Main Wisdom of the Daoist Masters

Wisdom of the Daoist Masters

Paperback on Daoist beliefs
Year: 1984
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Llanerch Press
Language: english
Pages: 312 / 309
ISBN 10: 0947992022
ISBN 13: 9780947992026
File: PDF, 5.11 MB
Download (pdf, 5.11 MB)
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.








Copyr ight © Derek  Bryce 1984 
All r ights  rese r v e d .  

F i rs t  pub l i shed i n  G r e a t  B r i t a i n  i n  1984 b y  
L lanerch Enterpr i ses ,  L lanerch ,  F e l i n fach ,  L a m pe ter ,  Oy fed ,  Wales.  

-ISBN 0-94 7992-01-4 (boards ) 
ISBN 0-947992-02-2 ( l i m p ) 

Printed b y  Cambr i an News,  Aberystw yth .  

i i i  




1 Genesis And Transformation 41 
2 Natural Simplicity 50 
3 Psychical States 63 
4 Extinction And Union 70 
5 The Cosmic Continuum 78 
6 Fate 90 
7 Yang Zhu 97 
8 Anecdotes 106 

1 Towards The Ideal 117 
2 Universal Harmony 121 
3 Maintenance Of The Living Principle 127 
4 The World Of Men 129 
5 Perfect Action 135 
6 The Principle, First Master 139 
7 The Government Of Princes 147 
8 Webbed Feet 150 
9 Trained Horses 153 
10 Thieves, Great And Small 155 
11 True And False Politics 159 
12 Heaven And Earth 166 
13 Heavenly Influence 174 
14 Natural Evolution 179 
15 Wisdom And Incrustation 185 
16 Nature And Convention 187 
17 The Autumn Flood 189 
18 Perfect Joy 197 
19 The Meaning Of Life 201 
20 Voluntary Obscurity 208 
21 Transcendent Action 214 
22 Knowledge Of The Principle 221 
23 Return To Nature 229 
24 Simplicity 236 
25 Truth 245 
26 Fate 252 
27 Speech And Words 257 
28 Independence 260 
29 Politicians 267 
30 Swordsmen 274 
31 The Old Fisherman 276 
32 Wisdom 280 
33 Diverse Schools 285 




This volume contains what has come down to us from three Chinese 
Sages, Lao Zi, Lie Zi, and Zhuang Zi, who lived between the sixth 
and fourth centuries before the Christian era. 

Lao Zi, the Old Master, was a contemporary of Confucius. He 
probably lived between the dates 570 - 490 B.C. (the dates of 
Confucius being 552 - 479 B.C.). Nothing is historically certain 
about this man. The Daoist tradition says that he was the Zhou 
Court Librarian, and that he saw Confucius once, about 501 B.C. 
Weary of the lawlessness of the empire, he left it, and never came 
back. At the time of his crossing the Western Pass, he composed 
the celebrated work translated in this volume, for his friend 
Yin Xi, the Guardian of the Pass. The historian Sima Qian dedicated 
a short work to him around 100 B.C., saying that, according to 
some, the family name of the Old Master was Li, his ordinary first 
name Er, his noble first name Baiyang, and his posthumous name 
Dan (whence comes the posthumous name Lao Dan). But, adds the 
famous historian, who was, like his father, more than half Daoist, 
'some say otherwise, and, of the Old Master, we can only be sure 
that, having loved obscurity above all, he deliberately covered up 
the traces of his life ' (Shi Ji, chapter 63). - I do not expound 
the legend of Lao Zi here, this volume being historical. 

Lie Zi, Master Lie, from the name Lie Yukou, Jived some forty 
years in obscurity and poverty in the Principality of Zheng. He was 
driven away by famine in 398 B. C. At that time his disciples could 
have written down the substance of his teaching. This is according 
to the Daoist tradition. It has often been strongly attacked, but the 
critics of the bibliographic index, Sikucuan Shu, judged that the 
writing should be upheld. 

Zhuang Zi, Master Zhuang, from his name Zhuang Zhou, is scarcely 
better known to us. He must have been in the decline of his life 
towards 330 B.C. Sima Qian describes him as 'very learned' (Shi Ji, 
appendix). He voluntarily spent his life in obscurity and poverty, 
fighting with verve against the theories and abuses of his times. 

· It is therefore between the dates 500 and 330 B.C. that the for­
mation of the ideas contained in this volume should be placed. 
I say the ideas, not the writings; and this is why: The tradition 
affirms formally that Lao Zi wrote. A careful examination of his 
work seems to confirm the tradition. It is clearly a tirade, all in 
one breath, the author returning to the beginning when he wanders; 
a series of points and maxims, rather than a coherent edition; a 
statement by a man who is precise, clear, and profound; who takes 
up points again, and retouches them with insistence. Originally 
the work was divided neither into books nor chapters. The division 



was made later, and fairly clumsily. - An examination of the two 
treatises bearing the names of Lie Zi and Zhuang Zi gives evidence 
that these men did not write. They are made up of a collection of 
notes brought together by listeners, often with variance and errors, 
then collated, jumbled and reclassified by copyists, and interpolated 
by non-Oaoist hands so well that, in the present text, there are 
some pieces diametrically opposed to the certain doctrine of 
the authors. The chapters are the work of later collators who 
brought together parts which were more or less similar. Several 
were put in complete disorder by the accident which muddled so 
many old Chinese writings, the breaking of the tie of a bundle of 
laths, and the mixing up of the latter. - Note that these treatises 
were not included in the destruction of books in 213 B.C. 

The doctrine of these three authors is one. Lie Zi and Zhuang Zi 
develop Lao Zi and claim to take his ideas back to Huang Di (the 
Yellow Emperor), the founder of the Chinese Empire. These ideas 
are quite close to those of India of the contemporary period, the 
age of the Upanishads; a realist, non-idealist pantheism. In the 
beginning was Dao, the Principle, described as imperceptible like 
tenuous matter, motionless at first. One day this Principle produced 
De, its Virtue, which acted in two alternative modes, yin and yang, 
producing, as if by condensation, heaven and earth and the air 
between them, unconscious agents of of the production of all 
sentient beings. These sentient beings come an go along the thread 
of a circular evolution, birth, growth, decline, death, rebirth , and 
so on. Although the Sovereign Above of the Annals and the Odes is 
not expressly denied, He is by-passed and ignored in a way which is 
tantamount to a denial. Man has no other origin than the multitude 
of beings. He is more successful than the others, that is all. 
And he is man for this time only. After his death, he re-enters into 
some new existence, not necessarily human, even not necessarily 
animal or plant. This is transformism in the widest sense of the 
word. - The Sage makes his life last, through temperance, mental 
peace, abstention from all that causes fatigue or wear. That 
is why he keeps himself in obscurity and retreat. If he is drawn 
from it by force of circumstances, he governs and administers 
after the same principles, without tiring or wearing himself out, 
doing the least possible; preferably nothing at all, in order not to 
hinder the rotation of the cosmic wheel, universal evolution. 
The Sage lives in apathy through abstraction, looking at everything 
from so high, so far, that aJJ appears fused into one, so there are 
no longer any details, individuals, and in consequence there is 
neither interest nor passion. Above all the Sage has no system, rule, 
art, .morality. There is neither good nor evil, nor sanctions. The 
Sage foJJows his natural instincts, Jets the world go day by day, 
and evolves with the great whole. 


The following points remain to be no ted, for a just understanding 
of the contents of this volume.  

Many of the characters used by the ancient Daoists should be taken 
in their original etymological meaning which has since fallen 
into disuse or become rare. Thus Dao De Jing does not mean 
'Treatise on the Way and Virtue' (meanings derived from modern 
usage of Dao and De), but 'Treatise on the Principle and its Action' 
(from the ancient meanings). 

None of the facts alleged by Lie Zi and above all by Zhuang Zi 
are of historical value. The men they name are no more real than 
the personified abstractions they put on stage. They are oratory 
procedures, and nothing more. Above all one should guard oneself 
from taking the assertions of Confucius, which have been invented 
at will, as real. Some badly informed authors have already fallen 
into this error, and in good faith imputed to the Sage what his 
critic Zhuang Zi lent him in order to ridicule him. 

Confucius, the butt of Zhuang Zi, is shown in three postures. -
First, as the author of conventionalism and destroyer of naturalism; 
and in consequence the sworn opponent of Daoism. This is the true 
note. These texts are all authentic. - Second, as converted and 
preaching more or less pure Daoism to his own disciples. This is 
fiction, ingeniously constructed to make even the discourses of the 
Master himself show the insufficiency of Confucianism and the 
advantages of Daoism. These are authentic texts, but one should 
guard oneself from imputing them to Confucius. - Third, a few 
purely Confucian texts are interpolations. I note them all. 

Likewise the paragons of the Confucian system, the Yellow Emper­
or, Yao, Shun, the Great Yu, and others, are shown in three pos­
tures. - First, abhorred as authors or falsifiers of artificial civil­
ization. This is the true note; these are authentic texts. - Second, 
praised for a particular point, common to Confucians and Daoists. 
These texts also are authentic. - Third, praised in general, without 
restriction. These are Confucian interpolations. They are not 
numerous, and I point them out. - I think further that, where the 
text gives the impression of more than one Yao, or Shun, these 
are errors made by copyists who have written down one character 
for another. 

It is not known at what date the work of Lao Zi was named Dao De 
Jing. This name already figured in Huai Nan Zi, in the second 
century B.C. - In 742 A.D. Emperor Huan Zhong, of the Tang 
dynasty , gave the treatise of Li Zi the title of Chong Hu Chen 
Jing, 'Treatise of the Transcendent Master of the Void;' and 

v i i  


the treatise of Zhuang Zi the title Nan Hua Chen Jing, 'Treatise 
of the Transcendent Master from Nan Hua' (named after the place 
where Zhuang Zi could have lived), the two authors having received 
the title of Zhen Ren, transcendent men. The Dao De Jing is often 
also entitled Dao De Zhen Jing since that time. 

There are notes clarifying difficult passages, either in the text, 
or as footnotes. For personal names look in the index of names* 
at the end of the volume. - The letters TH refer to my 'Textes 

I have tried to make my translation as easy to read as possible, 
without harming the fidelity of interpretation. For my aim is to 
put these old thoughts, which have so many times been thought 
again by others, and taken by them as new, within the reach 
of all thinkers. 

Xian Xian (He Jian Fu) 2nd . April 1913. 

Dr. Leon Wieger S.J. 

*This index gi ves Pinyin,  Wade-Gi les, and Wieger's E FE 0 names. On ly  the more 
important names are inc luded. In most cases transcription of  Wieger ' s names and 
their Wade-Gi les equiva lent g ives an identical result in Pinyin. However there 

are occasional d i f ferences, due either to a difference of opinion on the pronun­

ciat ion of Chinese names, or the use of alternative names. Where such variat ions 

occur, the Pinyin spell ing has genera l ly ,  but not a lways, been der i ved from the 

Wade-Giles alternat ive. For example Mo Zi has been used throughout, der i ved from 

the Wade -Giles Mo-t zu, instead of Wieger's Mei -ti. L ikew ise, rather than transcribe 

Wieger's Hoang-ti  into Pinyin, we have used the name ' Yel low Emperor' which is 

already famil iar to readers of  Wade-Gi les texts. Readers shou ld  note that the 

title of emperor is used loosely to include ru lers from before the time of the 

Chinese Empire. 

Although Dr. Wleger's other publ ished works ( Textes H istor iques, etc.) are no longer 
easily avai lable, his footnotes re ferring to them have been retained for the sake of 


leon Wieger spent a major part of his adult life in China. His 
classic translations of the Daoist writings are amongst the most 
understandable that have ever been produced. The quality of his 
work gives evidence of his exceptional penetration of the Chinese 
way of thought. The clarity and precision of his work must also be 
attributed to his careful study of the traditional Chinese commen­
taries, his recognition that key words such as Dao (the Principle) 
should be translated according to their ancient meanings, and his 
choice of unambiguous descriptive terms such as the Sage, trans­
cendent man, etc. Dr Wieger's explanatory additions to the work 
include footnotes, separate commentary summaries, and additions 
to the text which are clearly demarcated in parentheses or in 

The French Publishers have reprinted the first edition of Dr. 
Wieger's book several times without making any corrections or 
modifications to his conclusions, 'out of respect for his thought.' 
The present English language translation is of the complete first 
edition, unmodified, except that Chinese names have been put in 
the modern Pinyin spelling. However, as it is now a long time since 
the first edition was published, a few comments are offered in this 

When Daoism and Confucianism are considered separately, they give 
the impression of being clear Jy opposed. This is the point of view 
taken by Dr. Wieger, expecially in his comments concerning the 
apparent Daoist negation of the Sovereign On High of the Annals 
and the Odes. His footnote to this effect (Zhuang Zi, chapter 2 B) 
is certainly correct, but the negation is of the concept of the 
Sovereign as a distinct material being.' When Daoism and Confucian­
ism are look on as having existed side by side during more than two 
thousand years of Chinese history, they are seen as complementary, 
forming the esoterism and exoterism of the Chinese Tradition. 
From this point of view it is more correct to see the Daoists as 
by-passing, rather than denying, the concept of the Sovereign. In 
Western terms, Dao, the Principle, equates with the metaphysical 
concept of the absolute, beyond being, or the monotheistic concept 
of the Most High (as in the Old Testament's 'Melchisedec •.. priest 
of the Most High God,' and the 'Most High' of the Koran). The 
Soveriegn equates with the metaphysical concept of 'being', (in 
monotheistic terms, God). 

