Tao Te Ching, By Lao Tzu

The Tao Te Ching is a set of teachings that are believed to have been transmitted orally beginning in the fourth century BC in China. These teachings form the underpinnings of the Taoist philosophy. They have been attributed to Lao Tzu (literally "Old Master"), but there is little historical evidence concerning his identity. Some scholars contend that Lao Tzu did not exist, and that the Tao Te Ching is a compilation of the words of multiple philosophers.

There are, in any event, consistent themes throughout the Tao Te Ching (whose title can be translated as "Integrity and the Way"). One is the importance of humility and self-abnegation. For instance: "It is necessary to be noble, and yet take humility as a basis. It is necessary to be exalted, and yet take modesty as a foundation." The apparent paradox in this advice is typical. Lao Tzu's teachings often are phrased as contradictions, reflecting the notion of yin and yang (or, in Korean, um and yang). Consider another meditation on humility: "The sage is self-aware, but does not flaunt himself; he is self-devoted, but does not glorify himself."

The nature of knowledge is another recurring theme. Echoing Confucius ("When you know a thing to recognize that you know it; and when you do not, to know that you do not know,--that is knowledge"), the Tao Te Ching warns: "To realize that you do not understand is a virtue; not to realize that you do not understand is a defect."

At the heart of these teachings is the idea that success comes when we stop trying to succeed. We accomplish more by doing less. "The sage can achieve greatness," says the Old Master, "because he does not act great."