Front Page Titles (by Subject) PART I. - The Sacred Books of China. The Texts of Taoism. Part I: The Tao Teh King. The Writings of Kwang Ze Books I-XVII
Return to Title Page for The Sacred Books of China. The Texts of Taoism. Part I: The Tao Teh King. The Writings of Kwang Ze Books I-XVII
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
PART I. - Lao Tzu, The Sacred Books of China. The Texts of Taoism. Part I: The Tao Teh King. The Writings of Kwang Ze Books I-XVII 
The Sacred Books of China. The Texts of Taoism. Part I: The Tao Teh King. The Writings of Kwang Ze Books I-XVII, trans. James Legge (Oxford University Press, 1891).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Ch. 1.1. The Tâo that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tâo. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
2. (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.
4. Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.
, ‘Embodying the Tâo.’ The author sets forth, as well as the difficulty of his subject would allow him, the nature of the Tâo in itself, and its manifestation. To understand the Tâo one must be partaker of its nature.
Par. 3 suggests the words of the apostle John, ‘He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.’ Both the Tâo, Lâo-ȝze’s ideal in the absolute, and its Teh, or operation, are comprehended in this chapter, the latter being the Tâo with the name, the Mother of all things. See pages 12, 13 in the Introduction on the translation of the term Tâo.
2.1. All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is.
2. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.
3. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech.
4. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).
, ‘The Nourishment of the Person.’ But many of Ho-shang Kung’s titles are more appropriate than this.
The chapter starts with instances of the antinomies, which suggest to the mind each of them the existence of its corresponding opposite; and the author finds in them an analogy to the ‘contraries’ which characterize the operation of the Tâo, as stated in chapter 40. He then proceeds to describe the action of the sage in par. 3 as in accordance with this law of contraries; and, in par. 4, that of heaven and earth, or what we may call nature, in the processes of the vegetable world.
Par. 2 should be rhymed, but I could not succeed to my satisfaction in the endeavour to rhyme it. Every one who can read Chinese will see that the first four members rhyme. The last two rhyme also, the concluding being pronounced so;—see the Khang-hsî dictionary in voc.
3.1. Not to value and employ men of superior ability is the way to keep the people from rivalry among themselves; not to prize articles which are difficult to procure is the way to keep them from becoming thieves; not to show them what is likely to excite their desires is the way to keep their minds from disorder.
2. Therefore the sage, in the exercise of his government, empties their minds, fills their bellies, weakens their wills, and strengthens their bones.
3. He constantly (tries to) keep them without knowledge and without desire, and where there are those who have knowledge, to keep them from presuming to act (on it). When there is this abstinence from action, good order is universal.
, ‘Keeping the People at Rest.’ The object of the chapter is to show that government according to the Tâo is unfavourable to the spread of knowledge among the people, and would keep them rather in the state of primitive simplicity and ignorance, thereby securing their restfulness and universal good order. Such is the uniform teaching of Lâo-ȝze and his great follower Kwang-ȝze, and of all Tâoist writers.
4.1. The Tâo is (like) the emptiness of a vessel; and in our employment of it we must be on our guard against all fulness. How deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the Honoured Ancestor of all things!
2. We should blunt our sharp points, and unravel the complications of things; we should attemper our brightness, and bring ourselves into agreement with the obscurity of others. How pure and still the Tâo is, as if it would ever so continue!
3. I do not know whose son it is. It might appear to have been before God.
‘The Fountainless.’ There is nothing before the Tâo; it might seem to have been before God. And yet there is no demonstration by it of its presence and operation. It is like the emptiness of a vessel. The second character = = ;—see Khang-hsî on the latter. The practical lesson is, that in following the Tâo we must try to be like it.
5.1. Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be benevolent; they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are dealt with. The sages do not act from (any wish to be) benevolent; they deal with the people as the dogs of grass are dealt with.
2. May not the space between heaven and earth be compared to a bellows?
, ‘The Use of Emptiness.’ Quiet and unceasing is the operation of the Tâo, and effective is the rule of the sage in accordance with it.
The grass-dogs in par. 1 were made of straw tied up in the shape of dogs, and used in praying for rain; and afterwards, when the sacrifice was over, were thrown aside and left uncared for. Heaven and earth and the sages dealt so with all things and with the people; but the illustration does not seem a happy one. Both Kwang-ȝze and Hwâi-nan mention the grass-dogs. See especially the former, XIV, 25 a, b. In that Book there is fully developed the meaning of this chapter. The illustration in par. 2 is better. The Chinese bellows is different to look at from ours, but the principle is the same in the construction of both. The par. concludes in a way that lends some countenance to the later Tâoism’s dealing with the breath.
, ‘The Completion of Material Forms.’ This title rightly expresses the import of this enigmatical chapter; but there is a foundation laid in it for the development of the later Tâoism, which occupies itself with the prolongation of life by the management of the breath () or vital force.
