XXVI – “The heavy is the root of the light”

The heavy is the root of the light;

The still is the lord of the restless.

Therefore the gentleman when travelling all day

Never lets the heavy-laden carts out of his sight.

It is only when he is safely behind wall and watchtowers

That he rests peacefully and is above worries.

How, then, should a ruler of ten thousand chariots

Make light of his own person in the eyes of the empire?

If light, then the root is lost;

If restless, then the lord is lost.


Oh to let the heavily-laden carts of my life’s work out of sight! Oh, to be secure within myself… to be safe within my walls and watchtowers, to rest peacefully, to be rooted. In tai chi, I practise this by scanning my movements. I see how a stable, rooted right leg makes for an active, light left leg. When I stand still, I know that I am rooted to the earth, and that I can move on the earth too. It is when I practise that I am safely behind walls and watchtowers, and if I don’t, I am lost.




XXV – Man models himself on earth

There is a thing confusedly formed

Born before heaven and earth.

Silent and void

It stands alone and does not change,

Goes round and does not weary.

It is capable of being the mother of the world.

I know not its name

So I style it ‘the way’.

I give it the makeshift name of ‘the great’.

Being great, it is further described as receding,

Receding, it is described as far away,

Being far away, it is described as turning back.

Hence the way is great; heaven is great; earth is great; and the king is also great. Within the realm there are four things that are great, and the king counts as one.

Man models himself on earth,

Earth on heaven,

Heaven on the way

And the way on that which is naturally so.

In the stars man finds gods; in the earth he finds himself. He finds himself in trees, rivers, mountains and seas; in wind but not in the sun, in rain but not lightening. Man is made of earth and not light; man breathes and the stars wink. But the waters can glisten and the mountains can host gods; trees have spirits; men and women smile; and so the earth reaches up to the heavens. The way is nimble like a sparrow.

XIV – “He who tiptoes cannot stand”

He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk.

He who shows himself is not conspicuous;

He who considers himself right is not illustrious;

He who brags will have no merit;

He who boasts will not endure.

From the point of view of the way these are “excessive food and useless excrescences”. As there are Things that detest them, he who has the way does not abide in them.

To run swiftly it is important to be well-balanced. Each foot should strike the ground evenly, securely, yet fleetingly. You must not strain, but run smoothly; you mustn’t run as you think you should or could, you must run as you can. Then you will run fast.

XXIII – “To use words but rarely”

To use words but rarely

Is to be natural.

Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and earth cannot go on forever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way.

A man of the way conforms to the way; a man of virtue conform to virtue; a man of loss* conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way is gladly accepted by the way; he who conforms to the virtue is gladly accepted by the virtue; he who conforms to loss is gladly accepted by loss.

Where there is not enough faith, there is lack of good faith.

(*or, heaven?)


Some words are sunset

Throwing shadows across the close of day;

The sun descends softly below the horizon.


Some words are sunrise

A child peers hopefully over the garden wall

His gaze drawing earth’s shadows inwards.


Some words are downpour

Floods course through the city’s streets

Strangers clustered around in dripping shelters.


Some words are cold winds

Who forbid flippant platitudes or cheer

Who push, slam doors and curse.


Long spring or summer’s days’ words

Words which follow the way gladly

Are sung by birds and distant callings.



XXII – “Bowed down then preserved”

Bowed down then preserved;

Bent then straight;

Hollow then full;

Worn then new;

A little then benefitted;

A lot then perplexed.

Therefore the sage embraces the One and is a model for the empire.

He does not show himself, and so is conspicuous;

He does not consider himself right, and so is illustrious;

He does not brag, and so has merit;

He does not boast, and so endures.

It is because he does not contend that no one in the empire is in a position to contend with him.

The way the ancients had it, ‘Bowed down then preserved’, is no empty saying. Truly it enables one to be preserved to the end.

Expressed differently: bow; show flexibility; have no weight; wear well; own little. These are marks of great humility; so try to do them; they will prevent you coming into unnecessary conflict; and when in conflict, they will make it hard for your enemy to lay hands on you. Expressed differently: Respect your enemy; dodge him, negotiate; do not be filled with demands, anger or the desire to punch; use the advantage of experience; have little at stake. Then you will have longevity.







XXI – “The way and the way only”

In his every movement a man of great virtue

Follows the way and the way only.

As a thing the way is

Shadowy, indistinct.

Indistinct and shadowy,

Yet within it is an image;

Shadowy and indistinct,

Yet within it is a substance.

Dim and dark,

Yet within it is an essence.

This essence is quite genuine

And within it is something that can be tested.

From the present back to iniquity

Its name never deserted it.

It serves as a means for inspecting the fathers of the multitude.

How do I know that the fathers of the multitude are like that? By means of this.

What does it profit a man if he follows every religious precept, if he can expound every dogma, if he can keep the law, …and he is a miserable sod, a misery to all and sundry?


XX – “I alone am different from the others”

Exterminate learning and there will no longer be worries.

Between yea and nay

How much difference is there?

Between good and evil

How great is the distance?

What others fear

One must also fear.

And wax without having reached the limit.

The multitude are joyous

As if partaking of the t’ai lao offering

Or going up to a terrace in spring.

Like a baby that has not yet learnt to smile,

Listless as though with no home to go back to.

The multitude all have more than enough.

I alone seem to be in want.

My mind is that of the fool – how blank!

Vulgar people are clear.

I alone am drowsy.

Vulgar people are alert.

I alone am muddled.

Calm like the sea;

Like a high wind that never ceases.

The multitude all have a purpose.

I alone am foolish and uncouth.

I alone am different from others

And value being fed by the mother.

The season had left me behind today. I stood blankly, blinking away from the sun. The playground on a vicious spring afternoon, caught in the glare. The children were rampant, now able to climb places too far in autumn. Their mothers were excited, dressed expectantly for spring, conversing brightly, spring sentiments. Other fathers seemed present. Not just running down the clock – I sat and stood and gave occasional mandatory encouragement, very poorly acted. Things became heavier, walking, standing upright, home seemed a marathon effort away, but it came to an end.