Tao Te Ching – Chapter 1

Below are a handful of versions of Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching. Most of these are versions that I have on hand and reference. The Jonathan Star version is one that I know someone else in our little book club prefers, so I added it here for reference.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Stephen Mitchell (1988)

The Way that can be told of is not an Unvarying Way;
The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.
Truly, “Only he that rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essences”;
He that has never rid himself of desire can see only the Outcomes.
These two things issued from the same mould, but nevertheless are different in name.
This “same mould” we can but call the Mystery,
Or rather the “Darker than any Mystery,”
The Doorway whence issued all Secret Essences.

Arthur Waley (1934)
A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path;
names can be given, but not permanent labels.
Nonbeing is called the beginning of heaven and earth;
being is called the mother of all things.
Always passionless, thereby observe the subtle;
ever intent, thereby observe the apparent.
These two come from the same source but differ in name;
both are considered mysteries.
The mystery of mysteries
is the gateway of marvels.

Thomas Cleary (1991)
The Tao that can be expressed
     Is not the Tao of the Absolute.
The name that can be named
     Is not the name of the Absolute.

The nameless originated Heaven and Earth.
The named is the Mother of All Things.

Thus, without expectation,
     One will always perceive the subtlety;
And, with expectation,
     One will always perceive the boundary.

The source of these two is identical,
Yet their names are different.
Together they are called profound,
Profound and mysterious,
The gateway to the Collective Subtlety.

R.L. Wing (1986)
A way that can be walked
     is not The Way
A name that can be named
     is not The Name

Tao is both Named and Nameless
As Nameless, it is the origin of all things
As Named, it is the mother of all things.

A mind free of thought,
     merged within itself,
     beholds the essence of Tao
A mind filled with thought,
     identified with its own perceptions,
     beholds the mere forms of this world

Tao and this world seem different
     but in truth they are one and the same
The only difference is in what we call them

How deep and mysterious is this unity
     How profound, how great!
It is the truth beyond the truth,
     the hidden within the hidden
It is the path to all wonder,
     the gate to the essence of everything!

Jonathan Star (2001)