Jixia Wisdom

The Jixia chapters of the Daodejing: chapters 01, 11, 39, 40, 41, 42a, 43, 45, and 48 (in the sequence 01, 11, 40, 39, 42a, 41, 45, 43, 48).

The Daodejing is often classified as philosophy, but the only parts of the Daodejing which come close to what is called philosophy in American universities are the chapters in this Jixia group, which touch on the logical, linguistic, and metaphysical questions raised by the Shen Dao,, Hui Neng, and other masters of the legendary Jixia school (ca. 300 BC ±50 years).

The fundamental idea of these chapter is polarity, and paradox is their characteristic means of expression. From polarity come reversal, “the unity of opposites”, and the contrast between the latent and the manifest (which are both real though only one of them is apparent). Reversal and the transformation from latent to manifest and back again both work in time, which means that yesterday’s truths might not be usable today and that today’s truths might not be usable tomorrow– in general, once a truth is made manifest, it is perishable. Models, ethical systems, metaphysical systems, and scientific models are all necessarily incomplete, and they can attain clarity and rigor only by leaving things out. It’s the things left out that give models and theories their power, but the things left out will also be a theory or model’s blind spot and fatal flaw.

This philosophy of time can be called dialectical, since it emphasized change and even extreme change (becoming-opposite), but it lacks some aspects of other well-known dialectical philosophies. While the predictable astronomical cycles are historically one of the sources of the Daodejing’s idea of reversal, not all temporal changes are predictable and inevitable the way these cycles are. There no overall directional trend – no inevitable progress, inevitable decline, or endless repetition, as in other familiar dialectical philosophies. These chapters present a metaphysics of watchfulness, a major theme throughout the DDJ, and caution is one of the DDJ’s primary practical messages: when things are going well we should not be complacent but should be alert for turns for the worse, and likewise, when things are going badly, we should not despair but should be alert for the possibility of a change for the better.

Wuwei 無為 is one practical application of this metaphysic: when things are already moving in the right direction, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. The Dadoejing warns against making principles absolute, and often we see the reversal of such conventional valuations as high vs. low, or hard vs. soft, or big vs. small. Perfection and completeness are mistrusted — both in the Chinese and the American idiom, something “finished” can be either fulfilled or dead. Claims of perfection are violent and imaginary assertions of untruth, and all real things are in process and can never be either perfect or complete.

Of the chapters in this group, chapters 40, 41, 45, and 48 are part of the Guodian (GD) text, and 01, 11, 39, 42, and 43 are not. I have put the chapters into a new sequence on the basis of topic and style. Chapter 42, which seems to be a ragbag of unrelated sayings, has been divided and redistributed, with one part following chapter 40, one part following chapter 39, and the final part relegated to the Doubtful group.

The key theme of 無 / 有 (presence and absence or ”being” and “nothing”) is the theme of chapters 01, 11 and 40, and have placed these chapters first, with chapter 42a following chapter.

Of the chapters in this group, chapters 40, 41, 45, and 48 are part of the Guodian (GD) text, and 01, 11, 39, 42, and 43 are not. I have put these chapters into a new sequence on the basis of topic and style. I have put chapters 01, 11, and 40 first, in that order, since 無 / 有 presence / absence (or being / nothing) is their theme.. Chapter 39 and 42a come next, with their themes of oneness and ritual reversal. The paradox chapters 41 and 45 come next, and wuwei chapters 43 and 48 conclude the group.

It is possible to construct a conjectural scenario explaining how chapters 38-48 were put in the present (Wang Bi) sequence by one or several editors, though there’s little textual evidence for this conjecture and certainly no way of proving it. Assume that chapters 01, 11, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, and 48 entered the Daodejing at about the same time and as the core of Part II. But onew of the editors of the Daodejing did not want the dividing lines between the subgroups of Early Dao to be too evident, so chapters 01 and 11 were moved forward to introduce this group’s themes earlier in the tex — chapters 01-13 are notably mixed — and chapters 44 and 46 from the early practical, moralizing Yang Zhu group were inserted on both sides of chapter 45. Then chapter 38 from the anti-Confucian group was then put at the beginning of Part II in order to give that set of themes more prominence, and finally, a Sage Dao editor inserted chapters 47, 49, and 53 to break up the 38-56 Early Dao sequence. This is all conjecture, but does give a plausible and not especially complicated guess as to how this group came to take its present form as the result of several successive stages of editing, with the result that the history of the text of the Daodejing was partly evident in the final text, and partly concealed.

