Front Page Titles (by Subject) Part II. Section IV.: Ȝâi Yû, or 'Letting Be, and Exercising Forbearance 1 .' - 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 II. Section IV.: Ȝâi Yû, or ‘Letting Be, and Exercising Forbearance 1 .’ - 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:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Part II. Section IV.
Ȝâi Yû, or ‘Letting Be, and Exercising Forbearance1 .’
1. I have heard of letting the world be, and exercising forbearance; I have not heard of governing the world. Letting be is from the fear that men, (when interfered with), will carry their nature beyond its normal condition; exercising forbearance is from the fear that men, (when not so dealt with), will alter the characteristics of their nature. When all men do not carry their nature beyond its normal condition, nor alter its characteristics, the good government of the world is secured.
Formerly, Yâo’s government of the world made men look joyful; but when they have this joy in their nature, there is a want of its (proper) placidity. The government of the world by Kieh, (on the contrary), made men look distressed; but when their nature shows the symptoms of distress, there is a want of its (proper) contentment. The want of placidity and the want of contentment are contrary to the character (of the nature); and where this obtains, it is impossible that any man or state should anywhere abide long. Are men exceedingly joyful?—the Yang or element of expansion in them is too much developed. Are they exceedingly irritated?—the Yin or opposite element is too much developed. When those elements thus predominate in men, (it is as if1 ) the four seasons were not to come (at their proper times), and the harmony of cold and heat were not to be maintained;—would there not result injury to the bodies of men? Men’s joy and dissatisfaction are made to arise where they ought not to do so; their movements are all uncertain; they lose the mastery of their thoughts; they stop short midway, and do not finish what they have begun. In this state of things the world begins to have lofty aims, and jealous dislikes, ambitious courses, and fierce animosities, and then we have actions like those of the robber Kih, or of Ȝăng (Shăn) and Shih (Ȝhiû)2 . If now the whole world were taken to reward the good it would not suffice, nor would it be possible with it to punish the bad. Thus the world, great as it is, not sufficing for rewards and punishments, from the time of the three dynasties downwards, there has been nothing but bustle and excitement. Always occupied with rewards and punishments, what leisure have men had to rest in the instincts of the nature with which they are endowed?
2. Moreover, delight in the power of vision leads to excess in the pursuit of (ornamental) colours; delight in the power of hearing, to excess in seeking (the pleasures of) sound; delight in benevolence tends to disorder that virtue (as proper to the nature); delight in righteousness sets the man in opposition to what is right in reason; delight in (the practice of) ceremonies is helpful to artful forms; delight in music leads to voluptuous airs; delight in sageness is helpful to ingenious contrivances; delight in knowledge contributes to fault-finding. If all men were to rest in the instincts of their nature, to keep or to extinguish these eight delights might be a matter of indifference; but if they will not rest in those instincts, then those eight delights begin to be imperfectly and unevenly developed or violently suppressed, and the world is thrown into disorder. But when men begin to honour them, and to long for them, how great is the deception practised on the world! And not only, when (a performance of them) is once over, do they not have done with them, but they prepare themselves (as) with fasting to describe them, they seem to kneel reverentially when they bring them forward, and they go through them with the excitements of music and singing; and then what can be done (to remedy the evil of them)? Therefore the superior man, who feels himself constrained to engage in the administration of the world will find it his best way to do nothing1 . In (that policy of) doing nothing, he can rest in the instincts of the nature with which he is endowed. Hence he who will administer (the government of) the world honouring it as he honours his own person, may have that government committed to him, and he who will administer it loving it as he loves his own person, may have it entrusted to him1 . Therefore, if the superior man will keep (the faculties lodged in) his five viscera unemployed, and not display his powers of seeing and hearing, while he is motionless as a representative of the dead, his dragon-like presence will be seen; while he is profoundly silent, the thunder (of his words) will resound; while his movements are (unseen) like those of a spirit, all heavenly influences will follow them; while he is (thus) unconcerned and does nothing, his genial influence will attract and gather all things round him:—what leisure has he to do anything more for the government of the world?
3. Ȝhui Khü2 asked Lâo Tan, saying, ‘If you do not govern the world, how can you make men’s minds good?’ The reply was, ‘Take care how you meddle with and disturb men’s minds. The mind, if pushed about, gets depressed; if helped forward, it gets exalted. Now exalted, now depressed, here it appears as a prisoner, and there as a wrathful fury. (At one time) it becomes pliable and soft, yielding to what is hard and strong; (at another), it is sharp as the sharpest corner, fit to carve or chisel (stone or jade). Now it is hot as a scorching fire, and anon it is cold as ice. It is so swift that while one is bending down and lifting up his head, it shall twice have put forth a soothing hand beyond the four seas. Resting, it is still as a deep abyss; moving, it is like one of the bodies in the sky; in its resolute haughtiness, it refuses to be bound;—such is the mind of man1 !’
