The Yellow-Stone Elder's Book of Plain Words

Translated into English by Frederic Henry Balfour, 1884


Now TAO, Virtue, Benevolence, Rectitude and Decorum,--these five things are all one Principle.

As regards the Way of TAO, it is the Way that all men should walk in; making use of all things, they yet know not the source from which they spring.

Virtue is what all men should obtain; then everyone will have what he naturally needs.

The Benevolent are such as all men love; for where there is a merciful, liberal, sympathetic disposition, there will be a systematic compliance with the mutual wants of others.

The Right-minded are those who act properly and justly towards their fellows, rewarding the good and punishing the wicked; by virtue of which they establish their own merit and give equitable decisions on the affairs that are brought before them.

Decorum is what all men should observe, both in rising in the morning and retiring to rest at night; then the duties connected with human relationships will be performed in their due order.

Now it is necessary to observe these five courses of action if one wishes to fulfill the proper functions of a man; there is not one which may be omitted.

The Sage and the superior man understand the law which governs prosperity and decay; they are well versed in the calculation of failure and success, they can discern between the conditions of orderly government and of anarchy, and know when to accept and when to decline appointments. Thus, living without fame and embracing their Tao, they wait for seasonable opportunities; and if a proper time arrives, they act.

By this policy they are able to gain the highest offices in the State; and when the occasion presents itself, they strike out in some decisive action by which they achieve merit such as never had been achieved before. But if the opportunity does not offer, they just die when their time comes, and there is an end of it; so that the Tao they hold are exalted in the extreme, and their fame descends to generations yet unborn.


He whose virtue is all-sufficient to gain the affectionate esteem of those most distant from him, whose good-faith is all-sufficient to mould confidence of the people, whose ability is all-sufficient to reflect the example of the ancients as in a mirror, and whose perspicacity in all-sufficient to superintend his subordinates: such a man is distinguished above all others.

He whose conduct suffices as an example for others to imitate, whose wisdom is great enough to enable him to decide equitably in cases of enmity and mutual suspicion, whose good-faith causes others to keep their promises, and whose incorruptibility ensures a fair allotment of whatever there may be to divide: such a man is eminent above all others.

He who, in an official position, does not fail in the performance of his duties, abides steadfast in his rectitude without swerving, incurs hatred or suspicion yet does not desert his post, and never illicitly avails himself of any opportunity of self-advantage which may come in this way: such a man is a hero.


By abandoning the appetites and restraining the passions, you may escape trouble and anxiety. By suppressing wrong and renouncing evil, you may ward off calamities. By avoiding over-indulgence in wine and curbing the carnal desires, you may escape defilement. By keeping clear of calumny and beyond the reach of suspicion, you may avoid hindrance to your affairs. By extensive study and eager questionings you may greatly enlarge your knowledge. By a high course of conduct and a reserve in conversation, you may cultivate the person. By courtesy, frugality, modesty, and moderation, you may preserve your possessions from diminution. By deep calculations and taking thoughts for the distant future, you may avoid poverty. By consulting with the benevolent and making friends of the outspoken and blunt, you may receive support in seasons of adversity. By doing to others as you would wish to be done by, and being sincere and honest in all your dealings, you may attract all men to become your friends. By committing responsibilities to able men, and making special use of their special faculties, you may materially further the business of the State. By abhorring the wicked and expelling slanderers from your presence, you may put a stop to disorder. By testing the practices of to-day by investigating those of ancient times, you may avoid blunders. By first estimating [the pros and cons of an affair] and then calculating [what ought to be done under the circumstances] you will be prepared to meet the most unexpected emergencies. By providing against disaffection and knowing how to use your power, you will be able to unravel complications. By keeping your knowledge to yourself and only acting as opportunity occurs, you avoid getting into trouble [by failing in what you professed yourself able to perform]. By firmness and stability of purpose, you will establish merit. By unwearying efforts and impregnable virtue, you will be able to preserve yourself securely until death.