Jixia themes:
無 / 有 Presence / absence (being / nothing) 01 11 40 43 (?).
無 為 43 48 (also 02 03 37 38 43 48 57 63; 弗 為 34 47).
無事 48 (also 57 63).
柔 Weakness 40 43 (also 03 10 36 37 52 55 76 and 78).
無 名 Namelessness 01 41 (also 32 37; 弗名 34).
用 Function, activity, use 11 40 45 (also 04 06 27 28 31 35 52 57 68 69 80).
一 Oneness 11 (?) 39 42 (also 10 14 22).
益 Increase, advantage, plenty 42 43 48 (also 55 77).
Ritual reversal 39 42 (also 78).
Paradox sequence 41 45 (Also 02 22 29 36, at least, but none in 67-81).
Study, learning, teaching:

*01 Not GD
道 可 道 也
非 恆 道 也
名 可 名 也
非 恆 名 也
無 名 萬 物 之 始 也
有 名 萬 物 之 母 也

故 恆 無 欲 也
以 觀 其 妙
恆 有 欲 也
以 觀 其 徼
同 出 異 名
同 謂 之 玄

玄 之 又 玄
衆 妙 之 門
A way can be shown
It is not the unvarying way.
A name can be called
It is not the unvarying name.
The nameless was the embryo of all things,
Naming was the mother of all things.

Thus always:
Without intent
to see the fine points,
with intent
to see the outcomes.
These emerge together but are differently named,
together are called dark.

Darkness upon darkness,
the gateway to the many mysteries.

jiao bright dao “lead” 導

名 “name”: 01 (命), 14 (命), 21, 25, 32, 34 (命), 37, 41, 42 (命, 稱), 44, 47 (命 ). When the word 名 is used verbally in the sense of assigning names. 命 “command” is a frequent substitute.
無 名 / 弗 名: 01, 32, 37, 41. The word 名 is seen only once in Sage Dao, and the term 無 名 “nameless” is never seen there.
萬 物 “Ten thousand things” – all things, considered individually. “Things” can be living beings or even events.
母 01 17 20 25 52 59 Other words for female: 雌 10 28 牝 06 (15?) 55 61. The female is never seen in Sage Dao
始 01 02 04 14 32 38 41 52 64.
始 / 母 01 52. Some have speculated that 始 “beginning” here originally read 胎 “fetus”. The graphic relationship between 始and 胎 is not a sign of any phonetic relationship, however.
欲 01 03 15 19 20 24 27 29 30 31 34 36 37 46 57 61 64 66 77
無 欲 / 不 欲: 01 06 10 15 51 56 65 Only once in Sage Dao.
眇/妙 01 15 27
玄 01 06 10 15 51 56 65
門 01 06 10 20 52 56


By now 道 is usually just called “Dao” in English, but its customary translation had been “Way”. At a certain point Dao became a metaphysical entity, but in the earliest period it just meant the best way of life, or the best way of doing things. 道 can also mean “a teaching” or “a saying” , and there is a related verbal form 導 which means “show the way”.

As with the English word “way”, the root meaning of dao 道 is “a road”, and a road is specific and local; it goes from one place or set of places to another place or set of places. There is no road from everywhere to everywhere; the usefulness of a road lies in its limitation, and the fact that there are many places it does not lead to. By extension, when a dao 道 is any particular teaching, it is also local. A teaching valuable for one purpose and context may by harmful in a different purpose and context. Any specifiable dao is not the total, perfect, abiding Dao (the road from everywhere to everywhere) but only a partial dao.

Names are similar, but with an added twist. In Chinese it is recognized that names are contextual, and a person will normally have several names according to context: for example, a formal name for the gravest occasions, a baby name within the family, a nickname among friends, and a business name for public use – and based on their experiences and accomplishments, more names may be added as they go through life. All these names are true and real; the difference is in the context in which they are used.

Naming is also recognized as a power relationship. When the word 名 “name” is used verbally in the sense of assigning a name, it is often replaced with the phonetically similar word 命 , which also means “command”. Inferiors will use a respectful name for a superior and may not even know their “real” name (chapter 25: 吾 不 知其 名 字之 曰道), while superiors will use a name appropriate for someone a lesser status. The formal name is almost never used and will be unknown to most. Thus names, like roads, are also particular, local, and contextual; just as a road has two ends, a name has a giver and a receiver. And just as there can be no road from everywhere to everywhere, there can be no name used by everyone to name everything. The value of a name also comes from its limitation, or what it is not, and the marking of differences.

