Lao Tzu's Dao De Jing Chapters 1-12

Translation and Commentary by Tom Tam


The complete book of the Dao De Jing consists of eighty-one chapters. This book is Master Tam's translation and analysis of the first twelve chapters. His translations add more insight into the Dao De Jing and his explanations allow one to understand the Dao in a simple way.

(60 pages)



From Chapter 2

The whole world favors beauty as beautiful,

Because ugliness is regarded with disfavor,

All understand good as good,

Because bad is detested.

Therefore, Yiu and Wu are related,


Difficult and easy are only comparisons,

Long and short measure only lengths,

High and low are only positions,

Tone and sound are only harmonies,

Front and back are only orders of sequence.



The sage does everyting in Wu's way,

Civilizes the people by silence,


Lets the Ten Thousand things grow naturally.

Develops everything

but does not possess them,

Everything is done well

without presumption,

Great works are achieved

without expectation of honor.

Because there is no recognition,

that makes honor last forever.

From the Chapter 2 Commentary

"Wu-Wei" is the most important idea from Lao Tzu. If we do not understand this idea, then we are completely missing the point. Lao Tzu's "Wu-Wei" can be explained as "doing without interfering," "doing naturally" - "not on purpose," "using the natural way" ...etc. In my translation of "Wu" from Chinese I reject the use of words like "nothingness", "void", "emptiness" etc. I believe these tend to confuse the reader and also take away fro the original meaning. In fact, in this Chapter, the sage is actively doing many things. He civilizes the people, he develops the ten thousand things, he grows everything. How can we say "The sage is doing nothing."? But the way he does everything follows the way of Tao.

From Chapter 5

Heaven and earth are not benevolent,

They treat the ten thousand things equally,

in the same way that the straw dogs are treated.

Neither is the sage benevolent,

treating every one equally

as if treating straw dogs.....

From the Chapter 5 Commentary

"Heaven and earth are not benevolent." This sentence confuses many people. Lao Tzu believed that if heaven and earth were benevolent then some places on the globe would receive more sunshine or rain, or there would be no earthquakes or floods. Heaven and earth only follow the natural way of movement. That is why they are not benevolent.

The straw dog was made of straw, and was used as an offering when people would pray to Heaven. After the prayers were finished they would burn it. Some also were used like scarecrows to frighten birds from the crops. Lao Tzu uses straw dogs as an example for how the sage should feel toward all people. If you owned one thousand straw dogs or scarecrows would you like or hate one more than another? Many people wonder what the straw dogs mean. In fact, the straw dogs have no real meaning in this chapter. Lao Tzu just uses them as an example of how people should be treated equally, not according to title.