The Tao Theme of
Sheng Jen — the Sage

Sheng Jen — the Sage.

The Themes of the Tao Te Ching

Sheng Jen, the Sage, is the ideal human being, living virtuously in accordance with Tao, the Way. The great classic of Taoism, Tao Te Ching, describes the personality and behavior of the Sage in several of its chapters, hoping for every reader to follow the noble example of such wisdom.

       Below are those chapters, out of the 81 in Tao Te Ching, which deal mainly with the theme of Sheng Jen, the Sage, and how such a person behaves.

5 The Limit of Compassion

Heaven and Earth are not kind.

They regard all things as offerings.

The sage is not kind.

He regards people as offerings.

Is not the space between Heaven and Earth like a bellows?

It is empty, but lacks nothing.

The more it moves, the more comes out of it.

A multitude of words is tiresome,

Unlike remaining centered.

7 Unselfishness

Heaven is eternal and Earth is lasting.

How can they be eternal and lasting?

Because they do not live for themselves.

That is how they can be eternal.


The sage puts himself last and becomes the first,

Neglects himself and is preserved.

Is it not because he is unselfish that he fulfills himself?

12 Moderation

The five colors blind the eye.

The five tones deafen the ear.

The five flavors dull the mouth.

Racing through the field and hunting make the mind wild.

Searching for precious goods leads astray.

Therefore, the sage attends to the belly,

And not to what he sees.

He rejects the latter and chooses the former.

15 Ancient Excellence

Ancient masters of excellence had a subtle essence,

And a depth too profound to comprehend.

Because they were impossible to comprehend,

I will try to describe them by their appearance.

Cautious, like crossing a river in the winter.

Wary, as if surrounded by strangers.

Dignified, like a guest.

Yielding, like ice about to melt.

Simple, like uncarved wood.

Open, like a valley.

Obscure, like muddy waters.

Who can wait in stillness while the mud settles?

Who can rest until the moment of action?

He who holds on to the Way seeks no excess.

Since he lacks excess,

He can grow old in no need to be renewed.

20 I Am Alone

What's the difference between yes and no?

What's the difference between beautiful and ugly?

Must one dread what others dread?

Oh barbarity! Will it never end?

Other people are joyous, like on the feast of the ox,

Like on the way up to the terrace in the spring.

I alone am inert, giving no sign,

Like a newborn baby who has not learned to smile.

I am wearied, as if I lacked a home to go to.

Other people have more than they need,

I alone seem wanting.

I have the mind of a fool,

Understanding nothing.

The common people see clearly,

I alone am held in the dark.

The common people are sharp,

Only I am clumsy,

Like drifting on the waves of the sea,

Without direction.

Other people are occupied,

I alone am unwilling, like the outcast.

I alone am different from the others,

Because I am nourished by the great mother.

22 Humility Brings Honor

Hulk to be whole.

Bend to be straight.

Empty to be filled.

Wear down to be renewed.

Reduce to gain.

Excess confuses.

Therefore, the sage embraces the one,

And is an example to the world.

He does not show off, therefore he shines.

He does not justify himself, therefore he is revered.

He does not boast, therefore he is honored.

He does not praise himself, therefore he remains.

Because he opposes no one,

No one in the world can oppose him.

The ancients said:

Hulk to be whole.

Are these just empty words?

Indeed, he shall remain whole.

27 Teacher and Student

A good wanderer leaves no trace.

A good speaker does not stutter.

A good counter needs no calculator.

A good door needs no lock,

Still it can't be opened.

A good mooring needs no knot,

Still no one can untie it.

Therefore the sage takes care of all people,

Forsaking no one.

He takes care of all things,

Forsaking nothing.

This is called following the light.

So, a good person is the bad person's teacher.

A bad person is the good person's task.

The one who does not honor the teacher

And the one who does not honor the task,

Although ever so knowledgeable,

They are confused.

This is called the subtle essence.

49 The Concern of the Sage

The sage has no concern for himself,

But makes the concerns of others his own.

He is good to those who are good.

He is also good to those who are not good.

That is the virtue of good.

He is faithful to people who are faithful.

He is also faithful to people who are not faithful.

That is the virtue of faithfulness.

The sage is one with the world,

And lives in harmony with it.

People turn their eyes and ears to him,

And the sage cares for them like his own children.

66 Go Low to Stand High

The river and the sea can be kings of a hundred valleys,

Because they lie below them.

That is why they can be the kings of a hundred valleys.


If the sage wants to stand above people,

He must speak to them from below.

If he wants to lead people,

He must follow them from behind.


When the sage stands above people,

They are not oppressed.

When he leads people,

They are not obstructed.

The world will exalt him

And not grow tired of him.

Because he does not resist,

None in the world resists him.

70 Easy to Understand

My words are very easy to understand

And very easy to practice.

Still, no one in the world

Can understand or practice them.

My words have an origin.

My deeds have a sovereign.

Truly, because people do not understand this,

They do not understand me.

That so few understand me is why I am treasured.

Therefore, the sage wears coarse clothes, concealing jade.

71 Knowing Illness

Knowing that you do not know is the best.

Not knowing that you do not know is an illness.

Truly, only those who see illness as illness

Can avoid illness.

The sage is not ill,

Because he sees illness as illness.

Therefore he is not ill.

81 The Ideal

True words are not pleasing.

Pleasing words are not true.

Those who are right do not argue.

Those who argue are not right.

Those who know are not learned.

Those who are learned do not know.

The sage does not hoard.

The more he does for others,

The more he has.

The more he thereby gives to others,

The ever more he gets.

Heaven's Way

Is to benefit and not to harm.

The sage's Way

Is to act and not to contend.

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