The Tao (Medhurst)

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C. Spurgeon Medhurst, 1905


The Tao which can be expressed is not the unchanging Tao; the name which can be named is not the unchanging name. The nameless is the beginning of the Heaven Earth; the mother of all things is the nameable. Thus, while the eternal non-being leads toward the fathomless, the eternal being conduct to the boundary. Although these two have been differently named they come from the same. As the same they may be described as the abysmal. The abyss of the abysmal is the gate of all mystery.


When everyone in the world became conscious of the beauty of the beautiful it turned to evil; They became conscious of the goodness of the good and ceased to be good. Thus not-being and being arise the one from the other. So also do the difficult and the easy; the long and the short; the high and the low; sounds and voices; the preceding and the following. Therefore the Holy Man abides by non-attachment is his affairs, and practices a doctrine which cannot be imparted by speech. He attends to everything in its turn and declines nothing; produces without claiming; acts without dwelling thereon; completes his purposes without resting in them. Inasmuch as he does this he loses nothing.


When worth is not honoured the people may be kept from strife. When rare articles are not valued the people are kept from theft. When the desirable is left unnoticed the heart is not confused. Therefore, the method of government by the Holy Man is to empty the heart, while strengthening the purpose; to make the will pliant, and the character strong. He ever keeps the people simple-minded and passionless, so that the world-wise do not dare to plan. Practice non-action and everything will be regulated.


The Tao is as emptiness, so are its operations. It resembles non-fullness. Fathomless! It seems to be the ancestor of all form. It removes sharpness, unravels confusion, harmonizes brightness, and becomes one with everything. Pellucid! It bears the appearance of permanence. I know not whose son it is. Its Noumenon was before the Lord.


Nature is non-benevolent. It regards the masses as straw dogs. The Holy Man is non-benevolent. He regards the masses as straw dogs. The space between the heaven and the earth is like a bellows; though unsupported, it does not warp; when in motion the more it expels. Though words could exhaust this theme, they would not be so profitable as the preservation of its inner essence.


The Valley-God never dies. She may be styled the Mother of the Abyss. The Abysmal Mother’s orifice may be called the Root of the Heaven-Earth. Continuous she is as though ever abiding, and may be employed without weariness.


Nature continues long. What is the reason that Nature continues long? Because it produces nothing for itself it is able to constantly produce. It is for this reason that the Holy Man puts himself in the background; yet he comes to the front. He is indifferent to himself; yet he is preserved. Is it not because he has no interests of his own that he is able to secure his interests?


The highest goodness resembles water. Water greatly benefits all things, but does not assert itself. He approximates to the Tao, who abides by that which men despise. He revolutionizes the place in which he dwells; his depth is immeasurable; he strengthens moral qualities by what he bestows; he augments sincerity by what he says; he evokes peace by his administration; his transactions manifest ability, he is opportune in all his movements. Forasmuch as he does not assert himself he is free from blame.


It is better to leave alone, than to grasp at fullness. Sharpness, which results from filing, cannot be preserved. None can protect the hall that is filled with gold and jade. Opulence, honours, pride, necessarily bequeath calamity. Merit established, a name made, then retirement – this is the way of Heaven.


By steadily disciplining the animal nature, until it becomes one pointed, it is possible to establish the Indivisible. By undivided attention to the soul, rendering it passive, it is possible to become as an infant child. By purifying the mind of phantasms, it is possible to become without fault. By perfecting the people, and pacifying the empire, it is possible to prove non-attachment. By functioning on the super-physical planes, it is possible to be independent of the lower mind. By making intuition omniscient, it is impossible to discard knowledge. Producing! Nourishing! Developing, without self-consciousness! Acting, without seeking the fruit! Progressing, without thinking of growth! This is the abyss of energy.

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