In his preface Dr. Wieger points out that words and actions which 
are attributed to people from Chinese history should not be given 
a historical value. These writers used history as Shakespeare 
used it, to provide basic characters and events which could be 
used for purposes of literary illustration. Likewise references 

i x  

Translator's introduction. 

to geographical locations, and the human body, sometimes relate to 
the corporeal state, and sometimes to the psychical state. It 
is probably in the latter sense that the heart 'X-ray' (Lie Zi, 
chapter 4 H) and the reference to True Men breathing down to their 
toes (Zhuang Zi, chapter 6 B) should be taken. 

Since the time when Dr Wieger wrote his preface, experts are of 
the opinion that of the book of Zhuang Zi, the first seven chapters 
(known as the inner chapters) are the most authentic. Chapters 8 to 
22 are known as the outer chapters, and the first three of these are 
regarded by some as including the work of an inferior (and volatile) 
author. These three chapters should not be taken out of the general 
context of the book as a whole, in which the Sage 'never acts 
unless constrained to do so,' and 'seeks obscurity and refrains 
from action' ... 'when times are politically bad.' Chapters 23 to 33 
are known as the miscellaneous chapters. Interpolations apart, the 
writings in the outer and miscellaneous chapters are no doubt 
largely the work of members of Zhuang Zi's school, many possibly 
going back to the Master himself. 

Readers should note that the word 'being', when it refers to Dao, 
the Principle, considered in itself and outside manifestation, 
is in a sense inappropriate, since the absolute is beyond being. 
However, as Lao Zi says, 'words cannot describe it,' and recourse is 
therefore necessary to inappropriate terms leaving the reader to 
make the necessary mental transposition. - The word 'psychical' 
has been used instead of psychic, the dictionary definition of 
the former making it the more appropriate choice for this work. -
The word 'evolution' is used in two senses. Firstly, and generally, 
to describe the unfolding of events in time and space, in this 
world (or universe). Secondly, but less frequently, it has been used 
to describe the progress of the being across successive lives or 
incarnations. - The word 'unnamable' has been used in its older 
sense, to describe that which is too superior to be given a name, 
although modern usage of this term is frequently derogatory . -
To avoid confusion, the plural of genie has been written as genies, 
as the correct plural form, genii, is also one of the plural forms 
of genius. 

This is a book to read, and read again, not necessarily all at 
once, from cover to cover. There is something to be said for 
beginning with Lie Zi or Zhuang Zi, and ending with Lao Zi, 
since the condensed nature of the latter makes it the most difficult 
to understand. 

Derek Bryce 
September 1984 





Book 1 .  

Chapter 1 .  Text. 

A. The pr inc ip le  that can be enunc i a te d  i s  n o t  the one that  always 
was.  The b e ing  that  can be named is  n ot the  o n e  that  was at a l l  
t imes.  Be fore t ime , there  was a n  i n e ffab l e ,  u n n a m a b l e  b e i n g .  
B. When i t  w a s  s t i l l  unnamable, i t  c o n c e i ve d  h e a v e n  a n d  earth.  
When i t  had  thus become nama b l e , i t  g a v e  b i r t h  to the mult i tude of 
be ings .  
C .  These two acts  are but  one , under  t w o  diffe rent  denom inat ions. 
The un i que act of gener a t i on; that  is  the m y s t e r y  of the beg i nn ing; 
the mystery of myster i es; the door t h r o u g h  wh i c h  h a v e  i ssued, on 
to the scene of the u n i verse ,  a l l  the  m a r v e l s  w h i c h  i t  con t a i ns .  
D. The  knowledge that  man has  o f  t h e  u n i versa l  p r i n c i p l e  depends 
on h i s  s t a te of m i nd .  The m i nd h a b i tua l l y  f ree  from pass i o n  knows 
i ts myster ious essence .  The h a b i t u a l l y  p a ss i o n e d  m i n d  k n o ws o n l y  i ts 
ef fects .  

Summary of commentaries. 

Before time, and throughout t ime, there has been a self-existing 
be ing, e ternal, infinite,  comple te, omnipresent. This be ing cannot 
be named or spoken about, because human terms only apply to 
perceptible beings. Now the primordial being was primitively, 
and is st ill essentially, non-sentient, non-perceptible. Outside 
this be ing, before the beginning, there was nothing. It is referred 
to as 'wu,' without form, 'huan, ' mystery, or 'Dao,'  the Principle. 
The period when there was not as yet any sentient being, when 
the essence alone of the Principle existed, is called 'xian tian,' 
before heaven. This essence possessed two immanent properties, 
the 'yin, ' concentration, and the 'yang,' expansion, which were 
exteriorized one day under the perceptible forms of heaven (yang) 
and earth (yin). Tha t day marked the beginning of t ime.  From 
tha t day the Principle can be named by the double term of heaven 
and earth. The heaven-earth binomial em its all existent sentient 
beings. The heaven-earth binomial is called 'you,' sentient being, 
which through 'de,'  the virtue of the Principle, genera tes all 
of i ts products tha t fill up the world. The period since heaven 
and earth were exteriorized is called 'hou tian, ' after heaven. 
The sta te yin of concentra t ion and rest,  of imperceptibility, 


Lao Zi. 

which was that of the Principle before time, is its inherent state. 
The state yang of expansion and action, of manifestation in sentient 

beings, is its state in time, in some ways inappropriate . To these 
two states of the Principle there corresponds , in the faculty 
of human awareness, rest and activity, or, put another way, 
empty and full. When the human mind produces ideas, is full 
of images, is moved by passion, then it is only able to know the 
effects of the Princ iple, dist inct perceptible  beings. When the 
human mind, absolutely a rrested, is completely empty and calm,  
i t  is  a pure and clear mirror, capable o f  refle cting the ineffable 
and unnamable essence of the Principle itself. - Compare with 
chapter 32. 

Chapter 2. Text. 

A. Everyone has the i dea  o f  be auty, and  from that  (by oppos i t i on )  
that  of not beaut i fu l  (u g l y ) .  All men h a v e  the  idea  of  good,  and  
from that  (by contrast ) that  of  not  good  (bad ) .  Thus ,  b e i ng and 
nothingness, d i f f icu l t and  easy, long and  sho r t ,  h i gh and low,  
sound and tone,  before and after, ar e corre l a t i ve  i deas ,  one of  
which ,  i n  be ing known , reveals  the other .  
B. That be ing  so,  the Sage serves w i t h o u t  ac ting and teaches 
without speak ing .  
C. He lets a l l  be i ngs become ,  wit hout  thwar t i n g  them,  he le t s  
them l i ve ,  w i thout  monopo l i z i ng them,  a n d  l e ts them a c t ,  w i thout  
expl o i t i ng the m .  
D. H e  does not  a t t r i b u te to himself the  e f fects  p r o d u c e d ,  and 
in  consequence these effects  las t . 

Summary of commentaries. 

Correla tives, opposites, contraries, such as yes and no, ha ve 
all entered into this world through the co m m on door and they 
have all come out of the one Principle (chapter 1 C). They are 
not subjective illusions of the human mind, but object ive sta tes, 
corresponding with the two alternative sta tes of the Principle, 
yin and yang, concentra tion and expansion. The profound reality, 
the Principle, remains always the same, essentially; but the alterna­
tion of its rest and movement creates the play of causes and 
effects, an incessant coming and go ing. The Sage le ts this play 
have its free course. He keeps himself from interfering e i ther 
by physical action or moral pressure . He guards himself from 
poking his finger into the meshwork of causes, into the perpetual 
movement of na tural evolut ion, out of fear  of upse t t ing this 
complica ted and delica te mechanism. All tha t he does, when 
he does some thing, is to let his example be seen. He leaves to 
each a place in the sun, freedom, and personal accomplishments. 


Lao Zi. 

He does not a t tribute to himself the general effect produced 
(of good government) which belongs to the ensemble of causes. 
In consequence this effect (of good order), not ha ving been made 
a targe t for the jea lousy or a mbition of others, has a chance 
of lasting. 

Chapter J. Text. 

A. Not mak ing  any spe c i a l  case of cleverness,  of a b i l i t y ,  w i l l  
have  the  result  that  people w i l l  no lon ge r push  themse lves.  Not  
to prize rare objects  w i l l  have  the  resu l t t h a t  no  one w ill cont inue 
to  s tea l .  To show noth ing as  a l l u r i ng will have the effec t of 
put t i ng  peopl e ' s  hearts at rest .  
B. Therefore t h e  po l i t ics  o f  Sages  con s i s t s  i n  e mp t y i ng the m inds 
of men and fi l l i ng the ir  stoma c hs , in w e a k e n i n g  t he i r  i n i t i a t i ve 
and strengthen ing the ir  bones .  The i r  c o n s t a n t  care  i s  to hold 
the peop le  in ignorance and a p a t h y .  
C .  T h e y  make  th i ngs  s u c h  t h a t  c l e v e r  p e o p l e  d a re n o t  ac t ,  for 
there is noth ing  tha t cannot be s o r t e d  o u t  th rough  the  prac t i ce 
of non-act i on .  

Summary of commentaries. 

Al l  emotion, every trouble, each pe rversion of the m ind, comes 
from i ts be ing put in com munication by the senses with attractive, 
a l luring exterior objects. The sight of the ostentation of the 
ne wly rich crea tes a mbi t ion. The sight of hoa rds of precious 
objects crea tes thieves. Suppress a l l  obje cts capa ble of te mpting, 
or at least the knowledge of the m, and the world wi l l  enjoy perfect 
peace. Make men into doci le and productive work horses; watch 
tha t when well-rested they do not think; hinder any initia tive, 
suppress any enterprise. Know ing nothing, men will not be envious, 
will not need surveillance, and they w i l l  benefit the state. 

Chapter 4. Text. 

A. The Principle produces in a b u n d a n c e ,  b u t  w i thou t f i l l i ng i tself 
B. Empty  abyss ,  it  seems to be ( is )  the ances tor  (o r i g i n) o f  a l l  
C. It is peaceful, simple , modest ,  a m i a b l e .  
D. Spilling i tself ou t i n  waves ,  i t  s e e m s  to r e m a i n  ( i t  rema ins) 
always the same. 
E. I do not know of whom i t i s  the  son  (where  i t  comes  from) .  
I t  seems to  have  been (it was) before the  Sovere ign .  

Lao Zi. 

Summary of commentaries. 

This important chapter is devoted to the description of the Prin­
ciple. Because of the abstract ion of the subject ,  and perhaps a lso 
through prudence, his conclusions shocking the anc ient Chinese 
traditions, the author uses three t imes the verb 'to seem' instead of 
the ca tegoric verb 'to be'. - He does not dec lare h imself on the 
quest ion of the origin of the Principle, but places it before tha t of 
the Sovereign of the Anna ls and the Odes. This Sovereign could not 
therefore be, for Lao Zi, a God crea tor, or governor, of the un­
iverse. The Sovereign is therefore, practica l ly, nega ted (or bypassed 
- see translator's introduction). - The Principle, in i tself, is l ike 
an immense a byss, l ike an infin i te  spring. A l l  sent ient beings 
are produced by i ts exterioriza tion, through i ts virtue operat ing in 
the heaven-earth binomia l .  But sen tient beings, term ina t ions of the 
Principle, do not add to the principle, do no t make i t  grea ter, do 
not fi l l  it up, as is said in the text. Since they do not go outside i t ,  
they do  not diminish i t ,  nor  empty i t, and the  Principle rema ins 
a l ways the sa me. - Four qua l ities are a t t ributed to i t ,  which la ter 
on will often be put forwa rd for imi ta t ion by the Sage (for exa mple, 
chapter 56). These qua l i t ies are inadequately defined by the pos i t ive 
terms peaceful, simple, modest, amiable. The terms of the Chinese 
text are in fac t  more complex: 'Be ing soft, without sharp corners or 
cutting edges; not being embroiled or co mpl ica ted; not dazzl ing, but 
shining with a tempered, somewha t dull, l ight; wi l l ingly sha ring the 
dust, the humbleness, of the common people . '  

Chapter 5. Text. 

A. Heaven and earth are not  good to the be ings  tha t  they  produc e ,  
b u t  treat them l i ke  straw dogs.  
B. L i ke heaven and earth,  t he Sage i s  not  good for the people he 
governs, but treats  them l i ke straw dogs.  
C. The betwi xt  of heaven and ear th ,  seat  o f  the Pr inc ip l e ,  the 
place from where i ts v i rtue  acts ,  i s  l i k e  a be l l ows,  l i ke the bag of  
a bel l ows of wh ich  heaven and ear th  wou ld  be the two boards,  
which empt ies i tsel f wi thout  exhaus t i n g  i tse l f, which moves i tse l f  
ex terna l l y  wi thout  cease . 
D. This  is a l l  that  we can understand o f the Pr i nc ip le  and o f  
i ts ac t i on as producer .  To s e e k  to  de t a i l  i t  further  us ing  words 
and numbers would be a waste o f t i m e .  Let us  ho ld  ourse l ves 
to th is  grand idea.  

