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Taoist Classics
Translated by James Legge
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  1. The Pivot of Jade
  2. The Stone Tablet in Lao-tzu's Temple
  3. Tractate of Actions and Their Retributions
  4. The Classic of Purity (and Rest)
  5. The Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen

A. The Pivot of Jade

Considering taoist classics as translated by james legge
Teaching without words . . . taking no action . . .

The name of the treatise, when given at full length, is 'The True Classic of the Pivot of Jade, delivered by the Heaven-Honoured One, Who produces Universal Transformation by the Sound of His Thunder.'

There is little doubt that the author was a Hsüan-yang Dze, about the time of the Yüan dynasty (1280-1367 CE).

For the text below, Tao is the same as Dao in Pinyin, and Lao-tzu is Laozi. Also, headlines are supplied, and also a diagram from acupuncture theory to check the text against.

1: Tao eludes both ears and eyes

The Heaven-honoured one says,

'All you, Heaven-endowed men, who wish to be instructed about the Perfect Tao, the Perfect Tao is very recondite, and by nothing else but Itself can it be described. Since ye wish to hear about it, ye cannot do so by the hearing of the ear: that which eludes both the ears and eyes is the True Tao; what can be heard and seen perishes, and only this survives. There is (much) that you have not yet learned, and especially you have not acquired this! Till you have learned what the ears do not hear, how can the Tao be spoken about at all?'

'Heaven-honoured (Thien Zun)' - or 'Celestial Excellency,'

2: The value of difficulties for a personality

The Heaven-honoured one says,

'Sincerity is the first step towards (the knowledge of) the Tao; it is by silence that that knowledge is maintained; it is with gentleness that (the Tao) is employed. The employment of sincerity looks like stupidity; the employment of silence looks like difficulty of utterance; the employment of gentleness looks like want of ability. But having attained to this, you may forget all bodily form; you may forget your personality; you may forget that you are forgetting.'

3: One learns to know where to stop through the light of intelligence

'He who has taken the first steps towards (the knowledge of) the Tao knows where to stop; he who maintains the Tao in himself knows how to be diligently vigilant; he who employs it knows what is most subtle.

'When one knows what is most subtle, the light of intelligence grows (around him); when he can know how to be diligently vigilant, his sage wisdom becomes complete; when he knows where to stop, he is grandly composed and restful.

'When he is grandly composed and restful, his sage wisdom becomes complete; when his sage wisdom becomes complete, the light of intelligence grows (around him); when the light of intelligence grows around him, he is one with the Tao.

'This is the condition which is styled the True Forgetfulness; - a forgetting which does not forget; a forgetting of what cannot be forgotten.

'That which cannot be forgotten is the True Tao. The Tao is in heaven and earth, but heaven and earth are not conscious of It. Whether it seem to have feelings or to be without them, it is (always) one and the same.'

4: The darkest stupidity is a result of climate - but gaining a true Tao resolves that

The Heaven-honoured one says,

'While I am in this world, what shall I do to benefit life? I occupy myself with this subtle and precious Treatise for the good of you, Heaven-endowed men. Those who understand it will be allowed to ascend to the happy seats of the Immortals.
      'Students of the Tao believe that there are (the influences of) the ether and of destiny. But the (conditions of) climate being different, the constitutions received by men are naturally different, and hence they are ascribed to the ether. And the (conditions of) wisdom and stupidity being different, their constitutions as fine and coarse are naturally different, and hence they are ascribed to the destiny. The destiny depends on fate; the ether depends on Heaven.

'The restraints arising from the ether and destiny are the manacles decreed by Heaven. But if one acquire the True Tao, though stupid, he may become wise; though coarse, he may become fine; - if there only be the decree of fate.

'Stupidity the darkest, and coarseness the densest, are consequences of climate; but the suffering of them and the changing of them may take place, when Heaven and Earth quicken the motive spring. When this is done without the knowledge of men, it is said to take place spontaneously. If it be done with a consciousness of that want of knowledge, it is still said to take place spontaneously. The mystery of spontaneity is greater than that of knowledge; but how it comes to be what it is remains a thing unknown. But as to the Tao, it has not begun to come under the influence of what makes stupid and coarse. Hear this all ye Heaven (-endowed) men; and let all the multitude in all quarters rejoice.'


