Sacred-Texts Taoism Index Previous Next
NOW TAO is that which covers Heaven and supports Earth; it is co-extensive with the four quarters, and spreads to the eight points; its height cannot be measured, nor its depths fathomed; it enfolds the Universe in its embrace, and confers visibility upon that which at first was formless. If a spring flows, its fountain of water will be copious; empty before, it will gradually overflow; and as it rolls on ceaselessly, turbid and bubbling, it will get clear at last. Thus the TAO reaches upwards to Heaven and touches the Earth beneath; sideways it fills up all within the Four Seas. Its use cannot be exhausted; it knows neither exuberance nor decay; if it be opened out, it will cover the North, the South, the East, the West, the Zenith and the Nadir, as with a veil; if it be gathered together, it will not fill even a man's fist. Though it be contracted, it can yet be expanded; though it be obscure, it can become clear; though it be weak, it can become strong; though it be soft, it can become hard. It fills all within the four points of the compass; it contains the Yin and Yang; it holds together the Universe and the Ages, and supplies the Three Luminaries with light. It is so tenuous and subtle that it pervades everything as water pervades earth, in mire. It is by TAO that mountains are high, and abysses deep; that beasts walk and birds fly; that the sun and moon are bright, and the stars revolve in their courses; that the ch‘i-lin roams abroad, and the phœnix hovers in the air. In remote antiquity the two Emperors Fu Hsi and Shên Nung obtained the power inherent in TAO, and were established in the Centre; their spirits roamed in company with the Creator, and pacified everything within the limits of the Universe.
Therefore it is that the sky revolves and the earth is motionless; that circumvolution goes on unceasingly, and that water flows without stopping; for TAO is the beginning and end of the visible creation. The rising of wind, the gathering of Clouds—all are necessities; the rolling of thunder, and the fall of rain, alike must be, and that without end.* [The operations of TAO are as] the apparition of a ghost, the disappearance of p. 75 a lightning-flash, the soaring of a dragon, the alighting of a phœnix. They resemble the rotations of a potter's wheel, which goes round and round for ever. They cause things which have been polished and engraved to revert to their pristine roughness. Those whose action is inaction are in harmony with TAO; those whose speech is inaction have a full comprehension of Virtue; those who are tranquil and content, devoid of conceit, are in possession of Harmony. Although there be a myriad diversities [of affairs affecting them], all will be in accordance with their dispositions. The spirits of such men may find a home in the tip of an autumn hair or pervade the Universe in its entirety. Their virtue moulds Heaven and Earth, and harmonises the Yin and Yang; it divides the Four Seasons from each other, and brings the Five Elements into accord. Its benign and gentle breath cherishes all things, both inanimate and alive; it enriches vegetation with moisture, and permeates stones and metals; it causes the growth of birds and beasts, giving to the one rich and glossy fur, to the other abundant plumage, and horns to the antlered stag. The fœtus of no animal fails of maturity, nor is the egg of any bird addled before it is hatched. The father has not to mourn the death of his son, nor the elder brother that of the younger; the lad is not left an orphan, nor the wife a widow. Rain-clouds and the rainbow never appear, nor do stars of evil omen pass across the sky. Such are the effects of secret or inherent Virtue.
Now TAO, in its sublimest aspect, does not regard itself as the author of Creation, or as the power which completes, transforms, and gives all things their shape. Things which walk, or breathe, or fly, or crawl, await the operation to TAO before they come into being, without recognising the Virtue to which they owe existence; and they await the operation of the same principle before they die, without feeling any resentment. When men derive benefit from TAO, they render it no praise; so when they misuse it and bring disaster upon themselves, they may not reproach it. When they accumulate and store up riches, this may not be considered an increase of their wealth; nor, when they scatter it broad-cast, is it to be accounted any impoverishment. All-pervading and everywhere-revolving, TAO yet cannot be sought out; subtle and impalpable, it yet may not be overlooked: if it be piled up, it will not be high; if it be overthrown, it will not be low; if it be added to, it will not increase; if it be deducted from, it will not be diminished; if it be planed, it will not become thin; if it be cut, it will not be injured; if it be dug into, it will not be found deep; if [such a hole] be filled up, it will not become shallow. Shadowy and indistinct! it has no form. Indistinct and shadowy! its resources have no limit. Hidden and obscure! it reinforces [all things] out of formlessness. Penetrating and permeating p. 76 everywhere! it never acts in vain. It stoops and rises with the hard and the soft; mounts and falls with the Yin and Yang!
In times gone by, Fêng Yi and T‘ai Ping controlled the Yin and Yang as a driver his horses, riding on the clouds as on a chariot, with the rainbow for their steeds, roaming through the subtle mists of space, flying to the loftiest and most distant regions of Nebulosity. When they trod upon the hoar-frost or the snow, they left no footprints; when the rays of the sun fell upon them, they threw no shadow. They climbed aloft on spiral gusts of wind; they passed over hills and streams, treading in the air and soaring higher than the Kwên-lwên Mountains, bursting open the Gate of Heaven, and entering the Palace of God!
The successors of these men were unable to emulate them, although they had light chariots, docile horses, strong whips, and pointed goads. Wherefore, the wise and good are ever tranquil and have no desires; they are ever contented, and have no cares. They use the sky as their canopy, the earth as their chariot, the four seasons as their horses, and the Yin and Yang as their postilions; riding upon the clouds they soar through the fleecy mists of Heaven, and dwell with the Creator.* Perfectly free and knowing no restraints, they advance through the empyrean; going slowly or rapidly as they wish. They cause the rain-stars to sprinkle moisture on the roads, and the wind-stars to sweep the dust; the lightning serves them for a whip, and the thunder for their chariot-wheels. Above, they roam through the empty wastes of ether; below, they pass through the Gate of Boundlessness. There is nothing that does not pass before their vision in these wanderings, yet, on their return, their completeness [of spirit] is unimpaired; and although everything within the four corners of the Universe is under their control, they ever revert to their foundation. Wherefore, the sky being their canopy, there is nothing uncovered; the earth being their chariot, there is nothing unsupported; the four seasons being their horses, they are never without such as serve them; the Yin and Yang being their postilions, nothing is left unprovided for. So that, swiftly as they may move, they are always steady; however far they may go, they never tire; their limbs are motionless, and their mental powers remain unimpaired. Yet they know the forms and distinguishing marks of everything within the Universe; how can this be? It is because they have got a firm grasp of TAO; thus they are enabled to roam through the land of Infinity. Therefore although the affairs of the world are not easily administered, they may be carried out by a comprehension of the course they would naturally take; although the transmutations of the visible Universe baffle investigation, they may yet be understood by obtaining their actual origin and destiny.