Summary of commentaries. 

There are two kinds of goodness: First there is goodness of a 
superior order, which loves the whole, and only loves the integral 


Lao Zi. 

parts of this whole as integral parts, and not for themselves, 
nor for their own good. Second there is goodness of an inferior 
order, which loves individuals, in the mselves, and for the ir own 
good. Hea ven and earth, which produce a ll beings through the 
virtue of the Principle, produce the m unconsciously and are not 
good to them, says the text. They are good to the m from a superior 
goodness, not an inferior goodness, say the commenta tors. This 
comes back to saying tha t they trea t  the m with a cold opportunism, 
envisaging only the universal good, not their particular good; 
making the m prosper if they are useful, suppressing the m when 
they are useless. This cold opportunism is expressed by the term 
'straw dog.' In antiquity, at the head of funeral processions they 
carried figures of stra w  dogs designed to take up all the unpleasant 
influences on the journey. Before the fune ral they were prepared 
with care and looked after because they would soon become useful. 
After the funeral they were destroyed because they had become 
unpleasant,  s tuffed as they were with captive noxious influences, 
as Zhuang Zi tells us in chapter 14 D. - In government the Sage 
should act like heaven and earth. He should love the state and not 
its individuals. He should favour useful subjects, and suppress 
useless, hindering, or harmful subjects, opportunely, without any 
other consideration. The history of China is full of applications 
of this principle. Such a m inister, cherished for a long time, 
was suddenly executed because, the poli t ical orientation having 
changed, he would from then on have been in the way. Whatever 
had been his earlier merits, his tim e  had come in the universal I 
revolution. He was suppressed like a stra w dog. It is useless to 
sho w  that these ideas are dia metrically opposed to the Christian 
ideas of Providence, of the love of God for each of his creatures, 
of grace, benediction, etc. That is goodness of an inferior order, 
say the Daoist Sages with a disdainful smile. - There follows 
the fa mous co mparison of the universal bellows, to which the 
Daoist authors often return. It will be developed further in the 
next chapter. - The conclusion is that all that one kno ws of the 
Principle and its action, is that it produces the universe made 
up of be ings; but the universe alone matters to it, not any partic­
ular be ing. This last point can only be made with the reservation 
that it depends on whether one can employ the verb 'to matter' 
with reference to a producer that breathes out its work without 
kno wing it. Brahma of the Hindus has at least some kindness 
in the soap-bubbles he blo ws; the Principle of the Daoists has 

Chapter 6. Text. 

A. The exp ansive tran s c e nde n t  p ower which resides in the median 
space,  the virtue of the Principle, does not die. I t  is always 


Lao Zi. 

the same, and acts the same, w i thout  d i m i nu t i on or cessat i on .  
B. Thi s  v i rtue i s  the myster ious mother  of  a l l  be i ngs. 
C. The doorway of th i s  myster ious  mother  is the root of heaven 
and earth,  the Pr inc ip le .  
D. Sprout ing forth ,  she  does  not expend he rse l f; ac t i ng ,  she  does 
not t i re herse lf .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

It must not be forgotten tha t the work of Lao Zi was not origina l ly 
divided into chapters, and tha t the divisions made la ter have 
often been arbitrary, some times clumsy. This chapter continues 
and completes paragraphs C and D of chapter 5. It dea ls with 
the genesis of beings, through the virtue of the Principle, which 
resides in the median space, in the bag of the universa l bel lows, 
whence everything comes. Pa ragraphs A and B refer to the virtue 
of the Principle; paragraphs C and D to the Principle i tse lf. 
The term 'doorway', wi th the impression of t wo swinging doors, 
signifies the a l terna te movement, the play of the yin and the 
yang, first modifica tion of the Princ iple. This play was the 'root', 
tha t is to say it produced hea ven and earth... In other words, 
it was through the Principle tha t heaven and earth were exterior­
ized, the two boards of the bel lo ws. 'De', the universa l product ive 
vzrtue, emana tes from the Principle. It opera tes through, and 
between, heaven and earth, in the median space, producing a l l  
sentient beings without exhaustion and without fa t igue. 

Chapter 7. Text. 

A. If  heaven and earth last fore v e r ,  it is because they do not 
l i ve for themse lves. 
B. Fol lowing this example ,  the Sage ,  in wi thdraw ing ,  advances;  
in neg l ect i ng h i mse l f ,  he  conserves  h i mse l f .  As he does not  seek 
his own advantage , everyth ing  tu rns to  his advantage.  

Summary of commentaries. 

If heaven and earth last forever, are not destroyed by the jealous, 
the envious, or by enemies, it is because they l ive for a l l  beings, 
doing good to all. If they were to seek the ir own interest,  says 
Wang Bi, they would be in confl ict  with all beings, a particular 
interest be ing a lways the enemy of the genera l  interest. But 
as they are perfectly disinterested, a l l  beings flock towards them. 

- Like wise, if the Sage were to seek his own interest, he would 
only have troubles, and would succeed in nothing. If he were 
disinterested like heaven and earth, he would only have friends, 
and would succeed in everything. - In order to come to last, 


Lao Zi. 

it is necessary to forge t oneself, says Zhang Hongyang. Heaven 
and earth do not think of the mselves, and they are also the most 
durable. If the Sage is without self-love, his body will last and 
his enterprises succeed. If not, it will be quite other wise . - Wu 
Deng reca lls quite rightly, tha t by heaven and earth it is necessary 
to understand the Principle, act ing through heaven and earth. In 
this chapter, therefore, the disinterestedness of the Principle is 
proposed as an exa mple to the Sage. 

Chapter 8. Text. 

A .  Transcendent goodness is l i k e  w a t e r .  
B .  Water l i kes to  do g o o d  t o  a l l  b e i ngs ;  i t  does  n o t  s trugg l e  f o r  any 
defin i te form or pos i t i on ,  b u t  puts  i ts e l f  in the  l o we s t  p laces  tha t 
no one wants.  By th i s ,  i t  i s  the  r e fl e c t i o n  o f  t h e  P r i n c i p l e .  
C. From i ts example ,  t h o s e  who  i m i t a t e  t h e  Pr i n c i p l e ,  lower 
themse l ves , s i nk themse l ve s . The y  are bene vol e n t , s i ncere ,  regul ­
ated,  e ffi cac i ous , and t h e y  c o n fo r m  the mse l v e s  t o  the t i mes .  
They do not  s t rugg le  for  the i r  o w n  i n teres t , but  y i e ld. There fore 
they do not su ffer any c o n tradi c t i on .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

This chapter continues the preceding one. After the a l truism 
of heaven and earth, the a l truism of wa ter is proposed by way 
of example. Ge Zhanggeng sum marizes as fo l lows: 'Flee ing from 
the heights, water seeks the depths. It  is  not idle by day or by 
night.  Above, it forms the ra in and the de w, be low, the strea ms 
and rivers. Everywhere i t  wa ters, purifies. It does good to, and 
is useful to, a l l .  It a l ways obeys and never resists. If one places 
a barrage in i ts way, it stops; if one opens a lock ga te, it flo ws. 
It adapts i tself equally to any conta iner, round, square, or other­
wise. - The inclina tion of men is quite the opposi te. They natura lly 
love to profit the mselves. They should im itate wa ter. Whomsoever 
should lower himself to serve others, wi l l  be loved by all, and 
wil l  not suffer any contradict ion. ' 

Chapter 9. Text. 

A. To hold a vase fil l ed  to the brim, without s pilling anything , 
is imposs ible; be t ter not to f i l l  i t  so .  To kee p  an over-sharpened 
blade without i ts edge becoming blunt ,  is impossible; be t ter not 
to sharpen it to th is  extre me.  To ke e p  a roomful of precious 
stones,  w i thout any of i t  be ing misa p propria t e d ,  is impossible; 
be tter not to amass this treasure . N o  extreme c an be maint ained 
for a long t ime. Every he ight is followe d by a decline . Likewise 
for man. 


Lao Zi. 

B. Whomsoever, having become rich and powerful, takes pr ide 
in himself, prepares thereby his own ruin. 
c. To re tire at the height of one ' s  mer i t  and fame, that i s  the 
way of heaven. 

Summary of commentaries. 

A completely full  vase spi l ls at the slightest movement, or loses 
i ts contents through evaporation. An over-sharpened blade loses 
its edge through the effects of the atmosphere. A treasure wil l  
inevitably be stolen or confiscated. When the sun reaches the 
zenith, it  decl ines; when the moon is full ,  it begins to wane. 
The point which has reached the highest on a turning wheel ,  
redescends as quickly. Whomsoever has understood this universa l ,  
ineluctable law of diminution necessarily fol lowing augmentation, 
gives in his notice, re tires, as soon as he realizes that his fortune 
is at its height. He does this, not from fear of humil iation, but 
from a wise concern for his conservation, and above all in order 
to unite himself perfectly with the intentions of· dest iny. . .  When 
he is aware that the time has come, says one of the commentators, 
the Sage cuts his links, escapes from his cage, and leaves the 
world of vulgarities. As is wri t ten in the Mutations, he no longer 
serves his prince, because his heart is set on higher things. Like wise 
did so many Daoists, who re tired to private life at  the he ight 
of the ir fortune, and ended up in vo luntary obscurity. 

Chapter 10. Text. 

A. Keep your body and sper ma tic soul closely united, and ensure 
that they do not become separated . 
B. Apply yourse l f  such tha t the air you bre athe i n ,  converted 
into the aer ia l  sou l , anima t es this c omposite, and keeps i t  intact  
as in a new-born baby . 
C. Wi thold yourse l f  fro m  c onsidera tions which  are too profound,  
in order not to wear y ourse l f  out. 
D. As for love of  the peopl e and anx i e ty for the state ,  l i m i t  
yourse l f  t o  non-act ion .  
E. Let the  gates of  heaven open and c lose ,  w i thout  w i sh i ng to  
do  something,  wi thout interfering. 
F. Know a l l ,  be informed on everyth ing ,  and for a l l  that remain  
indi fferent,  as i f  you knew noth i ng.  
G. Produce, breed, wi thout taking credit  for what has been prod­
uced, wi thout exact ing a return for your act ions ,  w i thou t i mpos ing 
yourself  on those you govern.  There you have the formula  for 
transcendent act ion.  


Lao Zi. 

Summary of commentaries. 

Man has t wo souls, a double principle of l ife. First 'pa i ', the 
soul coming from the pa terna l sperm,  the principle of becom ing 
and development of the foe tus in the ma terna l wo mb. The more 
closely tha t this soul c l ings to the body, the hea lthier and stronger 
is the ne w being. After birth, the absorption and condensa tion 
of a ir produces a second soul, the aerial soul,  principle of subseq­
uent deve lopment, and a bove all, of survival. In opposi tion to 
the rigidi ty of a corpse, flexibi l i ty here signifies life. The ne wly 
born chi ld is, for the Daoists, the idea l perfect ion of na ture, 
st i l l  absolutely intact , and wi thout any m ixture. La ter on this 
infant wi ll be interpre ted as an interior transcendent being, the 
principle of surviva l .  Il lness, excess, weakens the union of the 
sperma tic  soul with the body, thus bringing on the i l lness. Study, 
worry, wears out the aeria l soul, thereby hastening dea th. Ma inten­
ance of the corporeal component of the aeria l soul, through clean­
l iness, rest,  and therapeutic respira t ion, makes the progra m me 
of the l ife of the Daoist .  - For G, compa re with chapter 2, C,D. 

Chapter 11. Text. 

A. A whee l  is made  o f  t h i r ty  percept i b l e  spo k e s ,  but  i t  turns 
due t o  the  i mpercept i b l e  c e n t ra l  a x i s  o f  the  hub .  
B. Vessels  are  made  o f  p e r c ep t i b l e  c lay ,  b u t  i t  i s  the i r  i mpercep­
t ib le  hol low that  i s  use fu l . 
C. The i mperce p t i b l e  h o l e s  w h i c h  m a k e  the  doors  and  w i ndows 
o f  a house ,  are i ts e sse n t i a l s .  
D. I t  i s  the  i mpercep t i b l e  t h a t  p r o d u c e s  e f fects  a n d  resu l ts .  

Summary of commentaries. 

This chapter is connected with pa ragraphs A and B of the preceding 
chapter. Man does not l ive by his perceptible body, but by the 
two imperceptible souls, the sperma t ic and the aeria l .  Therefore 
the Daoist takes care a bove a l l  of these t wo invisible ent it ies. 
The com mon people ei ther disbel ieve in the m or pay l i tt le  a ttention 
to them, because they are invisible. They are preoccupied with 
perceptible, ma teria l things. Now in many perceptible be ings, 
says the text, the useful ,  the effe ctive, is wha t they have of 
the imperceptible, their hol low, a void, a hole. The com mentators 
genera l ize in saying: Everything effect ive comes from a void; 
a be ing is only effective through i ts empt iness. It seems tha t 
the ancient wheels had thirty spokes because the month has 
thirty days. 


Lao Zi. 

Chapter 12. Text. 