Names and ways vary according to intention or need 欲 (usually translated “desire”, but 欲 is not primarily erotic). A methodology or nomenclature for anything is developed in terms of intentions and needs – starting points and destinations, the things to highlight and the ones to put in the shadows. Nomenclatures divide the world into same and different according to intent, marking the samenesses or differences which are of interest in terms of the goal, and ignoring those which are without interest. A naming can be true and useful in terms of one set of intentions and goals, but at the same time false and useless in terms of a different set, and nomenclature of the second set of intentions will likewise be useful in its own context, but not in the other. This is often called skepticism or relativism, but what it is is a contextual view of language. Language and speech acts are part of the world, and like everything in the world they function in a particular context.

There are modern analogues to these ideas, and they’re not necessarily post-modernist. From science you get “The map is not the territory”, “The model is not the thing it models”, or “an indefinitely large number of systems can be defined on any given object”.


Michel Meyer’s “What is in question in a given text [its problem] is identical to the meaning of that text” 152.

Recourse to language is inscribed in the general framework of human action..Men act in terms of the problems that are posed to them and which they themselves must face because those problems define human existence. Therefore, language contributes to0 the resolution of our problems.82

The meaning of the statement depends not on the statement alone but on the question to which it must correspond 92

Reference is precisely what is covered by the interrogative in a proposition and can always be defined as such 88

Michel Meyer, Rhetoric, Language and Reason, Penn State, 1994.

What is this 恆 道 也 / 恆 名 which cant be spoken or called?

Total way, name of the totality all at once

Richness and fertility of everchanging actuality

comprehensiveness is unstateable.

Not to look for complete formula


Hundun not an additional miraculous mysteriously accessible thing but a totalization (though claim is made) It’s about SAYING

1. unnamed unlabelled unmarked unclassified world

2. new world in time, different than the old world

3. With naming (description) he world becomes one, and one more

in context in time any possible name or teaching.

Subtleties mysteries regression

The time before questions

contexted motivation for questions / specificity of questions

There is no Dao or name of everything and always

Dialogue in time not sub specae eterna

communications rather than as truth and being

no unsituated view from nowhere / and no time

Naming is power

totalization intentional power grab seizing right to leave things out as must be done to say anything.(Being is One → divine right)

Asserting one marking system

eventual grounding of political and social order

solving complex questions by reducing them to many simple questions and then aggregating (simply asserts a collection of distinctions)


potential latent nothing absent a –> actual explicit being present (one of many, time chooses )

potential ultimate undefined reality

instantiated and limited in time / in discourse

once defined, dead and distant

The totality is incoherent


The totality can be mystically apprehended but not expressed or used

nameless without distinctions cannot be spoken of 名 / 無 名 / 弗名 Fate 命

無 / 有 foreshadows

Michel Meyer

道32/66 // 5/15 or 3/15


jiao externals? Need? 其徼 jiao4 border outlines perimeter+ white root bright shining pure

其所噭 wail, call loudly jiao4 / 其所僥 jiao3 trust to luck hope for best

Miao subtleties

39 謂 / 稱 = 命 /名) 命: 51(爵) “command”


*11 Not GD
三 十 輻 同 一 轂
當 其 無 有 車 之 用 也
埏 埴 以 為 器
當 其 無 有 器 之 用
鑿 戶 牖 以 為 室
當 其 無 有 室 之 用

故 有 之 以 為 利
無 之 以 為 用
Thirty spokes meet in one hub.
The wagon’s usefulness is in what’s not there.
Mold clay to make a pot.
The pot’s usefulness is in what’s not there
Cut windows and a door to make a room.
The room’s usefulness is in what’s not there.

What’s there is what you get
What’s not.there is what you use.

In Chinese chapter 11 is easy, but translating it is tricky. It’s based on three analogies in which the utility of an everyday thing is dependent on an absence or empty space. The empty space in the hub of a wheel, the empty space inside a pot, the emptiness inside a room and the openness of its windows and doors do not make these things incomplete or deficient, but are their whole reason for being. If any one of them were solid and whole, it would be unusable.

In these Jiia chapters we see the first appearance of the 無 /有 contrast, which is also seen in chapters 01, 40 and 43. 無 and 有 are usually translated “being” and “nothing”, but this is too close to Western philosophical terminology and can lead to misconceptions. Less misleading and closer to the Chinese, are “presence” and “absence”: in normal speech, 有 水 mands “There is water” and 無 水 means “there is no water”. For the DDJ fullness, completeness and totality are imaginary or dead, and the incomplete is what is real and living.
無 “absence” is potentiality and possibility, whereas 有 “presence” is actuality possession and completion. Something complete and without possibility 無 would be useless.