Now when a mirror, and water, for example, are brought into proximity with any object, they reflect it as square or round, crooked or straight, as the case may be, with perfect tranquillity. [In like manner does the heart of a wise man naturally reflect the principles of TAO]. Wherefore the wise man does not need to hear sounds or see forms; for he is conscious of both, even in the midst of silence and vacancy. The quiescence of spirit with which a man is born, is the nature implanted in him by Heaven; the influences which affect and excite him subsequently, work injury to that nature. When a man responds to the calls made upon him by business of whatever sort, that implies an excitation of his knowledge; and when his faculty of knowledge is brought into contact with outside matters, he becomes the subject of predilections and aversions. As soon as a man's predilections and aversions assume shape, his faculty of knowledge, or cognition, is enticed [into play] by external objects; and if he is unable to revert to his true self, the TAO is extinguished in him. Wherefore those who are perfectly versed in TAO do not permit any change to take place in their Heaven-implanted constitution through any human agency. Though they undergo variations outwardly in common with everything else, inwardly they never lose their inherent actuality. Utterly non-existent, TAO is yet ever ready to respond to those who seek it; it apportions the Zodiacal Mansions as they revolve; for everything, great or small, long and short, due provision is made. [If a man is identified with TAO] let a myriad things present themselves before him, all prancing and rearing, as it were, in utter confusion, they will be inadequate to make him lose his head. Wherefore such men, when in positions of prominence and authority, do not bring their weight to bear heavily upon the people, nor do they injure them. The good betake themselves to them for protection, while the lascivious and depraved stand in awe of them; for, as they do not place themselves in antagonism to the world, so does the world not dare to contend with them.
Now when you go to a river to fish, you cannot fill your bag in one day, however sharp and barbed may be your hook, and fine your line, and appetising your bait; even if you add to these advantages the skill of Chan Ho and Kwên Huan, you will still be able to compete with those who fish with nets. Nor, if you go out shooting birds, with the best of bows and fleetest of arrows, and have the additional advantage of being as adroit as Yih and P‘êng Meng, will you be able to compete with those who lay snares and nets, in catching birds on the wing. And why? Because your implements are too small. Well, then; if the world be regarded as a cage, and seas and rivers as a net, how can a single bird or fish be lost or escape? So that just as a simple arrow is not equal to one which has a string attached to it to draw it back again, even that is not p. 78 equal to [the net] which has no form—q.d., the world, the rivers, and the seas.
Now attempting to explain the Great Doctrine by means of insignificant illustrations is exactly like setting a crab to catch a rat, or a toad to catch a flea. Not only would such teachings be inadequate to repress lasciviousness and put a stop to depravity, but they would have exactly the opposite effect. The olden times Kwên, the father of Yü, built a city wall twenty-four feet in height; in consequence of which all the feudal princes fell off in their allegiance and dwellers beyond the sea became false and crafty. Yü knew that the Empire was infected with disloyalty, so he pulled down the wall and filled up the city-moat, distributed largess among the people, and burnt all the armour and muniments of war. Thus by a display of kindness he caused those who dwelt beyond the sea to come willingly offer and their allegiance, and people from all sides to bring tribute; and when the feudal princes assembled at T‘u-shan, bearing their jade insignia, they represented no less than ten thousand States. So that cherishing a scheming, crafty mind defiles one's original innocence and purity, and prevents both one's spirit and virtue from becoming perfect. If a man does not understand the things pertaining to himself, how can he expect people from a distance to place confidence in him? Wherefore, if armour be strong, the weapons brought against it will be sharp; when the city wall is completed, battering engines will be prepared. If hot soup be poured into liquid already boiling, it will bubble up as much as ever; if you whip a snapping dog or a kicking horse with a view to teaching it better, you will not be able to change its disposition even if you were Yi Yin or Tsao Fu himself. If a man extinguishes fondness and the fear arising from it, in his heart, he may follow in the track of a famished tiger [with impunity]; how much less will he care to avoid a dog or a horse? Wherefore, those who embody the teachings of TAO are quiet and easy, yet meet with no impediments; while those who employ schemes and methods put themselves to great trouble and yet with no result. Now those who frame laws of unyielding severity, in which there is left no loophole of escape, have no chance of becoming princes or usurpers; and the method of those who use rods and whips [in enforcing such laws] is not one which has in it the elements of permanence. Li Chu had such clearness of vision that he was able to distinguish the point of a needle at a distance of over a hundred paces; yet he could not see the fish in the depths of the sea. Shih Kuang had such quickness of ear that he was able to blend together the individual tones of the eight winds [in his music]; yet he could hear no sound at a distance of over ten li. In like manner, if the ability of a single man be relied on, it will be found insufficient to govern a dwelling-place three roods in size; while if the p. 79 principle of right and the spontaneity of Heaven and Earth be brought into play, there will be no difficulty whatever in tranquillising the entire Universe. Thus Yü accepted water as his model, in digging his canals; and Shên Nung based his agricultural labours on what he learnt from the budding sprouts. Now duckweed has its root in water, and wood has its root in the soil. When birds are in the empty air, they can fly; when beasts tread upon the solid earth, they can walk. Dragons and the like live in water; tigers and leopards among mountains; such is the nature conferred upon them by Heaven and Earth. When two pieces of wood are rubbed together, they will ignite; when metals are brought into contact with fire, they melt. Spherical objects constantly roll about; hollow ones float easily; such are their natural properties. Thus when the spring-winds blow the sweet rain falls, and all things live and grow. The feathered ones brood and hatch, the furry ones breed and bear; plants and trees put forth all their glorious exuberance of foliage, birds and animals lay eggs and produce offspring; no action is visible outwardly, and yet the work is completed. When autumn-winds bring down the hoarsfrost, the trees, though still alive, bow their heads, broken and bare; the falcon and the eagle pounce ruthlessly upon their prey, and reptiles and insects burrow into the ground and become torpid; then plants and trees strike root, fishes and turtles dive into the depths of the sea; no action is visible outwardly, yet they disappear, and their forms are no more seen.