B. The Stone Tablet in the Temple of Lao-tzu

By Hsieh Tâo-Häng of the Sui Dynasty


1: Things began

After the Thâi Ki (or Primal Ether) commenced its action, the earliest period of time began to be unfolded.

The curtain of the sky was displayed, and the sun and moon were suspended in it; the four-cornered earth was established, and the mountains and streams found their places in it. Then the subtle influences (of the Ether) operated like the heaving of the breath, now subsiding and again expanding; the work of production went on in its seasons above and below; all things were formed as from materials, and were matured and maintained. There were the (multitudes of the) people; there were their rulers and superiors.

2: To be regulated from outside was not needed in ideal times

As to the august sovereigns of the highest antiquity, living as in nests on trees in summer, and in caves in winter, silently and spirit-like they exercised their wisdom. Dwelling like quails, and drinking (the rain and dew) like newly-hatched birds, they had their great ceremonies like the great terms of heaven and earth, not requiring to be regulated by the dishes and stands; and (also) their great music corresponding to the common harmonies of heaven and earth, not needing the guidance of bells and drums.

3: He who would straighten a process, must let it begin correctly too.

By and by there came the loss of the Tao, when its Characteristics took its place. They in their turn were lost, and then came Benevolence. Under the Sovereigns and Kings that followed, now more slowly and anon more rapidly, the manners of the people, from being good and simple, became bad and mean. Thereupon came the Literati and the Mohists with their confused contentions; names and rules were everywhere diffused. The 300 rules of ceremony could not control men's natures; the 3000 rules of punishment were not sufficient to put a stop to their treacherous villanies. But he who knows how to cleanse the current of a stream begins by clearing out its source, and he who would straighten the end of a process must commence with making its beginning correct. Is not the Great Tao the Grand Source and the Grand Origin of all things?

4: Lao Tzu was born at 70 with white hair and also recognised for obscure excellence

The Master Lao was conceived under the influence of a star. Whence he received the breath (of life) we cannot fathom, but he pointed to the (plum-) tree (under which he was born), and adopted it as his surname; we do not understand whence came the musical sounds (that were heard), but he kept his marvellous powers concealed in the womb for more than seventy years. When he was born, the hair on his head was already white, and he took the designation of 'The Old Boy' (or Lao-tzu). In his person, three gateways and two (bony) pillars formed the distinctive marks of his ears and eyes; two of the symbols for five, and ten brilliant marks were left by the wonderful tread of his feet and the grasp of his hands. From the time of Fû-hsî down to that of the Kâu dynasty, in uninterrupted succession, dynasty after dynasty, his person appeared, but with changed names. In the times of kings Wän and Wû he discharged the duties, (first), of Curator of the Royal Library, and (next), of the Recorder under the Pillar. Later on in that dynasty he filled different offices, but did not change his appearance. As soon as Hsüan Nî saw him, he sighed over him as 'the Dragon,' whose powers are difficult to be known. Yin (Hsî), keeper of the (frontier) gate, keeping his eyes directed to every quarter, recognised 'the True Man' as he was hastening into retirement. (By Yin Hsî he was prevailed on) to put forth his extraordinary ability, and write his Book in two Parts, - to lead the nature (of man) back to the Tao, and celebrating the usefulness of 'doing nothing.'

The style of it is very condensed, and its reasoning deep and far-reaching, The hexagram which is made up of the 'dragons on the wing' is not to be compared with it in exquisite subtlety. (The Zo Kwan) which ends with the capture of the Lin, does not match it in its brightness and obscurity. If employed to regulate the person, the spirit becomes clear and the will is still. If employed to govern the state, the people return to simplicity, and become sincere and good. When one goes on to refine his body in accordance with it, the traces of material things are rolled away from it; in rainbow-hued robes and mounted on a stork he goes forwards and backwards to the purple palace; on its juice of gold and wine of jade he feasts in the beautiful and pure capital. He is lustrous as the sun and moon; his ending and beginning are those of heaven and earth. He who crosses its stream, drives away the dust and noise of the world; he who finds its gate, mounts prancing up on the misty clouds. it is not for the ephemeral fly to know the fading and luxuriance of the Tâ-khun, or for a Fäng-î to fathom the depth of an Arm of the sea. Vast indeed (is the Tao)! words are not sufficient to describe its excellence and powers!

