Daodejing 39


In the ancient days: grasping one.

Heaven grasping one: clear and bright.
Earth grasping one, tranquility.
Spirit grasping one, effective. [1]
River valley grasping one, fullness.
10,000 things grasping one, growth.
Kings grasping one, leading under-heaven.

Draw this inference: Grasp one.

Heaven without clear and bright, splitting open.
Earth without tranquility, shaking apart.
Spirit without effect, stopping.
River valley without fullness, drying up.
10,000 things without growth, going extinct.
Kings without nobility and dignity, falling.

Hence, the noble is the
Root of the simple.
The highest must be the
Root of the lowest.

For this the Kings call
Themselves the orphaned,
The needy, the ill-provided.

Is this not the root of simplicity?
Is it not?

Thus, reaching for all
Of the carriages
Is not having a carriage. [2]

They do not need to
Be carved jade yet still
Are hard as stone.[3]

*Translation by LU Wenlong & Keith Wayne Brown, ©2013.

[1] Effective, efficacious, lit. well-informed.

[2] Laozi speaks here about the honors given to the great to denote high station, such as beautiful carriages. The sentence could be interpreted then as saying, “All that glitters is not gold” or “Great honors are no honor at all.”

[3] The gilding of the exterior is not what makes jade valuable, lasting, or even beautiful. Rather, jade’s lasting power (hardness, sustainability) is in its being a rock. What is the interior or foundational excellence that shines through? This is what will obtain in the object as well as in the Person.


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