1. After the Thâi Ki (or Primal Ether) commenced its action, the earliest period of time began to be unfolded.
The curtain of the sky was displayed, and the sun and moon were suspended in it; the four-cornered earth was established, and the mountains and streams found their places in it. Then the subtle influences (of the Ether) operated like the heaving of the breath, now subsiding and again expanding; the work of production went on in its seasons above and below; all things were formed as from materials, and were matured and maintained. There were the (multitudes of the) people; there were their rulers and superiors.
2. As to the august sovereigns of the highest antiquity, living as in nests on trees in summer, and in caves in winter, silently and spirit-like they exercised their wisdom. Dwelling like quails, and drinking (the rain and dew) like newly-hatched birds, they had their great ceremonies like the great terms of heaven and earth, not requiring to be regulated by the dishes and stands; and (also) their great music corresponding to the common harmonies of heaven and earth, not needing the guidance of bells and drums.
3. By and by there came the loss of the Tâo, when its Characteristics took its place. They in their turn were lost, and then came Benevolence. Under the Sovereigns and Kings that followed, now more slowly and anon more rapidly, the manners of the people, from being good and simple, became bad and mean. Thereupon came the Literati and the Mohists with their confused contentions; names and
rules were everywhere diffused. The 300 rules 1 of ceremony could not control men's natures; the 3000 rules 1 of punishment were not sufficient to put a stop to their treacherous villanies. But he who knows how to cleanse the current of a stream begins by clearing out its source, and he who would straighten the end of a process must commence with making its beginning correct. Is not the Great Tâo the Grand Source and the Grand Origin of all things?
4. The Master Lâo was conceived under the influence of a star. Whence he received the breath (of life) we cannot fathom, but he pointed to the (plum-) tree (under which he was born), and adopted it as his surname 2; we do not understand 2 whence came the musical sounds (that were heard), but he kept his marvellous powers concealed in the womb for more than seventy years. When he was born, the hair on his head was already white, and he took the designation of 'The Old Boy' (or Lâo-dze). In his person, three gateways and two (bony) pillars formed the distinctive marks of his ears and eyes; two of the symbols for five, and ten brilliant marks were left by the wonderful tread of his feet and the grasp of his hands. From the time of Fû-hsî down to that of the Kâu dynasty, in uninterrupted succession, dynasty after dynasty, his person appeared, but with changed names. In the times of kings Wän and Wû he discharged the duties, (first), of Curator of the Royal Library 3, and (next), of the Recorder under the Pillar 3. Later on in that dynasty he filled different offices, but did
not change his appearance. As soon as Hsüan Nî 1 saw him, he sighed over him as 'the Dragon,' whose powers are difficult to be known 2. Yin (Hsî), keeper of the (frontier) gate, keeping his eyes directed to every quarter, recognised 'the True Man' as he was hastening into retirement. (By Yin Hsî he was prevailed on) to put forth his extraordinary ability, and write his Book in two Parts 3,--to lead the nature (of man) back to the Tâo, and celebrating the usefulness of 'doing nothing.' The style of it is very condensed, and its reasoning deep and far-reaching, The hexagram which is made up of the 'dragons on the wing 4' is not to be compared with it in exquisite subtlety. (The Zo Kwan) which ends with the capture of the Lin, does not match it in its brightness and obscurity. If employed to regulate the person, the spirit becomes clear and the will is still. If employed to govern the state, the people return to simplicity, and become sincere and good. When one goes on to refine his body in accordance with it, the traces of material things are rolled away from it; in rainbow-hued robes and mounted on a stork he goes forwards and backwards to the purple palace; on its juice of gold and wine of jade 5 he feasts in the beautiful and pure capital. He is lustrous as the sun and moon; his ending and beginning are those of heaven and earth. He who crosses its stream, drives away the dust and noise of the world; he who finds its gate, mounts prancing up on the misty clouds. It is not for the ephemeral fly to know the fading and luxuriance of the Tâ-khun 6, or for a Fäng-î 7 to fathom the depth of an Arm of the sea. Vast indeed (is the Tâo)! words are not sufficient to describe its excellence and powers!