A. Colours blind the eyes of man. Sounds make h i m  dea f. Flavours 
exhaust his taste. Hunting and racing, by unch a ining sava ge passi ons 
in him, madden his he art. The love of rare and diff i cul t-t o-obtain 
objects pushes him to efforts that harm h i m. 
B. Therefore the Sage looks to his sto mach , and not  h i s  senses. 
C .  He renounces this, in order to e mbrace t h a t. (He renounces wha t  
causes we ar, in order to  e mbrace wha t  conserves). 

Summary of commentaries. 

This chapter is connected with the preceding one. The stomach 
is the void, therefore the essential and effect ive part of man. 
It looks after the human composite and al l  i ts parts, through 
digestion and assimilation. It is therefore the objec t  of judicious 
care for the Daoist Sage. We can understand from this why be l l ies 
are so esteemed in China, and why the Daoist Sages are often 
represented with pot-bel l ies. On the contrary, the Sage carefully 
abstains from appl icat ion of the senses, exercise of the mind, 
curiosity; in fact any ac tivity or passion that wears out the t wo 
souls and the composite.  

Chapter 13. Text. 

A. Favour, because it can be los t ,  is a source of worry. Greatn�ss ,  
because it c a n  b e  ruined ,  is a source o f  fear. Wha t  do these two 
sentences me an? 
B. The first means t h a t  the c are require d to kee p  i n favour,  and 
the fear o f  losing it,  fill the mind with worry. 
C. The second points out that ruin generally c omes from car ing 
too much for one 's  own gre a tness. He who has no personal  ambition 
does not have to fear ruin. 
D. He who is only c oncerne d abou t the grea tness of  the empire 
(and not that  of himself) ,  he who ani y desires the good of  the 
empire (and not his own good), to h i m  the empire should be con­
fided (and it  would be in good hands). 

Summary of commentaries. 

A continuation of the preceding chapter citing other causes of 
wear, and other precautions to be taken to avoid them. For those 
who are in favour, who occupy important positions, the worry 
of holding on to these wears out body and soul, because they 
are strongly attached to their favour and position. Many of the 
Daoist Sages were honoured by the favour of great persons and 
occupied high positions without personal inconvenience, so detached 


Lao Zi. 

were they from any affection for their situation. They desired 
not so much to hold on to their positions as to see their resig­
nations accepted. Men of this kind can be emperors, princes, 
or ministers, without detriment to the mselves, and without detri­
ment to the empire, which they govern with the highest and 
most complete disinterest. The text of this chapter is faulty 
in many m odern editions. 

Chapter 14. Text. 

A. L o o k i n g ,  one does not see i t ,  for  it i s  i n v i s i b l e .  L i s ten ing ,  
one does  not  hear  i t ,  for  i t  i s  s i l e n t .  Touch i n g ,  one does  not  
feel  i t, for  i t  i s  i mpalpa b l e .  These three  a t t r i b u tes must  not  
be  separated ,  for they  des ignate  one a n d  the  same b e i n g .  
B. T h i s  b e i ng ,  the P r i n c ipl e ,  i s  not  l i gh t  above  and  d a r k  below,  
as  are opaque m a t e r i a l  b o d i es .  L i k e  a s lender  thread ,  i t  unwi nds 
i t se l f  (as  c o n t i n u o u s  e x i stence  and  a c t i on). I t  has  no name of 
its  own.  I t  goes back as  far  as the t i me when there were no 
other b e i ngs  but i ts e l f .  I t  has  no  parts;  from in front one sees 
no  head ,  from b e h i n d  no rear .  
C .  I t  i s  th i s  p r i m o r d i a l  P r i n c i p l e  that  has ru led ,  and ru les ,  a l l  
b e i ngs r ight  up t o  the  prese n t .  Eve r y t h i ng t h a t  has been ,  o r  i s ,  
s i nce the  anc i e n t  o r i g i n ,  i s  f rom the  unw i n d i n g  o f  the P r i n c iple.  

Summary of commentaries. 

The first thirteen chapters form a series. Here the author goes 
back to the beginning. A new description of the Principle, so 
tenuous as to be i mperceptible; form less; indefinite, infinite 
being; that which was before everything; tha t which caused every­
thing. A picturesque description of 'de', its continuous and varying 
productive action, using the metaphore 'ji', the unwinding of 
a spool .  The meaning is clear: The diverse products of the Principle 
are the manifesta tions of its virtue; the infinite cha in of these 
manifestations of the Principle can be cal led the unwinding of 
the Principle . - This important chapter does not present any 

Chapter 15. Text. 

A. The anc i e n t  Sages were subtle ,  abstrac t ,  profound,  i n  a way 
that cannot  be  e xpressed i n  words. There fore I am go ing  to use 
illustrat i ve compar i sons in order to  make  myse l f  as c lear l y  under­
stood as possi ble . 
B. They were c i rcu mspect l i ke one who crosses an i ce-co vered 
r i ver ;  prudent  li ke  one who knows that  h is  n e i ghbours have  the i r  
e y e s  on h i m; rese rved  l i k e  a g u e s t  i n  front  o f  h i s  host .  They 


Lao Zi. 

were indifferent like melting ice (which is n e i ther one thing 
nor the other). They were unsophis tic a t ed like a tree trunk (the 
rough bark of which conceals the exc e l l e n t  heartwood). They 
were emp ty like a valley (with reference to  the moun t ains that  
form it). They were accommoda ting like muddy Wat e r ,  (they, 
the clear wa ter, not repel ling the mud, n o t  refusing to live i n  
contact with the common people, no t formin g  a s e p a r a t e  group). 
c. (To seek purity and peace by separating from the world is 
to overdo things. They can be found in the world). Pur i ty is to 
be found in the trouble (of this world) through ( i n t e r i or) c a l m ,  
on condition that one does not  let t h e  i mpurity o f  the  world 
affect oneself. Peace is to  be found in t he m ovemen t (of th is  
world) by one who knows how to t ake part  i n  t h i s  move ment ,  
and who is n o t  exaspera ted through desiring t h a t  il should be 
D. He who keeps to this rule of n o t  being c o nsumed by s t e r ile 
desires ar ising from his own fancy, will live wil lingly in obscur i ty, 
and will not  aspire to renew the world. 

Summary of commentaries. 

Zhang Hongyang expla ins as fol lows the last paragraph (D), which 
is some what obscure because of i ts extre me conciseness: He 
will remain faithful to the ancient teachings, and will not allow 
himself to be seduced by ne w doctrines. This explanation seems 
only just tenable.  

Chapter 16. Text. 

A. He who has re ached the maximum of e mptiness (of indifference) 
wiJJ be firmly f i xed in peace. 
B. Innumerable be i n gs c o me out (fr o m  non -being), and I see them 
return there . They sprin g  forth, then they all  re turn to their 
C. To return to one 's root, i s  to enter into the state o f  rest. 
From this rest they emerge for a new dest i n y ,  and so it goes 
on, continuall y,  without end. 
D. To recognize this law of immutable continu i t y  ( o f  the two 
states of life and de ath),  is  wisdom. To ignore it , is  foolish. 
Those ignorant of this Jaw cause mis fortune ( through their untimely 
interference in things).  
E. He who knows that this law weighs hea vil y on beings , is just 
(treats al l  beings according to their nature , w i th equity),  like 
a King, like Heaven, like the Principl e .  In consequence he las ts 
un til the end of his days, not h aving made h i mself an y  enemies. 


Lao Zi. 

Summary of commentaries. 

Im muta bi l i ty is an a ttribute of the Principle itse lf. Beings partici­
pa te in i t, in proportion to the ir acquired resemblance to the 
Principle.  The a bsolutely indifferent Daoist Sage,  be ing the one 
who is most l ike the Principle, is in consequence the most immut­
able. - Except for the Principle,  a l l  be ings are submitted to the 
continua l a l terna tion of the t wo sta tes of life and dea th. The 
com menta tors ca l l  this a l terna tion the coming and going of the 
shuttle on the cosmic loom.  Zhang Hongyang compares it with 
brea thing, active inspira t ion corresponding to life,  passive exha l­
a tion corresponding to dea th, the end of  one be ing the beginning 
of the other. The sa m e  author uses, as a term of comparison, 
the lunar cycle, the full  moon representing life, the ne w moon 
representing dea th, with t wo intermediate periods of waxing 
and waning. A ll this is c lassical ,  and can be found in all the 
Daoist Writings • . 

Chapter 17. Tex t. 

A. In the ear ly  days  (when, in h u m a n  affa i rs ,  e ve r y t h i n g  s t i l l  
conformed to  the  ac t i o n  o f  t h e  P r i n c i p le) ,  subje c ts  scar c e l y  knew 
they  had  a p r i nc e  (so d iscre e t  was  the  ac t i on o f  the  l a t ter) . 
B. After  t h i s  the peop le  l o ved  and f l a t tered  the i r  p r i nce  (because 
o f  his good deeds), but l a ter  on, they feared h i m  (because of 
his laws), and scorned h i m  (because o f  his  unj ust  ac ts). They 
became d i s loy al,  through h a v i n g  been t reated  d i s l o y a l l y .  They 
lost  conf i dence i n  h i m  through rece i v i n g  o n l y  good words wh ich 
were never put  i n to e ffec t .  
C .  How d e l i c a te w a s  t h e  touch of  t h e  a nc i e n t  r u l e rs .  When every­
th ing  prospered under  the i r  a d m i n i s t ra t ion ,  the  peop le  be l i e ved 
they had  done e v e r y t h i n g  the msel v es, of  the i r  own free wi l l .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

The meaning is obvious and the commentators are all in agreement. 
This utopia of imperceptible govemment, without re wards and 
without punishments, haunted the minds of Chinese intellectuals 
up to fairly recent t imes. 

Chapter 1 8. Text. 

A. When ac t ion  conformi n g  to the Pr inc ip le  dwind les ,  (when men 
cease to ac t w i th spontaneous goodness and fa i rness),  ar t i f i c i al 
pr inc ip les o f  goodness and fa i rness,  prudence and wisdom (are 
i n vented) .  These art i f i c i a l  pr inc ip les soon degenerate into po l i t ics .  
B. When parents no longer l i ve i n  natura l  harmony , they try to 

1 3  

Lao Zi. 

make up for this de f ici t by inven t i ng art ifi c i al prin c i ples of fili al 
p i e ty and paterna l a ffect i on. 
C. When sta tes had fallen i n to di sarr a y ,  t h e y  inven ted the loyal  
min ister stereotype. 

Summary of commentaries. 

Conventional morali ty, with i ts princ iples and precepts, useless 
in the age of spontaneous goodness, was invented when the world 
fe l l  into decadence, as a remedy for that decadence . The invention 
was some what unfortunate. The only true remedy would have 
been to return to the original Principle .  - This marks Lao Zi 's 
declaration of war on Confucius. A l l  the Daoist wri ters, Zhuang 
Zi in particular, have declaimed against artificial goodness and 
fairness, the passwords of Confucianism. 

Chapter 19. Text. 

A. Reject (ar t ificial ,  conven tional, poli tical) wisdom and pruden c e ,  
( i n  order to re turn t o  primal natural uprigh t n e ss) , a n d  the people 
will be a hundred times happier. 
B. Reject (artifi cia l ,  conventional) goodness and fairness,  ( filia l 
and fraternal pie t y ) ,  and the people will come back ( for their 
we ll-being,  to natural goodness and fairness) ,  to spontaneous 
filial and pa ternal pie t y. 
C. R e j ect art and gain , and evildoers will disappear. ( With  the 
pri mordial s implici t y ,  the y will re turn t o  primordial honest y ). 
D. R enounce these three artificial ca t egori es ,  for the  art i f i c i a l  
is good-for -noth i ng. 
E. Be a t t ached to simplicit y and n a t uralness. Have few personal  
interests, and few desires. 

Summary of commentaries. 

This chapter fo l lows the preceding one. It is perfectly clear. 
The commentators are in agreemen t. This material is developed 
at length by Zhuang Z i . 

Chapter 20. Text. 

A. Give up learnin g ,  and you will be free fro m  all y our worri es. 
What  is the difference between yes and no  ( about which the 
rhe toricians have so much t o  say)? W h a t  is  the d i f ference b e tween 
good and evil  (on which the cri tics never a gree)?  ( Th ese are 
fu t ilities t h a t  prevent the mind fro m being free. Now freedom 
of mind is necessary to en ter in t o  re l a tion w i t h  the Princ iple) .  
B. Without doubt, among the t h ings wh i c h  com m on people fear,  

1 4 

Lao Zi. 

there are t h i n gs t h a t  should  be feared;  b u t  n o t  as  they do , w i th a 
m i n d  s o  t r o u b l e d  t h a t  t h e y  lose t he i r  m e n t a l  equ i l i b r i u m .  
C .  Ne i ther  shoul d  o n e  p e r m i t  onesel f to l ose equ i l i b r i u m  through 
pleasure, as happens t o  those w h o  h a ve a good meal or  v i e w  the 
surroun d i n g  c o u n t r y s i de in spr i n g  from the top of a tower ( w i th the 
ac c o m p a n i m e n t  of w i n e ,  e t c . ) .  
D. I ( the Sa g e )  see m t o  be colo u r l ess and  unde f i ne d ; n e u t r a l  as a 
new-born c h i ld t h a t  h a s  n o t  y e t  e x p e r i enced any e m o t i on ;  w i thout 
desi g n  o r  a i m .  
E. The c o m mo n  people  a b o u nd ( i n  v a r i e d  knowledge ) , b u t  I a m  
poor (h a v i n g  r i d  m y se l f  o f  a l l uselessness) and see m i gnoran t ,  
s o  m u c h  h a v e  I p u r i f i e d  myse l f . The y see m f u l l  o f  l i gh t ,  I seem 
d u l l .  The y seek a n d  s c r u t i n i z e ,  I r e m a i n  concentrated  i n  m yself.  
Inde t e r m i n a t e ,  l i ke the i m me ns i ty of the oceans ,  I f loa t w i thout  
stopping.  T h e y  are full  o f ta le n t ,  whereas I see m  l i m i t ed and 
u n c u l t u r e d .  
F .  I d i ffer  thus from the c o m mon peop le ,  because I vene ra te 
and i m i t a t e  the un i versa l  nour i s h i n g  m o t h e r ,  the P r i nc i p l e .  