Anciently, Hwang-Tî was the first to meddle with and disturb the mind of man with his benevolence and righteousness2 . After him, Yâo and Shun wore their thighs bare and the hair off the calves of their legs, in their labours to nourish the bodies of the people. They toiled painfully with all the powers in their five viscera at the practice of their benevolence and righteousness; they tasked their blood and breath to make out a code of laws;—and after all they were unsuccessful. On this Yâo sent away Hwan Tâu to Khung hill, and (the Chiefs of) the Three Miâo to San-wei, and banished the Minister of Works to the Dark Capital; so unequal had they been to cope with the world3 . Then we are carried on to the kings of the Three (dynasties), when the world was in a state of great distraction. Of the lowest type of character there were Kieh and Kih; of a higher type there were Ȝăng (Shăn) and Shih (Ȝhiû). At the same time there arose the classes of the Literati and the Mohists. Hereupon, complacency in, and hatred of, one another produced mutual suspicions; the stupid and the wise imposed on one another; the good and the bad condemned one another; the boastful and the sincere interchanged their recriminations;—and the world fell into decay. Views as to what was greatly virtuous did not agree, and the nature with its endowments became as if shrivelled by fire or carried away by a flood. All were eager for knowledge, and the people were exhausted with their searchings (after what was good). On this the axe and the saw were brought into play; guilt was determined as by the plumb-line and death inflicted; the hammer and gouge did their work. The world fell into great disorder, and presented the appearance of a jagged mountain ridge. The crime to which all was due was the meddling with and disturbing men’s minds. The effect was that men of ability and worth lay concealed at the foot of the crags of mount Thâi, and princes of ten thousand chariots were anxious and terrified in their ancestral temples. In the present age those who have been put to death in various ways lie thick as if pillowed on each other; those who are wearing the cangue press on each other (on the roads); those who are suffering the bastinado can see each other (all over the land). And now the Literati and the Mohists begin to stand, on tiptoe and with bare arms, among the fettered and manacled crowd! Ah! extreme is their shamelessness, and their failure to see the disgrace! Strange that we should be slow to recognise their sageness and wisdom in the bars of the cangue, and their benevolence and righteousness in the rivets of the fetters and handcuffs! How do we know that Ȝăng and Shih are not the whizzing arrows of Kieh and Kih1 ? Therefore it is said, ‘Abolish sageness and cast away knowledge, and the world will be brought to a state of great order2 .’
4. Hwang-Tî had been on the throne for nineteen years3 , and his ordinances were in operation all through the kingdom, when he heard that Kwang Khăng-ȝze4 was living on the summit of Khung-thung5 , and went to see him. ‘I have heard,’ he said, ‘that you, Sir, are well acquainted with the perfect Tâo. I venture to ask you what is the essential thing in it. I wish to take the subtlest influences of heaven and earth, and assist with them the (growth of the) five cereals for the (better) nourishment of the people. I also wish to direct the (operation of the) Yin and Yang, so as to secure the comfort of all living beings. How shall I proceed to accomplish those objects?’ Kwang Khăng-ȝze replied, ‘What you wish to ask about is the original substance of all things6 ; what you wish to have the direction of is that substance as it was shattered and divided1 . According to your government of the world, the vapours of the clouds, before they were collected, would descend in rain; the herbs and trees would shed their leaves before they became yellow; and the light of the sun and moon would hasten to extinction. Your mind is that of a flatterer with his plausible words;—it is not fit that I should tell you the perfect Tâo.’
Hwang-Tî withdrew, gave up (his government of) the kingdom, built himself a solitary apartment, spread in it a mat of the white mâo grass, dwelt in it unoccupied for three months, and then went again to seek an interview with (the recluse). Kwang Khăng-ȝze was then lying down with his head to the south. Hwang-Tî, with an air of deferential submission, went forward on his knees, twice bowed low with his face to the ground, and asked him, saying, ‘I have heard that you, Sir, are well acquainted with the perfect Tâo;—I venture to ask how I should rule my body, in order that it may continue for a long time.’ Kwang Khăng-ȝze hastily rose, and said, ‘A good question! Come and I will tell you the perfect Tâo. Its essence is (surrounded with) the deepest obscurity; its highest reach is in darkness and silence. There is nothing to be seen; nothing to be heard. When it holds the spirit in its arms in stillness, then the bodily form of itself will become correct. You must be still; you must be pure; not subjecting your body to toil, not agitating your vital force;—then you may live for long. When your eyes see nothing, your ears hear nothing, and your mind knows nothing, your spirit will keep your body, and the body will live long. Watch over what is within you, shut up the avenues that connect you with what is external;—much knowledge is pernicious. I (will) proceed with you to the summit of the Grand Brilliance, where we come to the source of the bright and expanding (element); I will enter with you the gate of the Deepest Obscurity, where we come to the source of the dark and repressing (element). There heaven and earth have their controllers; there the Yin and Yang have their Repositories. Watch over and keep your body, and all things will of themselves give it vigour. I maintain the (original) unity (of these elements), and dwell in the harmony of them. In this way I have cultivated myself for one thousand and two hundred years, and my bodily form has undergone no decay1 .’