Such as live in trees make their nests of brushwood; such as live in the water have their lurking-places in holes. Birds and beasts have grassy jungles for their dwellings, while human beings have houses; oxen and horses are useful on dry ground, boats where water is abundant; the country of the Hsiung-nu produces thick furs, while the districts of Soochow and Che-kiang, bean and grass-cloth—for summer wear. Each place produces that which is necessary to its requirements, in order to counteract the dryness or humidity of the climate; and at every place such things are used as are calculated to resist extremes of cold and heat. Wherever the lot of living creatures is cast, there it will be found that provision is made for their comfort; and from this it may be seen that spontaneity is the original law of creation. What scope is there, then, for the interference of the Sages?
To the south of Mount Chiu-yi, there is very little business done on land, but a great deal on water; in consequence of which the inhabitants cut their hair and tattoo their bodies to make themselves resemble scaly reptiles. They wear a short strip of cloth round their loins instead of trousers, to facilitate wading and swimming; their sleeves also are short, leaving the arms bare, in order that they may be free to propel their boats; all of which is the result of their aquatic surroundings. To the p. 80 north of Yen-mên, the Ti savages do not eat grain; they despise the old and honour the robust; according to their customs, it is bodily strength that is most highly prized. The men never part company with their bows; the bridles are never taken off the horses; such is what they are accustomed to. Thus when the Emperor Yü went to the country where everybody went about naked, he stripped off his clothes before crossing the frontier, resuming his robe and girdle on leaving it again. This was in order to conform to the customs of the country. Now, if those who have occasion to transplant trees neglect to consider whether their nature requires a sunny or a shady position, the trees will inevitably wither up. Thus, if orange-trees are transplanted to the north of the Yang-tsze, their fruit will be changed into a small, bitter, rough-skinned sort. The thrush never passes the river Chi; if the tapir (?) crosses the river Wên, it dies; for neither the forms nor the natures of these objects are changeable, nor may their surroundings or the places to which they are indigenous, be altered.
Wherefore, those who have arrived at a thorough understanding of the TAO, revert to a condition of pure repose; those who investigate the things around them, enter, at last, upon absolute inaction.* Nourishing their constitutions by tranquillity, and resting their spirits in indifference, they enter the Door of Heaven. And what is it that is thus called the Heavenly? It is that which is homogeneous, pure, simple, undefiled, ungarnished, upright, luminous and immaculate, and which has never undergone any mixture or adulteration from the beginning. And what is the Human? It is that which has been adulterated with shrewdness, crookedness, dexterity, hypocrisy and deceit; wherefore it bends itself in compliance with the world, and is brought into association with the customs of the age. For example, the ox has a divided hoof, and wears horns, while the horse has a dishevelled mane and a complete hoof; this is the Heavenly. Putting a bit into the horse's month and piercing the nose of the ox; this is the Human. Those who follow the Heavenly, are such as roam in company with TAO; those who follow the Human, are such as connect themselves with the customs of the world. Now a fish in a well is unable to discourse about that which is great, for it is hampered by the narrowness of its surroundings. The summer insect is unable to discourse about the cold, for it only believes in the season of which it has experience. Sophists are unable to discourse upon the Perfect Doctrine, for they are hampered by their conventionalities and bound by their erudition. Wherefore the Sage does not allow the Human to disorder his Heaven [-implanted nature], nor does he allow desire to disturb his natural feelings. He p. 81 acts exactly as he ought, without considering what he shall do beforehand; he is trustworthy, without promising; he obtains what he wants, without anxiety; he brings his designs to completion without doing anything himself. His Spiritual Palace,—or mind—being filled with pure sincerity, he governs men in company with the Creator.
Now expert swimmers may be drowned, and expert horsemen thrown. The very things at which they are most clever turn to their disaster; wherefore restless people invariably come to grief, and the avaricious invariably fall into poverty. In ancient times, Kung Kung had strength sufficient to cause a landslip towards the south-east by butting his head against the Pu-chou Mountain; but when he contended for the Empire with Kao Hsin, [he was beaten, so] he plunged into an abyss—and drowned himself. His entire family being extinguished, there was no one left to perform the ancestral sacrifices. Yi, Prince of Yueh, plunged into a mountain cave [rather than accept the Crown]; so the men of Yueh lighted fires and smoked him out, and he had no choice but to comply with their demands. From this it may be seen that the acquisition [of empire] is a matter of opportunity, and not the result of struggling for it, and that its successful government lies in spontaneous action, and not in the exercise of mere Imperial power.*
The ground which occupies a low position does not struggle to secure a lofty one; and therefore it is tranquil, and out of danger. Water flows downward, but one stream does not struggle to outrun another; yet it flows swiftly and never lags behind. In ancient times Shun cultivated the ground at the Li mountain, and at the expiration of a single year all the husbandmen from other places came and settled there, appropriating all the poor, stony soil to themselves, and ceding all the rich fat land to each other. When he fished by the river-side, all the fishermen came and settled near him,—everybody choosing for himself the places where the water was shallow and the fish scarce, and yielding to others all the places where there was a good depth and plenty of fish. During this time, Shun never either uttered a word [of admonition] nor did he lift a hand to direct them what to do; he simply held the principle of Virtue firmly in his heart, and the reformation of the people was effected with a supernatural rapidity. If Shun had not held this object in view, however eloquent he might have been, and however indefatigable his admonitions, he would not have been able to convert a single man. How vast, therefore, and how great, is that Doctrine which cannot be spoken of!
