Lao Tzu, Chapter 5

Tao Te Ching —
The Classic about Ways And Instances

Lao Tzu

(Translated, with comments, by William P. Coleman)

Chapter 5

Heaven and earth have no favorites;
they treat all things like straw dogs.
The sage has no favorites;
he treats everyone like straw dogs.

The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows
—indeed, like the pipe of a bellows.
It is empty, but never exhausted;
it works, and still can produce more.

Too many words soon reach an end:
they cannot hold to the center.

< — Chapter 4

Table of Contents

Chapter 6 — >


my comments:

Perhaps this chapter should be read starting at the last part.

If I live my life goal-oriented — if my purpose is to finish, to complete, to get it all — then I’ll stop early, having run out of words to say, out of things to do, having run out of imagination.

But if my purpose is to keep running, then I can continue in the center of the path indefinitely. At each moment, I step forward — coming out of my past, asking for what I want then — and the world meets and accepts — out of the reality of what it has, out of its richness. These steps can go on forever.

The world itself works that way: it’s empty but never exhausted.

The world doesn’t play favorites; it continues realities. I may love — things and especially people — but I love someone out of what I have, not out of my prior prejudice. I love out of who I am, not what I imagine to be the case. Love like that can be kept up forever.


For comparison, I’m including the translation by Lin Yutang, which I always love and respect, even when I disagree:

5. Nature

Nature is unkind:
It treats the creation like sacrificial straw-dogs.
The Sage is unkind:
He treats the people like sacrificial straw-dogs.

How the universe is like a bellows!
Empty, yet it gives a supply that never fails;
The more it is worked, the more it brings forth.

By many words is wit exhausted.
Rather, therefore, hold to the core.

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3 Responses to Lao Tzu, Chapter 5

  1. $blog$lover$ says:

    Loved ur blog,really excellent.i recently read another blog on the teachings of Lao Tzu at dailylight.wordpress.com.
    you may check it out.

  2. amateurish says:

    I read this in college and have to admit that I struggled with it. My Asian genes did not kick in and help elucidate all the passages for me. I enjoy your perspectives and interpretations on it.

  3. Baekho says:

    Amateurish, Asian genes are of little help with this or else I would have “gotten it” right along with you. ;) As it is I find something new every time I open Laozi’s little book.

    Mr. Coleman, I’m no scholar of Chinese, but I prefer your translation—it sounds to me like you left it closer to the original text (“Heaven-and-Earth” vs. “Nature”; “the space between” instead of “the universe”, etc.), which is usually a wise decision in my mind. I think your commentary here is quite insightful.

    I do have one question, though—-I notice you translate de, often translated as “Power” or “Virtue” or sometimes even left untranslated, as “Instance”. I’d be curious to see your take on De as instance, since I have never considered it in that light before.

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