(originally published November 2008)

Not Dao? Not in harmony with the Dao? Is it possible? Here’s some of the things we find in some ancient texts:



“The Dao cannot be left for an instant; If it could be left, it would not be Dao.”

Guanzi: Xinshu shang


“If the person on high departs from the Way, those below will be lax in their work.”

Daodejing (Robert Henricks translations):


As for the Dao, the Dao that can be spoken of is not the constant Dao 非常道.


The highest good is like water;
Water is good at benefiting the ten thousand things and yet it [does not] compete [with them].
It dwells in places the masses of people detest,
Therefore it is close to the Dao…

– therefore, the opposite behaviour and attributes are “far from the Dao”?


To hold it upright and fill it,
Is not so good as stopping [in time].
When you pound it out and give it a point,
It won’t be preserved very long.
When gold and jade fill your rooms,
You’ll never be able to protect them.
Arrogance and pride with wealth and rank,
On their own bring on disaster.
When the deed is accomplished you retire;
Such is Heaven’s Dao!

– Thus the morals being: sustain some level of emptiness within, do not over-self-cultivate or carve your Uncarved Wood (pu), do not burden yourself with luxuries, a humble attitude lessens one’s suffering, do what is needed – no more. Doing the opposite is not Nature’s Dao – it is the Human Dao – and is not in accord with the Dao?


– The Dao is invisible, inaudible, intangible, boundless, formless. Therefore the opposites are not Dao? Not to be identified with the Dao?

(Also Zhuangzi 22: The Dao cannot be heard; heard, it is not the Dao 非(道). The Dao cannot be seen; seen, it is not the Dao. The Dao cannot be described; described, it is not the Dao. That which gives form to the formed is itself formless – can you understand that? There is no name that fits the Dao.)


When the Great Dao is rejected, it is then that we have the virtues of humanity and righteousness.

– Thus ” the virtues of humanity and righteousness” are not in accord with Dao?
(Also Zhuangzi 9: If the Dao and its Virtue had not been cast aside 道德不廢, how would there be any call for benevolence and righteousness?… That the Dao and its Virtue were destroyed 毀道德 in order to create benevolence and righteousness – this was the fault of the [Confucian?] sage. – Watson)


One who boasts is not established;
One who shows himself off does not become prominent;
One who puts himself on display does not brightly shine;
One who brags about himself gests no credit;
One who praises himself does not long endure.
In the Dao, such things are called:
“Surplus food and redundant action.”
And with things-there are those who hate them.
Therefore, the one with the Dao in them does not dwell.

– Therefore, “surplus food and redundant action” are not in accord with Dao?


When things reach their primes, they get old;
We called this “not the Dao.”
What is not the Dao 不道 will come to an early end.
(since Bu is used only with verbs, this should probably be translated “what is not guided by or follows the Dao will come to an early end.”)


As for weapons – they are instruments of ill omen.
And among things there are those that hate them.
Therefore, the one who has the Dao, with them does not dwell.

– Therefore one who “dwells with weapons” is not in accord with the Dao?


The Dao floats and drifts;
It can go left or right.
It accomplishes its tasks and completes its affairs, and yet for this it is not given a name [fame].
The ten thousand things entrust their lives to it, and yet it does not act as their master.
Thus it is constantly without desires.
It can be named with the things that are small.
The ten thousand things entrust their lives to it, and yet it does not act as their master.
It can be named with the things that are great.

– Thus what acquires fame, acts as a master over others, has desires, is not Dao? Is not in accord with Dao?


… Therefore, when the Dao is lost, only then do we have virtue;
When virtue is lost, only then do we have humanity;
When humanity is lost, only then do we have righteousness;
And when righteousness is lost, only then do we have propriety.
As for propriety, it’s but the thin edge of loyalty and sincerity, and the beginning of disorder.
And foreknowledge is but the flower of the Dao, and the beginning of stupidity.
Therefore the Great Person
Dwells in the thick and doesn’t dwell in the thin;
Dwells in the fruit and doesn’t dwell in the flower.
Therefore, he rejects that and takes this.

– Therefore there is is a path which leads away from the Dao? – is not in accord with the Dao?
(Also Zhuangzi 22: So it is said, When the Dao was lost 失道, then there was virtue; when virtue was lost, then there was benevolence; when benevolence was lost, then there was righteousness; when righteousness was lost, then there were rites. Rites are the frills of the Dao and the forerunners of disorder.)


When the world has the Dao, ambling horses are retired to fertilize [fields].
When the world lacks the Dao 無道, war horses are reared in the suburbs.


The Dao gives birth to them, nourishes them, matures them, completes them, rests them, rears them, supports them, and protects them.
It gives birth to them but doesn’t try to own them;
It acts on their behalf but doesn’t make them dependent;
It matures them but doesn’t rule them.

– Thus, what tries to own others, makes them dependent, and tries to rule them, is Not Dao? Is not in accord with Dao?


The Great Dao is very level;
But people greatly delight in tortuous paths.
The courts are swept very clean;
While the fields are full of weeds;
And the granaries are all empty.
Their clothing-richly embroidered and colored;
While at their waists they carry sharp swords.
They gorge themselves on food, and of possessions and goods they have plenty.
This is called thievery!
And thievery certainly isn’t the Dao! 非道

– Therefore, following the tortuous and unlevel paths are not in accord with Dao? Living in luxury at the expense of the people is thievery and not in accord with Dao?


When things reach their prime they get old;
This is called “not the Dao.” 不道
What is not the Dao will come to an early end.
See chapter 30 above


The Dao of Heaven is not to fight yet to be good at winning-
Not to speak yet skillfully respond-

– What fights/competes is not Dao? Is not in accord with Dao?