Now if a man is able to govern the inhabitants of the Three Miao, to force the winged folk to come and present tribute, to change the p. 82 customs of the country where everybody goes naked, to exact homage from the Shu-shân—or Ju-chih—tribes, without issuing any commands, and yet to prove successful in changing their manners and altering their customs; it can only be one who does so by force of his own natural faculties. How would laws, enactments, and penalties be sufficient to accomplish so much? Wherefore the Sage cultivates, internally, that which is the root [of his attainments], and does not, outwardly, make a parade of accessories. He preserves the spiritual part of his nature and discards his shrewdness; silent and inactive, there is yet nothing he does not accomplish; indifferent and caring for nothing, there is yet nothing he does not govern. Those who are called inactive are such as do not attempt to force things into premature action; those who are said to leave nothing unaccomplished are such as simply allow things to follow their natural course. Those who are said to govern everything are such as never alter that which is spontaneous or natural; those who are said to leave nothing ungoverned are such as give to all that which is their natural requirement. It is only these men who know how to preserve the root from which all creation springs, and the causes, or antecedents, of all the affairs of life. Therefore they are all able to pursue their investigations without limit, and to reach that which has no end; they understand all things thoroughly, without any misconception or delusion; they respond to all requirements as the echo to a sound, and that untiringly; and this ability may be called the endowment of Heaven.* Thus those who are in possession of the True Doctrine are pliable in will but strong in action;† their hearts are perfectly unbiassed, and their decisions are therefore just. Those who are long in making up their minds but strong when they come to act are mild and pliant, tranquil and quiescent; inwardly they are diffident, and when they come to act as though they had no ability; perfectly content, they have no anxieties; in acting they never lose an opportunity—or, they always act at the right moment; they follow all things in their march and revolutions; they never take the initiative in anything, but only respond when influence is brought to bear upon them. Therefore the noble ought to adopt humble designations,‡ and lofty structures should be built on low foundations. They use the small to direct or control the great;§ a motive power from within exercises its influence abroad. p. 83 Pliant in action, they can yet be firm; yielding, they can yet be strong; adapting themselves to circumstances as they change, they still hold fast the fundamental part of the Doctrine, and are able to effect great things by small means. When those who are said to be strong in action encounter vicissitudes, or meet with sudden emergencies, or find themselves compelled to prepare for misfortune, or to ward off troubles, their strength is never inadequate—their antagonists are invariably discomfited. Adapting themselves to the transmutations of nature, they choose their times for action, and therefore they are invulnerable. Wherefore those who wish to preserve their resolution, must maintain it by means of gentleness; and those who wish to preserve their force, must guard it by means of weakness. If gentleness be persevered in it will lead to resolution; if weakness be persevered in it will lead to strength. It is possible to foretell the future weal or woe of any given person, by watching to see what his constant practice is. Force can only be successful in combating what is weaker than itself; it cannot overcome anything which is equally strong. But weakness can overcome what is far stronger than itself; the strength of weakness cannot be estimated! Thus if soldiers be fierce, they will eventually be annihilated; if wood be hard, it will be easily snapped in twain; when the skin of a drum is hard, it will soon crack; the teeth, which are stronger and harder than the tongue, decay first. Wherefore weakness constitutes the substance of life; strength is associated with death. Those who take the initiative in action are soon brought to a pass where they can get no further; those who wait for others to act before they do so themselves have a starting-place from which they can go through all they want to compass. And how can it be known that this is so? The average life of men is seventy years; and day by day and month by month they repent of the things they have done amiss, until they come to die. Thus when Ch‘ü Pŏ-yü arrived at the age of fifty, he considered that he had done wrong for forty-nine years. And why? It is always the man who does a thing for the first time, who has the difficulties to contend with; to those who come after him the fight is easy. When the pioneers have attained a position of eminence, those who come after them reap the benefit of their experience; when pioneers fall down, those in the rear fall upon the top of them. When the pioneers are taken in a trap or pit, those in the rear devise means to avoid the danger themselves; when the pioneers are defeated, those in the rear adopt a different method. It may be seen from this that the pioneers are simply the target on which those who come after them practise shooting. These two classes may be compared to the point and the butt-end of a spear respectively. The point encounters dangers, while the butt-end is free from troubles; and why? Because it is in the rear. This is what the commonest and most ordinary people can all p. 84 see; yet the virtuous and wise are unable to avoid being always in the position of the point. When I speak of those who are in the rear of the others, I don't mean to imply that they are in a state of obstruction, and motionless in a state of coagulation, and therefore do not flow; their strong point is that they fall in with any methods there may be at hand, and always act according to the times. Furthermore, in adapting themselves to the vicissitudes of the world according to the rule of right, the pioneers and those who follow them exercise a mutually regulating influence. How is it, then, that they do not lose their control over others? It is, that no one can control them; for the times change with greater rapidity than one can draw a breath in—[so that it is a matter of enormous difficulty to catch the opportunity as it passes]. If you act too soon, you overpass it; if too late, you fail to catch it up. Again, when the Sun leaves us, round comes the Moon; they do not await the convenience of men in their revolutions. For this reason, while the Sage attaches no value of a jade sceptre a foot long, he prizes an inch-long shadow on the dial; because time is difficult to get and very easy to lose. The Emperor Yü availed himself of his opportunities to such an extent that when his shoe dropped off he did not stop to pick it up, and if his cap were caught up from his head—as by a roadside branch—he took no notice of it. Yet his object was not so much to get on ahead, as to avail himself of opportunities. Wherefore the Sage preserves the principle of quiescence, and guards the weaker side of his nature. He waits till the changes bring about the time for action—never being premature or precipitate; soft, pliant, and at rest—easy, tranquil, and secure,—he storms, as it were, a great [citadel] and lays a strong [tower] in ruins, nothing in the world being able to withstand him!