‘The valley’ is used metaphorically as a symbol of ‘emptiness’ or ‘vacancy;’ and ‘the spirit of the valley’ is the something invisible, yet almost personal, belonging to the Tâo, which constitutes the Teh () in the name of our King. ‘The spirit of the valley’ has come to be a name for the activity of the Tâo in all the realm of its operation. ‘The female mystery’ is the Tâo with a name of chapter 1, which is ‘the Mother of all things.’ All living beings have a father and mother. The processes of generation and production can hardly be imaged by us but by a recognition of this fact; and so Lâo-ȝze thought of the existing realm of nature—of life—as coming through an evolution (not a creation) from the primal air or breath, dividing into two, and thence appearing in the forms of things, material and immaterial. The chapter is found in Lieh-ȝze (I, 1 b) quoted by him from a book of Hwang-Tî; and here Lâo-ȝze has appropriated it, and made it his own. See the Introduction, p. 2.
7.1. Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long. The reason why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long is because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how they are able to continue and endure.
2. Therefore the sage puts his own person last, and yet it is found in the foremost place; he treats his person as if it were foreign to him, and yet that person is preserved. Is it not because he has no personal and private ends, that therefore such ends are realised?
, ‘Sheathing the Light.’ The chapter teaches that one’s best good is realised by not thinking of it, or seeking for it. Heaven and earth afford a pattern to the sage, and the sage affords a pattern to all men.
8.1. The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tâo.
2. The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the place; that of the mind is in abysmal stillness; that of associations is in their being with the virtuous; that of government is in its securing good order; that of (the conduct of) affairs is in its ability; and that of (the initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness.
3. And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about his low position), no one finds fault with him.
, ‘The Placid and Contented Nature.’ Water, as an illustration of the way of the Tâo, is repeatedly employed by Lâo-ȝze.
The various forms of what is excellent in par. 2 are brought forward to set forth the more, by contrast, the excellence of the humility indicated in the acceptance of the lower place without striving to the contrary.
9.1. It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to carry it when it is full. If you keep feeling a point that has been sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.
2. When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them safe. When wealth and honours lead to arrogancy, this brings its evil on itself. When the work is done, and one’s name is becoming distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of Heaven.
; but I cannot give a satisfactory rendering of this title. The teaching of the chapter is, that fulness and complacency in success are contrary to the Tâo.
The first clauses of the two sentences in par. 1, , , , are instances of the ‘inverted’ style not uncommon in the oldest composition. ‘The way of Heaven’ = ‘the Heavenly Tâo’ exemplified by man.
10.1. When the intelligent and animal souls are held together in one embrace, they can be kept from separating. When one gives undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a (tender) babe. When he has cleansed away the most mysterious sights (of his imagination), he can become without a flaw.
2. In loving the people and ruling the state, cannot he proceed without any (purpose of) action? In the opening and shutting of his gates of heaven, cannot he do so as a female bird? While his intelligence reaches in every direction, cannot he (appear to) be without knowledge?
3. (The Tâo) produces (all things) and nourishes them; it produces them and does not claim them as its own; it does all, and yet does not boast of it; it presides over all, and yet does not control them. This is what is called ‘The mysterious Quality’ (of the Tâo).
, ‘Possibilities.’ This chapter is one of the most difficult to understand and translate in the whole work. Even Kû Hsî was not able to explain the first member satisfactorily. The text of that member seems well supported; but I am persuaded the first clause of it is somehow corrupt.
The whole seems to tell what can be accomplished by one who is possessed of the Tâo. In par. 3 he appears free from all self-consciousness in what he does, and of all self-satisfaction in the results of his doing. The other two paragraphs seem to speak of what he can do under the guidance of the Tâo for himself and for others. He can by his management of his vital breath bring his body to the state of Tâoistic perfection, and keep his intelligent and animal souls from being separated, and he can rule men without purpose and effort. ‘The gates of heaven’ in par. 2 is a Tâoistic phrase for the nostrils as the organ of the breath;—see the commentary of Ho-shang Kung.
2. Therefore the sage seeks to satisfy (the craving of) the belly, and not the (insatiable longing of the) eyes. He puts from him the latter, and prefers to seek the former.
, ‘The Repression of the Desires.’ Government in accordance with the Tâo seeks to withdraw men from the attractions of what is external and pleasant to the senses and imagination, and to maintain the primitive simplicity of men’s ways and manners. Compare chap. 2. The five colours are Black, Red, Green or Blue, White, and Yellow; the five notes are those of the imperfect Chinese musical scale, our G, A, B, D, E; the five tastes are Salt, Bitter, Sour, Acrid, and Sweet.
I am not sure that Wang Pî has caught exactly the author’s idea in the contrast between satisfying the belly and satisfying the eyes; but what he says is ingenious: ‘In satisfying the belly one nourishes himself; in gratifying the eyes he makes a slave of himself.’
13.1. Favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared; honour and great calamity, to be regarded as personal conditions (of the same kind).
2. What is meant by speaking thus of favour and disgrace? Disgrace is being in a low position (after the enjoyment of favour). The getting that (favour) leads to the apprehension (of losing it), and the losing it leads to the fear of (still greater calamity):—this is what is meant by saying that favour and disgrace would seem equally to be feared.
