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Lao Tzu was the most important spiritual Chinese sage. His name, which is also often called Laozi, literally means “Old Master” and is generally considered an honorific.

He lived in the 6th century BC, at the same time as Confucius, who was born a generation after Lao Tzu. He once sought out Lao Tzu who told him “Strip yourself of your proud airs and numerous desires, your complacent demeanor and excessive ambitions. They won’t do you any good. This is all I have to say you.”

Lao Tzu is the father of the Chinese spiritual tradition Taoism, mainly because of his text called Tao te Ching (Tao: the way of all life, te: the fit use of life by men, ching: text or classic).

It is based on the Tao (The Way), which is the creator and sustainer of all things in the Universe, and the practice of doing by nondoing (wu-wei) that enables the disciple to unite with the Tao.

Lao Tzu wrote his only book Tao Te Ching just before he walked away from the Chou empire he served. There are a lot of translations of Tao te Ching, which begins with the very first words of …

1. “The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” [Tweet this!]

This first sentence of his teachings seems paradoxical. In my humble opinion it says that everything that is in the world of form (or the world of the ten thousand things, as the Chinese said) is not the formless animating source, which is not nameable. It is like the analogy of the finger pointing to the moon, which is a pointer, but not the moon itself. Whenever the Tao is named, it is labeled and made into a concept which is not the eternal Toa itself.
If you are interested, Wayne Dyer did a complete interpretation of the Tao te Ching called Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.

2. “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” [Tweet this!]

Really a quote to think about. How can that be in the first place: there is no rush and no hurry, but everything works out. Grass does not try to grow, it just grows. Water does not try to flow, it just flows. The only explanation is that everything is done in a naturally perfect way, without resistance and within the flow of life

3. “Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” [Tweet this!]

The Inside-Out approach tells us to start with the man in the mirror. Self-mastery is the basis for success, for yourself as well as with others.

4. “To see things in the seed, that is genius.” [Tweet this!]

To me this means nothing else as being able to form a personal vision for something. Genius for that matter, is to see the potential in something or someone, although not realized yet (“in the seed”). It is the essence of forming a vision of what might be and then going on making it real.

5. “When the best leader’s work is done the people say: We did it ourselves.” [Tweet this!]

A leader is not a good leader if he is so ego-driven that he is always standing in front of his team, and is letting the team feel it. The most empowering way is to inspire people so that they become able to realize their own potential.

6. “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” [Tweet this!]

Non-attachment – even or especially to ones own self-image – is the necessity for personal change. If we are open to change and to new possibilities and perspectives, without buying into them blindly, we can grow.

7. “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” [Tweet this!]

This is a realization that can be understood intuitively if we practice meditation and/or are able to quiet the mind of the constant chatter of thoughts.

8. “Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” [Tweet this!]

This emphasizes that getting started is often the hardest part of the journey. Even the greatest thing is started and then continued by single little steps, one after another. It also has the very practical meaning of breaking huge projects down into small and doable tasks, that then can be executed more easily.

9. “Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.” [Tweet this!]

In my opinion this is Lao Tzu’s expression of “intentions manifesting” or “thoughts become things”, which is also discussed widely as the secret or the law of attraction. But it is really a much more elegant way to put it :)

10. “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” [Tweet this!]

All you need to really find yourself is to look inside. It reminds me of what Eckhart Tolle said at the beginning of The Power of Now: Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth.”

Those were the selected 10 most inspiring quotes by Lao Tzu, as well as my annotations to them. Maybe you have other interpretations or other favorite quotes of him. Let me know in the comments! :)

59 comments

  1. Irene | Light Beckons Reply October 30, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Hi Myrko,

    I resonate a lot with quote #1. I believe that there are many truths out there that can only be felt, and it’s almost impossible to articulate or describe them in words. It’s a little like how modern translation can sometimes alter or “discount” the original meaning of an ancient transcript. Some things we just have to learn to access in their true forms.

    Irene | Light Beckons´s last blog post: Synchronicities

  2. Evelyn Lim Reply October 30, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I like #7 very much. Surrendering our will to the Universe amazingly gives us much insight and therefore, power in the purest sense.

    Evelyn Lim´s last blog post: Can You Read My Mind?

  3. Evita Reply October 30, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    Hi Myrko,

    I love all of these quotes and it was in fact thanks to Dr. Wayne Dyer that I got exposed and familiar with Lao Tzu in the book you mention “Change your thoughts, Change your life”. It is in my opinion priceless wisdom!!!!