用 (seen in chapters 11, 40, and 45 of this group) usually means “to use”, or as a noun, “usefulness”, but by extension it means “activity” or “function”. 利 in the DDJ sometimes just means “sharpness”, but it also means “advantage”, “profit” or “benefit”. I have translated it here as “what you own”, because profit is usually understood in terms of ownership. By and large the DDJ frowns on 利 in this sense.

*40 GD
反 也 者 道 之 動 也
弱 者 道 之 用 也
天下之 物 生 於 有
有 生 於 無
Reversal is the movement of Dao,
The workings of Dao are soft.
The things of the world are born from presence,
Presence is born of absence.
*40 (present in GD)
反 也 者 道 之 動 也
弱 者 道 之 用 也
天下之 物 生 於 有
有 生 於 無
The movements of Dao are contrary,
The workings of Dao are yielding.
The things of this world are born from presence.
Presence is born from absence.

Reversal is the movement of Dao
The actions of Dao are gentle.
The things of this world come from being;
Being comes from nothing.

The movements of Dao are contrary,
The workings of Dao are yielding.
The things of this world come from actuality;
Actuality is born from possibility.

無 /有 presence 01, 02, 11, 40, 43 無 series throughout: 無 為, 無 事, 無 欲, 無名, 無 智, 無 私, 無 物, 無 狀, 無 爭, 無 心, 無 味, 無 行, 無 親. 不 言

反 25 40 65 78

弱 03 36 40 55 76 78

10 36 43 52 55 76 78

動 05, 08, 15, 40 50 never I n sage dao.

用 04, 06, 11, 27, 28b, 31, 40, 45, 52, , 57, 80

天下之 物 / 天下 萬物 only WB everything

萬物 01 05 08 16 32 34 37 40 42 51 // 02 62 64 76

物 21 24 25 30 31 42 51 55 // 27 29 57 65

天物 16

天下之 物 40

道之物 21

無物 14

天下 33x

天地: All but one in Early Dao.

天下 and 萬物: 89% / 133% in Jixia, averaging 68% in Early Dao and Early Sage Dao, 33% in Final Dao.

物 alone: none in Final Dao, averaging 21% elsewhere.

Early Dao: most of the 天地. 天下 and 萬物 bout the same as Early Sage Dao.
Early Sage Dao: much like EarlyDao except for the realtive absence of 天地.

Final Dao: no 天地, no 物 standing alone, 天下 and 萬物 about half as frequent as in Early Dao or Early Sage Dao.

Jixia: somewhat more 天下 and 萬物 then Early Dao and Early Sage Dao (substantially more in the WB version), no 天地,

Reversal is the Movement of Dao

反 也 者 道 之 動 也

Chapter 40 of the Daodejing is one of the key chapters of the DDJ. In 24 words or fewer it introduces what can be regarded as the Daodejing’s central idea, reversal (反 fàn, the reversal of the values of soft and hard, and the reversal of the values of presence and absence (being and nothing / the manifest and the latent).

We know that the present chapter divisions and sequence of the Daodejing were decided upon quite late, and attempts to find a meaningful sequence in the received text of the DDJ have mostly failed. The only real exception is chapters 67-81 at the end, which are thematically and stylistically reasonably consistent and were almost certainly added last. Other than that, sometimes you can find 2 or 3 chapters in a row which seem connected (for example chapters 4-5-6, 17-18-19, or 30-31), and there are also a few longish groups of successive chapters of which most but not all seem related (e.g., chapters 32-37 and 39-48), But the first four chapters of the Daodejing seem to have no particular relationship to one another, and chapters 21-30 is another apparently diconnected sequence. Daodejing. Overall the book seems to be a hodgepodge, and D C Lau has even judged that the DDJ has no unity at all and is merely a heteregeneous collection of wise sayings. My own understanding is that the present shape of the text came into being by a complex historical process and that it is pointless to hope to find an intelligible overall sequence. Instead, we should expect to see the Daodjing’s central ideas disttributed widely though the text, whether this happened fortuitously or deliberately.