And what is meant by saying that honour and great calamity are to be (similarly) regarded as personal conditions? What makes me liable to great calamity is my having the body (which I call myself); if I had not the body, what great calamity could come to me?
3. Therefore he who would administer the kingdom, honouring it as he honours his own person, may be employed to govern it, and he who would administer it with the love which he bears to his own person may be entrusted with it.
, ‘Loathing Shame.’ The chapter is difficult to construe, and some disciples of Kû Hsî had to ask him to explain it as in the case of ch. 10. His remarks on it are not to my mind satisfactory. Its object seems to be to show that the cultivation of the person according to the Tâo, is the best qualification for the highest offices, even for the government of the world. Par. 3 is found in Kwang-ȝze (XI, 18 b) in a connexion which suggests this view of the chapter. It may be observed, however, that in him the position of the verbal characters in the two clauses of the paragraph is the reverse of that in the text of Ho-shang Kung, so that we can hardly accept the distinction of meaning of the two characters given in his commentary, but must take them as synonyms. Professor Gabelentz gives the following version of Kwang-ȝze: ‘Darum, gebraucht er seine Person achtsam in der Verwaltung des Reiches, so mag man ihm die Reichsgewalt anvertrauen; . . . liebend (schonend) . . . übertragen.’
14.1. We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it ‘the Equable.’ We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it ‘the Inaudible.’ We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we name it ‘the Subtle.’ With these three qualities, it cannot be made the subject of description; and hence we blend them together and obtain The One.
2. Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not obscure. Ceaseless in its action, it yet cannot be named, and then it again returns and becomes nothing. This is called the Form of the Formless, and the Semblance of the Invisible; this is called the Fleeting and Indeterminable.
3. We meet it and do not see its Front; we follow it, and do not see its Back. When we can lay hold of the Tâo of old to direct the things of the present day, and are able to know it as it was of old in the beginning, this is called (unwinding) the clue of Tâo.
, ‘The Manifestation of the Mystery.’ The subject of par. 1 is the Tâo, but the Tâo in its operation, and not the primal conception of it, as entirely distinct from things, which rises before the mind in the second paragraph. The Chinese characters which I have translated ‘the Equable,’ ‘the Inaudible,’ and ‘the Subtle,’ are now pronounced Î, Hî, and Wei, and in 1823 Rémusat fancied that they were intended to give the Hebrew tetragrammation יהוה which he thought had come to Lâo-ȝze somehow from the West, or been found by him there. It was a mere fancy or dream; and still more so is the recent attempt to revive the notion by Victor von Strauss in 1870, and Dr. Edkins in 1884. The idea of the latter is specially strange, maintaining, as he does, that we should read the characters according to their old sounds. Lâo-ȝze has not in the chapter a personal Being before his mind, but the procedure of his mysterious Tâo, the course according to which the visible phenomena take place, incognisable by human sense and capable of only approximate description by terms appropriate to what is within the domain of sense. See the Introduction, pp. 14, 15.
15.1. The skilful masters (of the Tâo) in old times, with a subtle and exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep (also) so as to elude men’s knowledge. As they were thus beyond men’s knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort they appeared to be.
2. Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in winter; irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them; grave like a guest (in awe of his host); evanescent like ice that is melting away; unpretentious like wood that has not been fashioned into anything; vacant like a valley, and dull like muddy water.
3. Who can (make) the muddy water (clear)? Let it be still, and it will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of rest? Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.
4. They who preserve this method of the Tâo do not wish to be full (of themselves). It is through their not being full of themselves that they can afford to seem worn and not appear new and complete.
, ‘The Exhibition of the Quality,’ that is, of the Tâo, which has been set forth in the preceding chapter. Its practical outcome is here described in the masters of it of old, who in their own weakness were yet strong in it, and in their humility were mighty to be co-workers with it for the good of the world.
The variety of the readings in par. 4 is considerable, but not so as to affect the meaning. This par. is found in Hwâi-nan (XII, 23 a) with an unimportant variation. From the illustration to which it is subjoined he understood the fulness, evidently as in ch. 9, as being that of a vessel filled to overflowing. Both here and there such fulness is used metaphorically of a man overfull of himself; and then Lâo-ȝze slides into another metaphor, that of a wornout garment. The text of par. 3 has been variously tampered with. I omit the of the current copies, after the example of the editors of the great recension of the Yung-lo period (ad 1403-1424) of the Ming dynasty.
16.1. The (state of) vacancy should be brought to the utmost degree, and that of stillness guarded with unwearying vigour. All things alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see them return (to their original state). When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root. This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness may be called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.
2. The report of that fulfilment is the regular, unchanging rule. To know that unchanging rule is to be intelligent; not to know it leads to wild movements and evil issues. The knowledge of that unchanging rule produces a (grand) capacity and forbearance, and that capacity and forbearance lead to a community (of feeling with all things). From this community of feeling comes a kingliness of character; and he who is king-like goes on to be heaven-like. In that likeness to heaven he possesses the Tâo. Possessed of the Tâo, he endures long; and to the end of his bodily life, is exempt from all danger of decay.