Summary of commentaries. 

The text of this chapter differs in different editions; it must have 
been mutilated or re touched. The com m entaries a lso differ great ly 
from each other. The lack of clarity comes, I think, from the fact  
that Lao Zi,  speaking of  himse lf, and proposing himself as  a m odel  
for the disciples of the Principle, would not have wished to speak 
more clearly. Zhang Hongyang seems to me to ha ve best interpreted 
his thought. 

Chapter 21 . Text. 

A. All of the be i n gs which  p lay  a ro le , in the great  m an i festa t i on of 
the c os m i c  theatre ,  h a v e  come fro m  the Pr inc ip le ,  through i ts 
v irtue ( i t s  unwind ing) .  
B. The Pr i n c i p l e  i s  ind i s t inct  and indeterminate ,  m yster i ous and  
obscure . In i ts i nd i s t i nct ion and indete r m i n a t i on there  are t ypes,  a 
mul t i tude o f  b e ings.  In i ts mystery  and obscur i t y  there i s  an 
essence whi c h  i s  real i t y .  
C .  F ro m  anc ient  t i mes u n t i l  t h e  prese n t ,  i ts n a m e  ( i ts be i ng) has 
stayed the same, a l l  b e ings have come fro m  i t .  
D .  How d o  I know t h a t  i t  w a s  the or ig in  o f  a l l  be ings? • • •  (By 
ob j ec t i ve observat ion o f  the un i verse , which reveals  that con t i n ­
genc ies  m u s t  h a ve c o m e  from t h e  abso lute). 

Summary of commentaries. 

This eleva ted chapter is not obscure, and the com menta tors 

1 5  

Lao Zi. 

agree with each other. Al l  of these ideas have already been stated. 
Lao Zi has gone back to the definit ion of the Principle and its 
Virtue, and here he has restated his ideas with greater clarity 
and precision. 

Chapter 22. Text. 

A. In the old days they said, the i n comple t e  sha ll be made whol e, 
the bent  shall be strai gh tened, the emp ty shall be f i l l ed, the 
worn shall be renewed. Simplicity makes for suc cess, multiplicity 
leads one astray. 
B. There fore the Sage who holds himself to  unity, is the model 
for the empire ,  (for the world, the ide al man). He sh i nes, bec ause 
he does not show off. He imposes himself bec ause he does not 
cl aim to be r i gh t. One fi nds mer i t  in him, because he does not  
brag. He incre ases constan tly, because he does n o t  push himsel f.  
As he does not oppose h imself t o  anyone, no one is opposed t o  
C. The axioms from the old days c i ted above, are they n o t  ful l  
of sense? Yes, towards h i m  who is per f e c t ,  (who does no thing t o  
a t tract t o  himself), all run spon tane ously. 

Summary of commentaries. 

The meaning is clear. To hold oneself to unity is, says Zhang 
Hongyang, to forge t al l things, in order to concentrate oneself 
on the contemplation of original unity. 

Chapter 2 3. Tex t. 

A. To talk lit t l e ,  to ac t only withou t  e f fort, tha t  is the formul a .  
B. A gusty wind does n o t  blow al l morning, t orrentia l rain does 
not last all day. And yet these effec ts are produc ed by heaven 
and earth, ( the most p owerful age nts o f  al l.  But these are e x agger­
a ted, forced, effec ts ,  tha t is why they c a n n o t  be sustained). 
If heaven and earth c a nnot sus t ain a forced ac tion,  how much 
Jess is man able to do so? 
C. He who con forms himself to the Principle,  conforms his princip ­
les to this Princip l e ,  his ac tion to the action o f  this Princip l e , 
his non-ac tion to the non-ac tion o f  t his Princip l e .  Thus his princip ­
les, his ac tions, his non-ac tion,  (speculations, inter ventions,  absten­
tions), always give him the con t e n tmen t o f  success,  ( for, whether 
he succeeds or not ,  the Princip l e  e v o l ves,  and there fore he is 
D. ( This doc trine of the abnegation o f  one ' s  opinions and one 's  
ac tions appeals to the taste of b u t  fe w peop l e ) .  Many only  believe 
in i t  a litt le,  the others not a t  a U .  


Lao Zi. 

Summary of commentaries. 

The meaning is clear and the commenta tors are in agree ment. 
The text of this chapter is highly incorrect in modern editions, 
having been touched up unintel l igently. 

Chapter 24. Text. 

A .  By d i n t  of ho ld ing  onese l f  on t i p toe ,  one l oses one ' s  bal ance . 
By t r y i n g  t o  take too great  a s t r i de ,  one does not  go  forward.  
By m a k i ng a show of  oneself ,  one l oses one ' s  repu tat ion .  Through 
i mpos i n g  onesel f, one l oses  one ' s  i n fluence .  Through boast ing  
about  onese l f ,  one becomes  d i scred i ted .  Through  push i n g  oneself ,  
one c e ases  to  be  augmented .  
B.  In the  l i gh t  o f  the  Pr inc ip le  a l l  these ways  o f  a c t i ng are od i ous , 
d i s tastefu l .  They are  superf luous  e x c e sses.  The y are  l i k e  a p a i n  
i n  t h e  s t o m a c h ,  a t u m o u r  i n  the  body .  H e  w h o  h a s  p r i n c ip les  
( in  confor m i t y  with  the  Pr i n c i p le ) , does  not  a c t  l i ke th is .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

This chapter continues the the me of the t wo preceding ones. 
The meaning is clear. The com m enta tors are in agreement.  Excess 
destroys natura l si mpl icity. 

Chapter 25. Text. 

A. There  is a b e i n g ,  o f  unknown o r i g i n , w h i c h  e x i s ted  b e fore 
heaven  and e arth ;  i mpercep t i b l e  and  undef ined ,  u n i qu e  and i mmut­
ab le ,  omn ipresent ,  the  mother  o f  e ve r y t h i n g  there  i s .  
B. I do not  know i t  b y  i ts own n a m e .  I des i g n a t e  i t  b y  the  word 
Pr inc i p l e .  I f  i t  were necessary t o  name i t ,  one wou l d  cal l  i t  
the Great ,  great  go ing  forth ,  g re a t  d i s tance ,  great  return .  (The 
pr inc i p l e  o f  the great  c y c l i c  e vo lut i on of  the  cosmos,  o f  the 
bec o m i ng and end ing o f  a l l  b e i ngs) .  
C. The name G re a t  bef i t s  (proport i ona l l y )  four  (super i mposed) 
be i ngs:  The emperor ,  the earth ,  heaven  (the c l ass ica l  Ch i nese 
t r i ad) ,  and the Pr i nc i pl e .  The e mperor owes his greatness to 
the earth (h i s  theatre) ,  earth  owes i ts greatness to  heaven  (of 
wh ich  it i s  the fru i t) ,  heaven owes i ts greatness to  the Pr inc ip le  
(of which i t  i s  the pr inc i pa l  agent) .  (Greatness borrowed ,  as one  
can see ,  whereas ) the  Pr inc ip le  owes  i ts essen t i a l gre a tness to  
i ts unde r i v e d ,  uncreated,  e x i stence .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

A fa m ous chapter; compare it with chapter 1 .  The serious co m m en -

1 7  

Lao Zi. 

tators are in agreement, the verbose ones scoff. The Principle 
is called the mother of all that is, considered as the source of 
being of all that is. Being formless, and without any accident 
on to which one can hang a qualification, it cannot be named. 
The only terms properly applicable to it are Indefinite Being, 
or Universal Principle. 

Chapter 26. Text. 

A. The heavy is the base (root) of the light. S til l n ess is the p r i nce 
of movemen t .  (These things shou l d  a lways be uni ted in a just  
B. Therefore a wise prince , when he travels (in his light carr i age), 
never separa tes himsel f  from the heavy wagons which c arry his  
baggage. However beautiful the landscape through which he p asses, 
he takes c are to l odge only in peaceful places. 
C. Alas, how could an e mperor behave so foolishly, l osi ng a l l  
authority by din t  o f  frivolity, and a ll rest through his waywardness? 

Summary of commentaries. 

Historic allusion to Emperor You Wang, or to another, one is 
not exactly sure. The commentators are of the opinion that this 
chapter is only an exhortation to orderly behaviour. The wording 
varies in the last paragraph, in many editions. 

Chapter 27. Text. 

A.  A good wal ker leaves no  t r a c e ,  a good speaker offends no 
one, a good reckoner needs n o  t a l ly ,  a n  e xpert  locksmith  can 
make one that no one c a n  open, a n  exp e r t  on knots can make 
them so that no one can untie them. ( A l l  spec i a l i s ts have the i r  
spec ia l i ty ,  which m a k e s  t heir fame , from wh ich  they take the i r  
profi t). 
B. L ikewise the Sage (Confucian pol i t ic i an) , the professi onal 
saviour of men and things, has h i s  own procedures.  He consi ders 
hi mself  .the born master of other men,  regarding them as material 
born for his  craft.  
C. Now that is to b l i nd onese l f ,  ( to  shade out  the l i gh t ,  the Daoist 
princi ples). Not wishing to rule,  nor to appropr i a t e ,  o thers; a l though 
wise, seemi ng l i ke  a madman (persi s t i ng to l i ve i n  retreat); this  
is the essen t i al tru th .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

Transla ted after Zhang Hongyang who pointed out, rightly, tha t 
almost al l  of the com menta tors are wrong a bout the interpre ta tion 


Lao Zi. 

of this chapter. - The clear opposition of the Confucian and 
the Daoist. The first  drea ms only of a post which gives hi m author­
ity over men, the second protects himself as much as he can 
from such posi t ions. 

Chapter 28. Text. 

A. Be i ng aware of  one ' s  v i r i l e  s t rength  (knowing  that  one is 
a cock) ,  and  y e t  ho l d i ng onesel f w i l l i ng l y  in the i n fer ior  state  
of  the fe male  (o f  the hen) ;  keep ing onese l f  w i l l i ng l y  i n  the l owest 
place in the e m p i r e . . .  T o  demean  onese l f  thus shows that one 
has r e t a i ne d  the p r i m o r d i a l  v i r tue ,  (abso lute  d i s i n terestedness,  
part i c i pa t i on in the P r i n c i p l e ) .  
B .  Know i ng onese l f  t o  be  en l i ghtened ,  and  w i l l i ng l y  pass ing onese l f  
off as  ignorant ;  w i l l i ng l y  l e t t i n g  onese l f be  wa lked  o ve r . . .  To  
beha ve thus  i s  to  show t h a t  the p r i m o r d i a l  v i r tue  has not  wavered 
i n  oneself ,  that  one i s  s t i l l  u n i ted  w i th the f irst  Pr inc ip le .  
C. Knowi ng onesel f worthy  of  fa m e ,  y e t  s tay i ng i n  vo luntary  
obsc u r i t y ;  w i l l i ng l y  m ak i ng onese l f  the  va l ley  ( the  lowest  po int ) 
of  the e m p i re . . .  T o  b e h a v e  thus  i s  t o  show that  one has the o r i g i na l  
se lf-sac r i f i ce s t i l l  i n t a c t ,  t h a t  one  i s  s t i l l  i n  t h e  s t a t e  of  na tural  
s i m p l i c i t y .  
D. ( The S a g e  w i l l  r efuse therefore  t h e  burden o f  b e i ng a governor.  
If  he  i s  cons t r a i n e d  to  accept such a post ,  then  he wi l l  remind  
h imse l f  t h a t) the  m u l t i p l i c i t y  o f  b e i ngs  h a v e  come from the p r i mor­
d ia l  u n i t y  b y  a s c a t t e r i n g .  (That  he  w i l l  ne ver  busy  h i ms e l f  wi th 
these d i verse b e i ngs) , but govern  as c h i e f  o f  the  of f i c i a ls  (as 
pr i me  mover) , u n i q u e l y  app l y i ng h i mse l f  t o  general  government ,  
wi thout  occup y i n g  h i mse l f  w i th de t a i ls .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

This chapter is associa ted with paragraph C of the preceding 
chapter. It c learly describes a Daoist  style Olympian government. 
The next chapter continues this the me.  

Chapter 29. Text. 