  4. Myrko Reply November 1, 2008 at 2:16 am

    Hi Irene, exactly. With thoughts of the mind we try to understand everything and conceptualize by doing so. But by just experience and not labeling with words (working on concepts) we can get an inuitive and instant union with truth.
    And Evelyn, it seems more and more like dropping resistance and instead aligning ourself and our creations with the flow of life.

  5. Evita Reply November 1, 2008 at 3:26 am

    Hi Myrko

    No I must have missed him on Oprah, but thanks for letting me know, I will check it out. I absolutely love him as a speaker and writer and love the spirituality aspect about him and his wisdom.

    Evita´s last blog post: Heroes of Healing: James Arthur Ray

  6. Myrko Reply November 1, 2008 at 2:21 am

    Evita, Wayne talked about his book and the Tao te Ching on Oprah, have you seen it: Here is the link. ?! I found it interesting, especially his personal transformation from self-help to spirituality.

  7. Ariel Reply November 12, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Great list, Myrko!

    The first two really resonate with me at this time. Thank you for putting together such awesome quotes like this. =)

    Ariel´s last blog post: How Would You Live If You Were Totally Fearless?

  8. Self-esteem Advice Reply March 8, 2010 at 4:32 am

    Yes, genius means visionary who really sees things in the seed or tiny little things nobody else notices. But, that’s not enough. You have to take action in order to change and see that particular seed to grow and fully develop.

  9. Clairvoyance Reply April 4, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    I truly think that we all have the answers inside, it’s just very hard to ask the proper questions. Your intuition can guide you, but you need a specific question to get the best possible solution.

  10. Gyógymasszőr Reply July 29, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Every individual has his own definition of happiness. To some people, it might mean contentment; to others, happiness is a Jaguar. Although there’s no concrete universal way to achieve true happiness, three are three basic keys to finding that sought-after state of mind: knowing what give you real satisfaction, studying yourself, and taking control of your life.

  11. used tires Reply August 10, 2010 at 10:02 am

    I really loved the 2nd and 7th quote, those are without a doubt, my favorite quotes out of all of the inspiration quotes you’ve given!

    Till then,

    Jean

  12. Épületgépészet Reply October 27, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    I always admire our big thinkers for the beauty and simplicity that their words represent.
    They are natural and innocent just like children´s smile. We can and have to learn from them. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Ügyvédi iroda Reply November 30, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Inspiring. I also think that deep inside of our being there are answers to basically everything. We just have to ask the proper questions to dig out the answers.

  14. Komodo Dragon Reply January 6, 2011 at 11:42 am

    I really like the second one. If you think about it, we’re all in such rush but most of nature flows at its own pace. You never see the seasons hurrying up or the moon deciding to spin around the earth faster, and so on and so forth.

  15. Melissa Reply November 22, 2011 at 3:26 am

    A wise man.
    I like the thousand miles quote and this one that wasn’t in the list:
    Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

  16. Cristian Reply May 11, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I realy liked number 2
    shows that we can acomplish without rush.
    Helped me a lot with my decession taking :)

  17. Romp Zao Reply September 20, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    About #2. Well, actually some parts of nature do hurry… A gazelle that doesn’t rush out of a lion’s way, dies. Doesn’t it? Natural selection perpetuates gazelles that successfully fled lions.

  18. Myrko Reply September 20, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    That’s an intelligent point, Romp Zao.

  19. Ruth Strassberg Reply October 8, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Another wonderful take on #9 is Ramana Maharshi’s “When the flower is ready, the bees will come from miles around.”

  20. Myrko Reply October 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    @Ruth Strassberg: That’s a nice addition, thanks.

  21. lk navale Reply November 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    If you can command a single soul; you can command a whole mankind.

  22. Hari Shankar Reply November 18, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    “Simplicity, patience, compassion.
    These three are your greatest treasures.
    Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
    Patient with both friends and enemies,
    you accord with the way things are.
    Compassionate toward yourself,
    you reconcile all beings in the world.”
    ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

  23. Nick McConnell Reply December 25, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Myrko, there’s another interpretation of your first quotation that’s important but rather difficult to explain well in just a short comment. Here, I’ll just introduce the interpretation and then refer you to where I describe it in more detail. First, consider more of the quotation:

    “The Way [or the Dao or the Tao] that can be told of is not an unvarying way;
    “The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
    “It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang…”

    The Wikipedia article on Daoism adds:

    These famous first lines of the Tao Te Ching state that the Tao is ineffable, i.e., the Tao is nameless, goes beyond distinctions, and transcends language… In Laozi’s Qingjing Jing (verse 1–8) he clarified the term Tao was nominated as he was trying to describe a state of existence before it happened and before time or space… This is the Chinese creation myth from the primordial Tao. In the first… words in Chapter One, the author articulated an abstract cosmogony… In summary, the “something” that was assumed to be at the base of all such complements (or the complementarity principle, itself) was called “the Tao”, with recognition that, “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the true Tao.”