Thus, my exposition of chapter 40 may seem to implausibly puff up a very slender text into a complex metaphysical argument, but the idea of reversal are distributed widely throughout through the text and is pervasice throughout early Chinese culture, and it is a mistake to try to read this chapter in isolation. As I understand it, chapter 40 entered the text towards the middle of the DDJ’s historical development and is a metaphysical development of themes which were already present in the earlier chapters, though in less sophisticated form, while later chapters take the ideas in chapter 40 for granted in developing their ideas. A full exposition of chapter 40 would minimally require references to at least 20 other chapters, and the exposition of each of these 20 scattered chapters would require reference to still other chapters with no particular relationship to chapter 40, until almost the entire Daodejing is part of the network. (While I do believe that there are a number of extraneous passages in the book, these amount to less than 10% of the total, and I am very far from D. C. Lau’s opinion that the Daodejing is just a random collection).

The translation problems with this chapter are very serious, and below 3 different translations are presented. These translation are all based on the same Chinese text, and by and large the problems derive from the difficulty in finding English-language equivalents for the Chinese words, and not from different interpretations of the Chinese text. The most common translations of this chapter’s 有 yŏu “Being”, for example, is “Being”, but “being” is not a literal translation of, the Chinese word 有, and while the Daodejing’s 有 may somewhat resemble the Being of Wwestern philosophy, in many respects it is quite different.

My discussion of chapter40 divides the chapter into three parts: The first line introducing the idea of reversal 反 fàn , the second lone speaking of weaknes 弱 rùo, which is tacitly favored over strength 強 qiang (though 強 qiang is not seen here), and the the final two lines speaking of 有 yŏu “presence / Being” and 無 “absence / non-being”. In each section I cross the passages key words and themes so that the reader can see how they develop throughout the text of the DDJ.

氣: 10, 42, 55
和: 02 04 18 42 55 56 79
沖 04 05 16* 42 45; 中 05 21* 25* 41* 42 盅 45
陰 而 抱 陽


*39 Not GD

昔得一者 天得 一以清 limpidity by means of 地得一 以寧 tranquillity 神得一以 靈 numinous / etheral / supernatural 谷 得一以盈 fullness 侯王得一以為天下正
其 致 之 也: 天 無 已 清 將 恐 裂 ljet lie split burst 地 無 已 寧 將 恐 發 pjot break out fei4 pjojH 神 無 已 靈 將 恐 歇 kjet come to nothing 谷 無 已 盈 將 恐 渴 khat 竭 gjot run dry 侯 王 無 已 貴 高 將 恐 蹶 kjwot fall 故 必 貴 已 賤 為 本 必 高 以下 為 基
是 以 侯 王 自 謂 孤 寡 不 穀 此 非 以 賤 為 本 耶?非 乎?
故 至 數 譽 無 譽 fame / reputation
故 不 欲 琭 琭 如 玉 珞 珞 如 石
毋 / 以 / 已

萬物得一以生 WB only

無/毌//以/已 毌已 無 以

天 下 之 所 惡 唯 孤 寡 不 穀, 而 王 公以 自 名 也 / 命 故 物 或 損 而 益







*42a Not GD
道 生 一
一 生 二
二 生 三
三 生 萬 物

萬 物 負 陰 而 抱 陽
沖 氣 以 為 和

天 下 之所惡
唯孤 寡 不穀

是 故 物 或 敗 而 益
或 益 而 敗


得死 / 得其死

故 強粱 者不得死 / 得其死
吾將以為學父/ 教 父

Dao gave birth to oneness
Oneness gave birth to duality
Duality gave birth to triplicity
and triplicity gave birth to all things.

All things bear Yin on their back
and embrace Yang, blending their energies
to make a harmony.

What the world hates
is to be widowed, orphaned, or luckless,
yet kings and princes call themselves this

So things gain by losing
and sometimes lose by gaining.

I have had a lot of trouble finding a thread of meaning in this chapter and suspect that that it is just a hodgepodge of leftovers, and evidencethat the editing of the Daodejing amounted to a long series of compromises. The chapter seems most closely related to chapter 39 (Oneness, ritual reversal) so I have moved it here.


I am giving the variants here a fairly complete discussion just to give an idea of what a Daodejing scholar is facing. There is no GD text of this chapter and the MWD texts are physically defective in several places. With one exception I have favored the earlier MWD texts in making my own text, but there cannot be a general seniority-based rule since the GD text, when there is one, often agrees with the late WB text.