, ‘Returning to the Root.’ The chapter exhibits the operation of the Tâo in nature, in man, and in government; an operation silent, but all-powerful; unaccompanied with any demonstration of its presence, but great in its results.
An officer receives a charge or commission from his superior (); when he reports the execution of it he is said . So all animate things, including men, receive their charge from the Tâo as to their life, and when they have fulfilled it they are represented as reporting that fulfilment; and the fulfilment and report are described as their unchanging rule, so that they are the Tâo’s impassive instruments, having no will or purpose of their own,—according to Lâo-ȝze’s formula of ‘doing nothing and yet doing all things ().’
The getting to possess the Tâo, or to be an embodiment of it, follows the becoming Heaven or Heaven-like; and this is in accordance with the saying in the fourth chapter that ‘the Tâo might seem to have been before God.’ But, in Kwang-ȝze especially, we often find the full possessor and displayer of the Tâo spoken of as ‘Heaven.’ The last sentence, that he who has come to the full possession of the Tâo is exempt from all danger of decay, is generally illustrated by a reference to the utterances in ch. 50; as if Lâo-ȝze did indeed see in the Tâo a preservative against death.
17.1. In the highest antiquity, (the people) did not know that there were (their rulers). In the next age they loved them and praised them. In the next they feared them; in the next they despised them. Thus it was that when faith (in the Tâo) was deficient (in the rulers) a want of faith in them ensued (in the people).
2. How irresolute did those (earliest rulers) appear, showing (by their reticence) the importance which they set upon their words! Their work was done and their undertakings were successful, while the people all said, ‘We are as we are, of ourselves!’
, ‘The Unadulterated Influence.’ The influence is that of the Tâo, as seen in the earliest and paradisiacal times. The two chapters that follow are closely connected with this, showing how the silent, passionless influence of the Tâo was gradually and injuriously superseded by ‘the wisdom of the world,’ in the conduct of government. In the first sentence there is a small various reading of for , but it does not affect the meaning of the passage. The first clause of par. 2 gives some difficulty; , ‘they made their words valuable or precious,’ i.e. ‘they seldom spake;’ cp. 1 Sam. iii. 1.
18.1. When the Great Tâo (Way or Method) ceased to be observed, benevolence and righteousness came into vogue. (Then) appeared wisdom and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy.
2. When harmony no longer prevailed throughout the six kinships, filial sons found their manifestation; when the states and clans fell into disorder, loyal ministers appeared.
, ‘The Decay of Manners.’ A sequel to the preceding chapter, and showing also how the general decay of manners afforded opportunity for the display of certain virtues by individuals. Observe ‘the Great Tâo,’ occurring here for the first time as the designation of ‘the Tâo.’
19.1. If we could renounce our sageness and discard our wisdom, it would be better for the people a hundredfold. If we could renounce our benevolence and discard our righteousness, the people would again become filial and kindly. If we could renounce our artful contrivances and discard our (scheming for) gain, there would be no thieves nor robbers.
, ‘Returning to the Unadulterated Influence.’ The chapter desires a return to the simplicity of the Tâo, and shows how superior the result would be to that of the more developed systems of morals and government which had superseded it. It is closely connected with the two chapters that precede. Lâo-ȝze’s call for the renunciation of the methods of the sages and rulers in lieu of his fancied paradisiacal state is repeated ad nauseam by Kwang-ȝze.
20.1. When we renounce learning we have no troubles.
What all men fear is indeed to be feared; but how wide and without end is the range of questions (asking to be discussed)!
2. The multitude of men look satisfied and pleased; as if enjoying a full banquet, as if mounted on a tower in spring. I alone seem listless and still, my desires having as yet given no indication of their presence. I am like an infant which has not yet smiled. I look dejected and forlorn, as if I had no home to go to. The multitude of men all have enough and to spare. I alone seem to have lost everything. My mind is that of a stupid man; I am in a state of chaos.
Ordinary men look bright and intelligent, while I alone seem to be benighted. They look full of discrimination, while I alone am dull and confused. I seem to be carried about as on the sea, drifting as if I had nowhere to rest. All men have their spheres of action, while I alone seem dull and incapable, like a rude borderer. (Thus) I alone am different from other men, but I value the nursing-mother (the Tâo).
, ‘Being Different from Ordinary Men.’ The chapter sets forth the difference to external appearance which the pursuit and observance of the Tâo produces between its votaries and others; and Lâo-ȝze speaks in it as himself an example of the former. In the last three chapters he has been advocating the cause of the Tâo against the learning and philosophy of the other school of thinkers in the country. Here he appears as having renounced learning, and found an end to the troubles and anxieties of his own mind; but at the expense of being misconceived and misrepresented by others. Hence the chapter has an autobiographical character.
Having stated the fact following the renunciation of learning, he proceeds to dwell upon the troubles of learning in the rest of par. 1. Until the votary of learning knows everything, he has no rest. But the instances which he adduces of this are not striking nor easily understood. I cannot throw any light on the four lines about the ‘yes’ and the ‘yea.’
