October 24th, 2009

Chapter forty-one: On and off

Thoughtful people hear about the Way
and try hard to follow it.
Ordinary people hear about the Way
and wander onto it and off it.
Thoughtless people hear about the Way
and make jokes about it.
It wouldn't be the Way
if there weren't jokes about it.

So they say:
The Way's brightness looks like darkness;
advancing on the Way feels like retreating;
the plain Way seems hard going.
The height of power seems a valley;
the amplest power seems not enough;
the firmest power seems feeble.
Perfect whiteness looks dirty/
The pure and simple looks chaotic.

The great square has no corners.
The great vessel is never finished.
The great tone is barely heard.
The great thought can't be thought.

The Way is hidden
in its namelessness.
But only the Way
begins, sustains, fulfills.

Lao Tsu, interpreted by Ursula Le Guin.


The wise student hears of the Tao and practices it diligently.
The average student hears of the Tao and gives it thought now and again.
The foolish student hears of the Tao and laughs aloud.
If there were no laughter, the Tao would not be what it is.

Hence it is said:
The bright path seems dim;
Going forward seems like retreat;
The easy way seems hard;
The biggest Virtue seems empty;
Great purity seems sullied;
A wealth of Virtue seems inadequate;
The strength of Virtue seems frail;
Real Virtue seems unreal;
The perfect square has no corners;
Great talent ripens late;
The highest notes are hard to hear
The greatest form has no shape.
The Tao is hidden and without name/
The Tao alone nourishes and brings everything to fulfillment.

Translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English (Forrtune Files)