    Elsewhere I try to show how this “cosmogony” is consistent with current scientific ideas about how the universe created itself, possibly via a symmetry-breaking quantum-like fluctuation in a total void = the Dao! It’s consistent, for example, with Einstein’s remark that “the universe [is] matter expanding into nothing [the Dao!] that is something.” By the way, I also describe some of this in the first chapter of my book (“Chapter A”) as well as in the linked Chapter Z, the full title of which is “The Zen of Zero and the Dynamics of the Dao”.

  24. Myrko Thum Reply December 25, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Nick this is the same as I described it in other, just simpler words. Thanks for the comment!

  25. Nick McConnell Reply December 25, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    No, Myrko, it’s not “the same”. But I’ll leave you with some of his other thoughts:

    To know and yet (think) we do not know is the highest (attainment); not to know (and yet think) we do know is a disease.

    He who knows (the Tao) does not (care to) speak (about it); he who is (ever ready to) speak about it does not know it.

  26. Teo Joni Reply April 10, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Please allow me to share my thought…
    #8 to me is “do not procrastinate”, because lots of simple things will eventually become difficult if left undone.

  27. Myrko Thum Reply April 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Yes, very good addition to #8, thanks @Teo Joni.

  28. seamus mcguire Reply May 17, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.” Lao Tzu

  29. Myrko Thum Reply May 18, 2013 at 3:10 am

    I’m not sure if that is really from Lao Tzu, it has a pretty extreme tone to it. What about compassion here?

  30. seamus mcguire Reply May 18, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Fill your bowl to the brim
    and it will spill.
    Keep sharpening your knife
    and it will blunt.
    Chase after money and security
    and your heart will never unclench.
    Care about people’s approval
    and you will be their prisoner.

    Do your work, then step back.
    The only path to serenity.

    As you know ther are many translations of the Tao Te Ching and it has been many years since my studies but it might have been Goddard’s translation(too lazy to track down source,lol).

  31. Marcus Lowe Reply May 29, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Quote #6. It is just slightly off. This may be deliberate so that people schooled in the west will understand. Where did you get this translation? Thank You for any consideration that you give to this.

  32. Myrko Thum Reply May 29, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    @Marcus Lowe, I’m not 100% sure where I read it first, but if you google the quote you find other sources.

  33. Joe Francis Reply June 12, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Nice thoughts, but I dont think that anyone alive today can know the real meaning of something that was written by a person living in the 6th century.

  34. Vishal Reply June 19, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Lovely quotes, i’l definitely read tao te ching

  35. Rahul K Reply June 20, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    I think Lao quoted all these in context of ‘Spiritual’ nature of the soul. Many quotes I’m able to connect with Sadhguru’s teachings, solely on the spiritual connect.

    As per my understanding, my interpretation:

    Quote 1: Eternal truth (enlightenment) is experiential in nature.
    Quote 6: Letting go of the self ego ‘I’
    Quote 9: Whole universe is a complex amalgamation of sounds. Also known as ‘Nada Brahma’
    Quote 10: Eternal truth is not to be found externally, but internally, within us.

  36. John Riingen Reply June 29, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    What is the full quote of Lao Tzu’s saying, “If you give a man a fish, he’ll only eat once…”?
    Thanks.
    John R

  37. Valentin Ramos Reply June 29, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present. Lao Tzu I did not see this in the 10 quotes posted ?? why this was the work of Lao Tzu.

  38. Myrko Thum Reply June 30, 2013 at 5:13 am

    @John Riingen: This is “If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”

  39. kalaiarasan karuppaiya Reply July 24, 2013 at 2:38 am

    I’m still remain in this world because Lao Tzu , i always following his way ,i like him, i’m from sivagangai,Tamilnadu , India.