Confucius (Ana. XVI, viii) specifies three things of which the superior man stands in awe; and these and others of a similar nature may have been the things which Lâo-ȝze had in his mind. The nursing-mother at the end is, no doubt, the Tâo in operation, ‘with a name,’ as in ch. 1; ‘the mysterious virtue’ of chapters 51 and 52.
How know I that it is so with all the beauties of existing things? By this (nature of the Tâo).
, ‘The Empty Heart.’ But I fail to see the applicability of the title. The subject of the chapter is the Tâo in its operation. This is the significance of the in the first clause or line, and to render it by ‘virtue,’ as Julien and Chalmers do, only serves to hide the meaning. Julien, however, says that ‘the virtue is that of the Tâo; and he is right in taking , the last character of the second line, as having the sense of ‘from,’ ‘the source from,’ and not, as Chalmers does, in the sense of ‘following.’
Lâo-ȝze’s mind is occupied with a very difficult subject—to describe the production of material forms by the Tâo; how or from what, he does not say. What I have rendered ‘semblances,’ Julien ‘les images,’ and Chalmers ‘forms,’ seems, as the latter says, in some way to correspond to the ‘Eternal Ideas’ of Plato in the Divine Mind. But Lâo-ȝze had no idea of ‘personality’ in the Tâo.
22.1. The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty, full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray.
2. Therefore the sage holds in his embrace the one thing (of humility), and manifests it to all the world. He is free from self-display, and therefore he shines; from self-assertion, and therefore he is distinguished; from self-boasting, and therefore his merit is acknowledged; from self-complacency, and therefore he acquires superiority. It is because he is thus free from striving that therefore no one in the world is able to strive with him.
3. That saying of the ancients that ‘the partial becomes complete’ was not vainly spoken:—all real completion is comprehended under it.
, ‘The Increase granted to Humility.’ This title rightly expresses the subject-matter of the chapter. I cannot translate the first clause otherwise than I have done. It was an old saying, which Lâo-ȝze found and adopted. Whether it was intended to embrace all the cases which are mentioned may be questioned, but he employs it so as to make it do so.
‘The emptiness’ which becomes full is literally the hollowness of a cavity in the ground which is sure to be filled by overflowing water;—see Mencius, IV, ii, 18. ‘The worn out’ is explained by the withered foliage of a tree, which comes out new and fresh in the next spring. I have taken the first sentence of par. 2 as Wû Khăng does;—see his commentary in loc.
23.1. Abstaining from speech marks him who is obeying the spontaneity of his nature. A violent wind does not last for a whole morning; a sudden rain does not last for the whole day. To whom is it that these (two) things are owing? To Heaven and Earth. If Heaven and Earth cannot make such (spasmodic) actings last long, how much less can man!
2. Therefore when one is making the Tâo his business, those who are also pursuing it, agree with him in it, and those who are making the manifestation of its course their object agree with him in that; while even those who are failing in both these things agree with him where they fail.
3. Hence, those with whom he agrees as to the Tâo have the happiness of attaining to it; those with whom he agrees as to its manifestation have the happiness of attaining to it; and those with whom he agrees in their failure have also the happiness of attaining (to the Tâo). (But) when there is not faith sufficient (on his part), a want of faith (in him) ensues (on the part of the others).
, ‘Absolute Vacancy.’ This, I think, is the meaning of the title, ‘Emptiness and Nothingness,’ an entire conformity to the Tâo in him who professes to be directed by it. Such an one will be omnipotent in his influence in all others. The Tâo in him will restrain all (spasmodic) loquacity. Those who are described in par. 2 as ‘failing’ are not to be thought of as bad men, men given up, as Julien has it, au crime. They are simply ordinary men, who have failed in their study of the Tâo and practice of it, but are won to truth and virtue by the man whom the author has in mind. As we might expect, however, the mention of such men has much embarrassed the commentators.
Compare the concluding sentence with the one at the end of par. 1 in ch. 17.
24. He who stands on his tiptoes does not stand firm; he who stretches his legs does not walk (easily). (So), he who displays himself does not shine; he who asserts his own views is not distinguished; he who vaunts himself does not find his merit acknowledged; he who is self-conceited has no superiority allowed to him. Such conditions, viewed from the standpoint of the Tâo, are like remnants of food, or a tumour on the body, which all dislike. Hence those who pursue (the course) of the Tâo do not adopt and allow them.
, ‘Painful Graciousness.’ The chapter should be so designated. This concludes the subject of the two previous chapters,—pursuing the course, the course of the unemotional Tâo without vain effort or display.
The remnants of food were not used as sacrificial offerings;—see the Lî Kî (vol. xxvii, p. 82). In what I have rendered by ‘a tumour attached to the body,’ the is probably, by a mistake, for ;—see a quotation by Wû Khăng from Sze-mâ Khien. ‘Which all dislike’ is, literally, ‘Things are likely to dislike them,’ the ‘things’ being ‘spirits and men,’ as Wû explains the term.
