The Way of Heaven operates (unceasingly), and leaves no accumulation
(of its influence) in any particular place, so that all things are brought to
perfection by it; so does the Way of the Tîs operate, and all under the sky turn
to them (as their directors); so also does the Way of the Sages operate, and all
within the seas submit to them. Those who clearly understand (the Way of)
Heaven, who are in sympathy with (that of) the sages, and familiar through the
universe and in the four quarters (of the earth) with the work of the Tîs and
the kings, yet act spontaneously from themselves:--with the appearance of being
ignorant they are yet entirely still.
The stillness of the sages does not belong to them as a consequence of their
skilful ability; all things are not able to disturb their minds;--it is on
this account that they are still. When water is still, its clearness shows the
beard and eyebrows (of him who looks into it). It is a perfect Level, and the greatest artificer
takes his rule from it. Such is the clearness of still water, and how much
greater is that of the human Spirit! The still mind of the sage is the mirror of
heaven and earth, the glass of all things.
Vacancy, stillness, placidity, tastelessness, quietude, silence, and
non-action;--this is the Level of heaven and earth, and the perfection of the
Tâo and its characteristics. Therefore the Tîs, Kings, and Sages found in
this their resting-place. Resting here, they were vacant; from their vacancy
came fullness; from their fullness came the nice distinctions (of things). From
their vacancy came stillness; that stillness was followed by movement; their
movements were successful. From their stillness came their non-action.
Doing-nothing, they devolved the cares of office on their employés.
Doing-nothing was accompanied by the feeling of satisfaction. Where there is
that feeling of satisfaction, anxieties and troubles find no place; and the
years of life are many.
Vacancy, stillness, placidity, tastelessness, quietude, silence, and
doing-nothing are the root of all things. When this is understood, we find such
a ruler on the throne as Yâo, and such a minister as Shun. When with this a high
position is occupied, we find the attributes of the Tîs and kings,--the sons of
Heaven; with this in a low position, we find the mysterious sages, the uncrowned kings, with their ways. With this retiring (from public
life), and enjoying themselves at leisure, we find the scholars who dwell by the
rivers and seas, among the hills and forests, all submissive to it; with this
coming forward to active life and comforting their age, their merit is great,
and their fame is distinguished;--and all the world becomes united in one.
(Such men) by their stillness become sages and by their movement, kings.
Doing-nothing, they are honoured; in their plain simplicity, no one in the world
can strive with them (for the palm of) excellence. The clear understanding of
the virtue of Heaven and Earth is what is called 'The Great Root,' and 'The
Great Origin;'--they who have it are in harmony with Heaven, and so they produce
all equable arrangements in the world;--they are those who are in harmony with
men. Being in harmony with men is called the joy of men; being in harmony with
Heaven is called the joy of Heaven. Kwang-dze said, 'My Master! my Master! He
shall hash and blend all things in mass without being cruel; he shall dispense
his favours to all ages without being benevolent. He is older than the highest
antiquity, and yet is not old. He overspreads the heavens and sustains the
earth; from him is the carving of all forms without any artful skill! This is
what is called the Joy of Heaven. Hence it is said, "Those who know the Joy of
Heaven during their life, act like Heaven, and at death undergo transformation
like (other) things; in their stillness they possess the quality of the Yin, and in their movement they flow abroad
as the Yang. Therefore he who knows the joy of Heaven has no murmuring against
Heaven, nor any fault-finding with men; and suffers no embarrassment from
things, nor any reproof from ghosts. Hence it is said, His movements are those
of Heaven; his stillness is that of Earth; his whole mind is fixed, and he rules
over the world. The spirits of his dead do not come to scare him; he is not worn
out by their souls. His words proceeding from his vacancy and stillness, yet
reach to heaven and earth, and show a communication with all things:--this is
what is called the joy of Heaven. This joy of Heaven forms the mind of the sage
whereby he nurtures all under the sky.'"'
It was the Way of the Tîs and Kings to regard Heaven and Earth as their
Author, the Tâo and its characteristics as their Lord, and Doing-nothing as
their constant rule. Doing-nothing, they could use the whole world in their
service and might have done more; acting, they were not sufficient for the
service required of them by the world. Hence the men of old held non-inaction in
honour. When superiors do nothing and their inferiors also do nothing, inferiors
and superiors possess the same virtue; and when inferiors and superiors possess
the same virtue, there are none to act as ministers. When inferiors act, and
their superiors also act, then superiors and inferiors possess the same Tâo; and
when superiors and inferiors possess the same Tâo, there is none to preside as Lord. But that the superiors do nothing and
yet thereby use the world in their service, and that the inferiors, while
acting, be employed in the service of the world, is an unchangeable principle.