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  41. Quotes Reply October 29, 2013 at 4:50 am

    I love this quote: “The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”

  42. JJ Wong Reply December 29, 2013 at 10:41 am

    My favorite quotes of Lao Tzu:

    Watch your thoughts; they become words.
    Watch your words; they become actions.
    Watch your actions; they become habits.
    Watch your habits; they become character.
    Watch your character; it becomes your destiny. :)

  43. Leon Reply February 1, 2014 at 3:30 am

    Are all these Lao Tzu quotes from Tao Te Ching?

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  45. Subramani Kumaravel Reply March 5, 2014 at 1:27 am

    I love all the quotes. It is very simple and straight to those who are in the spiritual line. The quote number 10 specifically tells about those who(m) really wants to understand about them and their needs. It is understood when you do meditate and travel inside yourself, you will get the answers for “who you are and what really you want” that is called enlightenment.
    Really nice quotes from Lao Tzu.

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  47. thankaraj Reply April 11, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Nobody could understand their own mistakes. If anybody Point it out, there remains a scar of wound.

  48. ramesh Reply May 1, 2014 at 7:07 am

    small and sweet. morals to follow in our own life without showing our fingers on others.

  49. JOW Yuzo 周汝佐 Reply May 1, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    9. “Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.” [Tweet this!]
    In my opinion this is Lao Tzu’s expression of “intentions manifesting” or “thoughts become things”, which is also discusses widely as the secret or the law of attraction. But it is really a much more elegant way to put it :)

    I merely want to point out a typo: discusses s/b discussed.
    By the way, I like your format of 10. What a genius idea for break through! I bet you got that idea seeing your 10 fingers. #4 on your list.

  50. Nobody Reply May 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Actually, it is better to get rid of personal opinions and interpretations, these obscure the truth and are invariably attached to the mind. After all, it is the inherited or acquired patterns of the mind that got you into this body state and its struggle with limitations in the first place. Know your being to be pure consciousness – not its content, which is relative. Know yourself to be beyond being and not being; how peaceful you look when you are in sleep; you are conscious and alive. When we awake, we are only self conscious. Free yourself of the mind and its mental distortions that shackle you and you will find peace.

    In order to know truth, you must free yourself from the false. As a matter of fact, you cannot be free unless you are free of the world.

    Until the mind revert back to its natural state, there is only bondage.

  51. JOW Yuzo 周汝佐 Reply May 16, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    4. “To see things in the seed, that is genius.” I’ve been reading both Chinese and translations to find any passage close to your #4 and found wanting. From what Chapter does #4 come from? Do you or anybody have answer?

  52. dave brown Reply May 19, 2014 at 2:07 am

    Hi myrko

    “To see things in the seed …that is genius”….. This is spiritual comment …. as the Tao Teh Ching is in its entirety. …..”seed” refers to origin /source….. And the origin/source of all is the Eternal Tao… the formless…. that which is nameless….. And to “spiritually” see this is “spiritual” genius.

    Of core understanding here is that we are on a spiritual plane ….. and nothing less. Anything less is missing the mark…

  53. dave brown Reply May 19, 2014 at 2:46 am

    Hi JOW Yuzo

    Try verse 53…. First two lines

    …..as you know the translations can vary immensely …and some even have no obvious spiritual message. The translator needs be grounded spiritually to include spiritual meanings and depths in the translation…. Otherwise it is a lifeless rendition and translation…. Of which there are many ….And hence the profound need and importance of having a truly “spiritual” translation…… Personally I would highly recommend Dr. John CH Wu’s rendition…. This English translation has profound spiritual depths throughout… The translators or editors narration that often accompanies different translations usually gives stark insight regarding the spiritual content of the translation….. It is not uncommon to find instances where all is dealt with on simply a verbal ….academic… worldly and non-spiritual level… Which is most unfortunate for the novice and unsuspecting uninitiated reader

  54. dave brown Reply May 19, 2014 at 3:01 am

    Hi Nobody.

    Thank you.

    Well put…..

    As humans …we must verbalize….despite its great limitations….. which you so well describe

  55. Marko Pejovic Reply May 30, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    This one should be also on the list…

    “Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”

    http://quoteonary.com/quote/1651

  56. Ron Reply June 8, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Great blog. You are doing a very good service to people who love to excel. I enjoyed reading through the Tao quotes and replies. I try to live by the Great Tao.

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  58. lifedn Reply September 12, 2014 at 5:08 am

    Quote #5 is a great motivational quote for team leaders and managers in offices and organisations.

    Thanks.

  59. Ziad K Abdelnour Reply September 12, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Nice collection,
    One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder

    Thank you

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