道可道,非常道。名可名,非常名。

1. The Dao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Dao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

無名天地之始;有名萬物之母。

2. (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.

故常無欲,
以觀其妙;
常有欲,
以觀其徼。

3. Always without desire we must be found,
    If its deep mystery we would sound;
    But if desire always within us be,
    Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.

此兩者,同出;而異名,同謂之玄。玄之又玄,衆妙之門。

4. Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

Legge's Comments

體道, 'Embodying the Dao.' The author sets forth, as well as the difficulty of his subject would allow him, the nature of the Dao in itself, and its manifestation. To understand the Dao one must be partaker of its nature.

Par. 3 suggests the words of apostle John, 'He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.' Both the Dao, Laozi's ideal in the absolute, and its De, or operation, are comprehended in this chapter, the latter being the Dao with the name, the Mother of all things. See pages 12, 13 in the Introduction on the translation of the term Dao.

From Qigong Meditation: Small Circulation1

1. Dao, if it can be spoken (described), then it is not the true everlasting Dao. Name, if it can be named, then it is not the true everlasting name.

2. Nothing, is the beginning of the pre-heaven (Wuji) state, the mother of millions of objects.

3. Always nothing, wish to see its marvelousness, always existing, wish to see it expand.2

3. Always maintain the state of no desire, so [you] can see its marvelousness.2

4. Dao is the most mysterious of the mysterious, the door (origin) of all marvelousness.


  1. See Introduction, Addenda

  2. The first translation is from page 50, the second from page 319.