Therefore the ancient kings who presided over the world, though their knowledge
embraced (all the operations of) Heaven and Earth, took no thought of their own
about them; though their nice discrimination appreciated the fine fashioning of
all things, they said not a word about it; though their power comprehended all
within the seas, they did nothing themselves. Heaven produces nothing, yet all
things experience their transformations; Earth effects no growth, yet all things
receive their nurture; the Tîs and Kings did nothing, yet all the world
testified their effective services. Hence it is said, 'There is nothing more
spirit-like than Heaven; there is nothing richer than Earth; there are none
greater than the Tî s and Kings.' Hence it is said (further), 'The attributes of
the Tîs and kings corresponded to those of Heaven and Earth.' It was thus that
they availed themselves of (the operations of) Heaven and Earth, carried all
things on unceasingly (in their courses), and employed the various classes of
men in their service.
Originating belongs to those in the higher position; details (of work) to
those who are in the lower. The compendious decision belongs to the lord; the
minutiae of execution, to his ministers. The direction of the three hosts and
their men with the five weapons is but a trifling quality; rewards and penalties with their advantages and sufferings, and the inflictions of
the five punishments are but trivial elements of instruction; ceremonies,
laws, measures, and numbers, with all the minutiae of jurisprudence, are
small matters in government; the notes of bells and drums, and the display of
plumes and flags are the slightest things in music, and the various grades of
the mourning garments are the most unimportant manifestations of grief. These
five unimportant adjuncts required the operation of the excited spirit and the
employment of the arts of the mind, to bring them into use. The men of old had
them indeed, but they did not give them the first place.
The ruler precedes, and the minister follows; the father precedes, and the
son follows; the elder brother precedes, and the younger follows; the senior
precedes, and the junior follows; the male precedes, and the female follows; the
husband precedes, and the wife follows.
This precedence of the more honourable and sequence of the meaner is seen in
the (relative) action of heaven and earth, and hence the sages took them as
their pattern. The more honourable position of heaven and the lower one of earth
are equivalent to a designation of their spirit-like and intelligent qualities.
The precedence of spring and summer and the sequence of autumn and winter mark
the order of the four seasons. In the transformations and growth of all things,
every bud and feature has its proper form; and in this we have their gradual
maturing and decay, the constant flow of transformation and change. Thus since
Heaven and Earth, which are most spirit-like, are distinguished as more
honourable and less, and by precedence and sequence, how much more must we look
for this in the ways of men! In the ancestral temple it is to kinship that
honour is given; in court, to rank; in the neighbourhoods and districts, to age;
in the conduct of affairs, to wisdom; such is the order in those great ways. If
we speak of the course (to be pursued in them), and do not observe their order,
we violate their course. If we speak of the course, and do not observe it, why
do we apply that name to it?
Therefore the ancients who clearly understood the great Tâo first sought
to apprehend what was meant by Heaven, and the Tâo and its characteristics
came next. When this was apprehended, then came Benevolence and Righteousness.
When these were apprehended, then came the Distinction of duties and the
observance of them. This accomplished, there came objects and their names. After
objects and their names, came the employment of men according to their
qualities: on this there followed the examination of the men and of their work.
This led to the approval or disapproval of them, which again was succeeded by
the apportioning of rewards and penalties. After this the stupid and the
intelligent understood what was required of them, and the honourable and the
mean occupied their several positions.
The good and the able, and those inferior to them, sincerely did their best.
Their ability was distributed; the duties implied in their official names were
fulfilled. In this way did they serve their superiors, nourish their inferiors,
regulate things, and cultivate their persons. They did not call their knowledge
and schemes into requisition; they were required to fall back upon (the method
of) Heaven:--this was what is called the Perfection of the Rule of Great Peace.
Hence it is said in the Book, 'There are objects and there are their names.'