5: Crying out

Kwang Kâu tells us, that, 'when Lao Tan died, Khin Shih went to condole (with his son), but after crying out three times, at once left the house.'
      This was what is called the punishment for his neglecting his Heaven(-implanted nature), and although it appears as one of the metaphorical illustrations of the supercilious officer, yet there is some little indication in the passage of the reappearance of the snake after casting its exuviae.

B: The inscription

The inscription occupies not less than 352 characters in 88 lines, each of four characters. The lines are arranged in what we may call eleven stanzas of equal length. The second, fourth, sixth, and eighth lines of each rhyming together. There is a good deal of art in the metrical composition.


Back in the depths of ancient time;
Remote, before the Tîs began;
Four equal sides defined the earth,
And pillars eight the heaven sustained.
All living things in classes came,
The valleys wide, and mighty streams.
The Perfect Tao, with movement wise,
Unseen, its work did naturally.


Its power the elements all felt;
The incipient germs of things appeared.
Shepherd and Lord established were,
And in their hands the ivory bonds.*
The Tîs must blush before the Hwangs;
The Wangs must blush before the Tî s.
More distant grew Tao's highest gifts,
And simple ways more rare became.
'Bonds' with written characters on them superseded the 'knotted cords' of the primitive age. That the material of the bonds should be, as here represented, slips of ivory, would seem to anticipate the progress of society.


The still placidity was gone,
And all the old harmonious ways.
Men talents prized, and varnished wit;
The laws displayed proved but a net.
Wine-cups and stands the board adorned,
And shields and spears the country filled.
The close-meshed nets the fishes scared:
And numerous bows the birds alarmed.


Then did the True Man get his birth,
As 'neath the Bear the star shone down.
All dragon gifts his person graced;
Like the stork's plumage was his hair.
The complicated he resolved, the sharp made blunt,
The mean rejected, and the generous chose;
In brightness like the sun and moon,
And lasting as the heaven and earth.


Small to him seemed the mountains five,
And narrow seemed the regions nine;
About he went with lofty tread,
And in short time he rambled far.
In carriage by black oxen drawn,
Around the purple air was bright.
Grottoes then oped to him their sombre gates,
And thence, unseen, his spirit power flowed forth.


The village near the stream of Ko*
Traces of him will still retain;
But now, as in the days of old,
With changèd times the world is changed.
His stately temple fell to ruin
His altar empty was and still;
By the nine wells dryandras grew,
And the twin tablets were but heaps of stone.
The Ko is a river flowing from Ho-nan into An-hui, and falling into the Hwâi, not far from the district city of Hwâi-yüan. it enters the one province from the other in the small department of Po, in which, according to a Chinese map in my possession, Lao-tzu was born. The Khang-hsî Thesaurus also . . . the temple of his mother was . . . at a bend in the Ko.


But when our emperor was called to rule,
All spirit-like and sage was he.
Earth's bells reverberated loud,
And light fell on the heavenly mirror down.
The universe in brightness shone,
And portents all were swept away;
(All souls), or bright or dark, revered,
And spirits came to take from him their law.


From desert sands and where the great trees grow,
From phoenix caves, and from the dragon woods,
All different creatures came sincere;
Men of all regions gave their hearts to him.
Their largest vessels brought their gifts,
And kings their rarest things described;
Black clouds a thousand notes sent forth;
And in the fragrant winds were citherns heard.


Through his transforming power, the tripods were made sure;
And families became polite and courteous.
Ever kept he in mind (the sage) beneath the Pillar,
Still emulous of the sovereigns most ancient.
So has he built this pure temple,
And planned its stately structure;
Pleasant, with hills and meadows around,
And lofty pavilion with its distant prospect.


Its beams are of plum-tree, its ridge-pole of cassia;
A balustrade winds round it; many are its pillars;
About them spreads and rolls the fragrant smoke;
Cool and pure are the breezes and mists.
The Immortal officers come to their places;
The Plumaged guests are found in its court,
Numerous and at their ease,
They send down blessing, bright and efficacious.


