This is a blog of translations of the first verse of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching by the writers listed below:

Bart Marshall

Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English

Steven Mitchell

Stephen F. Kaufman

Ursula K. Le Guin

Witter Bynner

Frank J. MacHovec

Raymond B. Blakney

Raghavan Iyer

Jonathan Star

John C. H. Wu

Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo

Dwight Goddard

Ellen M. Chen

Brian Browne Walker

R. L. Wing

John H. McDonald

Ralph Alan Dale

Victor H. Mair

Bart Marshall

That which can be perceived is not the timeless That.
That which can be named is not the nameless One.

The source of heaven and earth is without form or substance.
Naming creates the ten thousand things.

When desire is absent, Mystery is obvious.
When desire occurs, Creation unfolds.

Mystery and Creation arise from the same source.
The source is emptiness.
Void within Void.
The realm of Tao.

Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
            This appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

Steven Mitchell

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

The unamable 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 F. Kaufman

The true way is unknown and so is the untrue way
There are no names to understand it
Creation does not care that it is the source of creation
It emanates as some “thing”
And is not without nourishment
Mysteries are revealed
Become Its way
Attain Its perfection
Do not use words to describe its no-thing-ness

The three are the same but distinct
One is the Body
One is the Heart
One is the Mind
To understand it as one is the most you can do
It is the path to higher and lesser knowledge

Ursula K. Le Guin


The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

Heaven and earth
began in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery,
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.

Witter Bynner

Existence is beyond the power of words
To define:
Terms may be used
But are none of them absolute.
In the beginning of heaven and earth there were no words,
Words came out of the womb of matter;
And whether a man dispassionately
Sees to the core of life
Or passionately
Sees the surface,
The core and the surface
Are essentially the same,
Words making them seem different
Only to express appearance.
If name be needed, wonder names them both:
From wonder into wonder
Existence opens.