The Tao (Gorn-Old)

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Walter Gorn-Old, 1904


The Tao that is the subject of discussion is not the true Tao. The quality which can be named is not its true attribute. That which was before Heaven and Earth is called the Non-Existent. The Existent is the mother of all things. Therefore doth the wise man seek after the first mystery of the Non-Existent, while seeing in that which exists the Ultimates thereof. The Non-Existent and Existent are identical in all but name. This identity of apparent opposites I call the profound, the great deep, the open door of bewilderment.


When the world speaks of beauty as being beautiful, ugliness is at once defined. When goodness is seen to be good, evil is at once apparent. So do existence and non-existence mutually give rise to one another, as that which is difficult and that which is easy, distant and near, high and low, shrill and bass, preceding and following. The Sage therefore is occupied only with that which is without prejudice. He teaches without verbosity; he acts without effort; he produces with possessing, he acts without regard to the fruit of action; he brings his work to perfection without assuming credit; and claiming nothing as his own, he cannot at any time be said to lose.


Avoiding distinctions of merit among the people prevents jealousy. Not setting a value on rare things prevents theft. Not seeking the things of peace keeps the mind in peace. Thus the Sage governs by ridding the heart of its desires; giving the stomach due satisfaction, by resting the muscles and strengthening the bones, by preserving the world from a knowledge of evil and hence from its desire, and by making those who have such knowledge afraid to use it. He cacts by non-action, and by this he governs all.


Tao is without limitation; its depth is the source of whatsoever is. It makes shard things round, it brings order out of chaos, it obscures the brilliant, it is wholly without attachment. I do not know who gave it birth; it is more ancient than God.


Neither Heaven nor Earth has any predilections; they regard all persons and things as sacrificial images. The wise man knows no distinctions; he beholds all men as things made for holy uses. The celestial space is like unto bellows though containing nothing that is solid, it does not at any time collapse; and the more it is set in motion, the more does it produce. The inflated man, however, is soon exhausted. Than self-restraint there is nothing better.


Like the river in the valley, the spirit is never dried up. I call it the Mother-Deep. The motion of the Mother-Deep I regard as the origin of the Heaven and the Earth. Forever it endures and moves without design.


Both Heaven and Earth endure a long time. The cause of their endurance is their indifference to long life. This is why the subsist. Thus the wise man, indifferent to himself, is the greatest among men, and taking no care for himself, he is nevertheless preserved. By being the most unselfish he is the most secure of all.


The greatest virtue is like water; it is good to all things. It attains the most inaccessible places without strife. Therefore it is like Tao. It has the virtue of adapting itself to its place. It is virtuous like the heart by being deep. It is virtuous like speech be being faithful. It is virtuous like government in regulating. It is virtuous like a servant in its ability. It is virtuous like action by being in season. And because it does not strive it has no enemies.


It is advisable to refrain from continual reaching after wealth. Continual handling and sharpening wears away the most durable thing. If the house be full of jewels, who shall protect it? Wealth and glory bring care along with pride. To stop when good work is done and honour advancing is the way of Heaven.

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