As regards the methods employed for forming deliberate intentions and doing straightforward actions, there is none that will enable you to continue longer in the course you desire to pursue than that of ample deliberation; and none that will enable you to pursue that course in greater peace than the patient bearing of insult. There is nothing more important than the cultivation of virtue; there is no greater cause of joy than the love of goodness; there is nothing that will give you deeper insight into hidden things than perfect sincerity in word and deed; there is nothing that will make you clearer-sighted than understanding the nature of all created beings; there is nothing more felicitous than contentment, nothing bitterer than covetousness, nothing more sorrowful than the dispersion (or loss) of animal vigour, no greater sickness than that which results from the vicissitudes of life, nothing shorter than a career of unlawful gain, nothing that tends more to secrecy (or stealthiness) than avarice, nothing that isolates a man more than trusting to himself alone, nothing more dangerous than employing those whom you have reason to suspect, and nothing more certain to bring ruin to you than unfairness or partiality.


Those who proclaim their own cleverness to their inferiors are themselves ignorant. Those who are unconscious of their own faults are blinded. Those who are so fascinated by anything as to be unable to turn away from its pursuit, are deluded. Those who provoke animosity by [irritating] words, will incur disaster. Those whose commands are at variance with their consciences will meet with failure. Those who mislead people by countermanding the orders they have previously given, will bring ruin upon the affairs they have in hand. If a man is angry without inspiring awe, the delinquency will be repeated. A man who acquires a false reputation for honesty and brings shame on others, will meet with retribution. It is dangerous, first to treat a man with contumely and afterwards entrust him with responsibility. It is inauspicious to treat the honourable with negligence or disrespect. A man who hides an alienated heart under a friendly face will be shunned. If [a sovereign] loves flatterers and keeps aloof from the honest and true, his kingdom will soon fall. He who consorts much with beautiful women, and avoids the society of the virtuous, is deluded. If women are openly allowed to have audiences of the sovereign, internal disorder will ensue. If the monarch gives office to his private friends and minions, the emoluments of the State will be squandered in vain. He who oppresses his subjects and gets the better of them by main force, is a usurper. He whose reputation is greater than his actual abilities, is obliged to exert himself to the utmost to keep up that reputation--and without result. To make little of one's own faults and be severe to others', is not the way to govern. He who is generous as regards himself and niggardly in dealing with his fellows, will be abandoned. He who ignores merit on account of some trifling lapse, will suffer injury himself. He who estranges the people from him will be ruined without hope. He who employs people irrespective of their peculiar capabilities will incur the evil results of his laxity. He who bestows rewards with a grudging face will receive a grudging service. He who promises much and gives little will be murmured at. He who makes advances to another and then suddenly breaks off intercourse with him, will meet with unexpected opposition. He who is niggardly in bestowal and yet looks for a large return, will get no return at all. He who in a position of honour forgets the humble--or, the friends of humbler days--will not enjoy his honours long. To harbour old grievances in one's memory and ignore present merit, is inauspicious. Not to select upright men when employing people, is dangerous. He who employs others by main force will have nobody to obey him. To appoint officials in deference to requests made by the friends of the candidates for office, will result in disorder. He who loses that in which consists his power, will become weak. He who devises plans for the benefit of the inhuman--or, he who allows the inhuman to form plans for him--will be placed in jeopardy. If secret counsels be bruited abroad, defeat will be the result. He who hoards much and gives out grudgingly, will find his substance diminishing. Where the military leaders are in penury and fashionable idlers wealthy, the State will fall. A man who openly accepts bribes, is self-deceived,--or, does so against his own conscience. He who, hearing of virtuous deeds, makes no account of them, but never forgets a fault, is tyrannical. He who commits responsibilities to the untrustworthy, and none to those who may be confided in, is muddle-headed, or stupid. If a man nourishes the people according to virtue, all will come flocking to him; but if he holds them in restraint by means of punishments, they will disperse. If small merit be not rewarded, great merit will not be performed; if petty injuries be not forgiven, serious animosities will arise. If rewards be bestowed upon the undeserving, and punishments on the unwilling,--i.e., on those who know they have not incurred any penalty--the people will revolt. To reward those who have no merit and punish those who have committed no fault, is truculent. Listening with delight to flattery and with disgust to candid expostulation, will bring about the ruin of the State. To be content with one's own will result in a nation's tranquillity; but to covet what belongs to another leads to oppression and wrong-doing.