5. Kwang Kâu tells us, that, 'when Lâo Tan died,
Khin Shih went to condole (with his son), but after crying out three times, immediately left the house 1.' This was what is called the punishment for his neglecting his Heaven (-implanted nature), and although it appears as one of the metaphorical illustrations of the supercilious officer, yet there is some little indication in the passage of the reappearance of the snake after casting its exuviae 2.
[At this point the author leaves the subject of the Tâo and its prophet, and enters on a long panegyric of the founder of the Sui dynasty and his achievements. This sovereign was the emperor Wän ( ) the founder of Sui ( ), originally Yang Kien, a scion of the House of Sui, a principality whose name remains in Sui-kâu, of the department Teh-an in Hû Pei. He was certainly the ablest man in the China of his day, and deserves a portion of the praise with which Mr. Hsieh celebrates him after his extravagant fashion. He claimed the throne from the year 581. While doing honour to Confucianism, he did not neglect the other two religions in the empire, Tâoism and Buddhism; and having caused the old temple of Lâo-dze to be repaired in grand style in 586, he commissioned Hsieh Tâo-häng to superintend the setting up in it a commemorative Tablet of stone.
I pass over all this, which is related at great length, and proceed to give the inscription. It occupies no fewer than 352 characters in 88 lines, each consisting of four characters. The lines are arranged in what we may call eleven stanzas of equal length, the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth lines of each rhyming together. There is a good deal of art in the metrical composition. In the first six stanzas the rhyming finals are in the even tone and one of the deflected tones alternately. In the last five stanzas this arrangement is reversed. The rhymes in 7, 9, and 11 are deflected, and in 8 and 10 even. The measure of four characters is the most common in the Shih King or Ancient Book of Poetry.
[paragraph continues] It continued to be a favourite down to the Thang dynasty, after which it fell very much into disuse. Through the many assonances of the Chinese characters, and the attention paid to the tones, we have in Chinese composition much of the art of rhyming, but comparatively little of the genius of poetry.]
St. 1. Back in the depths of ancient time;
Remote, before the Tîs began;
Four equal sides defined the earth,
And pillars eight the heaven sustained.
All living things in classes came,
The valleys wide, and mighty streams.
The Perfect Tâo, with movement wise,
Unseen, Its work did naturally.
St. 2. Its power the elements 1 all felt;
The incipient germs of things 2 appeared.
Shepherd and Lord established were,
And in their hands the ivory bonds 3.
The Tîs must blush before the Hwangs 4;
The Wangs must blush before the Tîs 4.
More distant grew Tâo's highest gifts,
And simple ways more rare became.
St. 3. The still placidity was gone,
And all the old harmonious ways.
Men talents prized, and varnished wit;
The laws displayed proved but a net.
Wine-cups and stands the board adorned,
And shields and spears the country filled.
The close-meshed nets the fishes scared:
And numerous bows the birds alarmed.
St. 4. Then did the True Man 1 get his birth,
As 'neath the Bear the star shone down 2.
All dragon gifts his person graced;
Like the stork's plumage was his hair.
The complicated he resolved 3, the sharp made blunt 3,
The mean rejected, and the generous chose;
In brightness like the sun and moon,
And lasting as the heaven and earth 3.
St. 5. Small to him seemed the mountains five 4,
And narrow seemed the regions nine 4;
About he went with lofty tread,
And in short time he rambled far.
In carriage by black oxen drawn 5,
Around the purple air was bright.
Grottoes then oped to him their sombre gates,
And thence, unseen, his spirit power flowed forth.
St. 6. The village near the stream of Ko 6
Traces of him will still retain 6;
But now, as in the days of old,
With changèd times the world is changed.
His stately temple fell to ruin
His altar empty was and still;
By the nine wells dryandras grew 1,
And the twin tablets were but heaps of stone.
St. 7. But when our emperor was called to rule,
All spirit-like and sage was he.
Earth's bells reverberated loud,
And light fell on the heavenly mirror down.
The universe in brightness shone,
And portents all were swept away;
(All souls), or bright or dark 2, revered,
And spirits came to take from him their law.
St. 8. From desert sands 3 and where the great trees grow 3,
From phoenix caves, and from the dragon woods,
All different creatures came sincere;
Men of all regions gave their hearts to him.