Most spirit-like, unfathomable,
(Tao's) principles abide, with their symbolism attached.
Loud is its note, but never sound emits,
Yet always it awakes the highest echoes.
From far and near men praise It;
In the shades, and in the realms of light, they look up for its aid;
Reverently have we graven and gilt this stone
And made our lasting proclamation thereby to heaven and earth.


C. The Thai-Shang: Tractate of Actions and Their Retributions

Here comes one more of the later texts of Taoism. This treatise is more of what we understand by a sermon or popular tract. It sets forth a variety of traits of character and actions which are good, exhorting to the cultivation and performance of them - and lists and warns against others that are thought to be bad.

The treatise has been much popular in China. There are many editions and commentaries. The author of the treatise is not known, but the work might have been written during the Sung dynasty; originating in the 1000s AD, perhaps.

The Treatise

1: The thesis

The Thai-Shang (Tractate) says,

'There are no special doors for calamity and happiness (in men's lot); they come as men themselves call them. Their recompenses follow good and evil as the shadow follows the substance.

2: Machinery to secure retribution

'Accordingly, in heaven and earth there are spirits that take account of men's transgressions, and, according to the lightness or gravity of their offences, take away from their term of life. When that term is curtailed, men become poor and reduced, and meet with many sorrows and afflictions. All (other) men hate them; punishments and calamities attend them; good luck and occasions for felicitation shun them; evil stars send down misfortunes on them. When their term of life is exhausted they die.

'There also are the Spirit-rulers in the three pairs of the Thâi stars of the Northern Bushel over men's heads, which record their acts of guilt and wickedness, and take away (from their term of life) periods of twelve years or of a hundred days.
      'There also are the three Spirits of the recumbent body which reside within a man's person. As each kang-shän day comes round, they forthwith ascend to the court of Heaven, and report men's deeds of guilt and transgression. On the last day of the moon, the spirit of the Hearth does the same.

'In the case of every man's transgressions, when they are great, twelve years are taken from his term of life; when they are small, a hundred days.
      'Transgressions, great and small, are seen in several hundred things. He who wishes to seek for long life must first avoid these.

3: The way of a good man

'Is his way right, he should go forward in it; is it wrong, he should withdraw from it.

'He won't tread in devious by-ways; he won't impose on himself in any secret apartment. He will amass virtue and accumulate deeds of merit. He will feel kindly towards (all) creatures. He will be loyal, filial, loving to his younger brothers, and submissive to his elder. He will make himself correct and (so) transform others. He will pity orphans, and compassionate widows; he will respect the old and cherish the young. Even the insect tribes, grass, and trees he should not hurt.

'He ought to pity the malignant tendencies of others; to rejoice over their excellences; to help them in their straits; to rescue them from their perils; to regard their gains as if they were his own, and their losses in the same way; not to publish their shortcomings; not to vaunt his own superiorities; to put a stop to what is evil, and exalt and display what is good; to yield much, and take little for himself; to receive insult without resenting it, and honour with an appearance of apprehension; to bestow favours without seeking for a return, and give to others without any subsequent regret: this is what is called a good man. All other men respect him; Heaven in its course protects him; happiness and emolument follow him; all evil things keep far from him; the spiritual Intelligences defend him; what he does is sure to succeed. He may hope to become Immaterial and Immortal.

He who would seek to become an Immortal of Heaven ought to give the proof of 1300 good deeds; and he who would seek to become an Immortal of Earth should give the proof of three hundred.