天 下 (MWDA): 人 ( MWDB, BD, WB)
以自命也 (MWDB, BD): 以為稱 (WB)
沖 (WB): 中(MWDA, BD).
敗 (MWDA): 損 (BD,WB)
*亦議而教人 (MWDB): 亦我而教人 (BD) 我亦教之(WB)
*得死: 得其死
學父 (MWDA, BD) : 教 父(WB)

The word 沖 “swirl, mix”is seen in 5 Early Dao chapters — in all texts of chapter 04, and in at least one text of chapters 05, 16, 42, and 45. The variants include 中 “center, to center, within”; 盅 “empty”; 動 “to move”; 情 “disposition; feelings”; 靜 “still, stillness”, or 正 “right, righteous”. Of these, only 中 and 盅 are cognates of 沖 which might be phonetic replacements; the others are all entirely different, unrelated words. The word 中 is also seen in all texts chapters 05, 21, 25, and 41; 盅 is seen only in the GD version of chapter 45, where it stands in the place of 沖; and 情, 靜, and 正 are part of a 清靜 正 theme seen in chapters 37, 45, and 57, with echoes elsewhere.


亦議而教人 / 亦我而教人 / 我亦教之


得死 / 得其死


16?沖 GDMWDA 情 MWDB WB 靜, BD 正 ?
42沖 WBMWDA BD 中 (中 05 21 25 41, no variants).

得死 () vs 得其死 (WB)

Oneness Threeness Yinyang
沖 中 盅

Ritual reversal : 39, 42, 78
教人/ 亦教之

I have had a lot of trouble finding a thread of meaning in Chapter 42 and suspect that that the chapter is just a hodgepodge of leftovers and more evidence for the hypothesis that the editing of the Daodejing was a long series of compromises. The opening of the chapter seems most closely related to chapter 39 (Oneness, ritual reversal) so I have moved it here.

he emphasis on Onesess shared with

the Yin and Yang here probably just mean “dim” and “bright”, comparable to 玄 “dark” and 明 “bright”, which are more prominent in the Daodejing – one of the Daodejing’s many polarities along with high and low, front and back, and full and empty, or perhaps the umbrella term of all polarites. The elaborate apparatus of Yin-Yang thought was developed at a later period and is not evident in the rest of the DDJ, though this line may be part of its ancestry and may even be a citation from an already-existing body of Yin-Yang writing. It is usual in the Daodejing to reverse polarities of this type by favoring the normally less favored pole (Yin in this case), but I do not see that here. (The temptation to see triplicity as a version of the Hegelian synthesis should be avoided).

*41 GD
上 士 聞 道
勤 能 行 之
中 士 聞 道
若 存 若 亡
下 士 聞 道
大 笑 之
弗 笑
不 足 以 為 道

是 以 建 言 有 之 曰
明 道 若 昧
進 道 若 退
夷 道 若 纇
上 德 若 谷
太 白 若 𪑾
廣 德 若 不 足
建 德 若 偷
質 真 若 渝
大 方 無 隅
大 器 晚 成
大 音 希 聲
大 象 無 形

道 隱 無 名
夫 唯 道 善 且 成
When the best students hear the Dao
they practice it with difficulty.
When average students hear the Dao
now they get it, now they don’t.
When poor students hear the Dao
They laugh iyt koud.
If they didn’t laugh
It wouldn’t be Dao.

Therefore the proverbs say
The bright Dao seems dim,
the Way forward seems to retreat
The smooth Dao seems rough
The highest Virtue is like the valley.
The whitest white seems smudged
The broad virtue seems lacking
The solid Dao seems flimsy
** **
Te greatest square has no corners
The finest vessel is finished late
The finest music sounds sparse
The greatest image is vague

Dao is hidden and nameless
Only Dao **

象 also 04 14 21 35

建 言: Some say this just means something like “proverb”, while others think that it was the name of a specific writing.
勤 “laboriously”; 堇 “barely” in some texts.
辱 13 28 37 41 44 𪑾 28 41
曼 slowly 免 shirk 勉 effortfully
偷 渝
貸/始 始: 01 代
隱 (concealed, obscure): also 殷 (full, abundant, prosperous) or 褒 (dignified, ample).