There is nothing in the world so weak as water; yet its experience is such that it has no bounds, its depth such that it cannot be fathomed. In length it is without limit, in distance it has no shores; in its flows and ebbs, its increase and decrease, it is measureless. When it rises to Heaven, it produces rain and dew; when it falls upon the earth, it gives richness and moisture; there is no creature in the world to whom it does not impart life, and nothing that it does not bring to completion. It holds all things in its wide embrace with perfect impartiality; its graciousness extends even to creeping things and tiny insects, without any expectation of reward. Its wealth is sufficient to supply the wants of the whole world, without fear of exhaustion; its virtue is bestowed upon the people at large, and yet there is no waste. Its flow is ever onward—ceaseless and unlimited; its subtlety such that it cannot be grasped in the hand. Strike it,—you hurt it not; stab it,—you cause no wound; cut it,—you cannot sever it in twain; apply fire to it—it will not burn. Whether it runs deep or shallow, seen or unseen, taking different directions p. 85 —flowing this way and that, without order or design—it can never be utterly dispersed. Its cutting power is such that it will work its way through stone and metal; its strength so great that the whole world is succoured by it.* It floats lazily through the regions of formlessness, soaring and fluttering above the realms of obscurity;† it worms its way backwards and forwards among valleys and watercourses, it seethes and overflows its banks in vast and desert wilds. Whether there be a superfluity of it, or a scarcity, the world is supplied according to its requirements for receiving and for imparting moisture to created things, without respect to precedence in time. Wherefore there is nothing either generous or mean about it; for it flows and rushes with echoing reverberations throughout the vast expanse of Earth and Heaven. Thus it cannot be said to have a left side or a right—[filling everything as it does]; it winds and meanders backwards and forwards, this way and that, being co-existent in point of time with the entire Universe—for which cause its virtue may be called perfect. And how comes it that water is able thus to bring its virtue to perfection in the world? It is because of its gentleness, weakness, fertilising properties, and lubricity. Thus Lao Tsze said, "That which is the weakest thing in all the world is able to overcome the strongest. Issuing from nothingness it returns to nowhere; and from this I know that there is advantage in non-action."‡
Now Formlessness is the first progenitor of Form, and Silence is the first ancestor of Sound. The son of Formlessness is Light; its grandson is Water. Everything that lives was thus produced from Formlessness. For Light can be seen, but not grasped; Water may be complied with, but not violently compelled. Wherefore among all things which are endowed with form there are none so noble as water.
To leave [the road of] life and enter upon [that of] death; to revert to non-existence from a state of being after having arrived at a state of being from one of non-existence, [cannot be done], and [any attempt to do so] will result in obloquy and ruin. Therefore quiet and impassiveness are the climax of virtue; and softness and weakness are the important parts from which virtue springs; all things are emptiness, p. 86 nothingness; tranquillity and content are the true outcome of all things. When a man is able, calmly and impassively, to await whatever may befal him, and patiently and resolutely to cause his heart to revert to that from whence he sprang, he will then be engulphed in a state of Formlessness. And what is this Formlessness of which I speak? It is the One. And what is this One? It is that which has no equal under Heaven; which, although it stands unsupported and alone, emotionless and isolated, permeates the Nine Heavens above and the Nine Fields below; round—but with a roundness that no compasses could describe; square—but with a squareness that no carpenter's square could make; one with the vast expanse; exuberant in leaves, but having no [discoverable] root; embracing and enveloping both Heaven and Earth. It is the Door of Nature! Majestic in its breadth and depth, invisible and without form, it alone preserves its virtue absolutely pure, spreading and diffusing it without exhaustion, exercising it without fatigue. Wherefore it is invisible, though looked for; inaudible, though listened for; intangible, though followed after; formless, yet giving birth to forms; without sound, yet causing the five notes of harmony; tasteless, yet producing the five flavours; colourless, yet perfecting the five colours. Thus existence is produced from non-existence, and reality from vacancy. The world being its only enclosure, the nominal and the actual exist together. There are only five notes in music; but the variations of these are more numerous than can be listened to. There are only five flavours; but the modifications of these are more numerous than can be tasted. There are only five colours; but the diversifications of these are more numerous than can be observed. Wherefore, given the note kung, the five notes may be formulated correctly; given the quality of sweetness, the five flavours may be decided; given whiteness, the five colours may be perfected; given TAO, the Creation will come into being. Thus the Principle of this One pervades the Four Seas; the permeation of it fills up all Heaven and Earth. In compactness it is as pure as an unpolished gem; in a state of diffusion, it is turbid as foul water.* Yet, turbid as it is, it becomes gradually clear; from hollowness it becomes full; it ripples placidly like a deep abyss; it drifts along like floating clouds; to all appearance non-existing, it yet exists; to all appearance lost, it is still preserved. Multifarious as are created things, they all pass through its aperture; the origin of all affairs emerges from its door. Its movements are invisible—its transformations like those of a spirit; its actions leave no vestiges,—ever behind, and yet before all. Wherefore, in governing the Perfect Man screens his intelligence, and does away with written legislation; he depends upon the p. 87 principle of spontaneity and discards shrewdness, and includes both himself and his people in a policy of liberality and justice. The restraints he does keep in force are few; the objects he strives for are restricted. He relinquishes allurements on one hand and longings on the other; discarding his lustful appetites and throwing off anxiety and care. The restrictive ordinances which he retains being few, they can be easily investigated; the objects he strives for being few, they can be easily attained. Those who depend upon their ears for hearing and their eyes for seeing, put their bodies to great weariness, and do not succeed in perceiving clearing even then. Those who use knowledge and anxious thoughts in the work of government put their minds to great trouble, and yet fail to accomplish their objects. Wherefore the Sage uses spontaneous methods, never swerving from what the occasion demands, or changing his constant habit, but following out the proper line of conduct through all the windings that it may be necessary for it to take. Now joy and anger are deflections from the true Doctrine—conformity with TAO; sorrow and melancholy are lapses from Virtue; loves and hates are aberrations of the heart; depraved appetites are impediments to the original temperament. Great anger in a man tends to disperse the Yin principle in his nature; great joy, to repress the Yang. Conflicting passions produce dumbness; intense terror produces madness. When sorrow, melancholy, and anger co-exist, the disease is past cure; when loves and hatreds flourish greatly, tribulation will follow in their train. Wherefore the height of virtue is an absence of both joy and sorrow from the heart; the height of tranquillity is to reach this condition and abide in it without change; the height of emptiness is to be perfectly free of depraved appetites; the height of peace is the absence of loves and hates; the height of simplicity is to keep oneself free from the confusion which affects others. Those who are able to bring themselves into these five conditions acquire absolute perspicacity; and the acquirement of absolute perspicacity involves the entire grasp [of the True Doctrine] by the mind. If the mind is thus able to obtain [the True Doctrine], it is impossible that the passions should be fostered; so that the acquirement of the Doctrine by the mind results in the tranquillisation of the interior and the pacification of the passions of joy and anger; the sinews will become hard, the strength firm, the ear quick, and the eye clear. The mind being free and open, it never runs counter to right; the body being robust and strong, it never breaks down. Such a man never either oversteps his duty nor yet falls short of it. If his sphere of action is limited, he does not feel cramped; if it be large, he is able, in like manner, to accommodate himself to its extent. His soul is not prone to anger, nor his spirit to vexation; but pure and tranquil, placid and indifferent, he is the paragon of the Universe!