Hwang-Tî twice bowed low with his head to the ground, and said, ‘In Kwang Khăng-ȝze we have an example of what is called Heaven2 .’ The other said, ‘Come, and I will tell you:—(The perfect Tâo) is something inexhaustible, and yet men all think it has an end; it is something unfathomable, and yet men all think its extreme limit can be reached. He who attains to my Tâo, if he be in a high position, will be one of the August ones, and in a low position, will be a king. He who fails in attaining it, in his highest attainment will see the light, but will descend and be of the Earth. At present all things are produced from the Earth and return to the Earth. Therefore I will leave you, and enter the gate of the Unending, to enjoy myself in the fields of the Illimitable. I will blend my light with that of the sun and moon, and will endure while heaven and earth endure. If men agree with my views, I will be unconscious of it; if they keep far apart from them, I will be unconscious of it; they may all die, and I will abide alone1 !’
5. Yün Kiang2 , rambling to the east, having been borne along on a gentle breeze3 , suddenly encountered Hung Mung , who was rambling about, slapping his buttocks4 and hopping like a bird. Amazed at the sight, Yün Kiang stood reverentially, and said to the other, ‘Venerable Sir, who are you? and why are you doing this?’ Hung Mung went on slapping his buttocks and hopping like a bird, but replied, ‘I am enjoying myself.’ Yün Kiang said, ‘I wish to ask you a question.’ Hung Mung lifted up his head, looked at the stranger, and said, ‘Pooh!’ Yün Kiang, however, continued, ‘The breath of heaven is out of harmony; the breath of earth is bound up; the six elemental influences1 do not act in concord; the four seasons do not observe their proper times. Now I wish to blend together the essential qualities of those six influences in order to nourish all living things;—how shall I go about it?’ Hung Mung slapped his buttocks, hopped about, and shook his head, saying, ‘I do not know; I do not know!’
Yün Kiang could not pursue his question; but three years afterwards, when (again) rambling in the east, as he was passing by the wild of Sung, he happened to meet Hung Mung. Delighted with the rencontre, he hastened to him, and said, ‘Have you forgotten me, O Heaven? Have you forgotten me, O Heaven2 ?’ At the same time, he bowed twice with his head to the ground, wishing to receive his instructions. Hung Mung said, ‘Wandering listlessly about, I know not what I seek; carried on by a wild impulse, I know not where I am going. I wander about in the strange manner (which you have seen), and see that nothing proceeds without method and order3 ;—what more should I know?’ Yün Kiang replied, ‘I also seem carried on by an aimless influence, and yet the people follow me wherever I go. I cannot help their doing so. But now as they thus imitate me, I wish to hear a word from you (in the case).’ The other said, ‘What disturbs the regular method of Heaven, comes into collision with the nature of things, prevents the accomplishment of the mysterious (operation of) Heaven, scatters the herds of animals, makes the birds all sing at night, is calamitous to vegetation, and disastrous to all insects;—all this is owing, I conceive, to the error of governing men.’ ‘What then,’ said Yün Kiang, ‘shall I do?’ ‘Ah,’ said the other, ‘you will only injure them! I will leave you in my dancing way, and return to my place.’ Yün Kiang rejoined, ‘It has been a difficult thing to get this meeting with you, O Heaven! I should like to hear from you a word (more).’ Hung Mung said, ‘Ah! your mind (needs to be) nourished. Do you only take the position of doing nothing, and things will of themselves become transformed. Neglect your body; cast out from you your power of hearing and sight; forget what you have in common with things; cultivate a grand similarity with the chaos of the plastic ether; unloose your mind; set your spirit free; be still as if you had no soul. Of all the multitude of things every one returns to its root. Every one returns to its root, and does not know (that it is doing so). They all are as in the state of chaos, and during all their existence they do not leave it1 . If they knew (that they were returning to their root), they would be (consciously) leaving it. They do not ask its name; they do not seek to spy out their nature; and thus it is that things come to life of themselves.’