4: The way of a bad man

'But if the movements (of a man's heart) are contrary to righteousness, and the (actions of his) conduct are in opposition to reason;
  if he regard his wickedness as a proof of his ability, and can bear to do what is cruel and injurious; 'But if the movements (of a man's heart) are contrary to righteousness, and the (actions of his) conduct are in opposition to reason;
  if he regard his wickedness as a proof of his ability, and can bear to do what is cruel and injurious;
  if he secretly harms the honest and good;
  if he treats with clandestine slight his ruler or parents;
  if he is disrespectful to his elders and teachers;
  if he disregards the authority of those whom he should serve; if he deceives the simple; if he calumniates his fellow-learners; if he vent baseless slanders, practise deception and hypocrisy, and attack and expose his kindred by consanguinity and affinity;
  if he is hard, violent, and without humanity; if he is ruthlessly cruel in taking his own way;
  if his judgements of right and wrong are incorrect; and his likings and aversions are in despite of what is proper;
  if he oppresses inferiors, and claims merit (for doing so); courts superiors by gratifying their (evil) desires; receives favours without feeling grateful for them; broods over resentments without ceasing;
  if he slights and makes no account of Heaven's people;
  if he trouble and throw into disorder the government of the state; bestows rewards on the unrighteous and inflicts punishments on the guiltless; kills men in order to get their wealth, and overthrows men to get their offices; slays those who have surrendered, and massacres those who have made their submission; throws censure on the upright, and overthrows the worthy; maltreats the orphan and oppresses the widow;
  if he casts the laws aside and receives bribes; holds the right to be wrong and the wrong to be right; enters light offences as heavy; and the sight of an execution makes him more enraged (with the criminal);
  if he knows his faults and does not change them, or knows what is good and does not do it; throws the guilt of his crimes on others;
  if he tries to hinder the exercise of an art (for a living); reviles and slanders the sage and worthy; and assails and oppresses (the principles of) reason and virtue; if he shoots birds and hunts beasts, unearths the burrowing insects and frightens roosting birds, blocks up the dens of animals and overturns nests, hurts the pregnant womb and breaks eggs;
  if he wishes others to have misfortunes and losses; and defames the merit achieved by others if he imperils others to secure his own safety; diminishes the property of others to increase his own; exchanges bad things for good; and sacrifices the public weal to his private advantage;
  if he takes credit to himself for the ability of others; conceals the excellences of others; publishes the things discreditable to others; and searches out the private affairs of others; leads others to waste their property and wealth; and causes the separation of near relatives; encroaches on what others love; and assists others in doing wrong; gives the reins to his will and puts on airs of majesty; puts others to shame in seeking victory for himself; injures or destroys the growing crops of others; and breaks up projected marriages; if becoming rich by improper means makes him proud; and by a peradventure escaping the consequences of his misconduct, he yet feels no shame;
  if he owns to favours (which he did not confer), and puts off his errors (on others); marries away (his own) calamity to another, and sells (for gain) his own wickedness; purchases for himself empty praise; and keeps hidden dangerous purposes in his heart; detracts from the excellences of others, and screens his own shortcomings if he takes advantage of his dignity to practise intimidation, and indulges his cruelty to kill and wound;
  if without cause he (wastes cloth) in clipping and shaping it; cooks animals for food, when no rites require it; scatters and throws away the five grains; and burdens and vexes all living creatures;
  if he ruins the families of others, and gets possession of their money and valuables; admits the water or raises fire in order to injure their dwellings; if he throws into confusion the established rules in order to defeat the services of others; and injures the implements of others to deprive them of the things they require to use; if, seeing others in glory and honour, he wishes them to be banished or degraded; or seeing them wealthy and prosperous, he wishes them to be broken and scattered;
  if he sees a beautiful woman and forms the thought of illicit intercourse with her; is indebted to men for goods or money, and wishes them to die; if, when his requests and applications are not complied with, his anger vents itself in imprecations;
  if he sees others meeting with misfortune, and begins to speak of their misdeeds; or seeing them with bodily imperfections he laughs at them; or when their abilities are worthy of praise, he endeavours to keep them back;
  if he buries the image of another to obtain an injurious power over him; or employs poison to kill trees;
  if he is indignant and angry with his instructors; or opposes and thwarts his father and elder brother;
  if he takes things by violence or vehemently demands them;
  if he loves secretly to pilfer, and openly to snatch; makes himself rich by plunder and rapine; or by artifice and deceit seeks for promotion;
  if he rewards and punishes unfairly;
  if he indulges in idleness and pleasure to excess; is exacting and oppressive to his inferiors; and tries to frighten other men;
  if he murmurs against Heaven and finds fault with men; reproaches the wind and reviles the rain;
  if he fights and joins in quarrels; strives and raises litigations; recklessly hurries to join associate fraternities; is led by the words of his wife or concubine to disobey the instructions of his parents; if, on getting what is new, he forgets the old; and agrees with his mouth, while he dissents in his heart;
  if he is covetous and greedy after wealth, and deceives and befools his superiors (to get it);
  if he invents wicked speeches to calumniate and overthrow the innocent; defames others and calls it being straightforward; reviles the Spirits and styles himself correct;
  if he casts aside what is according to right, and imitates what is against it; turns his back on his near relatives, and his face to those who are distant;
  if he appeals to Heaven and Earth to witness to the mean thoughts of his mind; or calls in the spiritual Intelligences to mark the filthy affairs of his life;
  if he gives and afterwards repents that he has done so; or borrows and does not return;
  if he plans and seeks for what is beyond his lot; or lays tasks (on people) beyond their strength;
  if he indulges his lustful desires without measure; if there be poison in his heart and mildness in his face; if he gives others filthy food to eat; or by corrupt doctrines deludes the multitude;
  if he uses a short cubit, a narrow measure, light weights, and a small pint; mixes spurious articles with the genuine; and (thus) amasses illicit gain;
  if he degrades (children or others of) decent condition to mean positions; or deceives and ensnares simple people;
  if he is insatiably covetous and greedy; tries by oaths and imprecations to prove himself correct; and in his liking for drink is rude and disorderly;
  if he quarrels angrily with his nearest relatives; and as a man he is not loyal and honourable; if a woman is not gentle and obedient;
  if (the husband) is not harmonious with his wife;
  if the wife does not reverence her husband; if he is always fond of boasting and bragging;
  if she is constantly jealous and envious;
  if he is guilty of improper conduct to his wife or sons;
  if she fails to behave properly to her parents-in-law; if he treats with slight and disrespect the spirits of his ancestors;
  if he opposes and rebels against the charge of his sovereign;
  if he occupies himself in doing what is of no use; and cherishes and keeps concealed a purpose other than what appears;
  if he utter imprecations against himself and against others (in the assertion of his innocence); or is partial in his likes and dislikes;
  if he strides over the well or the hearth; leaps over the food, or over a man; kills newly-born children or brings about abortions;
  if he does many actions of secret depravity;
  if he sings and dances on the last day of the moon or of the year; bawls out or gets angry on the first day of the moon or in the early dawn; weeps, spits, or urinates, when fronting the north sighs, sings, or wails, when fronting the fire-place and moreover, if he takes fire from the hearth to burn incense; or uses dirty firewood to cook with;
  if he rises at night and shows his person naked;
  if at the eight terms of the year he inflicts punishments;
  if he spits at a shooting star; points at a rainbow; suddenly points to the three luminaries; looks long at the sun and moon; in the months of spring burns the thickets in hunting; with his face to the north angrily reviles others; and without reason kills tortoises and smites snakes:
       'In the case of crimes such as these, (the Spirits) presiding over the Life, according to their lightness or gravity, take away the culprit's periods of twelve years or of one hundred days. When his term of life is exhausted, death ensues. If at death there remains guilt unpunished, judgement extends to his posterity.