25.1. There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth. How still it was and formless, standing alone, and undergoing no change, reaching everywhere and in no danger (of being exhausted)! It may be regarded as the Mother of all things.
2. I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tâo (the Way or Course). Making an effort (further) to give it a name I call it The Great.
3. Great, it passes on (in constant flow). Passing on, it becomes remote. Having become remote, it returns. Therefore the Tâo is great; Heaven is great; Earth is great; and the (sage) king is also great. In the universe there are four that are great, and the (sage) king is one of them.
4. Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Tâo. The law of the Tâo is its being what it is.
, ‘Representations of the Mystery.’ In this chapter Lâo approaches very near to give an answer to the question as to what the Tâo is, and yet leaves the reader disappointed. He commences by calling it ‘a thing ();’ but that term does not necessitate our regarding it as ‘material.’ We have seen in the preceding chapter that it is used to signify ‘spirits and men.’ Nor does his going on to speak of it as ‘chaotic ()’ necessarily lead us to conceive it as made up of the ‘material elements of things;’ we have the same term applied in ch. 14 to the three immaterial constituents there said to be blended in the idea of it.
‘He does not know its name,’ and he designates it by the term denoting a course or way (Tâo, ), and indicating the phenomenal attribute, the method in which all phenomena come before our observation, in their development or evolution. And to distinguish it from all other methods of evolution, he would call it ‘the Great Method,’ and so he employs that combination as its name in ch. 18 and elsewhere; but it cannot be said that this name has fully maintained itself in the writings of his followers. But understood thus, he here says, as in ch. 1, that it is ‘the Mother of all things.’ And yet, when he says that ‘it was before Heaven and Earth were produced,’ he comes very near his affirmations in chapters 1 and 4, that ‘the nameless Tâo was the beginning (or originating cause) of Heaven and Earth,’ and ‘might seem to have been before God.’ Was he groping after God if haply he might find Him? I think he was, and he gets so far as to conceive of Him as ‘the Uncaused Cause,’ but comes short of the idea of His personality. The other subordinate causes which he mentions all get their force or power from the Tâo, but after all the Tâo is simply a spontaneity, evolving from itself, and not acting from a personal will, consciously in the direction of its own wisdom and love. ‘Who can by searching find out God? Who can find out the Almighty to perfection?’
The predicate of the Tâo in the chapter, most perplexing to myself, is ‘It returns,’ in par. 3. ‘It flows away, far away, and comes back;’—are not the three statements together equal to ‘It is everywhere?’
26.1. Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of movement.
2. Therefore a wise prince, marching the whole day, does not go far from his baggage waggons. Although he may have brilliant prospects to look at, he quietly remains (in his proper place), indifferent to them. How should the lord of a myriad chariots carry himself lightly before the kingdom? If he do act lightly, he has lost his root (of gravity); if he proceed to active movement, he will lose his throne.
, ‘The Quality of Gravity.’ Gravity and stillness are both attributes of the Tâo; and he who cultivates it must not give way to lightness of mind, or hasty action.
The rule for a leader not to separate from his baggage waggons is simply the necessity of adhering to gravity. I have adopted from Han Fei the reading of ‘the wise prince’ for ‘the sage,’ which is found in Ho-shang Kung; and later on the reading of ‘has lost his root’ for his ‘loses his ministers,’ though the latter is found also in Han Fei.
27.1. The skilful traveller leaves no traces of his wheels or footsteps; the skilful speaker says nothing that can be found fault with or blamed; the skilful reckoner uses no tallies; the skilful closer needs no bolts or bars, while to open what he has shut will be impossible; the skilful binder uses no strings or knots, while to unloose what he has bound will be impossible. In the same way the sage is always skilful at saving men, and so he does not cast away any man; he is always skilful at saving things, and so he does not cast away anything. This is called ‘Hiding the light of his procedure.’
2. The unwrought material, when divided and distributed, forms vessels. The sage, when employed, becomes the Head of all the Officers (of government); and in his greatest regulations he employs no violent measures.
, ‘Returning to Simplicity.’ The chapter sets forth humility and simplicity, an artless freedom from all purpose, as characteristic of the man of Tâo, such as he was in the primeval time. ‘The sage’ in par. 2 may be ‘the Son of Heaven,’—the Head of all rule in the kingdom, or the feudal lord in a state.
29.1. If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp loses it.
2. The course and nature of things is such that
Hence the sage puts away excessive effort, extravagance, and easy indulgence.
, ‘Taking no Action.’ All efforts made with a purpose are sure to fail. The nature of the Tâo necessitates their doing so, and the uncertainty of things and events teaches the same lesson.
That the kingdom or throne is a ‘spirit-like vessel’ has become a common enough saying among the Chinese. Julien has, ‘L’Empire est comme un vase divin;’ but I always shrink from translating by ‘divine.’ Its English analogue is ‘spirit,’ and the idea in the text is based on the immunity of spirit from all material law, and the uncertain issue of attempts to deal with it according to ordinary methods. Wû Khăng takes the phrase as equivalent to ‘superintended by spirits,’ which is as inadmissible as Julien’s ‘divin.’ The Tâo forbids action with a personal purpose, and all such action is sure to fail in the greatest things as well as in the least.