Therefore the Dao of Heaven-
Is to reduce the excessive and increase the insufficient;
The Dao of Humanity-
Is to reduce the insufficient and offer more to the excessive.

– The Dao of humanity does not accord with the Dao of Heaven.
(Also Zhuangzi 11: What is this thing called the Dao? There is the Dao of Heaven, and the Dao of Humanity. To rest in inaction, and command respect – this is the Dao of Heaven. To engage in action and become entangled in it – this is the Dao of Humanity. The ruler is the Dao of Heaven; his subjects are the Dao of Humanity. The Dao of Heaven and the Dao of Humanity are far apart. This is something to consider carefully!)


Therefore, the Dao of Heaven is to benefit and not cause any harm.

– What causes harm is Not Dao? Is not in accord with Dao?


The Great Dao is not praised …
The Dao that displays itself is not the Dao 不道.
(since Bu is used only with verbs, perhaps it should be translated: “Daos that display themselves do not dao-guide.”)


The Dao gathers in emptiness alone.

– Thus, fullness is Not Dao? To be full is to have no access to the Dao?


When the world has the Dao, the sage succeeds; when the world is without the Dao 無道, the sage [merely] survives.


The True Person of ancient times knew nothing of loving life, knew nothing of hating death. He emerged without delight; he went back in without a fuss. He came briskly, he went briskly, and that was all. He didn’t forget where he began; he didn’t try to find out where he would end. He received something and took pleasure in it; he forgot about it and handed it back again. This is what I call not using the mind to repel the Dao 損道, not using man to help out Heaven. This is what I call the True Person.

— The Dao can be repelled?


The Dao has its reality and its signs but is without action or form.

– Therefore what has a form and acts is not Dao? Is not in accord with Dao?


As long as men in high places covet knowledge and are without the Dao 無道, the world will be in great confusion.


Without the Dao 非道 the body can have no life, and without Virtue, life can have no clarity. To preserve the body and live out life, to establish Virtue and make clear the Dao – is this not kingly Virtue?


When the world has the Dao, he joins in the chorus with all other things. When the world is without the Dao 無道, he nurses his Virtue and retires in leisure.


It is the Dao alone that never varies.

– Therefore, what varies is not Dao? Is not in accord with Dao?


Lao Zi: “If the Dao could be presented, there is no man who would not present it to his ruler. If the Dao could be offered, there is no man who would not offer it to his parents. If the Dao could be reported, there is no man who would not report it to his brothers. If the Dao could be bequeathed, there is no man who would not bequeath it to his heirs. But it cannot – and for none other than the following reason. If there is no host on the inside to receive it, it will not stay; if there is no mark on the outside to guide it, it will not go. If what is brought forth from the inside is not received on the outside, then the sage will not bring it forth. If what is taken in from the outside is not received by a host on the inside, the sage will not entrust it.”


Lao Zi: “… Get hold of the Dao and there’s nothing that can’t be done; lose it and there’s nothing that can be done.”


From this we may see that the world has lost the Dao, and the Dao has lost the world; the world and the Dao have lost each other.


From the point of view of the Dao, what is noble or what is mean? These are merely what are called endless changes. Do not hobble your will, or you will be departing far from the Dao!


If men do not have the Way (無道), he has only to put on a straight face and they are enlightened.


Look for it but it has no form, listen but it has no voice. Those who discourse upon it with other men speak of it as dark and mysterious. The Dao that is discoursed upon is not the Dao at all!


The stranger then laughed and turned to go, saying as he walked away, “As far as benevolence goes, he is benevolent all right. But I’m afraid he will not escape unharmed. To weary the mind and wear out the body, putting the Truth in peril like this – alas, I’m afraid he is separated from the Great Dao by a vast distance indeed!”


The Dao is the path by which the ten thousand things proceed. All things that lose it, die; all that get it, live. To go against it 逆 in one’s undertakings is to fail; to comply with it is to succeed.


To dispense favors to men without ever forgetting that you are doing so – this is not Heaven’s Dao of giving.



The Dao of Heaven is devoid of partiality in choosing and devoid of partiality in rejecting. Those who are capable have more than enough whilst the inept fall short of enough. Followers of Dao flourish whilst rebels [against it] come to grief.

– Thus what is partial is not Dao? Is not in accord with Dao?


To fail to obtain Dao is like watching minnows. The Sage therefore is like a mirror, neither sending [things] away nor welcoming [things], responding but not storing. Thus, he undergoes Ten Thousand Changes without the slightest injury. He who [stops to think he] has obtained it (Dao) has just lost it; but he who [thinks he] has lost it, has he not just obtained it?

Guanzi: Nei Ye

Now the Dao is what fills the mind’s gestalt, but men cannot hold it in place.
Going, it may not return; coming, it may not stay.

That which is the Dao,
The mouth cannot express, the eye cannot see, and the ear cannot hear.
It is the means to cultivate the mind and rectify its gestalt.
Losing it, men die; having it, they live.
Losing it, undertakings fail; having it, they succeed.

That the Dao will naturally come
Is something you can count on and plan for.
If you are quiescent, you will obtain it.
If you move hastily, you will lose it.



“Things make themselves go counter to the Way, the Way does not go counter to things.”



“Examples of losing the Way (失道) are extravagance, indulgence, complacency, pride, attention to the extraneous, self-display, self-glorification, competitiveness, forcefulness, making trouble, forming grudges, becoming commanders of armies, and becoming leaders of rebellions.”