The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Book Review, Highlights, and Quotes from The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu translated by Witter Bynner

After seeing many Tao Te Ching quotes surfacing over the past few years, I figured it was about time that I read it.

I expected that it might be similar to Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, which was a tougher book to digest and enjoy than I expected.

But that was not the case at all. Tao Te Ching – presented as The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu turned out to be a much more digestible.

I chose to read only a passage or two per night and really soak it in.

It was an easy read, a short read, and generally interesting to see the overlap between the non-religious aspects of Taoism, Buddhism, and Stoicism.

All three “philosophies of life” generally get it right and translate to modern day life quite well.

The human condition, after all, has been the human condition for about 10,000 years since we left our nomadic ways to farm and forge civilizations.

Was this a life changing read? No. But it was overall a good read with many thought provoking and interesting passages.

AR Book Score: 8 out of 10

Key book highlights from The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu originally translated and published in 1944 by Witter Bynner starts off with brief background piece on Chinese Philosopher, Lao Tzu (Laotzu in this text), who authored the original Tao Te Ching.

Some Western scholars, like some of their Eastern predecessors, have believed that long-lived Loatzu was a myth and that the sayings attributed to him were a compilation of the sayings of a number of men who lived during the next two or three hundred years.

– Witter Bynner

After a bit of Lao Tzu background, Bynner discusses his reasons behind pursuing a new translation of the Tao Te Ching.

He found previous versions dry, and tried to lighten them up and keep the original spirit of the text:

I have now and then ventured such effects, besides using rhyme whenever it felt natural to the sense and stayed by the text.”

– Witter Bynner

After about 20 pages of background discussion on Lao Tzu, the translation, and Taoism, we finally get to the text.

Each passage ranges from 5 to 30 lines each and typically only one or two show up on a page.

They are each numbered, so referencing back to them is quite easy.

Topics covered include:

  • Leadership
  • Wisdom
  • Self-respect
  • Self-reliance
  • Inspiration
  • Courage
  • Death
  • Beauty
  • Life
  • Patience
  • Attachment

Best quotes from The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Those who know do not tell,

Those who tell do not know.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

He who feels punctured

Must once have been a bubble,

He who feels unarmed

Must have carried arms,

He who feels belittled

Must have been consequential,

He who feels deprived

Must have had privilege.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Those who would take over the earth
And shape it to their will
Never, I notice, succeed.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

How can a man’s life keep its course

If he will not let it flow?

Those who flow as life flows know

They need no other force:

They feel no wear, they feel no tear,

They need no mending, no repair.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

A leader is best

When people barely know that he exists,

No so good when people obey and acclaim him,

Worst when they despise him.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Which means more to you,

You or your renown?

Which brings more to you,

You or what you own?

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

But of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

They will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

There is no need to run outside

For better seeing,

Nor to peer from a window. Rather abide

At the center of your being;

For the more you leave it, the less you learn.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Curb your tongue and senses

And you are beyond trouble,

Let them loose

And you are beyond help.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

The less a leader does and says

The happier his people,

The more a leader struts and brags

The sorrier his people.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

The wise man is one who, knows, what he does not know.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

The biggest problem in the world

Could have been solved when it was small.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

The best captain does not plunge headlong

Nor is the best soldier a fellow hot to fight.

The greatest victor wins without a battle.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

A man with outward courage dares to die,

A man with inward courage dares to live.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

What is more fluid, more yielding than water?

Yet back it comes again, wearing down the rigid strength.

Which cannot yield to withstand it.

So it is that the strong are overcome by the weak.

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

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