30.1. He who would assist a lord of men in harmony with the Tâo will not assert his mastery in the kingdom by force of arms. Such a course is sure to meet with its proper return.
2. Wherever a host is stationed, briars and thorns spring up. In the sequence of great armies there are sure to be bad years.
3. A skilful (commander) strikes a decisive blow, and stops. He does not dare (by continuing his operations) to assert and complete his mastery. He will strike the blow, but will be on his guard against being vain or boastful or arrogant in consequence of it. He strikes it as a matter of necessity; he strikes it, but not from a wish for mastery.
4. When things have attained their strong maturity they become old. This may be said to be not in accordance with the Tâo: and what is not in accordance with it soon comes to an end.
, ‘A Caveat against War.’ War is contrary to the spirit of the Tâo, and, as being so, is productive of misery, and leads to early ruin. It is only permissible in a case of necessity, and even then its spirit and tendencies must be guarded against.
In translating by ‘striking a decisive blow,’ I have, no doubt, followed Julien’s ‘frapper un coup décisif.’ The same occurs six times in par. 3, followed by , and Ȝiâo Hung says that in all but the first instance the should be taken as equivalent to , so that we should have to translate, ‘He is determined against being vain,’ &c. But there is no necessity for such a construction of .
‘Weakness’ and not ‘strength’ is the character of the Tâo; hence the lesson in par. 4.
31.1. Now arms, however beautiful, are instruments of evil omen, hateful, it may be said, to all creatures. Therefore they who have the Tâo do not like to employ them.
2. The superior man ordinarily considers the left hand the most honourable place, but in time of war the right hand. Those sharp weapons are instruments of evil omen, and not the instruments of the superior man;—he uses them only on the compulsion of necessity. Calm and repose are what he prizes; victory (by force of arms) is to him undesirable. To consider this desirable would be to delight in the slaughter of men; and he who delights in the slaughter of men cannot get his will in the kingdom.
3. On occasions of festivity to be on the left hand is the prized position; on occasions of mourning, the right hand. The second in command of the army has his place on the left; the general commanding in chief has his on the right;—his place, that is, is assigned to him as in the rites of mourning. He who has killed multitudes of men should weep for them with the bitterest grief; and the victor in battle has his place (rightly) according to those rites.
, ‘Stilling War.’ The chapter continues the subject of the preceding. The imperially-appointed editors of Wang Pî’s Text and Commentary (1765) say that from the beginning of par. 2 to the end, there is the appearance of text and commentary being mixed together; but they make no alteration in the text as it is found in Ho-shang Kung, and in all other ancient copies.
The concluding sentence will suggest to some readers the words of the Duke of Wellington, that to gain a battle was the saddest thing next to losing it.
32.1. The Tâo, considered as unchanging, has no name.
2. Though in its primordial simplicity it may be small, the whole world dares not deal with (one embodying) it as a minister. If a feudal prince or the king could guard and hold it, all would spontaneously submit themselves to him.
3. Heaven and Earth (under its guidance) unite together and send down the sweet dew, which, without the directions of men, reaches equally everywhere as of its own accord.
4. As soon as it proceeds to action, it has a name. When it once has that name, (men) can know to rest in it. When they know to rest in it, they can be free from all risk of failure and error.
5. The relation of the Tâo to all the world is like that of the great rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.
. Chalmers translates this by ‘sagely virtue.’ But I cannot adopt that rendering, and find it difficult to supply a better. The ‘virtue’ is evidently the Attribute of the Tâo come out from the condition of the Absolute, and capable of being named. In the former state it has no name; in the latter, it has. Par. 1 and the commencement of par. 4 must both be explained from ch. 1.
The ‘primordial simplicity’ in par. 2 is the Tâo in its simplest conception, alone, and by itself, and the in par. 4 is that Tâo come forth into operation and become Teh, the Teh which affords a law for men. From this to the end of the paragraph is very obscure. I have translated from the text of Wang Pî. The text of Ho-shang Kung is different, and he comments upon it as it stands, but to me it is inexplicable.
33.1. He who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is intelligent. He who overcomes others is strong; he who overcomes himself is mighty. He who is satisfied with his lot is rich; he who goes on acting with energy has a (firm) will.
2. He who does not fail in the requirements of his position, continues long; he who dies and yet does not perish, has longevity.
, ‘Discriminating between (different) Attributes.’ The teaching of the chapter is that the possession of the Tâo confers the various attributes which are here most distinguished. It has been objected to it that elsewhere the Tâo is represented as associated with dulness and not intelligence, and with weakness and not with strength. But these seem to be qualities viewed from without, and acting on what is beyond itself. Inwardly, its qualities are the very opposite, and its action has the effect of enlightening what is dark, and overcoming what is strong.