A. He who ho lds the e m p i re wou ld ,  i n  my v i ew ,  be w ish ing for 
fa i l u re should  he want  to man ipu late  it (to act pos i t i ve l y ,  to 
govern ac t i ve l y ) .  The emp i re  i s  a mechan ism o f  ex treme de l icacy .  
It  shoul d  be  le t  go a l l  a lone .  I t  shou ld  not  be touched.  He who 
touches i t ,  deranges i t .  He who w i shes to appropr ia te  i t ,  l oses 
i t .  
B. When he governs ,  t h e  Sage le ts a l l  people (and the i r  sum,  
the emp i re) go free accord ing to the i r  several  na tures, the ag i l e  
and the s low,  the ardent a n d  t h e  apathe t i c ,  the strong a n d  the 

1 9  

Lao Zi. 

weak , the long-l i ved and the short-l i ved.  
C. He l i m i ts h i s  ac t ion to the suppress i on of  excesses which 
would harm the whole, such as powe r ,  wealth ,  and amb i t ion. 

Summary of commentaries. 

Zhang Hongyang ca lls this suppression of excesses the only inter­
vention permitted to the Daoist; act ion in non-action. 

Chapter 30. Text. 

(Of all the excesses,  the most prej u d i c i a l ,  the most damnable,  
i s  that of  weapons,  war) .  
A. Those who act  as adv i sors to a prince shou ld  keep themsel ves 
from want ing to make war against  a country .  (For  such act ion ,  
ca l l ing for  revenge,  i s  a lways  pa id  for dear ly ) . Wherever the 
troops stay  the l and produces onl y thorns,  hav ing  been abandoned 
by  the farm workers. Wherever  a great army has passed,  years 
of  unhappi ness ( from f a m i ne and b r i gandage)  fol l ow. 
B. Therefore the good general i s  content  to do only what he 
has to do, (the least  poss ib le ;  mora l , rather  than mater ia l  repress­
ion).  He stops as soon as poss i b l e ,  guard ing h i mse l f  from explo i t i ng 
h is  force to the l i m i t . He  does as much as is requ ired ( to re­
estab l i sh peace), not  for his personal  advantage and fame, but 
from necess i t y  and w i th re luctance ,  w i thout any intent ion of 
i ncreasi ng h i s  power. 
C. Any he ight  of  power i s  always fo l lowed b y  decadence .  Mak i ng 
onesel f powerful i s  therefore contrary  to the Pr inc ip le  (the source 
of  duration) .  He who i s  l ack ing  on  th i s  po int ,  w i l l  not be l ong 
in c o m i ng to an end.  

Literal commentaries. No controversy. 

Chapter 31 . Text. 

A. The best weapons are i l l -omened i nstruments that al l  beings 
hold in fear. There fore those who c onform themsel ves to the 
Principle do not use the m . 
B. In t i mes o f  pe ace , the pr ince  puts  the c i  v i i  m i n ister he honours 
on h i s  l e f t  (the p l ace of hono ur) ; b u t  e v e n  in t i mes of war, he 
puts the m i l i tary c o m mander on h i s r igh t (w h i c h  is not the place 
of honour, e v e n  though he is exerc is ing h i s  func t i on) . 
Weapons are disastrous instruments.  A w i s e  prince uses them 
only w i th reluc tance and fro m  necess i t y .  He prefers always a 
modest peace t o  a g l orious v i c t o r y .  
N o  o n e  should think t h a t  v i c tory is  a g o o d  t h i ng .  He w h o  thi nks 
that,  shows that h e  has the heart o f  an assassin.  Such a man 
would not be fi t to reign o ver the empire.  


Lao Zi. 

C. Accordi ng to the r i tes ,  those of good omen are p laced on 
the lef t ,  those of i l l -omen on the r ight .  (Now when the emperor 
recei ves two m i l i tary  off icers together) ,  the one of  subord inate  
rank (who only acts  on super ior  orders ,  and i s  there fore less 
i l l -omened) is p laced  on the l e f t .  The command ing  off icer  is 
p laced on the r ight ,  that  i s ,  in the f i r s t  p lace  accordi ng to the 
funeral  r i tes ,  ( the p lace  of c h i e f  mourner) . For  it behoves one 
who has k i l l e d  many m e n  to  weep t ears of  l a m e n t a t i on for them. 
The onl y  p lace  rea l l y  f i t t i ng for  a conquer ing  general  i s  that  
of ch ief  mourner ( l ead in g  the mourn i ng for those whose death  
he has caused) .  

Litera l  com mentaries. No controversy. 

Chapter 32. Tex t. 

A. The Pr i nc i p l e  h as no n a m e  of  i ts own .  I t  is nature .  This nature 
so unmani  fest  i s  s tronger  than  a n y t h i n g .  I f  p r i nces  and e mperors 
were to conform themse lves  t o  i t ,  al l  b e i ngs wou ld  col l aborate 
with them spo n taneous l y ;  h e a v e n  and  earth would act  i n  perfect  
harmony ,  spr i n k l i ng a swe e t  dew ( the  best  poss i b l e  omen); the 
people would be  governab le  w i thout  t h e  need for constr a i n t .  
B .  W h e n ,  i n  the  b e g i n n i n g ,  i n  t h i s  v i s i b l e  wor ld ,  the Pr i nc ip le  
i mparted i tse l f  i n  the  produc t i on o f  (sen t i e n t) b e i ngs w i th names ,  
i t  d i d  not  produce  them i n  a way  that  e x hausted  i tsel f (but  on ly  
as tenuous prolonga t i ons ,  i ts mass r e m a i n i n g  i n tact ) .  The Pr inc ip le  
i s ,  w i th reference t o  the d i vers i t y  o f  b e i ngs  i n  the wor ld ,  l i ke 
the mass o f great  r i vers  and  oceans  w i t h  r e ference  to tr ick les 
and r i vu lets  o f  water .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

Each being exists through a prolonga tion of the Principle in itself. 
These prolonga tions are not detached from the Principle, which 
is not, therefore, diminished in imparting itself. The prolongation 
of the Principle in each being is the nature of that  being. The 
Principle is universal nature, being the sum of all individual 
natures, i ts prolongations. 

Chapter 33. Text. 

A. Knowing o thers is  w isdom,  b u t  knowing  onese l f  i s  super i or 
wisdom, (one ' s  own nature  b e i ng most  h i dden and pro found) . 

- Impos ing one ' s  w i l l  on others i s  strength;  but  i mposing i t  on 
onesel f  i s  super ior strength (one ' s  own passi ons be ing the most 
d i f f icu l t  to subdue).  - Being sat i sf i e d  (content  with what dest iny  
has g i ven) ,  i s  true weal th;  be ing  master o f  onesel f  (bending onesel f 
to the d ispos i t ions of dest iny )  i s  true character .  

2 1  

Lao Zi. 

B. St aying in one 's (na tural) place (that  which destiny has given), 
makes for a long l i fe .  A f ter death, n o t  ceasing t o  be, is true 
longevi ty, (which is the l o t  o f  those who have lived in conformity 
wi th na ture and dest iny). 

Summary of commentaries. 

L ife and death are two forms of the being. In B it is a question 
of conscious survival after death. 

Chapter 34. Text. 

A. The gre a t  Pr i nciple e x tends itsel f in all dire c tions. I t  lends 
itsel f willingly to the genesis of all beings (its par ticip ants). 
When a work is acco mpl i she d, i t  does not  a t t ribute it to itself. 
It nourishes all be i ngs with kindness, wit hout imp osing itself 
on them as a master (for having nourished them; l e aving them 
free; not e x a c t ing any degrading re turn from them). Bec ause 
of  its constant disintereste dness, one migh t  t hink it  would becom e  
diminished.  This is  not so . A l l  beings t o  w h o m  it i s  s o  liberal, 
run towards i t .  It there fore f i nds itsel f magnified (through t his 
uni versa! trust).  
B. The Sage imi t a tes this c onduc t .  He, also, makes himsel f small 
(through h i s  di s interes tedness and h i s  delic a t e  reserve), a nd acquires 
thereby true gre a tness. 

Nothing more in the commentaries. 

Chapter 35. Text. 

A. Because he resembles the gre a t  proto t y p e  ( t h e  Princ ip le ,  
through his disinterested devo tion), a l l  come to the Sage . He 
welcomes them all, does the m  good, and gives t h e m  rest ,  peace,  
and happiness. 
B. Music  a nd good cheer may h old up a passer-by for but a n ight ,  
(since sensual pleasures are fle e ting a nd leave noth ing behind) . 
Whereas the ex position o f  the g r e a t  pr inc i ple  of d i s i nterested 
devot ion,  s i mple a nd gentle,  whic h charms ne i ther the eyes nor 
the ears, pleases, engraves i t self, and is of  an inexhaust ib le  fecund­
ity in matters of prac tical applic a tion. 

Nothing more in the com mentaries. 

Chapter 36. Text. 

A. The beginning o f  contrac t i on necessar i l y  fol l ows the maxi mum 
of expansion. Weakness fol l ows strength,  decadence fol lows prosper­
i ty ,  depra vat ion fol lows opulence. Th is  i s  a sub t le  ins ight  ( tha t 
many do not wish to see). All preceding strength and super ior i ty 


Lao Zi. 

i s  e x p i a ted by subsequent  deb i l i t y  and i n fer ior i ty .  More ca l l s  for 
less,  excess c a l l s  for def ic i t .  
B. A f ish  shou l d  n o t  l e a ve t h e  dep ths (where i t  l i ves i gnored but 
in  secur i t y , i n  order  to  show i tsel f at  the surface where i t  cou ld  be 
harpooned) .  A s tate  shou ld  not show i t s resources ( i f  i t  does not 
w i sh the others  to  turn aga i ns t  it in order to  c rush i t ) .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

Stay smal l ,  hum ble,  hidden; do not a t tract  a t tent ion; this is the 
secre t of living wel l  and for a long t ime .  

Chapter 37. Tex t. 

A. The P r i n c i p l e  i s  a l w a y s  non-ac t i ng ( n o t  ac t i ng ac t i ve l y ) , and yet 
i t  does e v e r y t h i n g  (w i thout  see m i n g  to  p a r t i c i p a te ) .  
B .  I f  t h e  pr ince  and  the  l o rds  c o u l d  g o v e r n  l i k e  t h a t  (w i t hout  pok ing 
the i r  f i ngers  i n  i t ) ,  a l l  be i ngs w o u l d  b e c o m e  spontaneous ly  perfec t 
(by re turn ing  t o  nature ) .  
C .  I t  wou ld  on ly  rema i n t o  ca l l  the m b a c k  t o  u nn a med nat ure 
( to  the p r i m o r d i a l  s i m p l i c i t y  of the P r i n c i p l e ) each t i m e  the y 
showed any  tendency  t o  c o m e  o u t  o f  t h i s  s t a t e  ( b y  ac t i ng ) .  In 
this state o f  unnam ed  n a t u r e  t h e r e  are no des i res .  When there 
are no  des ires  al l  i s  p e ac e fu l ,  and t h e  s t a t e  is  governed  b y  i tse l f .  

The com m entators add nothing. Compare with chapter 3.  


Lao Zi. 

Book 2. 

Chapter 38. Text. 

A. That  which i s  super i or to the V i r tue of the Pr inc ip le  ( the Prin­
c ip le  i tse l f ,  cons idered i n  i ts essence) ,  does not  act ,  but  holds 
Vi rtue in  a s tate  o f  i m manence wi t h i n  i tse l f .  A l l  those which are 
i n fer ior to the V i r tue of the Pr i n c i ple  (art i f i c i a l  rules of conduct) ,  
are only  a pal l i a t i ve for the  l oss of that V ir tue ;  a pa l l i a t i ve with 
wh ich  i t  has noth ing  i n  common .  
B .  That wh ich  i s  super i or to  t he V i r tue  ( the Pri nc ip le ) , does not act 
in  de ta i l .  (The ar t i fi c i a l  ru les) wh i c h  are i n fer ior  to  the V i r tue (of 
the Pri nc ip le )  only e x i s t  for ac t i on i n  de t a i l .  
C .  When n a ture , w i th  i ts natural good i n s t i nc ts ,  h a s  been forgo tten,  
art i f i c i al pr inc ip les come as pa l l i a t i ves for  th i s  def ic i t .  These are,  
in  descend ing  order,  goodness , fa i rness ,  r i tes and laws.  (Art i f ic ia l  
Con fuc i an goodness i s  supe r i o r  to  ar t i f i c i a l  fa i rness wh ich ,  in  
s t ruggl ing  to cope wi th  the d i verse i n c l i n a t i ons o f  men,  has  pro­
duced r i tes  and l a ws) .  
R i tes are bu t  a poor e xpe d i e n t  to  c o ver  up the loss of  or i ginal  
upr ightness and frankness .  The y are more a source of  trouble ( in  
e t i que t te  and rubr ic )  than they  are o f  order.  
The last  term of  th i s  descend ing  e vo l u t i o n ,  po l i t ica l  w i sdom (making 
laws) ,  was the beg inn ing  o f  a l l  abuses .  
D .  He who i s  tru l y a man,  ho ids  h i mse l f to  upr i gh tness and natural 
good sense.  He i s  con temptuous o f  ar t i f i c i al pr inc i ples.  Using 
d iscernme n t ,  he re jects  th is  ( the fa lse) ,  i n  order to embrace that 
(the true) .  

Summary of commentaries. 