Objects and their names the ancients had; but they did not put them in the
When the ancients spoke of the Great Tâo, it was only after four other steps
that they gave a place to 'Objects and their Names,' and after eight steps that
they gave a place to 'Rewards and Penalties.' If they had all at once spoken of
'Objects and their Names,' they would have shown an ignorance of what is the
Root (of government); if they had all at once spoken of 'Rewards and Penalties,'
they would have shown an ignorance of the first steps of it. Those whose words
are thus an inversion of the (proper) course, or in opposition to it, are (only
fit to be) ruled by others;-how can they rule others? To speak all at once of
'Objects and their Names,' and of 'Rewards and Penalties,' only shows that the
speaker knows the instruments of government, but does not know the method of it,
is fit to be used as an instrument in the world, but not fit to use others as
his instruments:--he is what we call a mere sophist, a man of one small
Ceremonies, laws, numbers, measures, with all the minutiae of jurisprudence,
the ancients had; but it is by these that inferiors serve their superiors; it is
not by them that those superiors nourish the world.
Anciently, Shun asked Yâo, saying, 'In what way does your Majesty by the
Grace of Heaven' exercise your mind?' The reply was, 'I simply show no arrogance
towards the helpless; I do not neglect the poor people; I grieve for those who
die; I love their infant children; and I compassionate their widows.' Shun
rejoined, 'Admirable, as far as it goes; but it is not what is Great.' How
then,' asked Yâo, 'do you think I should do?' Shun replied, 'When (a sovereign)
possesses the virtue of Heaven, then when he shows himself in action, it is in
stillness. The sun and moon (simply) shine, and the four seasons pursue their
courses. So it is with the regular phenomena of day and night, and with the
movement of the clouds by which the rain is distributed.' Yâo said, 'Then I have
only been persistently troubling myself! What you wish is to be in harmony with
Heaven, while I wish to be in harmony with men.' Now (the Way of) Heaven and
Earth was much thought of of old, and Hwang-Tî, Yâo, and Shun united in admiring
it. Hence the kings of the world of old did nothing, but tried to imitate that
Confucius went to the west to deposit (some) writings in the library of
Kâu, when Dze-lû counselled him, saying, 'I have heard that the officer in charge of this Käng
Repository of Kâu was one Lâo Tan, who has given up his office, and is living in
his own house. As you, Master, wish to deposit these writings here, why not go
to him, and obtain his help (to accomplish your object).' Confucius said,
'Good;' and he went and saw Lâo Tan, who refused his assistance. On this he
proceeded to give an abstract of the Twelve Classics to bring the other over
to his views. Lâo Tan, however, interrupted him while he was speaking, and
said, 'This is too vague; let me hear the substance of them in brief'. Confucius
said, 'The substance of them is occupied with Benevolence and Righteousness.'
The other said, 'Let me ask whether you consider Benevolence and Righteousness
to constitute the nature of man?' 'I do,' was the answer. 'If the superior man
be not benevolent, he will not fulfil his character; if he be not righteous, he
might as well not have been born. Benevolence and Righteousness are truly the
nature of man.' Lâo Tan continued, 'Let me ask you what you mean by Benevolence
and Righteousness.' Confucius said, 'To be in one's inmost heart in kindly
sympathy with all things; to love all men; and to allow no selfish thoughts;--this is
the nature of Benevolence and Righteousness.' Lâo Tan exclaimed, 'Ah! you almost
show your inferiority by such words! "To love all men!" is not that vague and
extravagant? "To be seeking to allow no selfish thoughts!"--that is
selfishness! If you, Master, wish men not to be without their (proper)
shepherding, think of Heaven and Earth, which certainly pursue their invariable
course; think of the sun and moon, which surely maintain their brightness; think
of the stars in the zodiac, which preserve their order and courses; think of
birds and beasts, which do not fail to collect together in their flocks and
herds; and think of the trees, which do not fail to stand up (in their places).
Do you, Master, imitate this way and carry it into practice; hurry on, following
this course, and you will reach your end. Why must you further be vehement in
putting forward your Benevolence and Righteousness, as if you were beating a
drum, and seeking a fugitive son, (only making him run away the more)? Ah!
Master, you are introducing disorder into the nature of man!'
Shih-khäng Khî, having an interview with Lâo-dze, asked him, saying, 'I
heard, Master, that you were a sage, and I came here, wishing to see you,
without grudging the length of the journey. During the stages of the hundred
days, the soles of my feet became quite callous, but I did not dare to stop and
rest. Now I perceive that you are not a sage. Because there was some rice left about the holes of the rats, you
sent away your younger sister, which was unkind; when your food, whether raw or
cooked, remains before you not all consumed, you keep on hoarding it up to any
extent.' Lâo-dze looked indifferent, and gave him no answer.
