It has always amazed me how much people believe what they see and hear and read even though they claim to be critical thinkers. I too fall into this same trap, most of the time. But I did do a lot of the experiments which G recommended, myself. It is not too difficult and it gives me, the experimenter, a feel for checking things out for myself. A lot of the scientific attitude, which I value quite highly, I can trace back to my personal studies at the time I was reading G and observing myself in action and performing the experiments which he suggested. The results are very interesting but I would be doing you a great disservice to tell what my results were. You are much better off if you do the experiments yourself and draw your own conclusions. It really is the only way to come to real understanding of some types of material. When Bob said "Get WISDOM" I was mentally prepared to attempt to do just that. But how? I acknowledged to myself that I possibly didn't know what wisdom really was; after all one probably has to have it to know what it is. It can be compared to my experience in running; I know what running an 8 minute mile is like, and what a 7 minute mile is like and a 6 and a 5:30 and I can guess at what a 5 is like but I don't think I have but the vaguest idea of what a 4 minute mile feels like. It is totally outside of my experience. Perhaps, I considered, the concept of wisdom had a similar quality and that realms of wisdom were available to some individuals which were not accessible to me at this time. But if I got out and practiced wisdom on a daily basis, much like running on a daily basis, I could grow into some understanding of what it was all about even though I couldn't reach the highest levels. This gave me at least an orientation to try and find a direction to pursue. I decided, early on, not to join a group, even though they claimed to be seeking higher consciousness, because it was easy to see that these people were not going where I wanted to go. I wanted a personal wisdom not a group-think. Once I acknowledged to myself that I didn't know what Wisdom was I set out a search strategy to find it. If it was so valuable a possession to have that the phrase has echoed down through the ages then it must be valuable enough to seek it out. And as many people were offering it in a way that was obviously not delivering the effects which I sought, it must be difficult to obtain. Thus I set out a basic strategy . . . I would spend one month researching what the concept was before even attempting to pursue it. Thus I began a strategy which I have used many times. I read all the dictionaries I could lay my hands on, looking up the various definitions, and then all of the encyclopedias, especially the Britannica. I don't remember much else about this month of search and at that time I didn't leave much of a paper trail. What I do remember was that I liked Samuel Taylor Coleridge's definition the best. "Wisdom is just common sense to an uncommon degree!" I liked that definition because it seemed to offer a direction which would steer around much of the hocus-pocus associated with the pursuit of wisdom. At first glance it seems to be just substituting several words for one, but when I started searching the concept of common sense the results were entirely different, so the words are not strictly interchangeable, at least not for the way my mind processed them. What I am attempting to do with this story is to tell, as best I can, was what I in my late 20s was trying to do.

Common Sense? Where to find common sense? I also used the recycling method rather similar to what is now called the Delphi Technique; that is, I asked everyone I encountered who and what they considered to be filled with common sense. I did keep track of this and kept getting remarkably consistent answers and then asked these same people again. Their answers consisted of some clusters of ideas surrounding religion, philosophy, psychology etc. As I didn't feel I could read the whole of human knowledge, it seemed necessary to truncate the search somehow. What I did was choose to read quotation books and carefully observe the individuals who manifest common sense to an uncommon degree. After about a month of this I realized that H. L. Mencken's book Quotations Based on Historical Principles was the best for my purpose. So, I acquired a copy and started reading it carefully. I read the book several times, and it takes a good month to do a single reading. It became apparent that fewer and fewer people were writing in a manner which would bring me to the information which I sought. At one point I had narrowed the search to a dozen writers whom I intended to research thoroughly. However, even this became too big. One can spend a lifetime reading Kant and Shakespeare. Strangely enough, many of the people I ended up with were ones which I already had some familiarity with. But, what I wanted were those people who had condensed their works to memorizable form. In fact, as it turned out, this is a classic technique of education and it is still practiced in the Orient. Some cultures still memorize long texts of their great masters. That is great, but I believe one should choose oneself what one is going to program into one's mind. This technique was also practiced in the west until the 1600s when it was replaced by the study of the classics as proposed by Balthazar Gracian. He happened to be on my slightly longer list of people worth studying. He wrote, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, which I read several times. He is interesting and worthwhile but he has a technique of directly contradicting himself. That is okay but he never really comes to grips with the self-contradictory problems and his resultant suggestions require pre-existing personal wisdom to apply them with success. There were better folks. I decided to memorize the four which were short enough to be memorized and which possessed common sense in the ultimate degree, if read with understanding. They were, and in this order, (for you really can't understand each one until you have a good grip on the previous one: I realized this early on and so I studied them in this order, spending a year or so on each.) Machiavelli, especially The Prince, Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and Lao Tzu the Tao Teh Ching. I read all of Machiavelli and saw his play Mandrogola over 20 times, always reading it before and after each performance. A very fruitful experience. After the first couple viewings I faced the audience and observed how they reacted to the obvious falsehoods carefully worked into the play. Although Machiavelli is considered devious, the Prince is written in a straightforward manner about how to govern a group of people using methods which cannot always be made visible. For him to confess this is what made him considered to be an evil genius. For the most part he was a patriot just writing a job application and trying to show the Pope how able he was to understand the true principles of governing. It may have been the worst resume in all history and he didn't get the job but instead got exiled to his family's farm. Sun Tzu at the time I studied him was almost unknown in the West, but since the advent of successful Japanese business practice he has become very well known to the business community. Sun Tzu's Art of War, gained him a reputation which made both his first and his last name epithets for evil. Titles which Machiavelli alone of all people has also earned. Sun Tzu deals with how to govern an army, and why it is necessary to do so. His advice has some devious aspects, after all how can you get people go out and kill other people? Most humans are reasonably friendly towards their fellow creatures and it requires some doing to get the ordinary person to kill someone. Sun Tzu deals with these issues in a superlative manner, vastly beyond Clauzwitz, or Mahan who are considered to be our best western equivalents. He does deal with life and death issues on the grandest possible scale, short of Darwin, and so he is vilified, but the Prince who does not read, and heed the principles of these two fellows does so at the deadly peril to every one of the people over whom he has been granted responsibility. The next person of exquisite common sense whom I studied is Jesus. This becomes very difficult for me to talk about to people who have been aware of this man's "teachings" from their childhood. They can no longer see what he has to say, because it has been overlaid with so much historical fact and contrived cant. Let me just quote one thing he said at this time and let it go at that. "I come to give life so that mankind can live and live more abundantly." That is as noble a world orientation as one could ask for, isn't it? What has become of those ideas in the hands of the billions of people who have followed since makes it difficult to see and to understand what he originally said. This is compounded somewhat by the fact that it was necessary for him to speak in parables so that hearing they (his destroyers) will not hear, or understand etc. In my Proba-Grail you can get a glimpse of the direction I was going with his ideas. The last of the four which I sought to gain the deepest possible understanding was Lao Tzu through his Tao Teh Ching. He was the most difficult and the most profound. He develops a world view and a method for controlling the world that requires some background experience to even approach it. Even Confucius, who is reported to have met him, considered him the greatest and that is some praise, considering that Confucius was one of the most influential people of all time. I recommend you spend a year studying the previous three authors before you approach studying this book. Having said that I do hope you enjoy it. ------- The TAO TEH CHING Revealed by Lao Tzu ------- Copyright 1982 The Imperfect Way Box 962 Berkeley, CA 94701 U.S.A. ISBN #____________Library of Congress #______________ This book is dedicated to the SECRET SOURCE in you. ---

The Tao Teh Ching:

Revealed by Lao Tzu
rendered by Charles Scamahorn

. . _ . .

Return to the Index of Virtually Berkeley or go to The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

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