Ancient Chinese Wisdom from Lao Tzu

By: Stephanie Hara
Ancient Chinese Wisdom from Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu (usually translated as “Old Master”; also rendered as Lao Tze or Laozi) was an ancient Chinese writer and philosopher, popular for writing the book called Tao Te Ching. He is the father of philosophical Taoism (a philosophy that advocates living a simple life) and is considered a deity in many traditional Chinese religions.


The following Lao Tzu quotes on topics such as life, leadership, letting go, love, happiness, and contentment reveal ancient wisdom that is still highly relevant today.

Timeless Quotes from Lao Tzu

“If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.”

“Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.”

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

“To see things in the seed, that is genius.”

“The way to do is to be.”

“Silence is a source of great strength.”

“The reason why rivers and seas receive the homage of a hundred mountain streams is that they keep below them. Thus they are able to reign over all the mountain streams. So the sage, wishing to be above men, putteth himself below them; wishing to be before them, he putteth himself behind them. Thus, though his place be above men, they do not feel his weight; though his place be before them, they do not count it as an injury.”

“To a mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.”

“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.”

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”

“It is the child that sees the primordial secret of Nature and it is the child of ourselves we return to. The child within us is simple and daring enough to live the Secret.”

“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.”

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.”

“A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.”

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

“How could a decent person ever rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of men.”


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“Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment.”

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.”

“Wasting energy to obtain rare objects only impedes one’s growth.”

“If you understand others you are smart. If you understand yourself you are illuminated. If you overcome others you are powerful. If you overcome yourself you have strength. If you know how to be satisfied you are rich. If you can act with vigor, you have a will. If you don’t lose your objectives you can be long-lasting. If you die without loss, you are eternal.”

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.”

“The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”

“The skillful speaker says nothing that can be found fault with or blamed.”

“He who is self-conceited has no superiority allowed to him.”

“The best fighter is never angry.”

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”

“Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.”

“In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”

“Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.”

“Loss is not as bad as wanting more.”

“To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”

“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.”

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

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

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.”

“Men are born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.”

“She does not show herself, and therefore is apparent. She does not affirm herself, and therefore is acknowledged. She does not boast and therefore has merit. She does not strive and therefore is successful. It is exactly because she does not contend, that nobody can contend with her.”


“Stop leaving and you will arrive. Stop searching and you will see. Stop running away and you will be found.”

“Your own positive future begins in this moment. All you have is right now. Every goal is possible from here.”

“To know that you do not know is the best. To think you know when you do not is a disease. Recognizing this disease as a disease is to be free of it.”

“If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it.”

“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”

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

“Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it.”

“Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.”

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

“We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move. We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want. We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable. We work with being, but non-being is what we use.”

“Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.”

“(Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the Tao) did not (seek) to show them, and therefore they possessed them (in fullest measure).”

“The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself.”

“Manage affairs before they are in a mess.”

“Act without expectation.”

“Embracing Tao, you become embraced. Supple, breathing gently, you become reborn. Clearing your vision, you become clear. Nurturing your beloved, you become impartial. Opening your heart, you become accepted. Accepting the World, you embrace Tao. Bearing and nurturing, creating but not owning, giving without demanding, controlling without authority, this is love.”

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”


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“He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”

“Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires.”

“The Sage sees the world as an expansion of his own self so what need has he to accumulate things?”

“He who is satisfied with his lot is rich.”

“When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them safe.”

“To lead the people, walk behind them.”

“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.”

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, ’We did this ourselves.’”

“The sage puts herself last and is first.”

“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”

“All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power. If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.”

“For the wise man looks into space and he knows there is no limited dimensions.”

“The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.”

“It is better to do one’s own duty, however defective it may be, than to follow the duty of another, however well one may perform it. He who does his duty as his own nature reveals it, never sins.”


“If a person seems wicked, do not cast him away. Awaken him with your words, elevate him with your deeds, repay his injury with your kindness. Do not cast him away; cast away his wickedness.”

“Accomplish but do not boast, accomplish without show, accomplish without arrogance, accomplish without grabbing, accomplish without forcing.”

“The more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become… The more rules and regulations, the more thieves and robbers.”

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

“By letting go it all gets done.”

“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

“Be careful what you water your dreams with. Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dream. Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success. Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success. Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dream.”

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”

“If I had just a little bit of wisdom I should walk the great path and fear only straying from it.”

“What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher. What is a bad man but a good man’s job.”

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.”

“The master dwells in the substantial and not in the superficial. Rests in the fruit and not in the flower.”

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