SourceIn DDJMeaningContemporary pronunciationAncient pronunciation
S 4-30,
K 976

?Embryo, fetustāilhə

Dangerous; perilous; endanger;dàiləʔ
NoIdle; lazy; negligent; carelessdàiləʔ

S 5-16
K 918

Substitute; replace; generation; dynasty; geological era; era; age; perioddàiləkh

lend on interest; borrow; loan; make excuses; pardon; forgivedàilhəkh
:Noexcessive; too; to err; to mistake; changeablelhək

成:14 ?
既 :35 ?
象 41 (also 04 14 21 35)
形 / 刑 41 (also 02 51)

41上士聞道 勤能行於其中 中士聞道 若存若亡 下士聞道 大笑之 弗大笑 不足以為道矣 是以建言有之:明道如悖 遲夷道□□□道若退 上德如谷 大白如辱 廣德如不足 建德如□□真如渝 遲大方亡隅 大器曼成 大音希聲 天象亡形 道□□□□□□□□ □□□ □□□ □□□ □□□□ □□□□ □□□□ □□□ □□□ □□□ □□□ □□□□ □□□□□ □□□□ □□□ □□□□ □□□□□ □□□□ □□□□□ □□□ □□□□ □□□ □□□□ □□□□□ □□□道善□□□□上□□道堇能行之中士聞道若存若亡下士聞道大笑之弗笑□□以為道是以建言有之曰:明道如費進道如退夷道如類上德如浴大白如辱廣德如不足建德如□質□□□大方無禺大器免成大音希聲天象無刑道褒無名夫唯道善始且善成上士聞道 堇 能行 中士聞道 若存若亡 下士聞道 大笑之 弗笑 不足以為道 是以建言有之曰:明道如沬 進道如退 夷道如類 上德如谷 大白如辱 廣 德如不足 建德如榆 桎 真如䩱大方無隅 大器勉 象無形 道殷無名 夫唯道 善貣 且成上士聞道 勤而行之 中士聞道 若存若亡 下士聞道 大笑之 不笑不足以為道 故建言有之:明道若昧 進道若退 夷道若纇 上德若谷 太白若辱 廣德若不足 建德若偷 質真若渝 大方無隅 大器晚成 大音希聲 大象無形 道隱無名 夫唯道 善貸且成

*45 GDExtra lines
大盈若 盅

The greatest completion seems defective
but in practice it never wears out.
The greatest fullness seems empty
but in practice is never exhausted.
The greatest skill seems clumsy.
The greatest uprightness seems crooked
The greatest flourishing is humble.

Activity overcomes cold,
Stillness overcomes heat
Clarity and stillness can set the world right.

敝 15, 22, 45.

沖 中 盅 41 42 45 (05 21 22 25 )
清 + 靜: 15, 39, 45.
屈, etc.: 05, 45
正: 08, 16, 22, 37, 39, 45, 57, 58, 67, 78.
天 下 正: 39, 45.

The general idea of this chapter is clear enough. The bulk the chapter resembles chapter 41 and consists of a series of paradoxes reversing such conventional values chapters ae fullness, completion, and uprightness, etc., and expressing the familiar (to Daoists) idea that the best people are unimpressive, humble or even obsequious (“bent”, “crouched”), and perhaps even seeming failures. The final three lines, which express the 靜 “stillness” theme distributed throughout the DDJ, don’t seem closely related to the beginning of the chapter, and the GD text gives us reason to suspect that they might be an independent passage, though it is not out of place here.

The variant forms of the word 敝 here and in chapters 15 and 22 provide a good example of a kind of textual problem frequently seen in the texts of the DDJ. This word takes a total of 4 forms in the various texts: 3 different forms in the WB texts ( 敝: 弊 and 蔽) and another in the MWDA text (幣). They are a problem for editors, but once the problem is solved there is nothing the reader of the DDJ needs to know. The meaning of 弊 is much the same as the that of 敝, while the meanings specific to 蔽 and 幣 do not fit into the DDJ passages in which they are found. I have taken 弊, 蔽, and 幣 to just be phonetic substitutes for 敝, and elieve that when I normalized the text to 敝 there was no loss.

In the 大 巧 若 拙 / 大 直 若 屈 / 大 盛 若 詘 series, all texts of the line 大 巧 若 拙 are the same. Some texts of the line 大 直 若 屈 read 大 直 若 詘 or 大 直 若 絀, but since “bent, humbled” is a secondary meaning of 詘 “dull, boorish” and 絀 “insufficient”, these substitutions do not necessarily change the meaning of the line. But the three versions of the third line – 大 贏 如 炳, ”The greatest fullness seems radiant”, 大 盛 若 詘 “The greatest flourishing seems humble, and 大辯若 訥 nwot “the greatest eloquence seems inarticulate” – are significantly different, and all of them somewhat problematic. For one thing, 盛 and 贏 in 大 盛 若 詘 and 大 贏 如 炳 mean much the same as same words as 成 and 盈 in the first and third lines, so these lines seem redundant as alternate versions of the two opening lines. The line 大 贏 如 炳 also must be rejected because it is not a paradox (”The greatest fullness seems radiant”) and because the word 炳 does not fit phonetically into the 屈 / 詘 / 絀 / 拙 group at all. Finally, 大 辯 若 訥 (nwot) “The greatest eloquence is like stuttering”in the late WB text just barely fits into the khjut / khjut / trwit / tsywet group phonetically and in meaning, but not at all graphically. I have settled on 大 盛 若 詘, mostly because of the word 詘,