Next day Khî again saw Lao-dze, and said, 'Yesterday I taunted you; but
to-day I have gone back to a better mood of mind. What is the cause (of the
change)?' Lâo-dze replied, 'I consider that I have freed myself from the
trammels of claiming to be artfully knowing, spirit-like, and sage. Yesterday if
you had called me an ox, you might have done so; or if you had called me a
horse, you might have done so. If there be a reality (corresponding to men's
ideas), and men give it a name, which another will not receive, he will in the
sequel suffer the more. My manner was what I constantly observe;--I did not put
it on for the occasion.'
Shih-khäng Khî sidled away out of Lâo's shadow; then he retraced his steps,
advanced forward, and asked how he should cultivate himself. The reply was,
'Your demeanour is repelling; you stare with your eyes; your forehead is broad
and yet tapering; you bark and growl with your mouth; your appearance is severe
and pretentious; you are like a horse held by its tether, you would move, but
are restrained, and (if let go) would start off like an arrow from a bow; you examine all the minutiae of a thing; your wisdom is
artful, and yet you try to look at ease. All these are to be considered proofs
of your want of sincerity. If on the borders one were to be found with them, he
would be named a Thief.'
The Master said, 'The Tâo does not exhaust itself in what is greatest,
nor is it ever absent from what is least; and therefore it is to be found
complete and diffused in all things. How wide is its universal comprehension!
How deep is its unfathomableness! The embodiment of its attributes in
benevolence and righteousness is but a small result of its spirit-like
(working); but it is only the perfect man who can determine this. The perfect
man has (the charge of) the world;--is not the charge great? and yet it is not
sufficient to embarrass him. He wields the handle of power over the whole world,
and yet it is nothing to him. His discrimination detects everything false, and
no consideration of gain moves him. He penetrates to the truth of things, and
can guard that which is fundamental. So it is that heaven and earth are external
to him, and he views all things with indifference, and his spirit is never
straitened by them. He has comprehended the Tho, and is in harmony with its
characteristics; he pushes back benevolence and righteousness (into their proper
place), and deals with ceremonies and music as (simply) guests:--yes, the mind
of the perfect man determines all things aright.'
What the world thinks the most valuable exhibition of the Tâo is to be
found in books. But books are only a collection of words. Words have what is
valuable in them;--what is valuable in words is the ideas they convey. But those
ideas are a sequence of something else;--and what that something else is cannot
be conveyed by words. When the world, because of the value which it attaches to
words, commits them to books, that for which it so values them may not deserve
to be valued;--because that which it values is not what is really valuable.
Thus it is that what we look at and can see is (only) the outward form and
colour, and what we listen to and can hear is (only) names and sounds. Alas!
that men of the world should think that form and colour, name and sound, should
be sufficient to give them the real nature of the Tâo. The form and colour, the
name and sound, are certainly not sufficient to convey its real nature; and so
it is that 'the wise do not speak and those who do speak are not wise.' How
should the world know that real nature?
Duke Hwan, seated above in his hall, was (once) reading a book, and the
wheelwright Phien was making a wheel below it. Laying aside his hammer and
chisel, Phien went up the steps, and said, 'I venture to ask your Grace what
words you are reading?' The duke said, 'The words of the sages.' 'Are those
sages alive?' Phien continued.
'They are dead,' was the reply. 'Then,' said the other, 'what you, my Ruler,
are reading are only the dregs and sediments of those old men.' The duke said,
'How should you, a wheelwright, have anything to say about the book which I am
reading? If you can explain yourself, very well; if you cannot, you shall die!'
The wheelwright said, 'Your servant will look at the thing from the point of
view of his own art. In making a wheel, if I proceed gently, that is pleasant
enough, but the workmanship is not strong; if I proceed violently, that is
toilsome and the joinings do not fit. If the movements of my hand are neither
(too) gentle nor (too) violent, the idea in my mind is realised. But I cannot
tell (how to do this) by word of mouth; there is a knack in it. I cannot teach
the knack to my son, nor can my son learn it from me. Thus it is that I am in my
seventieth year, and am (still) making wheels in my old age. But these
ancients, and what it was not possible for them to Convey, are dead and
gone:--so then what you, my Ruler, are reading is but their dregs and
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