More interesting are the predicates in par. 2. Ȝiâo Hung gives the comment on it of the Indian monk, Kumâragîva, ‘one of the four suns of Buddhism,’ and who went to China in ad 401: ‘To be alive and yet not alive may well be called long; to die and yet not be dead may well be called longevity.’ He also gives the views of Lû Năng-shih (ad 1042-1102) that the freedom from change of Lieh-ȝze, from death of Kwang-ȝze, and from extinction of the Buddhists, have all the same meaning as the concluding saying of Lâo-ȝze here; that the human body is like the covering of the caterpillar or the skin of the snake; that we occupy it but for a passing sojourn. No doubt, Lâo-ȝze believed in another life for the individual after the present. Many passages in Kwang-ȝze indicate the same faith.
34.1. All-pervading is the Great Tâo! It may be found on the left hand and on the right.
2. All things depend on it for their production, which it gives to them, not one refusing obedience to it. When its work is accomplished, it does not claim the name of having done it. It clothes all things as with a garment, and makes no assumption of being their lord;—it may be named in the smallest things. All things return (to their root and disappear), and do not know that it is it which presides over their doing so;—it may be named in the greatest things.
3. Hence the sage is able (in the same way) to accomplish his great achievements. It is through his not making himself great that he can accomplish them.
, ‘The Task of Achievement.’ The subject is the greatness of what the Tâo, called here by Lâo’s own name for it in ch. 25, does; and the unconscious simplicity with which it does it; and then the achievements of the sage who is permeated by the Tâo. Par. 2 is descriptive of the influence of the Tâo in the vegetable world. The statements and expressions are much akin to those in parts of chapters 2, 10, and 51, and for Ho-shang Kung’s difficult reading of some copies give , as in chapter 2.
35.1. To him who holds in his hands the Great Image (of the invisible Tâo), the whole world repairs. Men resort to him, and receive no hurt, but (find) rest, peace, and the feeling of ease.
2. Music and dainties will make the passing guest stop (for a time). But though the Tâo as it comes from the mouth, seems insipid and has no flavour, though it seems not worth being looked at or listened to, the use of it is inexhaustible.
, ‘The Attribute of Benevolence.’ But there seems little appropriateness in this title. The subject of the chapter is the inexhaustible efficacy of the Tâo for the good of the world.
The Great Image (of the invisible Tâo) is a name for the Tâo in its operation; as in chapters 14 and 41. He who embodies this in his government will be a centre of attraction for all the world. Or the may be taken as a predicate of the holder of the Great Image:—‘If he go all under heaven teaching the Tâo.’ Both constructions are maintained by commentators of note. In par. 2 the attraction of the Tâo is contrasted with that of ordinary pleasures and gratifications.
36.1. When one is about to take an inspiration, he is sure to make a (previous) expiration; when he is going to weaken another, he will first strengthen him; when he is going to overthrow another, he will first have raised him up; when he is going to despoil another, he will first have made gifts to him:—this is called ‘Hiding the light (of his procedure).’
2. The soft overcomes the hard; and the weak the strong.
3. Fishes should not be taken from the deep; instruments for the profit of a state should not be shown to the people.
, ‘Minimising the Light;’ equivalent, as Wû Khăng has pointed out, to the of ch. 27.
The gist of the chapter is to be sought in the second paragraph, where we have two instances of the action of the Tâo by contraries, supposed always to be for good.
But there is a difficulty in seeing the applicability to this of the cases mentioned in par. 1. The first case, indeed, is merely a natural phenomenon, having no moral character; but the others, as they have been illustrated from historical incidents, by Han Fei and others at least, belong to schemes of selfish and unprincipled ambitious strategy, which it would be injurious to Lâo-ȝze to suppose that he intended.
Par. 3 is the most frequently quoted of all the passages in our King, unless it be the first part of ch. 1. Fishes taken from the deep, and brought into shallow water, can be easily taken or killed; that is plain enough. ‘The sharp instruments of a state’ are not its ‘weapons of war,’ nor its ‘treasures,’ nor its ‘instruments of government,’ that is, its rewards and punishments, though this last is the interpretation often put on them, and sustained by a foolish reference to an incident, real or coined, in the history of the dukedom of Sung. The lî khî are ‘contrivances for gain,’ machines, and other methods to increase the wealth of a state, but, according to the principles of Lâo-ȝze, really injurious to it. These should not be shown to the people, whom the Tâoistic system would keep in a state of primitive simplicity and ignorance. This interpretation is in accordance with the meaning of the characters, and with the general teaching of Tâoism. In no other way can I explain the paragraph so as to justify the place undoubtedly belonging to it in the system.
37.1. The Tâo in its regular course does nothing (for the sake of doing it), and so there is nothing which it does not do.
2. If princes and kings were able to maintain it, all things would of themselves be transformed by them.
3. If this transformation became to me an object of desire, I would express the desire by the nameless simplicity.
, ‘The Exercise of Government.’ This exercise should be according to the Tâo, doing without doing, governing without government.
The subject of the third paragraph is a feudal prince or the king, and he is spoken of in the first person, to give more vividness to the style, unless the , ‘I,’ may, possibly, be understood of Lâo-ȝze himself personating one of them.