Enmities result from not abandoning little faults; misfortunes arise from not making decided plans beforehand. Happiness results from the accumulation of good deeds; misery, from the accumulation of wicked ones. Famines come about from depreciating agriculture; cold results from the neglect of weaving. Tranquillity results from securing the services of suitable men; danger from losing men of ability. Wealth results from meeting [opportunities] half-way,--or, taking advantage of whatever may turn up; penury, from rejecting such opportunities. If those in authority are not perpetually vacillating, their subordinates will not be a prey to perplexity. Those who despise their superiors should not be held guiltless; while those who oppress their inferiors show by so doing their want of affection for them. If ministers of the Presence do not receive proper consideration from the sovereign, he will be lightly esteemed by those of his ministers who are at a distance. If you are naturally suspicious, you cannot have confidence in others; but if you are of a confiding nature, you will not suspect people. The depraved have no true friends. A perverted sovereign will have no upright ministers. A State in danger has no virtuous man to the front; there are no good men under a disorderly government. Those who sincerely love others will search eagerly for men of virtue; and those who take pleasure in virtuous men will nourish the people generously. Where there is a State whose power has been established by sheer force of merit, all able men will resort to it; but virtuous men will retire from a State that is on the verge of ruin. Where the soil is thin, large things will not grow; where water is shallow, large fishes will not disport themselves; if a tree is leafless, no large bird will rest upon it; if a forest is sparse, no large animal will take up his abode in it. If a mountain is high and steep, it will easily fall; if a pool is full of water, it will overflow. Those who throw away jade and cling to a common stone, are blind. Those who cover up a sheep in a tiger's skin will incur ridicule. If you don't hold a coot by the collar, you will put it on upside down. If you don't look at the ground as you walk, you will fall. If the posts of a house are weak, the rooms will come to grief; and if the supports of a Government are feeble, the State will be ruined. If the foot is cold, the heart will be injured; and if the populace are angered, the State will suffer. Before the mountain falls, the base is undermined; and before the State falls, the people are in extremity. If the root of a tree is rotten, the leaves will decay; if the people are worn out, the State will be annihilated. If you drive a carriage in the ruts made by another carriage that has been overturned, you will meet the same disaster; and if you follow the example set by a State that is already lost, yours will be lost too. Having already seen, therefore, the bad results which will accrue from a given line of conduct, take care not to give rise to them again; if you dread such consequences, make provision against them beforehand. To have a proper dread of danger is the way to ensure safety; to have a proper dread of the extermination [of one's State] is the way to preserve it. So, as regards the conduct of a man: if it be in accordance with right principle, it will be auspicious; if not, it will be the reverse. It is not the spirits or holy ones who will give one happiness; one must be endowed with it naturally. If a man discharges his functions on virtuous plans, no evil will ensue; but if he does not take forethought for what is yet far off, sorrow will come speedily upon him. When [two or more] persons have one object in view, they will achieve it; when they are benevolent, they will share each other's disappointments. The wicked all consort one with another. Those who are equally beautiful are jealous to each other. Those whose shrewdness is equally great will scheme one against the other. Those whose positions are equally high will injure each other. Those who are competing for gain will be envious of one another. Those whose voices are the same will respond to one another. Those who are subject to similar influences will be similarly affected. Those who belong to the same category conform to each other's habits. Those who are righteous will love each other. Those who are in the same difficulty will assist each other. Those who are guided by the same principle of right will arrive at completion together--or, will [aid in] completing each other. Thoee who possees the same skill will check each other's performances. Those who have the same adroitness will compete with each other.

The above embody an unvarying principle in each case, and the principle cannot be successfully opposed by anybody. To give free rein to oneself and prescribe laws for others, will lead to disobedience; but if a man who attempts to reform his fellows is upright himself, all will follow his example. If a monarch runs counter to his people, he will have great difficulty in enforcing obedience; but if he guides himself by his people's wishes, affairs will go on easily. In the former case, disorder will ensue; in the latter, the government will be tranquilly accomplished.

It is in this way that a man may achieve the proper regulation of himself, his household, and his State.

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