The Great Way of Nature is smooth and easy. It is not far from any one. If it to be sought for in the body, it passes away, yet returns again; if it be closely approached, it will respond; if influenced, it will move, or act on, being; it is infinitely recondite and abstruse. Its transmutations are independent of form; tranquil is it and unreserved, like an echo or a shadow. When a man has climbed to some great height, and then looks down, he should not let go of the support he grasps; similarly, in treading a dangerous course, and performing perilous actions, one must not forget the Principle he originally received. As long as he is able to preserve this intact, his virtue will remain unimpaired; when all things are disorganised, he will be able to restore them to a state of order; so that by this means he controls the world as easily as though galloping with a fair wind. This may be called the Perfection of Virtue; and when a man is possessed of this perfect virtue, he will be filled with joy. Among the ancients there were men who, living among caves and precipices, yet never suffered any diminution of their natural spirits. In degenerate times, let a man even become Emperor by virtue of his great influence, or power, and every day he will be melancholy and sad. From this it may be seen that the Sage lays no store by governing others, but devotes himself exclusively to acquiring the Principle of Nature (TAO); and the man who finds his delight [in this acquirement] lays no store by wealth and rank, but devotes himself to Virtue and Harmony. Knowing his own greatness, he regards the whole world as insignificant, and thus approaches nearly to the Principle [which is his guide].
And now as regards what is called Happiness. Surely it cannot be said necessarily to consist in dwelling on the Ching T‘ai or the Chung Hua,* sauntering through Yün Mêng† or Sha Chin,‡ listening to the Chin Shao§ or the Lin Ying,‖ regaling the mouth with fried and boiled, fragrant and savoury viands, flying on swift steeds along level roads, or entrapping or shooting the wild goose? What I call Happiness consists in the acquirement, by man, of what he ought, or has a right, to obtain.¶ And what is this acquirement of what he ought to obtain? It consists in not finding happiness in empty show, or regarding frugal simplicity as a matter of sadness; to remain secluded in accordance with the principle Yin, and to develop action in accordance with the principle Yang. It was from this cause that Tsze Hsia, while the subject of internal conflict, grew thin: but on acquiring the TAO he became fat. The p. 89 Sage does not permit his body to be under the control of external influences, nor does he permit lusts to throw into confusion the harmony which reigns within him. For this reason neither his happiness nor his sadness ever oversteps in due bounds. In every place, the multitudinous vicissitudes of the world disturb and discompose [the heart] and there is nothing certain. I, alone, firmly and promptly put aside external temptations, and follow the True Way. To those who have accomplished the self-acquirement [of the Principle of Nature], it is enough to live beneath lofty trees and in hollow caves, in order to enjoy relaxation of the spirits; but to those who have not accomplished this, though the Empire be regarded as their house,* and the whole population as their servants and concubines, it would not be sufficient for the nourishment of their life. Those who are able to arrive at a condition of joylessness—i.e., apathy—will never be without joy, they will then arrive at a condition of ecstasy, or joy in its highest form.
Now those who find their happiness in bells and drums, in bands of musicians playing flutes and lutes, in spreading silken carpets and soft cushions, in wearing featherwork and ivory, in listening to the slow cadences of the music played in the corrupt district north of Chao Kô,† in collecting wanton or enticing beauties, in arranging banquets of wine and pledging one another in goblets, prolonging their revelries far into the night, in shooting birds on the wing with powerful crossbows, and coursing hares with trained dogs: brilliant and powerful as they may be, they are yet subject to apprehension, and are, as it were, a prey to temptation and hankering. If their chariots have to be relinquished, their horses allowed to rest, their potations stopped, and their music taken from them, they feel as though they had suddenly suffered bereavement, and are as vexed and miserable as though all were over with them. And why? Because they do not use their hearts in the enjoyment of outward things, but use outward things as a means of delighting their hearts.‡ While the music is being played, they are merry; but when the song comes to an end, they are sad. Mirth and sadness, alternating, give birth one to another; and when their spirits are under the baleful spell [of worldly enjoyments], they never know a moment's tranquillity. When the cause of all this is sought for, it is found to lie in the fact that they have never grasped the substance of true enjoyment; the injury of which they are the subject grows ever day by day, and they lose all mastery over themselves.§ Therefore, if the heart has p. 90 not attained the True Medium,* but accepts its endowment [of happiness] from outward things, it is self-deceived. If the outward skin be not wetted, no moisture can penetrate to the bones and marrow; if things be not first admitted into the thoughts, they will not accumulate in the interior. Wherefore, such things as enter from the outside, will never cease [to flow in] as long as there is no resolution to control the heart; and such things as proceed from the heart—wishes, intentions, desires, etc.,—will not be carried into execution† if there be no response from outside. Therefore, however simple men may be, they yet know the pleasure of listening to virtuous words and beneficial projects; however degenerate they may be, they yet know how to esteem what is called perfect virtue and a lofty walk in life. Those who find delight in virtuous words and beneficial projects are legion; but those who practise them are rare. Those who admire perfect virtue and lofty conduct are many; but those who act them out are few. And why is this? Because they are unable to revert to their original [simplicity of] nature.