This chapter is directed aga inst Confucianism.  Tota l good natural 
sense, is unity. A rtificia l mora l precepts are multiplicity. The next 
chapter is going to sho w tha t m u l t ipl i c i ty ruins, and that unity 

Chapter 39. Text. 

A. The follo w i n g  part ic ipate in pr im i t i ve s impli c i t y :  Heaven, 
which owes its lu m i n os i t y  to i ts s imp l i c i t y .  Earth,  which owes 
i ts stabi l i t y  to i t .  The un i versal genera t i ve a c t i on ,  which owes 
i t s  ac t i v i t y  to i t .  The me d i a n  space , . wh i c h  owes i ts fecund i t y  
to i t .  T h e  li fe common to a l l  bei ngs.  T h e  power o f  t h e  emperor 
and the princes.  (li fe and power being eman a t i ons of the Pri n c i ple ). 
B. What makes them such as they are , is  the (pri mi t i ve )  s i mpli c i t y  
( i n  w h i c h  t h e y  part i c i pa te).  If  h e a v e n  c a m e  to l ose i t ,  i t  would 
fall. If  the earth c a me to l ose i t ,  i t  would l ose i t s  stabili t y .  


Lao Zi. 

if the genera t i ve  ac t i on lost  i t ,  i t  wou ld  cease to  act .  If the 
med ian  space lost i t , all b e i ngs w o u l d  d i sappe ar .  If  the e mperor 
and the pr inces should  lose i t ,  they wou ld  h a v e  no more d i gn i t y .  
C. Al l  e levat i on ,  a l l  nob i l i t y ,  i s  based on abase ment a n d  s i m pl i c i t y  
(character i s t i cs proper  to t h e  P r i n c i p l e ) .  There fore i t  i s  r ight  
that the e mperor and the pr i nces ,  the most  exa l ted  o f  men,  shou ld  
be des ignated b y  the terms , s o l e ,  u n i que , i n c apab le ,  wi thout  them 
being thereby degrade d .  
D. ( Appl y i ng t h e  same p r i n c i p l e  o f  s i m p l i c i ty i n  the i r  government) ,  
they  shou ld  reduce the mul t i t u de o f  the i r  sub j e c ts to un i ty ,  cons id­
er ing  them w i th a serene i mpar t i a l i t y  as  an  u n d i v i ded  mass ,  not  
regard ing  some as pre c i ous  l i ke j ade and o thers  base  l i ke stones.  

Summary of commentaries. 

In a tota l vie w, as from a grea t distance, individua ls and deta ils 
are not visible. This chapter comple tes the the me of the preceding 

Chapter 40. Text. 

A. Going back ( towards the Pr i n c i p l e )  i s  the t y p e  of move ment 
character i s t i c  o f  those who conform t h e m s e l ves  to the Pr i nc ip le .  
A t tenu a t i on i s  the resu l t  o f  the i r  be ing  con form e d  to the Pr inc ip le .  
B. Cons i de r i ng that  a l l  that  e x i s t s  i s  born  o f  s i m pl e  be ing ,  and that 
be i ng i s  born o f  formless non-b e i n g ,  the y tend ,  in d i m i n i s h i n g  them­
sel ves  w i thou t cease,  to  go back to p r i m o r d i a l  s i m pl i c i t y .  

The com mentators add nothing i n  a clear sense. 

Chapter 41 . Text. 

A. When a wel l -read person · o f  h i gh c a l i bre  hears about the return 
to the Pr inc i p l e ,  he app l ies  h i mse l f  to i t  w i t h . z e a l .  A person 
of  med i u m  c a l i bre app l i es h i mse l f  to  it i ndec i s i ve l y .  An i n fer ior  
person r id i cu les  i t .  That  such a person shou l d  r i d i cu le  i t , i s  a mark 
of  the truth o f  th i s  doc tr ine .  The fac t that  they  do not  understand 
it ,  shows i ts transcendence .  
B. They say i n  the  pro verb:  Those  who have understood the  Pr in­
c i p le are  as i f  b l i nd;  those who tend towards i t  are  as i f  d i sor ient­
ated;  those who have reached i t  see m l ike  com mon peop le .  Th i s  i s  
because great v i rtue ho l l ows i tse l f  l i k e  a v a l l e y ,  t h e  great  l i ght  
voluntar i l y  d i ms i tsel f ,  vast  v i r tue seems de fec t i ve ,  so l i d  vi rtue 
see ms i ncapab le .  There fore the Sage h i des  his  qual i t i e s  beneath a 
somewhat repu ls i ve e x ter ior .  
C. He who goes  by  these appearances wi l l  be  qu i te mis led .  L i k e  
a square s o  b i g  that  i ts corners are i n v i s i b le ,  l i k e  a n  enormous 
vase that i s  ne ver f in i shed,  li ke  a great mean ing  h i dden in  a 


Lao Zi. 

feeble sound, l i ke a great shape that canno t  be grasped; the 
Sage resembles the P r i n c i ple. - Now t he Principle is la t e n t  and 
has no name , b u t  through i ts gentle communica tion,  everything 
is  produce d.  It is  the sa me, in prop o r t i on, for the Sage . 

Nothing more in the commentaries. 

Chapter 42. Text. 

A. When the Pr inc i ple has emitted i ts v i r tue, the la t t er begins 
to evolve accord ing to two alte rna t ing modalities. This evolut i on 
produces (or condenses) the me dian a i r  (tenuous m a t te r) . From 
tenuous matte r ,  under the influence of the two m odali t i es y i n  
and yang, all sent ient beings a r e  p r o duced. C o ming out from 
the yin (from streng th)  they pass to t he yang (to the a c t ) ,  through 
the influence of the two modalit ies on mat ter. 
B. Wha t men dislike is  be ing alone , unique , inca pabl e ,  ( i n  obscur i t y  
and abase ment), and yet empe r o rs and princes are des i g n a ted 
by these te rms, (wh i c h  i m p l y  humil i t y  w i t hout debase ment) .  B e i ngs 
diminish themselves by wanti ng to augment the mselves, and they 
are augmented through d i m i n i sh i ng themselves. 
Nothing more in the com m enta ries. In A there is no question 
of the Trinity. Compare A and B with chapter  39 C. 

Chapter 43. Text. 

A. Always and e v er ywhe re it is the soft t h a t  wears t h e  h ard 
(as water  we ars stone ) .  N o n - b e i ng pene tr a tes even where there 
are no  cracks (as i n  t he most h o m ogene ous bod i e s  such as  m e t al 
and stone). From that  I c o n clude the  supre m e  e f f e c t iveness of 
non - a c t i o n .  
B .  S ilence a n d  inac t i on - few men com e  to understand the ir  
effec t iveness. 

Nothing further in the commentaries. 

Chapter 44. Text. 

A. Is not the body more import a n t  t h a n  repu tat ion?  I s  l i fe not 
of more considera t i on t h a n  wea l th? Is it w ise to risk a great 
loss for a small advan ta g e ?  
B. He who i s  a grea t lover, we ars out  (h i s  heart) .  He who amasses 
great wea lth,  heads towards rui n  (by theft  or  conf i scat i on) .  Whereas 
he who is modest  cour ts no  d isgrace;  he who is moderate does 
not perish, but endures . 

Nothing further in the com m entaries. 


Lao Zi. 

Chapter 45. Text. 

A. Acc o mp l i shed ,  beneath  an i mperfect  e x ter ior .  G i v ing ,  ( o f  
h i msel f) · w i thou t b e c o m i n g  w o r n  ou t .  F i l l ed  u p ,  w i thout  appe a r i ng 
to be so,  and  pour ing  out  w i thout  b e i ng e m p t i e d .  V e r y  stra ight ,  
beneath  a bent  a i r ; most  ab le ,  beh ind  an awkward  appearance;  
h igh ly  persp i c a c i ous ,  w i th  an e m b arrassed e x te r i o r .  Th i s  i s  the 
B. Movement  beats the cold (wa rms  one  up) ,  rest  overcomes 
heat ( refreshes) .  The w i thdrawn l i fe of  the Sage rec t i f i e s  all  
the e m p i re (s t r i kes  a t  the roots of i ts depra v a t i on ) .  
The com mentaries say this refers to an intense influence,  benea th 
an exterior of ina ction. 

Chapter 46. Text.  

A. When the Pr inc i p l e  re i gns  ( i n  p e r fe c t  p e a c e ) , war  horses work 
i n  the f i e l ds .  When the Pr i n c i p l e  i s  forgot ten ,  (war horses are 
the order o f  the d a y )  and  they are  r a i se d  e ven  i n  the suburbs 
o f  the towns.  
B. To g i v e  i n  to one ' s  c o v e t ousness (and  t h i s  i n c ludes  the m an i a  
f o r  w a g i n g  w a r ) ,  i s  the  wors t  o f  c r i mes .  N o t  to  k n o w  how t o  
contro l  onese l f ,  i s  the  w o r s t  o f  n a s t y  t h i n g s .  T h e  w o r s t  o f  fau l ts 
i s  to want  more ,  a lways .  Those w h o  know how to sa y ' enough 
i s  enough ' ,  are  a l w a y s  c o n t e n t .  

Nothing more in the com menta ries. 

Chapter 47. Text. 

A. W i thout  go ing  o u t  by the door , one can know the who le  world;  
w i thout  look i ng through the w indow,  one  c a n  b e c o m e  aware of  
the ways  o f  heaven (pr inc ip les  w h i c h  ru le  a l l  t h i ngs) . - The further 
one goes ,  the  less one learns .  
B. The Sage gets  there  w i thout  h a v i n g  taken  a step to  reach 
i t .  He knows before hav ing  see n ,  through super i o r  p r i n c i p l es .  
He ach ieves ,  w i thout  ha v i ng acted ,  through h i s  transcendent 
act ion .  
The com mentaries state that tota l superior kno wledge is  tha t 
of the Sage. Knowledge of deta i ls is not worthy of h im.  

Chapter 48 • .  Text. 

A. By study ing ,  every day one increases (use less  and inj u r i ous 
part icu lar  not i ons ,  i n  one ' s  memory) ;  by  concentrat ing  on the 
Pr inc ip le , they are d i m i n i shed every  day. Pushed to the l i m i t ,  
t h i s  d i m i n u t i on ends i n  non-ac t ion ,  ( the consequence o f  t h e  absence 
o f  part icu lar  ideas) .  

2 7  

Lao Zi. 

B. Now there i s  noth ing  that non-ac t i on  ( l e t t i ng th i ngs go ) cannot 
sort out .  It  i s  through non-ac t i on that one wi ns the empire .  To 
act,  i n  order to w i n  i t ,  resu l ts i n  fa i l u re .  

Nothing further in  the com mentaries. 

Chapter 49. Text. 

A. The Sage has no def i n i t e  w i l l  of h i s  own,  he accom modates 
h imse l f  to the w i l l  of the peop le .  He treats  the good and the 
bad equal l y  we l l ,  wh ich  is the true prac t i ce of goodness.  He 
trusts the s i ncere and the ins i ncere a l i k e ,  wh ich  is the  true prac t ice 
of trust .  
B. In th is  mi xed-up world ,  the Sage i s  w i thout  any emo t ion , and 
has the same fee l i ngs for al l .  A l l  men f i x the i r  e yes  and ears 
on h im .  He treats them l i ke c h i l dren ,  (Daois t  k i nd l i ness,  s l i ght ly 
d isda i nful ) . 

No thing more in the com mentaries. 

Chapter 50. Text. 

A. Men go for th into l i fe ,  and return  in death .  
B .  Out  of ten  men ,  three  pro long  t h e i r  l i fe ( through c l eanl i ness) , 
three hasten the i r  death  ( t h rough the i r  ex cesses) , three comprom i se 
the i r  l i fe by  the at tachment  they have  to  i t ,  (and on l y  one stays 
a l i ve unt i l  h i s  term,  bec ause he i s  not  a t tached to i t ) . 
C. He who i s  not  a t tached to h i s  l i fe ,  does not turn as ide to 
avoid an encounter w i th a rh i noceros  or a t i ger ;  he  t hrows h i mself  
i n to  the fray  w i thou t armour  or  weapons;  and he  comes to no  
harm because he i s  proof  aga inst  the  rh i noceros horn,  the t iger ' s  
c l aws , and weapons of  comb a t .  Why i s  th is?  . . Because , e x ter ior i zed 
through h is  ind i fference ,  death cannot  take a hold on h i m .  

Summary o f  commentaries. 

When the soul is transported outs ide the body through ecstasy, 
the body cannot be morta lly wounded. The idea see ms to be 
that, for a morta l being, a fa ta l blo w must reach the junction 
of body and soul. This junction temporarily ceases during ecstasy. 

Chapter 5 1 . Text. 

A. The Pr incip le  g i ves l i fe to b e i ngs ,  then i t s  V i rtue  nour ishes 
them, un t i l  the comp l e t i on of  the i r  nature ,  unt i l  the perfec t i on 
of the ir  facu l t i es .  Therefore a l l  b e i ngs venerate the P r i nc ip le  
and i ts V i rtue.  
B. No one has the e m i nence of  the P r i nc i p l e  and i ts V i rtue confer­
red on them; they have i t  always,  natural l y .  


lao Zi. 