The rhyme-words 屈, 拙, and 詘 and their variant forms 絀 and 掘 come from a word group which is related phonetically (khjut gjut gjwot trwit tsywet), graphically (all contain the element出), and in meaning. .The meanings of these words overlap, and most of them have several of the following meanings, all of which are pejorative: ”bent, crouched, humbled, wronged, dull, boorish, used up, exhausted , insufficient, reduced, rejected, dismissed from office, destroyed, awkward, clumsy”. (But I do not think that 淈 kwot “agitated, churned up” in MWD chapter 05 fits in this series). These rhyme-words (perhaps only eye-rhymes in some cases) and their variant forms are word-play, and they converge into a dense verbal cluster of plural meaning comparable to such English word-groups as “slip, slide, slop, slide, slither, sleek” or “niche, nick, nock, notch, nook”.

khjutqū05: GD BD WB. 45: GD WB.Bent, diminished, humiliated, humbled, wronged.
khjutqū45: GD MWDA BD.Dull, boorish; bent, submitted, humiliated.
gjutjué?Used up, exhausted.
gjwotjué45 MWDBUsed up, exhausted.
kwotgū05 MWDA MWDBAgitated, churned up; plunge in.
trwitchù45: MWDB BDInsufficient, reduced; bent; rejected, dismissed from office.
tsywetzhuō45: GD, MWDA BD WBAwkward, clumsy.
*43 Not GD
天 下 之 至 柔
馳 騁 於 天 下 之 至 堅
無 有 入 無 間

吾 是 以 知
無 為 之 有 益 也

不 言 之 教
無 為 之 益
天 下 希 能 及 之
The softest thing there is
races through the hardest thing there is.
Something without substance
penetrates something without gaps.

From this is I know
the value of wuwei.

The wordless teaching,
the value of wuwei –
few in this world can attain them.

益 42 43 48 77
不言 02 43 56 73

Softness, wuwei 無 / 有, being / nothing. paradox, denigration of verbal teaching. Presumably the soft thing is water and the hard thing stone. Closely related to Chapter 48.

*48 GD
為 學 者 日 益
為 道 者 日 損
損 之 又 損
以 至 於 無 為
無 為 而 無 不 為

取 天 下 恆 無 事
及 其 有 事
不 足 以 取 天下
Studying, you have more every day,
Living Dao, you have less every day.
Less and still less
until you have reached wuwei —
doing nothing, but getting everything done.

To get it, never be busy.
If you’re busy
you’re not capable of getting it.

損 42 48 (also 08 63 68 77 81).
益 42 43 48 (also 55 and 77).
取 天下 48 (lso 27 and 57).
不言 02 43(also 多言 / 多 聞 05, 貴言 18, 希言 23, 弗言 56, 不言 73).
學 42 48 (also 20 and 64).
教 42 43 (also 02 and 64).
聞 41 48 (also 05 50).

The earlier texts of chapter 48 are all either seriously damaged, garbled, or incomplete, so the late WB version is actually the best choice here. WB’s 無 為 而 無 不 為 “doing nothing, but getting everything done” is not seen in the older MWD and BD texts, but is part of the still older GD text.

In the Daodejing oral instruction, preaching, and speechmaking 言, teaching 教, study 學, and learning 聞 are often denigrated, is in these two chapters, in favor of wuwei and experiential learning.

取 天下 “get it”. The usual translation is win the Empire, which is not wrong. But 天 下 means both “the Empire” and “the world”, and while the DDJ (especially the later Sage Dao chapters) can be taken as a handbook teaching men in public life, and even aspiring Emperors, indirect ways to survival and success, the early layers of the Daodejing originally urged the renunciation of ambition and government service. It was a convention of the times for books to be presented as handbooks for emperors and statesmen, and the DDJ probably owes its survival and wide dissemination to this framing. But the original spirit had hardly died out, and the Daodejing could still be used by men with no higher ambitions, for whom 取 天 下 “get itwould mean something different not oriented toward power and fame.