Now if a man does not open his heart to the True Medium, but forces his attention to learning this and enquiring about that, what he hears neither penetrates his ear nor finds a lodging in his mind. What difference is there between such a one, and a deaf man singing? He may intimate the gestures he sees another man make, but he derives no pleasure from it himself; the sound comes out of his mouth, it is true; but passes away and dies without his hearing it. Now the mind is the controller of the whole internal economy; so that it is able to govern and direct the four limbs, and to induce the circulation of the blood and breath—roaming to and fro within the limits of Right and Wrong, and emerging and entering through the door of all worldly affairs. Wherefore, a man who possesses the will to govern the empire without having the mind, or heart, well in hand, is like a person without ears wanting to play bells and drums, or a person with no eyes wanting to gaze on varied hues, both of which are far beyond his powers. Therefore, [such a man] is unfitted to use the insignia of the Empire. If he acts, he fails; if he grasps, he misses. The light esteem in which Hsü Yu held Imperial power, and his refusal to supersede Yao as Emperor, came from his resolution to ignore, or renounce, the world altogether. And what was the reason of this? It was, that the government of the world is only necessary because of the world's existence; [and, for him, the world did not exist]. The more important affairs of government did not devolve upon Yao, they devolved upon Hsü Yu; they devolved not on others, but on his own person. When the body attains self-mastery, then all p. 91 things are in a state of completeness; when the science of human motives is thoroughly understood, desires, predilections, and aversions will no longer be in the heart. Consequently, if there be no joy, there will be no anger; if there be no happiness, there will be no sadness. All things springing from the same source,* there is no difference between right and wrong. The processes of transmutation and nourishment springing from the glory of that source,—i.e., the Light of Heaven—birth is much the same thing as death. Now the world possesses me, and I possess the world; what difference is there between the world and myself? Is it necessary for a ruler that he should monopolise power, hold fast authority, maintain his control of life and death, and thus promulgate his decrees? What I call a ruler is not such a one as this; it is one who is master of himself—that is all. For, if I am master of myself, the world obtains me—as its ruler—too; if I and the world thus obtain each other, our mutual possession will continne permanently, and then how can either not tolerate the other? He who is said to have acquired self-mastery preserves his body in its entirety; and he who preserves his body in its entirety is one with TAO. Wherefore, although a man may wander along steep river-banks, or by the margin of the sea, or gallop on steeds of unexampled swiftness, under a canopy of kingfishers' plumes: though his eyes may rest on waving panaches and witness the pomp of tournaments: though his ears may listen to the strains of T‘ao-lang, Ch‘i-li, and Chi-chên, while the swelling notes of the music of Chêng and Wei are blazoned forth: though he perpetuates the customs bequeathed by Ch‘i and Ch‘u,—shoots waterfowl soaring high in air, or chases wild animals in the Imperial preserves; all this constitutes the vicious indulgences in which the vulgar herd are so hopelessly immersed. If, on the other hand, the Sage be brought in contact with such things, they will be found powerless to carry away his feelings, or disturb his stability of purpose. Then again, if a man's heart be so full of apprehensions as to deprive him of his natural good faculties; if his lot be cast in wild, out-of-the-way places, where he is buried among mountain-streams and caves, or hidden away among brambles and thickets; if he lives in some wretched hovel thatched with fresh grass, with a porch of tangled weeds, windows made of broken jars, and door-posts of soft mulberry-twigs-leaking above and wet underfoot, a soaked and saturated house, with a dull northern aspect, where the crystals of hoarfrost and snow destroy the wild gourds that grow in the surrounding swamps, and where he wanders unrestrained through wide marshes, and roams aimlessly along the side of mountain-gorges; such circumstances as these render common people rigid and helpless, cause them sorrow and trouble, misery and sadness, and deprive them of all natural gratification. p. 92 But if a Sage incurs such things, they are powerless to cause him any chagrin, distress, repining, or disease; nor can they deprive him of that in which he finds delight. And how is this? It is because he has within him a full comprehension of the secret workings of Heaven; and thus he does not lose the natural goodness of his disposition, be he in a high position or a low one, rich or poor, laborious or at ease. How should the cawing of the raven or the chattering of the magpie change its sound with the alternations of cold and heat, drought and moisture? Wherefore, when the acquisition of the TAO has been once secured, it can be neither expelled nor removed by the outer world; nor should the settlement of what I have thus obtained be dependent upon—or affected by—the changes and transmutations around me. And what is this acquisition that I speak about? It is the dwelling, in perfect tranquillity, of those passions which pertain to the disposition and the life. Now the disposition and the life both arise from the same Origin, or Source, as the body itself. The body being in readiness, the disposition and the life are completed; the disposition and the life being completed, predilections and aversions come into existence. Wherefore, the relationships which exist between men of culture are such as are settled once for all, and the course adopted by maidens is an unvarying course.* Squares and compasses, hooks and lines, are not necessary to form or regulate the characters of such; [they are as they should be, naturally]. [Their principles] are as eternal as Heaven and Earth. If they ascend eminences, they have no sensation of loftiness; if they dwell in lowly places, they are not conscious of any depression. Wherefore he who has grasped the True Principle fears nothing, though without resources, and does not glory, though successful; he dwells in high places without danger, supports heavy burdens without succumbing, does not flaunt his acquirements when new, preserves them long without altering, enters fire without being scorched, and water without getting wet. Wherefore he does not depend on the respect of others for his power, nor upon possessions for his wealth, nor upon brute force for his strength; but is able to soar to and fro between the firmament above and the waters below, in company with the Creator!