C. The P r i n c i p l e  g i ves  l i fe ;  i t s  V i r tue  g i ves growth , protects ,  
perfec ts ,  matures ,  m a i n ta ins ,  and covers  (a l l  be i ngs) .  When they 
a re born, it  does not  monopol i z e  them; it  lets them act  free l y ,  
w i thout exp l o i t i ng t h e m ;  i t  l e t s  them g r o w ,  w i thout ty rann i z i ng 
the m .  Th i s  i s  the ac t i on of  transcendent  V i r tue .  

The commenta tors add nothing. 

Chapter 52. Text. 

A .  That wh ich  was, be fore the beg i n n i n g  o f  the wor ld ,  became 
the mo ther of  the world.  He who has  reached knowledge of  the 
mother (matter , the body) ,  knows through that  her  son ( the v i ta l  
sp i r i t  which i s  enc l osed i n  i t ) .  He who knows the son (h i s  v i ta l  
sp i r i t) and  conserves  the mother  (h i s  body) ,  w i l l  re ach the end 
of  h is  days  w i thout  acc ident .  
B. I f  he keeps  h i s  mouth  and  nost r i l s c losed  ( t o  prevent  e v apora t i on 
of  the v i t a l  sp i r i t ) , he w i l l  reach the end  of  h i s  days  w i thou t 
hav ing  suffered decadence.  Whereas ,  i f  he t a l k s  a lot  and causes 
h i mse l f  much worry,  he w i l l  use up and  sho rten  h is  l i fe .  
C .  Rest r i c t i ng one ' s  cons i derat i on s  t o  s m a l l  t h i ngs ,  a n d  one ' s  
cares to  affa i rs of  l i t t l e  i mpor tance ,  m a k e s  t h e  m i n d  c l e a r  and 
the body strong.  Conc e n t r a t i n g  one ' s  i n te l l ec tu a l  rays i n  one ' s  
i n te l l i gence ,  a n d  n o t  l e t t i n g  men t a l  app l i c a t i o n  h a r m  one ' s  body,  
i s  to  protect  ( the  m i n d) and  to make  for  l ong  ( l i fe ) .  

Summary of commentaries. 

This is an obscure text, but the com m en ta tors are in agreement. 
This is the basis of Daoist brea thing therapy. 

Chapter 53. Text. 

A. He who has a l i t t l e  w i sdom,  shou ld  conform h i msel f to  the 
gre a t  P r i n c i p l e .  He should take gre a t  care  to  a v o i d  any i rksome 
boast ing .  But  to  this w i de road many pre fer the narrow s ide­
tracks .  (Few men walk  a long  the w a y  of  obscure d i s i n terestedness.  
They prefer the narrow tracks of their van i t y ,  th e i r  own advantage.  
This  i s  how the pr inces  o f  these t i mes act ) .  
B. When the pa laces  are too wel l  kep t up ,  the f ie lds  go uncu l t i vated 
and the granar ies  empty ,  (because the farm workers are requ i s ­
i t i oned for forced labour) .  
C. Dress ing  magn i f i cent l y ,  wear ing  a sharp  sword, s tuf f ing  onese l f  
w i th food and dr ink , amassing wea l th  to  the  e x tent  o f  not  knowing 
what to do with i t  (as  do the pr inces o f  these t i mes) ,  i s  be ing 
l ike  a br igand (who ostentat ious ly  p lays  with h i s  loot) .  Such condu c t  
i s  opposed to t h e  Pr inc ip le .  

The com menta tors add nothing. 

2 9  

Lao Zi. 

Chapter 54. Text. 

A. He who bu i l ds on d i s i n terestedness w i l l  not f ind  his work des­
troyed. He who keeps h imse l f  d i s i n terested w i l l  not lose what 
he has. His sons and his grandsons w i l l  make offer ings to h im 
wi thout interrupt ion ( that i s  to  say ,  they  wi l l  succeed h i m  and 
enjoy the fru i t  of  h is  works) .  
B. F i rst o f  a l l  one shoul d  conform onese l f  to  the Pr inc ip le ;  after­
wards,  th is  conform i ty  w i l l  spread spontaneousl y ,  by  i tsel f ,  to 
one ' s  fam i l y ,  d i s t r ic t ,  pr inc i p a l i t y ,  and  to the emp i re ;  ( l i ke radiant 
heat coming from a centra l  hearth ) .  
C .  Through one ' s  own na ture ,  one understands  those  of other 
ind i v i dua ls ,  and of a l l  i nd i v i dua l  co l l ec t i v i t i es such as fam i l i es ,  
d i s tr icts, pr inc ipa l i t ies ,  and the e m p i r e .  
D. H o w  c a n  o n e  know t h e  na ture o f  an  e n t i re e m p i re?  • • •  By th is 
( through one ' s  own nature) . 

The commenta tors add nothing. 

Chapter 55. Text. 

A. He who holds i n  h i mse l f  perfect  V i r tue  ( w i thout  lust o r  anger) 
i s  l i ke  the new -born c h i l d  whom the scorp ion  does  not  b i t e ,  the  
t i ger does not devour ,  the vu l ture does  n o t  se i z e ,  whom a l l  respe c t .  
B. A ch i l d ' s  bones a r e  weak ,  i ts  tendons are feeb l e ,  but  i t  grasps 
obj ects strong ly  ( just  as its soul  and  body are held together  by 
force) .  He has not  ye t  any no t i on  o f  the ac t  o f  genera t i on ,  and,  
in consequence,  keeps h i s  sem i n a l  v i r tue  i n t a c t .  He cr ies  sof t l y  
a l l  day  long wi thout  becoming  hoarse ,  so  per fec t  i s  h i s  peace.  
C. Peace makes for durab i l i t y ;  he  who  understands this  i s  en l i ght­
ened. Whereas any v i o l ent  e x c i tement ,  above  a l l  l u s t  and  anger, 
wears one out. From this it  fo l lows that v i r i l i t y (whi ch man abuses) 
i s  succeeded by decrep i tude.  In tense l i fe is con t ra ry  to the Pr in­
c iple,  and in  consequence pre mature l y  mortal .  

Summary of commentaries. 

This chapter conde mns lust and anger, as being the greatest 
causes of decrepi tude and pre ma ture death. 

Chapter 56. Text. 

A. He who speaks (much,  shows thereby that  he) does not  know 
( the Principle) .  
B. He who knows ( the Principle) ,  does not  spe ak.  He keeps his  
mou th closed, controls h i s  breathing,  b lunts  his  act i v i ty ,  rescues 
h imse l f  from any compl icat ion ,  tempers his l i gh t ,  and m i ngles 
w i th the people.  This is  myster i ous union ( w i th the Pr inc i ple).  


Lao Zi. 

C .  No one can at tach  h i mse l f  (by do ing  favours)  to such a man, nor 
repulse h i m  (by  tre a t i ng h i m  badl y ) .  He i s  ind i ffe rent  to  gain or 
loss,  to e x a l t a t i on or h u m i l i a t i o n .  B e i n g  thus ,  he i s  the most noble 
in  the wor ld .  

Summary of commentaries. 

'Superior to a l l  tha t see ms, he converses with the au thor of beings. ' 
- Zhang Hongyang. 

Chapter 57. Text. 

A. One can go vern w i t h  rec t i tude ,  one can wage war w i th compet­
ence,  but  i t  takes  non-ac t i on t o  win  and  ho ld  the e m p i re .  
B .  How do I know that  t h i s  i s  s o ?  F r o m  what  I a m  go ing  to  say :  
The  more  ru les  there a r e ,  the  l e ss  peop le  enr ich  the mse l ves .  
The more taxes  there are ,  the  less  order  there  i s .  The more i ngen­
i ous i n v e n t i ons there  are ,  the fe wer  s er i ous  and usefu l  obj ects  there 
are .  The more  de t a i led  the pena l  code , the more  t h i e ves  abound.  
Mul t i p l i c a t i on r u i ns e ve r y t h i n g .  
C .  Therefore t h e  progr a m m e  o f  t h e  Sage  i s  q u i t e  t h e  contra r y .  Not  
a c t i n g ,  and the peop le  a mend themse l ve s .  S t a y i n g  peace fu l ,  and the 
people  rec t i fy themse l ve s .  Doing n o t h i n g ,  and  the pe ople  enr ich  
the mse l ves .  Wish ing  for n o t h i ng ,  and  the peop le  come back to 
natura l  spontane i t y .  

The com m entators add nothing. 

Chapter 58. Tex t. 

A. When the go vern m e n t  is s i m p l e ,  the people  abound in v i rtue.  
When the government  i s  p ol i t i c a l ,  the  people lack v i r tue . 
B. Good and bad  succeed one another ,  a l tern a t e l y .  Who w i l l  d i scern 
the he i ghts?  (of th is  c i rc u l a r  m o v e m e n t , o f  good and e v i l .  I t  
is  very  de l i c a t e ,  an e x cess or  a defau l t  chang ing  the moral  en t i t y) .  
In many the r i gh t  measure i s  J a c k i n g .  In some an e x aggerated 
r ighteousness degenerates  into a m a n i a .  In others  an  e xaggerated 
goodness becomes e x travagance .  (Po i n ts o f  v iew changing i n  conse ­
quence .  For  a long  t i m e  now,  men have  thus been c ra z y .  
C .  ( The Sage takes t h e m  a s  t h e y  are) .  T a k i ng them to task,  h e  is  
not  sharp or c u t t i ng .  Stra i gh t ,  he i s  not  rude . Enl i gh tened ,  he does 
not  h u m i l i a t e . 

The com mentators add nothing. 

Chapter 59. Text. 

A. The essent ia l  for co-ope r a t i on w i t h  hea ven in the go vernment of 
men, i s  to moderate one ' s  ac t i on .  

3 1  

Lao Zi. 

B. This modera t ion shoul d  be the pr ime care.  It procures perfect  
efficacy , which succeeds in  e veryth ing ,  e ven the govern ing of the 
emp ire. 
C. He who possesses th is  mother o f  the e m p i re (wise moderat ion),  
wi l l  last a long t i me .  I t  i s  ca l led  the p i vot ing  root, the sol i d  trunk.  
It is  the pr inc ip le  of  ·perpe tu i t y .  

The commenta tors add nothing. 

Chapter 60. Text. 

A. To govern a great  s tate ,  one shou l d  ac t  l i ke someone cook ing 
very  smal l  f ish ( very de l i cate l y ,  otherwise they break up) .  
B. When a state is  go verned accord ing to the Pr i nc i p l e ,  phantoms do 
not  appear there to harm the peop le ,  because the Sage who governs 
does not harm the peop le .  
C. The  meri t of  th i s  doub le  t ranqu i l l i t y  ( on the part  o f  the  l i v i ng 
and the dead) comes back ,  there fore , to  the Sage . 

Summary of commentaries. 

Phantoms are not the souls of the dead. They are, in the mora l  
harmony, like a whirl wind on a ca lm day. This disorder is produced 
by the movement of the passions - ha treds and others. It is not 
produced when the people 's minds are ca lm .  

Chapter 6 1 . Text. 

A. I f  a great  state lowers i tse l f , l i ke those ho les  in which water 
accumulates,  everyone w i l l  come to i t .  I t  w i l l  be  l i k e  the uni versal 
female (of chapters 8 and 28) .  
B. In her apparent pass i v i ty and in fer ior i t y ,  the female i s  superior 
to the male ( for i t  is  she who g i ves b i r th ) .  On cond i t i on o f  knowing 
how to lower i tse l f , a gre a t  s tate  w i l l  w i n  over  lesser s tates , 
which, in the i r  turn, wi l l  lower themse l ves ,  see k i ng i ts protec t i on.  
C. F or this to be rea l i zed ,  on ly  one th ing i s  needed,  but  i t  i s  
essent ial .  It is  that  the gre a t  s tate  de i gns to  lower  i tse l f  be fore 
the lesser ones. ( I f  i t  is proud and hard ,  there i s  no hope). 

Nothing further in the commentaries. 

Chapter 62. Text. 

A. The Pr inciple is the pal lad ium of all be ings.  It  i s  the treasure 
of the good ( that  by which the y are good),  and the sal v a t i on 
of the wi cked ( that which pre vents them from per ish ing) .  
B. It is  to i t  that one should be grateful  for a ffec t i onate  words, and 
the noble conduc t of good people.  It i s  w i th regard to i t , that the 
wi cked should not be rejected.  


Lao Zi. 

C. I t  i s  for that reason ( for the conse r v a t i on and de ve lopment of 
the part  o f  the P r i n c i p l e  wh ich  i s  in a l l  be i ngs)  that the e mperor 
and the great m i n i sters  were inst i t u te d .  Not so tha t the y should 
become complacent  with the i r  sceptre and the i r  anc i e n t  four-horsed 
char io t ;  but  i n  order that  the y shou l d  m e d i t a t e  on the Pr inc i p l e  
(ad vanc i n g  themsel ves i n  the i r  knowledge ,  and i n  t h e  de velopment 
of  others) .  
D. Why d id  the anc i e n ts make  so much  o f  the Pr inc i p l e ?  Is i t  not  
because i t  i s  the source o f  a l l  good and  the remedy for a l l  e v i l ?  I t  
i s  the  most noble  th ing  i n  the wor ld .  

The com m enta tors add nothing.