Yün Kiang said, ‘Heaven, you have conferred on me (the knowledge of) your operation, and revealed to me the mystery of it. All my life I had been seeking for it, and now I have obtained it.’ He then bowed twice, with his head to the ground, arose, took his leave, and walked away.
6. The ordinary men of the world1 all rejoice in men’s agreeing with themselves, and dislike men’s being different from themselves. This rejoicing and this dislike arise from their being bent on making themselves distinguished above all others. But have they who have this object at heart so risen out above all others? They depend on them to rest quietly (in the position which they desire), and their knowledge is not equal to the multitude of the arts of all those others2 ! When they wish again to administer a state for its ruler, they proceed to employ all the methods which the kings of the three dynasties considered profitable without seeing the evils of such a course. This is to make the state depend on the peradventure of their luck. But how seldom it is that that peradventure does not issue in the ruin of the state! Not once in ten thousand instances will such men preserve a state. Not once will they succeed, and in more than ten thousand cases will they ruin it. Alas that the possessors of territory,—(the rulers of states),—should not know the danger (of employing such men)! Now the possessors of territory possess the greatest of (all) things. Possessing the greatest of all things,—(possessing, that is, men),—they should not try to deal with them as (simply) things. And it is he who is not a thing (himself) that is therefore able to deal with (all) things as they severally require. When (a ruler) clearly understands that he who should so deal with all things is not a thing himself, will he only rule the kingdom? He will go out and in throughout the universe (at his pleasure); he will roam over the nine regions1 , alone in going, alone in coming. Him we call the sole possessor (of this ability); and the sole possessor (of this ability) is what is called the noblest of all.
The teaching of (this) great man goes forth as the shadow from the substance, as the echo responds to the sound. When questioned, he responds, exhausting (from his own stores) all that is in the (enquirer’s) mind, as if front to front with all under heaven. His resting-place gives forth no sound; his sphere of activity has no restriction of place. He conducts every one to his proper goal, proceeding to it and bringing him back to it as by his own movement. His movements have no trace; his going forth and his re-enterings have no deviation; his course is like that of the sun without beginning (or ending).
If you would praise or discourse about his personality, he is united with the great community of existences. He belongs to that great community, and has no individual self. Having no individual self, how should he have anything that can be called his? If you look at those who have what they call their own, they are the superior men of former times; if you look at him who has nothing of the kind, he is the friend of heaven and earth.
7. Mean, and yet demanding to be allowed their free course;—such are Things. Low, and yet requiring to be relied on;—such are the People. Hidden (as to their issues), and yet requiring to be done;—such are Affairs. Coarse, and yet necessary to be set forth;—such are Laws. Remote, and yet necessary to have dwelling (in one’s self);—such is Righteousness. Near, and yet necessary to be widely extended;—such is Benevolence. Restrictive, and yet necessary to be multiplied;—such are Ceremonies. Lodged in the centre, and yet requiring to be exalted;—such is Virtue. Always One, and yet requiring to be modified;—such is the Tâo. Spirit-like, and yet requiring to be exercised;—such is Heaven1 .
Therefore the sages contemplated Heaven, but did not assist It. They tried to perfect their virtue, but did not allow it to embarrass them. They proceeded according to the Tâo, but did not lay any plans. They associated benevolence (with all their doings), but did not rely on it. They pursued righteousness extensively, but did not try to accumulate it. They responded to ceremonies, but did not conceal (their opinion as to the troublesomeness of them). They engaged in affairs as they occurred, and did not decline them. They strove to render their laws uniform, but (feared that confusion) might arise from them. They relied upon the people, and did not set light by them. They depended on things as their instruments, and did not discard them1 .
They did not think things equal to what they employed them for, but yet they did not see that they could do without employing them. Those who do not understand Heaven are not pure in their virtue. Those who do not comprehend the Tâo have no course which they can pursue successfully. Alas for them who do not clearly understand the Tâo!
What is it that we call the Tâo2 ? There is the Tâo, or Way of Heaven; and there is the Tâo, or Way of Man. Doing nothing and yet attracting all honour is the Way of Heaven; Doing and being embarrassed thereby is the Way of Man. It is the Way of Heaven that plays the part of the Lord; it is the Way of Man that plays the part of the Servant. The Way of Heaven and the Way of Man are far apart. They should be clearly distinguished from each other.
[1 ] See pp. 142, 143.
[1 ] I supply the ‘it is as if,’ after the example of the critic Lû Shû-kih, who here introduces a in his commentary (). What the text seems to state as a fact is only an illustration. Compare the concluding paragraphs in all the Sections and Parts of the fourth Book of the Lî Kî.
