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Three Treasures (Taoism)

The Three Treasures or Three Jewels (Chinese: ; pinyin: sānbǎo; Wade–Giles: san-pao) are basic virtues in Taoism. Although the Tao Te Ching originally used sanbao to mean "compassion", "frugality", and "humility", the term was later used to translate the Three Jewels (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) in Chinese Buddhism, and to mean the Three Treasures (jing, qi, and shen) in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Sanbao "three treasures" first occurs in Tao Te Ching chapter 67, which Lin Yutang (1948:292) says contains Laozi's "most beautiful teachings":


Every one under heaven says that our Way is greatly like folly. But it is just because it is great, that it seems like folly. As for things that do not seem like folly — well, there can be no question about their smallness!
Here are my three treasures. Guard and keep them! The first is pity; the second, frugality; the third, refusal to be 'foremost of all things under heaven'.
For only he that pities is truly able to be brave;
Only he that is frugal is able to be profuse.
Only he that refuses to be foremost of all things
Is truly able to become chief of all Ministers.

Translations of the Three Treasures
Translation Sanbao 三寶 Ci Jian Bugan wei tianxia xian 不敢為天下先
Balfour (1884:41) three things which I regard as precious compassion frugality not venturing to take precedence of others — modesty
Legge (1891:110) three precious things gentleness economy shrinking from taking precedence of others
Lin (1948:291) Three Treasures Love Moderation Never be the first in the world
Erkes (1950:117) three jewels kindness thriftiness not daring to play the first part in the empire
Waley (1934:225) three treasures pity frugality refusal to be 'foremost of all things under heaven'
Wu (1961:97) Three Treasures Mercy Frugality Not daring to be First in the World
Chan (1963:219) three treasures deep love frugality not to dare to be ahead of the world
Lau (1963:129) three treasures compassion frugality not daring to take the lead in the empire
English & Feng (1972:n.p.) three treasures which I hold and keep mercy economy daring not to be ahead of others — humility
Wieger & Bryce (1984:34) three things charity simplicity humility
Mitchell (1988:110) three treasures which I preserve and treasure compassion frugality daring not to be first in the world
Henricks (1989:38) three treasures compassion frugality not presuming to be at the forefront in the world
Chen (1989:208) three treasures motherly love frugality daring not be at the world's front
Mair (1990:41) three treasures compassion frugality not daring to be ahead of all under heaven
Muller (2004:n.p.) three treasures compassion frugality not daring to put myself ahead of everybody

  • Balfour, Frederic H., 1884, Taoist Texts: Ethical, Political, and Speculative, Trubner.
  • Chan, Wing-Tsit, 1963, The Way of Lao Tzu, Bobbs-Merrill.
  • Chen, Ellen M., 1989, The Te Tao Ching: A New Translation with Commentary, Paragon House.
  • English, Jane and Gia-Fu Feng, 1972, Tao Te Ching, Vintage Books.
  • Erkes, Eduard, 1950, Ho-Shang-Kung's Commentary on Lao-tse, Artibus Asiae.
  • Henricks, Robert G., 1989, Lao-tzu: Te-Tao Ching, A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts, Ballantine.
  • Lau, D.C., 1963, Tao Te Ching, Penguin Books.
  • Legge, James, 1891, The Texts of Taoism, 2 vols (Sacred Books of China 39 and 40), Clarendon Press, 1891.
  • Lin Yutang, 1948, The Wisdom of Laotse, Random House.
  • Mair, Victor H., 1990, Tao Te Ching: The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way, by Lao Tzu; an entirely new translation based on the recently discovered Ma-wang-tui manuscripts, Bantam Books.
  • Mitchell, Stephen, 1988, Tao Te Ching, Harper Collins.
  • Muller, Charles, 2004, Daode jing.
  • Waley, Arthur, 1934, The Way and Its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought, Allen & Unwin.
  • Wieger, Léon, 1984. Wisdom of the Daoist Masters, tr. Derek Bryce. Llanerch Enterprises.
  • Wu, John C.H., 1961, Tao Teh Ching, St. John's University Press.
  • Zürcher, Erik, 1980, "Buddhist Influence on Early Taoism: A Survey of Scriptural Evidence," T'oung Pao 66.1/3, pp. 84–147.


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