170 Lao Tzu Quotes

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Whether you know him as Lao Tzu, Laozi, or Lao-Tze, this “Old Master” was a Chinese philosopher and writer. These Lao Tzu quotes give insight into this wise man and his teachings.

Alive sometime between the 4th and 6th centuries B.C., this semi-legendary figure has played a central role in Chinese culture for millennia. Lao Tzu has traditionally been regarded as the author of the Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese text that describes the Tao (or Dao) as the source of all existence.

Tao is an unseen but not transcendent force that is both powerful yet humble. It is an ideal that is at the root of all things.

As the author of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu is regarded as the founder of philosophical Taoism, and as a deity in both religious Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions.

Primary taken from this foundational text, Lao Tzu’s words are concerned with returning to nature, seeking calm, and living in the moment. We’ve collected the best Lao Tzu quotes to give you the inspiration you need to live better.

Top Lao Tzu Quotes

From wonder into wonder existence opens.

The best fighter is never angry.

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

Lao Tzu quote "Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished"
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu

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

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

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

To a mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.

Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.

Lao Tzu quote "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Be like water.

To understand the limitation of things, desire them.

Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.

Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment.

There is a time to live and a time to die but never to reject the moment.

"The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth"
“The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.” – Lao Tzu

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.

Because of a great love, one is courageous.

An over sharpened sword cannot last long.

Lao Tzu quote "Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing"
“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” – Lao Tzu

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

When you accept yourself, the whole world accepts you.

Sincere words are not fine; fine words are not sincere.

The way of heaven is to help and not harm.

Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.

Lao Tzu quote "The way to do is to be"
“The way to do is to be.” – Lao Tzu

He who talks more is sooner exhausted.

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

As soon as you have made a thought, laugh at it.

A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar.

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

Laozi quote "The wise man is one who knows what he does not know"
“The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.” – Lao Tzu

One who is too insistent on his own views finds few to agree with him.

A bad man is a good man’s job.

Love is of all the passions the strongest, for it attacks simultaneously the head, the heart, and the senses.

When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready… The teacher will disappear.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

Lao Tzu quote "To see things in the seed, that is genius"
“To see things in the seed, that is genius.” – Lao Tzu

Take care with the end as you do with the beginning.

The further one goes, the less one knows.

When goodness is lost there is morality.

Lao Tzu on Letting Go

To hold, you must first open your hand. Let go.

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

Stop thinking, and end your problems.

Lao Tzu quote "By letting go it all gets done"
“By letting go it all gets done.” – Lao Tzu

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.

When there is no desire, all things are at peace.

The more laws and order are made prominent, the more thieves and robbers there will be.

Lao Tzu quote "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be"
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

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

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

He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.

If you want to lead them you must place yourself behind them.

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

Laozi quote "The heart that gives, gathers"
“The heart that gives, gathers.” – Lao Tzu

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

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.

He who acts, spoils; he who grasps, lets slip.

If you wish to be out front, then act as if you were behind.

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

Lao Tzu philosophy "Loss is not as bad as wanting more"
“Loss is not as bad as wanting more.” – Lao Tzu

Become totally empty.
Quiet the restlessness of the mind
only then will you witness everything unfolding from emptiness.

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.

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

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.

Lao Tzu quote "The world belongs to those who let go"
“The world belongs to those who let go.” – Lao Tzu

Everything under heaven is a sacred vessel and cannot be controlled. Trying to control leads to ruin. Trying to grasp, we lose. Allow your life to unfold naturally. Know that it too is a vessel of perfection. Just as you breathe in and breathe out, there is a time for being ahead and a time for being behind; a time for being in motion and a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous and a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe and a time for being in danger.

Laozi on Living The Tao

The Tao is nowhere to be found. Yet it nourishes and completes all things.

When men lost their understanding of the Tao, intelligence came along, bringing hypocrisy with it.

Manifest plainness, Embrace simplicity, Reduce selfishness, Have few desires.

Taoism quote "Every step is on the path"
“Every step is on the path.” – Lao Tzu

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

Lao Tzu quote "From caring comes courage"
“From caring comes courage.” – Lao Tzu

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.

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

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.

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.

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

"If you want to know me, look inside your heart"
“If you want to know me, look inside your heart.” – Lao Tzu

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.

Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained.

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

Silence is a source of great strength.

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.

"The road you can talk about is not the road you can walk on"
“The road you can talk about is not the road you can walk on.” – Lao Tzu

Colors blind the eye
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.

Tao Te Ching

Respond to anger with virtue. Deal with difficulties while they are still easy. Handle the great while it is still small.

"He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still"
“He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.” – Lao Tzu

Trying to control the future is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place. When you handle the master carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

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.

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.

Laozi quote "The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long"
“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” – Lao Tzu

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.’

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

Love is a decision – not an emotion!

Perspectives on Existence

Go to the people. Live with them, learn from them, love them.

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

If lightning is the anger of the gods, then the gods are concerned mostly about trees.

"He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened"
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” – Lao Tzu

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.

Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Confidence is the greatest friend.

If you do not value rare treasures, you will stop others from stealing.

A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a sudden rain does not last for the whole day.

Laozi quote "To be worn out is to be renewed"
“To be worn out is to be renewed.” – Lao Tzu

There is no disaster greater than not being content; there is no misfortune greater than being covetous.

Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.

The reason why the universe is eternal is that it does not live for itself; it gives life to others as it transforms.

Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe.

Lao Tzu quote "Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear"
“Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.” – Lao Tzu

Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look at the stars. This practice should answer the question.

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

The flexible are preserved unbroken. The bent become straight. The empty are filled. The exhausted become renewed. The poor are enriched. The rich are confounded. Therefore the sage embraces the one. Because he doesn’t display himself, people can see his light. Because he has nothing to prove, people can trust his words. Because he doesn’t know who he is, people recognize themselves in him. Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds. The old saying that the flexible are preserved unbroken is surely right! If you have truly attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.

"What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly"
“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” – Lao Tzu

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

When wealth and honors lead to arrogancy, this brings its evil on itself.

Countless words
count less
than the silent balance
between yin and yang.

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

Governing a great nation is like cooking a small fish – too much handling will spoil it.

People in their handlings of affairs often fail when they are about to succeed. If one remains as careful at the end as he was at the beginning, there will be no failure.

Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise from thinking of the self. When we don’t see the self as self, what do we have to fear?

I do not concern myself with gods and spirits either good or evil nor do I serve any.

Laozi quote "Nature is not human hearted"
“Nature is not human hearted.” – Lao Tzu

He who defends with love will be secure; Heaven will save him, and protect him with love.

Just remain in the center; watching. And then forget that you are there.

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.

The Wise Man is square but not sharp, honest but not not malign, straight but not severe, bright but not dazzling.

The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world. Through this I know the advantage of taking no action.

Lao Tzu philosophy "A good traveller leaves no tracks"
“A good traveller leaves no tracks.” – Lao Tzu

The hard and mighty lie beneath the ground
While the tender and weak dance on the breeze above.

Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Do not conquer the world with force, for force only causes resistance. Thorns spring up when an army passes. Years of misery follow a great victory. Do only what needs to be done without using violence.

The master observes the world but trusts his inner vision. He allows things to come and go. He prefers what is within to what is without.

"Great acts are made up of small deeds"
“Great acts are made up of small deeds.” – Lao Tzu

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

"It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to carry it when it is full"
“It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to carry it when it is full.” – Lao Tzu

If the people must be ever fearful of death, then there will always be an executioner.

Our enemies are not demons, but human beings like ourselves.

When you are at one with loss, the loss is experienced willingly.

Is it not through her selflessness that she is able to perfect herself?

He who knows he has enough is rich. Perseverance is a sign of will power. He who stays where he is endures. To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.

Lao Tzu quote "There is no illusion greater than fear"
“There is no illusion greater than fear.” – Lao Tzu

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

Composure is the ruler of instability.

With few there is attainment. With much there is confusion.

Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.

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

There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent.

"New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings"
“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” – Lao Tzu

Would you like to save the world from the degradation and destruction it seems destined for? Then step away from shallow mass movements and quietly go to work on your own self-awareness. If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.

To bear and not to own; to act and not lay claim; to do the work and let it go: for just letting it go is what makes it stay.

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

To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; not to realize that you do not understand is a defect.

Taoism quote "Knowing how to yield is strength"
“Knowing how to yield is strength.” – Lao Tzu

Not seeking, not expecting, she is present, and can welcome all things.

Chanting is no more holy than listening to the murmur of a stream, counting prayer beads no more scared than simply breathing, religious robes no more spiritual than work clothes.

Fame or integrity: which is more important? Money or happiness: which is more valuable? Success or failure: which is more destructive? If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. 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.

"Some lose yet gain, others gain and yet lose"
“Some lose yet gain, others gain and yet lose.” – Lao Tzu

The wise man does not lay up his own treasures.
The more he gives to others,
the more he has for his own.

When pure sincerity forms within, it is outwardly realized in other people’s hearts.

When the people of the world all know beauty as beauty, there arises the recognition of ugliness. When they all know the good as good, there arises the recognition of evil.

The difficult problems in life always start off being simple. Great affairs always start off being small.

Lao Tzu quote "What is firmly rooted cannot be pulled out"
“What is firmly rooted cannot be pulled out.” – Lao Tzu

Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

If you are untrustworthy, people will not trust you.

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.

Lao Tzu quote "Act without expectation"
“Act without expectation.” – Lao Tzu

Ambition has one heel nailed in well, though she stretches her fingers to touch the heavens.

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

Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this huge collection of Lao Tzu quotes! May they bring you peace and show you the Way.

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Quincy Seale

Quincy is KIM's lead editor and content writer, and has collected and shared inspiring quotes and stories since 2005. Quincy holds an MBA from the University of Dundee and an MSc from the University of Edinburgh, and lives in San Antonio with his wife Natalie, son Alex, and his dog Oban.