The last two lines of the quoted verse in Chapter 21 are obscure in the original Chinese. The difficulty lies in the meaning of the word fu, which means anything that is first, either in time or dignity. Literally the eight words read:
"Its--name--not--departs; Thereby--it notes--all--the first."
The sense seems to be that the Tao is eternal, for its name never departs. Therefore it has been in the beginning of creation. In this sense we have translated the passage in former editions:
"Its name does not depart
Thence lo! All things take start."
which means, "It is of all the first."
Should fu, however, have to be taken in the sense of excellence we would propose either of these two readings:
"Its name does not pass hence,
Lo! Here's all excellence!"
or, if we lay stress on the verb yüeh, "it beholds," we translate:
"Its name is never vanishing
It heeds the good in everything."
Mr. Ng Poon Chew favors the idea that the character fu means "the beginning."
The Manchu version follows the last interpretation. Dr. Laufer translates: "Hence one investigates all good things,"--which seems to mean: "Thereby we learn what in all things is good," and the concluding sentence would read: "Whereby do I know what is good in all things? Through IT." In other words: "Reason is the standard of excellence."
The two last words "through IT" in this chapter comprise a favorite term of Lao-tze, and by "IT" Lao-tze means "Reason."