Their largest vessels brought their gifts,
And kings their rarest things described;
Black clouds a thousand notes sent forth;
And in the fragrant winds were citherns heard 4.
St. 9. Through his transforming power, the tripods were made sure;
And families became polite and courteous.
Ever kept he in mind (the sage) beneath the Pillar 1,
Still emulous of the sovereigns most ancient 2.
So has he built this pure temple,
And planned its stately structure;
Pleasant, with hills and meadows around,
And lofty pavilion with its distant prospect.
St. 10. Its beams are of plum-tree, its ridge-pole of cassia;
A balustrade winds round it; many are its pillars;
About them spreads and rolls the fragrant smoke 3;
Cool and pure are the breezes and mists.
The Immortal officers come to their places 4;
The Plumaged guests are found in its court 4,
Numerous and at their ease,
They send down blessing, bright and efficacious.
St. 11. Most spirit-like, unfathomable,
(Tâo's) principles abide, with their symbolism attached 5.
Loud is Its note, but never sound emits 6,
Yet always it awakes the highest echoes.
From far and near men praise It;
In the shades, and in the realms of light, they look up for Its aid;
Reverently have we graven and gilt this stone
And made our lasting proclamation thereby to heaven and earth.
311:1 Hsieh Tâo-häng , called also Hsüan-khing ( ), was one of the most famous scholars and able ministers of the Sui dynasty (581-618), and also an eloquent writer. His biography is given at considerable length in the fifty-seventh chapter of the Books of Sui.
For about 200 years after the end of the Zin dynasty, the empire had been in a very divided and distracted state. The period is known as the epoch of 'The Southern and Northern Dynasties,' no fewer than nine or ten of which co-existed, none of them able to assert a universal sway till the rise of Sui. The most powerful of them towards the end of the time was 'The Northern Kâu,' in connexion with the Wû-khäng ( ) reign of which (558-561) the name of our Hsieh first appears. In the Wû-phing ( ) reign of 'The Northern Khî (570 ,576),' we find him member of a committee for revising the rules of 'The Five Classes of Ceremonial Observances,' and gaining distinction as a poet.
When the emperor Wän ( ), by name Yang Kien ( ), a scion of the ruling House of Sui, a small principality in the present Hû-pei, and founder of the dynasty so called, had succeeded in putting down the various conflicting dynasties, and claimed the sovereignty of the empire in 581, Hsieh freely yielded his allegiance to him, and was employed in the conduct of various affairs. The important paper, of the translation of the greater part of which a translation is here attempted, was the outcome of one of them. Wän Tî regularly observed the Confucian worship of God, but also kept up the ceremonies of Buddhism and Taoism. Having repaired the dilapidated temple of Lâo-dze at his birth-place, he required from Hsieh an inscription for the commemorative tablet in it, the composition of which is referred to the year 586, 'the sixth year of Sui's rule over all beneath the sky.'
Hsieh appears to have been a favourite with the emperor Wän, but when Wän was succeeded in 605 by his son, known as Yang Tî ( ),his relations with p. 312 the throne became less happy. Offended by a memorial which Hsieh presented, and the ground of offence in which we entirely fail to perceive, the emperor ordered him to put an end to himself. Hsieh was surprised by the sentence, and hesitated to comply with it, on which an executioner was sent to strangle him. Thus ended the life of Hsieh Tâo-häng in his seventieth year. His death was regretted and resented, we are told, by the people generally. A collection of his writings was made in seventy chapters, and was widely read. I do not know to what extent these have been preserved; if many of them have been lost, and the paper, here in part submitted to the reader, were a fair specimen of the others, the loss must be pronounced to be great. Of this paper I have had two copies before me in translating it. One of them is in Ziâo Hung's 'Wings to Lao-dze;' the other is in 'The Complete Works of the Ten Philosophers.' Errors of the Text occur now in the one copy, now in the other. From the two combined a Text, which must be exactly correct or nearly so, is made out.
313:1 Compare vol. xxviii, p. 323; par. 38.
313:2 Li ( ), a plum-tree. For this and many of the other prodigies mentioned by Hsieh, see what Julien calls 'The Fabulous Legend of Lâo-dze,' and has translated in the Introduction to his version of the Tâo The King. Others of them are found in the Historical, or rather Legendary, Introduction in the 'Collection of Tâoist Treatises,' edited by Lû Yü in 1877.
