The Tao (Medhurst)

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Thirty spokes meet in one hub, but the need for the cart existed when as yet it was not. Clay is fashioned into vessels, but the need for the vessel existed when as yet it was not. Doors and windows are cut out to make a house, but the need for the house existed when as yet it was not. Hence there is a profitableness in that which is and a need in that which is not.


The five colours blind men’s eyes. The five tones deafen one’s ears. The five flavours blunt men’s appetites. Galloping and hunting derange men’s minds. Articles which are rare limit the freedom of men’s actions. On this account the holy man regards the stomach and not the eye. He puts aside the one, that he may take the other in hand.


Equally fear favour and disgrace. Regard a great calamity as you do your own body. What is meant by “Equally fear favour and grace?” Favour should be disparaged. Gained or lost it arouses apprehension. Hence it is said, “Equally fear favour and disgrace.” What is meant by “regard a great calamity as you do your own body?” Why have I any sense of misfortune? Because I am conscious of myself. Were I not conscious of my body, what distresses would I have? Therefore, it is only they who value their persons because of their obligation, who may be entrusted with the empire. It is only they who love themselves on account of their responsibilities, who may be charged with the care of the state.


Looked for but invisible – it may be named “colourless.” Listened for, but inaudible – it may be named “elusive.” Clutched at, but unattainable - is may be named “subtle.” These three cannot be unraveled by questioning for they blend into one. Neither brighter above , nor darker below. Its line, though continuous, is nameless, and in that it reverts to vacuity. It may be styled “The form of the formless”; “The Images of the imageless”; in a word – “The indefinite.” Go in front of it and you will discover no beginning; follow after it and you will perceive no ending. Lay hold of this ancient doctrine; apply it in controlling the things of the present day, you will then understand how from the first it has been the origin of everything. Here, indeed, is the clue to the Tao.


Profound indeed were the most excellent among the ancients, penetrating, fathomless; inasmuch as they were fathomless it becomes necessary to employ far fetched symbols when speaking of them. Irresolute – as if fording a stream in winter. Timid – as though fearful of their neighbours. Grave – as if they were guests. Elusive – like ice about to melt. Simple – like raw material. Expansive – like the space between hills. Turbid – like muddy water. Who can still the turbid and make it gradually clear; or quiet the active so that by degrees it shall become productive? Only he who keeps this Tao, without desiring fullness. If one is not full it is possible to be antiquated and not newly fashioned.


Abstraction complete, quiescence maintained unalloyed, the various forms rise with one accord, and I observe that each returns again. All things thrive and increase, then each returns again to the root. This return to the root is called “stillness,” or it may be described as a return to report that they have fulfilled their destiny. This report is called “the unchanging rule.” Knowledge of this unchanging rule is called “illumination.” Those who are ignorant of it give way to abandon and to recklessness. Knowledge of this unchanging rule leads to toleration. Toleration leads to comprehension. Comprehension leads to sovereignty. Sovereignty leads to heavenlikeness. Heaven-likeness leads to Tao. Tao leads to continuity. Though the body be no more, there is no danger.

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