5: Conclusion of the whole matter

'Moreover, when parties by wrong and violence take the money of others, an account is taken, and set against its amount, of their wives and children, and all the members of their families, when these gradually die. If they do not die, there are the disasters from water, fire, thieves, and robbers, from losses of property, illnesses, and (evil) tongues to balance the value of their wicked appropriations. Further, those who wrongfully kill men are (only) putting their weapons into the hands of others who will in their turn kill them.

'To take to one's self unrighteous wealth is like satisfying one's hunger with putrid food, or one's thirst with poisoned wine. It gives a temporary relief, indeed, but death also follows it.

'Now when the thought of doing good has arisen in a man's mind, though the good be not yet done, the good Spirits are in attendance on him. Or, if the thought of doing evil has arisen, though the evil be not yet done, the bad Spirits are in attendance on him.

'If one have, indeed, done deeds of wickedness, but afterwards alters his way and repents, resolved not to do anything wicked, but to practise reverently all that is good, he is sure in the long-run to obtain good fortune: this is called changing calamity into blessing. Therefore the good man speaks what is good, contemplates what is good, and does what is good; every day he has these three virtues: at the end of three years Heaven is sure to send down blessing on him. The bad man speaks what is wicked, contemplates what is wicked, and does what is wicked; every day he has these three vices: at the end of three years, Heaven is sure to send down misery on him. - How is it that men won't exert themselves to do what is good?'