[2 ] Our moral instincts protest against Tâoism which thus places in the same category such sovereigns as Yâo and Kieh, and such men as the brigand Kih and Ȝăng and Shih.
[1 ] Here is the Tâoistic meaning of the title of this Book.
[1 ] A quotation, but without any indication that it is so, from the Tâo Teh King, ch. 13.
[2 ] Probably an imaginary personage.
[1 ] I must suppose that the words of Lâo-ȝze stop here, and that what follows is from Kwang-ȝze himself, down to the end of the paragraph. We cannot have Lâo-ȝze referring to men later than himself, and quoting from his own Book.
[2 ] Hitherto Yâo and Shun have appeared as the first disturbers of the rule of the Tâo by their benevolence and righteousness. Here that innovation is carried further back to Hwang-Tî.
[3 ] See these parties, and the way they were dealt with, in the Shû King, Part II, Book I, 3. The punishment of them is there ascribed to Shun; but Yâo was still alive, and Shun was acting as his viceroy.
[1 ] Compare this picture of the times after Yâo and Shun with that given by Mencius in III, ii, ch. 9 et al. But the conclusions arrived at as to the causes and cure of their evils by him and our author are very different.
[2 ] A quotation, with the regular formula, from the Tâo Teh King, ch. 19, with some variation of the text.
[3 ] ? in bc 2678.
[4 ] Another imaginary personage; apparently, a personification of the Tâo. Some say he was Lâo-ȝze,—in one of his early states of existence; others that he was ‘a True Man,’ the teacher of Hwang-Tî. See Ko Hung’s ‘Immortals,’ I, i.
[5 ] Equally imaginary is the mountain Khung-thung. Some critics find a place for it in the province of Ho-nan; the majority say it is the highest point in the constellation of the Great Bear.
[6 ] The original ether, undivided, out of which all things were formed.
[1 ] The same ether, now in motion, now at rest, divided into the Yin and Yang.
[1 ] It seems very clear here that the earliest Tâoism taught that the cultivation of the Tâo tended to prolong and preserve the bodily life.
[2 ] A remarkable, but not a singular, instance of Kwang-ȝze’s application of the name ‘Heaven.’
[1 ] A very difficult sentence, in interpreting which there are great differences among the critics.
[2 ] I have preferred to retain Yün Kiang and Hung Mung as if they were the surnames and names of two personages here introduced. Mr. Balfour renders them by ‘The Spirit of the Clouds,’ and ‘Mists of Chaos.’ The Spirits of heaven or the sky have still their place in the Sacrificial Canon of China, as ‘the Cloud-Master, the Rain-Master, the Baron of the Winds, and the Thunder Master.’ Hung Mung, again, is a name for ‘the Great Ether,’ or, as Dr. Medhurst calls it, ‘the Primitive Chaos.’
[3 ] Literally, ‘passing by a branch of Fû-yâo;’ but we find fû-yâo in Book I, meaning ‘a whirlwind.’ The term ‘branch’ has made some critics explain it here as ‘the name of a tree,’ which is inadmissible. I have translated according to the view of Lû Shû-kih.
[4 ] Or ‘stomach,’—according to another reading.
[1 ] Probably, the yin, the yang, wind, rain, darkness, and light;—see Mayers, p. 323.
[2 ] See Introduction, pp. 17, 18.
[3 ] Compare in Book XXIII, par. 1.
[1 ] They never show any will of their own.—On the names Yün Kiang and Hung Mung, Lû Shû-kih makes the following remarks:—‘These were not men, and yet they are introduced here as questioning and answering each other; showing us that our author frames and employs his surnames and names to serve his own purpose. Those names and the speeches made by the parties are all from him. We must believe that he introduces Confucius, Yâo, and Shun just in the same way.’
[1 ] Meaning eccentric thinkers not Tâoists, like Hui-ȝze, Kung-sun Lung, and others.
[2 ] The construing and connexion of this sentence are puzzling.
[1 ] ‘The nine regions’ generally means the nine provinces into which the Great Yü divided the kingdom. As our author is here describing the grand Tâoist ruler after his fashion in his relation to the universe, we must give the phrase a wider meaning; but I have not met with any attempt to define it.
[1 ] All these sentences are understood to show that even in the non-action of the Master of the Tâo there are still things he must do.
[1 ] Antithetic to the previous sentences, and showing that what such a Master does does not interfere with his non-action.
[2 ] This question and what follows shows clearly enough that, even with Kwang-ȝze, the character Tâo () retained its proper meaning of the Way or Course.