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Lao Tzu

Chinese Philosopher

369-286 B.C.

A selection from the
TAO TE CHING

Narrated by William Dufris

Download mp3 file: Tao Te Ching

This file is 2.5 MB; running time is 11 minutes
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Rivers and seas receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams. This is because they adopt the lower position. So it is that the Sage, in order to rule others, puts himself by his words below them, and in order to lead them, places himself behind them.

In this way though he has his place above them, they do not feel burdened, nor though he has his place before them do they feel insulted.

Therefore everyone likes and praises him, and do not tire of him. Because he does not strive, no one strives against him.

All the world says that my Way is great, yet seems unlike any other teaching. Now, it is because it is great that it seems unlike anything else. If it seemed like other systems, it would not be great.

I have three precious things which I prize and hold fast: the first is gentleness; the second is economy; and the third is humility.

With gentleness I may be bold; with economy I can be liberal; with humility I can lead others.

Now-a-days they give up gentleness for boldness; economy for liberality; humility for status. This is sure to end in disaster.

Gentleness is sure to win in battle, and to stand firm in defence. Heaven will save its possessor, by his very gentleness protecting him.

One skilled in war makes no show; One skilled in battle avoids anger; One skilled in defeating enemies avoids them.

One skilled in leading others shows humility.

Not contending results in the correct treatment of others; this is in accord with the Way.

A master of the art of war has said:

"I do not dare to be the host; I prefer to be the the guest. I dare not advance an inch; I prefer to retire a foot."

This is called: marshalling the ranks when there are no ranks; rolling up the sleeves when there are no arms; grasping the weapon when there is no weapon; advancing against the enemy when there is no enemy.

There is no greater calamity than to lightly engage in war. To do so is to lose that precious gentleness.

Thus it is that when swords are crossed, he who deplores the situation will win.

My words are easy to understand, and very easy to practise; yet there is no one in the world who can understand them and practise them.

There is an originating principle for my words, and an authority for my actions. It is because they do not know these that men do not understand.

Those who understand me are few; those who harm me are honoured. Thus the Sage wears poor clothes, and hides his knowledge.

To know, and yet think we do not know is best; not to know, yet think we do know, is an error. By recognising this error, we are preserved from it.

The Sage does not have this error. He knows the pain that it causes, and therefore avoids it.

When the people have no fear of what they should fear, then the worst will befall them. When the people thoughtlessly indulge themselves, they become weary of life.

It is by avoiding such indulgence that such weariness does not arise.

Therefore:

the Sage knows himself, but does not parade his knowledge; loves himself, but appears not to value himself.

He discards the external, and attends to the inner.

Boldness in daring to defy the law brings death; Boldness in not daring to do so avoids death.

Of these two cases, the one appears advantageous and the other injurious, and yet "When heaven's anger strikes, who can say why?" Therefore even the Sage finds it difficult to decide between them.

It is the way of heaven not to strive, yet it skilfully overcomes; not to speak, yet it skilfully responds; not to call, yet men come to it. Its demonstrations are quiet, and yet its plans are skilful and effective.

The net of Heaven is cast wide; its mesh is large, yet nothing escapes.

When the people do not fear death, it is useless to try to frighten them with death.

If the people were always afraid of death, and I could always seize those who do wrong and put them to death, who would dare to do wrong?

There is always one who presides over the infliction of death. To inflict death in the place of this one is like cutting wood in the presence of a master carpenter. Seldom is it that in so doing he does not cut himself!

The people suffer from famine: it is because of the excessive taxes of their rulers. The people are difficult to govern: it is because of the excessive regulation by their rulers. The people make light of dying: it is because of the greatness of their labours in seeking for the means of living. Thus it is better to forget about living than to place a high value on it.

Man at his birth is supple and submissive; at his death, stiff and unbending. So it is with all things. Trees and plants, in their early growth, are soft and fragile; at their death, dry and withered.

Thus it is that:

firmness and strength are the companions of death, softness and weakness the companions of life.

Hence:

he who relies on the strength of his forces does not conquer;

and:

a tree which is strong and broad invites the axe.

Therefore:

what is firm and strong is inferior to what is soft and weak.

May not the Way of Heaven be compared to the testing of a bow?

What was high is brought low, and what was low is raised up. It diminishes where there is excess, and supplements where there is deficiency.

It is the Way of Heaven to diminish where there is excess, and to supplement where there is deficiency. It is not so with man. He takes from those who have little to add to his own store.

Who can take his own surplus, and therewith serve all under heaven? Only he who is in possession of the Way.

Therefore:

the ruling Sage acts without claiming the results as his; he achieves his merit and does not rest arrogantly in it. He does not wish to display his superiority.

There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing better, for there is nothing so hard that water will not wear it down.

Everyone understands that the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in practice.

Therefore a sage has said:

"He who accepts his state's reproach is hailed as lord of the altar; he who bears men's woe is called a king".

Words that are strictly true seem paradoxical.

When peace is made after great animosity, the one who was in the wrong is sure to retain a grudge. How can this be settled? The wise man keeps his side of the bargain, but does not insist on the speedy fulfilment of it by the other.

He who has the Way regards all the conditions of the agreement. He is has not the Way regards only the conditions favourable to himself.

The Way is impartial; it is always on the side of the good.

The best state would be small, with few people.

Though there be individuals with the abilities of ten or a hundred men, there would be no employment of them.

The people would regard death gravely, and have no thought of travel.

Though they have boats and carriages, they would have no occasion to ride in them; though they have armour and sharp weapons, they would have no occasion to use them.

There may be a neighbouring village within sight, and the voices of its fowls and dogs may be heard, but the people will grow old and die without knowing it.

Make the people return to the use of knotted cords instead of written characters.

They will thinks their coarse food sweet; their plain clothes beautiful; their poor dwellings places of rest; their common simple ways sources of enjoyment.

Sincere words are not fine; Fine words are not sincere.

Those who are skilled in the Way do not dispute about it; the disputatious are not skilled in it.

Those who know the Way are not extensively learned; the extensively learned do not know it.

The Sage does not accumulate for himself. The more he expends for others, the more does he posses of his own; the more he gives to others the more does he have himself.

With all the sharpness of the Way of Heaven, it does no injury; with all the doing in the way of the Sage, he does not strive.

More information about Lao Tzu from Wikipedia

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