D. Khing Käng King, 'The Classic of Purity'

This brochure may also be termed 'The classic of Purity and Rest'. It is called vague and shadowy, but 'treats the mental faculties.,' according to Wylie.
      Another point: "Lao-tzu said that all existing being came out of nothingness, though he does not indicate how." - James Legge.

The treatise is attributed to Ko Yüan (or Hsüan), a Taoist of the Wû dynasty (222-277 CE). Of him it is said that he attained to the state of an Immortal, and is generally so called - a worker of miracles - addicted to intemperance - very eccentric. When shipwrecked on one occasion, he emerged from beneath the water with his clothes unwet, and walked freely on its surface.

Ko is made to say, 'When I obtained the true Tao, I had recited this King [book]. . . it is what the spirits of heaven practise . . .'


1: Make a little effort, you too . . .

Lao the Master said that the Great Tao has no bodily form, but it produced and nourishes heaven and earth. The Great Tao has no passions, but it causes the sun and moon to revolve as they do.

The Great Tao has no name, but it effects the growth and maintenance of all things.

I don't know its name, but I make an effort, and call it the Tao.

2: Two forms of Tao

Now, the Tao (shows itself in two forms); the Pure and the Turbid, and has (the two conditions of) Motion and Rest. Heaven is pure and earth is turbid; heaven moves and earth is at rest. The masculine is pure and the feminine is turbid; the masculine moves and the feminine is still. The radical (Purity) descended, and the (turbid) issue flowed abroad; and thus all things were produced.

The pure is the source of the turbid, and motion is the foundation of rest.

If man could always be pure and still, heaven and earth would both revert (to non-existence).

3: A clean mind brings a pure spirit inside it (hopefully)

Now the spirit of man loves Purity, but his mind disturbs it. The mind of man loves stillness, but his desires draw it away. If he could always send his desires away, his mind would of itself become still. Let his mind be made clean, and his spirit will of itself become pure.

As a matter of course the six desires won't arise, and the three poisons will be taken away and disappear.

4: Serene stillness is had

The reason why men are not able to attain to this, is because their minds have not been cleansed, and their desires have not been sent away.

If one is able to send the desires away, when he then looks in at his mind, it is no longer his; when he looks out at his body, it is no longer his; and when he looks farther off at external things, they are things which he has nothing to do with.
      When he understands these three things, there will appear to him only vacancy. This contemplation of vacancy will awaken the idea of vacuity. Without such vacuity there is no vacancy.

The idea of vacuous space having vanished, that of nothingness itself also disappears; and when the idea of nothingness has disappeared, there ensues serenely the condition of constant stillness.

5: Purity possesses some true Tao

In that condition of rest independently of place how can any desire arise? And when no desire any longer arises, there is the True stillness and rest.
      That True (stillness) becomes (a) constant quality, and responds to external things (without error); yea, that True and Constant quality holds possession of the nature.

In such constant response and constant stillness there is the constant purity and Rest.

He who has this absolute purity enters gradually into the (inspiration of the) True Tao. And having entered thereinto, he is styled Possessor of the Tao.
      Although he is styled Possessor of the Tao, in reality he does not think that he has become possessed of anything. it is as accomplishing the transformation of all living things, that he is styled Possessor of the Tao.

He who is able to understand this may transmit to others the Sacred Tao.


1: Low-class scholars are fond of striving, but are not styled owners of Tao

Lao the Master said,

'Scholars of the highest class do not strive (for anything); those of the lowest class are fond of striving. Those who possess in the highest degree the attributes (of the Tao) do not show them; those who possess them in a low degree hold them fast (and display them). Those who so hold them fast and display them are not styled (Possessors of) the Tao and its attributes.