He to whom this is possible will bury gold in the mountain and pearls in the deep abyss;† he will prize neither goods nor wealth, he will covet neither power nor fame. Thus he does not regard physical comfort as true happiness, nor penury as pitiable, nor an honourable position as one of tranquillity, nor a humble one as anything to be feared. His p. 93 body, spirit, breath, and will all dwell in their appointed places, and conform to the working of the Cosmos.*
Now the Body is the dwelling-place of the life; the Breath is the complementary part of the life; the Spirit is the controller of the life. If any one of these be misplaced, all three will suffer; so that the Sage causes other men to keep each of them in its proper sphere, and to maintain its own functions without interfering with those of the others. For if the body is forced to occupy a position to which it is unsuited, it will become useless; if the breath is made to complement that to which it is inadequate, it will escape; if the spirit is caused to act in spheres to which it does not properly belong, it will become obscured. It is therefore imperative that these three things should be carefully guarded from misuse. Let me draw an illustration from natural objects. Caterpillars, worms, and small-waisted insects that squirm and wriggle and raise themselves upon their feelers, all know what they enjoy and what they dread, what is good for them and what is injurious. And how is this? It is because they all have a certain natural instinct, which never leaves them. Let this property once depart, however, and they will be no longer reckoned among living things. And how are we to account for the clear, sharp eyesight of modern folk, their delicate perception in hearing, their uprightness of body, their ability to move their joints, to distinguish black from white and ugliness from beauty, to differentiate between likeness and dissimilarity, and to understand right and wrong? It is to be accounted for by the fact that the breath complements, or fills up, [the life]; and therefore the spirit is able to make use of the body. And how is it known to be thus? If the mind of an ordinary man is fixed upon some particular thing, and his spirit bound up in some object [of contemplation], he will, while walking, stumble inadvertently into ditches and his head will bump against any tree that may stand in his way, without his being conscious of it himself. Beckon to him, he will not see you; call to him, he will not hear you. It is not that his eyes and ears have departed; still, he makes no response; and why? Because his spirit has lost all control over his faculties. Therefore, if his spirit is taken up with anything insignificant, he forgets what is great; if with internal matters, he forgets what is exterior; if with what is above, he forgets what is below; if with what is on his left hand, he forgets what is on his right. If there is nothing which the spirit does not fill, then there is no place in which it does not exist; wherefore those who prize vacuity regard even the tip of a hair as a place fit to dwell in. But take the case, now, of one of your headstrong people, [a man] unable to avoid the calamities of fire p. 94 and water, or to leap over the dangers of drains and gutters; surely, such inability on his part is not due to the fact that he is devoid of body, spirit, breath, and will? No; it is because he puts these things to a perverse use, so that they all lose control over their several spheres; those whose functions are internal being made to act externally, and vice versâ. Wherefore, in promoting or discarding others, such a man will not be able to act in accordance with right, nor will his conduct, whether while moving or at rest, be such as to chime in [with the exigencies of the moment]; all his life long he uses his worn-out body in crooked, devious ways, and rugged paths, so that he stumbles and falls into filthy cesspools or deep pits. Although he is born just like anybody else in the world, he is unable to avoid incurring the derision of every-one. And how is all this? It is because the man's spirit and body have lost each other. Therefore, if the spirit be regarded as the controlling power, the body will comply with it and reap the benefit; whereas if the government be vested in the body, the spirit will comply with it and incur injury. Gluttons and voluptuaries are blinded by power and gain, and hanker greatly after position and renown; they are eager to surpass others in shrewdness, and to assume a high place in the world. Then their mental faculties decay day by day, and recede far beyond their reach; having been long over-used, they return no more; for the body will be closed against them and the heart oppose their entrance, so that there will be no place for the spirit to pass in by. Thus it comes that there are in the world, at times, the calamities of blindness, madness, and loss of self-control. People thus affected are like tallow-candles, which are the faster consumed the faster the fire burns.
Thus, if the natural faculties, the breath, and the will, be kept in repose, they will daily attain their full proportion and the man will become robust; but if they be overworked they will daily diminish, and the man will become decrepit. Wherefore the Sage nourishes and fosters his spirit, moderates his breath,* and tranquillises his person, so that he sinks and floats, looks up and looks down, together with the TAO. When he has nothing to do, he just takes his ease; when pressed, he exerts himself. He takes his ease as though putting off a garment; he exerts himself as promptly as arrows fly [in succession] from a crossbow. This being the case, the changes of nature never fail to occur, nor the vicissitudes of worldly matters to happen in exact response to whatever exigencies may arise.
* The text implies that all these natural phenomena mutually respond to requirements; that when they happen it is because they cannot but happen; that the need is, in fact, itself the cause of that which comes to relieve it.
* Who, says the Commentator, is TAO.
* The Commentary says, ###. Independent of outward affairs; nothing is able to force or to disturb them.
* Thus the Commentary explains the text, which runs ###, ###. Shêng here means the Emperor, not a Sage.
* ###, which I render in the sense of ###. See Lun-yü, chapter vi., 2.
† ###. The first two characters do not mean vacillating and undecided, as they appear to; but imply extreme caution, and great wariness in making up one's mind. The reverse, in fact, of headstrong.
‡ "Marquises and Earls ought to call themselves orphans, widowers, or unworthy ones."—COMM.
§ As in the case of a small handle, which works a huge machine. Or, the agent is insignificant; that which is involved in it is great.
* The text runs ###. The Commentary explains it as meaning that water is able to support the ships of all the world on its broad bosom. The first character means to cross or ford when in connection with ###.
† That is, in the form of clouds.
‡ This quotation does not appear in this form in any edition of the Tao Tê Ching I possess. The words here used, ###, are quite different from those employed in the 43rd chap. according to Lü Tsû, where the first, second, and sixth characters are omitted, and ### is used instead of ###. See page 27. In another copy, the ### is used, but the other three characters still do not appear. Huai-nan-Tsze's Commentator says he is referring to water. But how does Dr. Chalmers reconcile his translation of this sentence (Tao Tê Ching, chap. 43), with his evident allusion to it, Introduction, p. xv, lines 4 and 5 from bottom?
* ### and ### might here be rendered "homogeneous" and "heterogeneous" respectively.
* Two famous towers which used to exist in the State of Chu.—COMM.
† A celebrated lake.
‡ A pleasaunce which belonged to Chou Hsin, at Chü-lu Hsien in Chihli.
§ The Music of the Emperor Shun.
‖ The Music of the Emperor Chuan Hsü.
¶ ###. I take this to mean self-mastery.
* That is, though they attain Imperial power.
† The capital of the wicked Emperor Chou Hsin. On hearing this music, the blind musician Kuang exclaimed, "That is the music of a lost State!"
‡ That is, they do not seek enjoyment within, but from without; they allow themselves to be under the control of outward things instead of controlling their own hearts.
* If ### is to be accepted in this and other passages as here rendered, it suggest the idea that Huai-nan Tsze had not given up all Confucianist theories when he wrote his treatise.
† Or, perhaps, "will cease." The phrase is simply ###.
* "Which is Heaven"—says the Commentary.
* This means that no virtuous girl gives her affections to more than one man, or marries again after her husband's death.—COMM.
† A reference to Shun, who said to have done this. The Commentary affirms that it means the putting away of covetous and lustful desires.
* Alluding of course to the theory ###.
* Here used in the sense of passions.