313:3 The meaning of the former of these offices may be considered as settled;--see the Dote in Wang Kän-kâi's edition of the 'Historical Records (1870),' under the Biography of Lâo-dze. The nature of the second office is not so clearly ascertained. It was, I apprehend, more of a literary character than the curatorship.
314:1 Confucius, who was styled after the beginning of our era for several centuries 'Duke Nî, the Illustrious.'
314:2 See vol. xxxix, pp. 34, 35.
314:3 See vol. xxxix, p. 35.
314:4 The Khien or first of all the hexagrams of the Yî King; but the sentence is to be understood of all the hexagrams,--of the Yî as a whole.
314:5 Compare Pope's line, 'The juice nectareous, and the balmy dew.'
314:6 Vol. xxxix, p. 166.
314:7 Vol. xxxix, p. 244.
315:1 Vol. xxxix, p. 201.
315:2 Referring, I suppose, to the illustration of the fire and the faggots.
316:1 'The five essences;' meaning, I think, the subtle power and operation of the five elements.
316:2 So Williams, under Wei ( ). See also the Khang-hsî Thesaurus under the phrase .
316:3 'Bonds' with written characters on them superseded the 'knotted cords' of the primitive age. That the material of the bonds should be, as here represented, slips of ivory, would seem to anticipate the progress of society.
316:4 The Hwangs ( ) preceded the Tîs in the Tâoistic genesis of history; and as being more simple were Tâoistically superior to them; so it was with the Tîs and the Wangs or Kings.
317:1 This of course was Lâo-dze.
317:2 See above, p. 313, par. 4.
317:3 In the Tâo Teh King, p. 50, par. 2, and p. 52, par. 1. The reading of line 7 is different in my two authorities in the one , in the other suppose the correct reading should be and have given what I think is the meaning.
317:4 Two well-known numerical categories. See Mayers's Manual, pp. 320, 321, and p. 340.
317:5 So it was, according to the story, that Lâo-dze drew near to the barrier gate, when he wished to leave China.
317:6 The Ko is a river flowing from Ho-nan into An-hui, and falling into the Hwâi, not far from the district city of Hwâi-yüan. It enters the one province from the other in the small department of Po ( ), in which, according to a Chinese map in my possession, Lâo-dze was born. The Khang-hsî Thesaurus also gives a passage to the effect that the temple of his mother was hereabouts, at a bend in the Ko.
318:1 The nine wells, or bubbling springs, near the village where Lao was born, are mentioned by various writers; but I fail to see how the growth of the trees about them indicated the ruin of his temple.
318:2 I have introduced the 'all souls' in this line, because of the in the second character. Williams defines the first character, yao as 'the effulgence of the sun,' and of 'heavenly bodies generally;' the second ( ) is well known as meaning 'the animal soul,' and 'the dark disk of the moon.' The Thesaurus, however, explains the two characters together as a name for the pole star ( ; see Analects I, i); and perhaps I had better have followed this meaning.
318:3 The 'desert sands' were, no doubt, what we call 'the desert of Gobi.' The trees referred to were 'in the extreme East.' The combination phan-mû is not described more particularly.
318:4 This and the three preceding lines are not a little dark.
319:1 'The (sage) beneath the Pillar' must be Lâo-dze. See above in the Introductory notice, p. 313.
319:2 See the note on the meaning of the epithet vol. xxxix, p. 40.
319:3 'The smoke,' I suppose, 'of the incense, and from the offerings.'
319:4 Tâoist monks are called 'Plumaged or Feathered Scholars ( ),' from the idea that by their discipline and pills, they can emancipate themselves from the trammels of the material body, and ascend (fly up) to heaven. Arrived there, as Immortals or Hsien ( ), it further appears they were constituted into a hierarchy or society, of which some of them were 'officers,' higher in rank than others.
319:5 An allusion to the text of the hexagrams of the Yî King, where the explanations of them by king Wän,--his thwan, are followed by the symbolism of their different lines by the duke of Kâu,--his hsiang.
319:6 See the Tâo Teh King, ch. xli, par. 2.