2: Try to seek and gain a true Tao instead of sinking in the sea of bitterness and worse

The reason why all men do not obtain the True Tao is because their minds are perverted. Their minds being perverted, their spirits become perturbed. Their minds being perturbed, they are attracted towards external things. Being attracted towards external things, they begin to seek for them greedily. This greedy quest leads to perplexities and annoyances; and these again result in disordered thoughts, which cause anxiety and trouble to both body and mind. The parties then meet with foul disgraces, flow wildly on through the phases of life and death, are liable constantly to sink in the sea of bitterness, and for ever lose the True Tao.

3: A still and pure Tao abides too

The True and Abiding Tao! They who understand it naturally obtain it. And they who come to understand. the Tao abide in purity and Stillness.


E. Classic of the Harmony of the Seen and the Unseen.'

No such work is now extant." - James Legge

The story goes that in AD 441 Khâu Khien-kih, who had usurped the dignity and title of Patriarch from the Kang family, deposited a copy of the Yin Fû King in a mountain cave. There it remained for about three centuries and a half, till it was discovered by Lî Khwan, a Taoist scholar, not a little damaged by its long exposure. He copied it out as well as he could, but could not understand it, till at last, wandering in the distant West, he met with an old woman, who made the meaning clear to him, at the foot of mount Lî; after which he published the Text with a Commentary, and finally died, a wanderer among the hills in quest of the Tao; but the place of his death was never known.

The Classic, as it now exists, therefore cannot be traced higher than our eighth century; and many critics hold that as the commentary was made by Lî Khwan, so the text was forged by him. Who knows?

The whole Treatise appears to me to have come down to us in a fragmentary condition. - James Legge.

Yin yang diagram

Li Hsî-yüeh . . . says that the Yin must be understood as including Yang, . . . 'The successive movement of the Yin and Yang (their rest and active operation) constitutes what is called the course (of things).'


1: Observe, and maintain own doings

If one observes the Way of Heaven, and maintains its doings (as his own), all that he has to do is accomplished.

'The superior man nerves himself to ceaseless activity.' - Lî Hsî-yüeh

2: Let operations produce prosperity

To Heaven there belong the five (mutual) foes, and he who sees them (and understands their operation) apprehends how they produce prosperity. The same five foes are in the mind of man, and when he can set them in action after the manner of Heaven, all space and time are at his disposal, and all things receive their transformations from his person.

3: An old way of Heaven set means a course of man is set

The nature of Heaven belongs (also) to Man; the mind of Man is a spring (of power). When the Way of Heaven is established, the (Course of) Man is thereby determined.

4: Man, a killer too

When Heaven puts forth its power of putting to death, the stars and constellations lie hidden in darkness. When Earth puts forth its power of putting to death, dragons and serpents appear on the dry ground. When Man puts forth his power of putting to death, Heaven and Earth resume their (proper course). When Heaven and Man exert their powers in concert, all transformations have their commencements determined.

5: Arising calamity tends to ruin. A sage advocates better culture

The nature (of man) is here clever and there stupid; and the one of these qualities may lie hidden in the other. The abuse of the nine apertures is (chiefly) in the three most important, which may be now in movement and now at rest. When fire arises in wood, the evil, having once begun, is sure to go on to the destruction of the wood.*) When calamity arises in a state, if thereafter movement ensue, it is sure to go to ruin.
      When one conducts the work of culture and refining wisely, we call him a Sage.

acupuncture control whell
* This refers to the Tao system at bottom of Chinese acupuncture as well, where the five system elements wood, fire, earth, air, and water are arranged in a pentagon, with pentagram lines among them, and so on. The building cycle is from wood and through the rest to water. The degenerating influence reverses this more or less somehow. There are many ways and arrangements. - TK


1: Gently the nourishing transformations take place

For Heaven now to give life and now to take it away is the method of the Tao. Heaven and Earth are the despoilers of all things; all things are the despoilers of Man; and Man is the despoiler of all things. When the three despoilers act as they ought to do, as the three Powers, they are at rest. Hence it is said,

'During the time of nourishment, all the members are properly regulated; when the springs of motion come into play, all transformations quietly take place.'

2: Fit service fosters added intelligence

Men know the mysteriousness of the Spirit's (action), but they don't know how what is not Spiritual comes to be so. The sun and moon have their definite times, and their exact measures as large and small. The service of the sages hereupon arises, and the spiritual intelligence becomes apparent.

3: Strengthening your body is fit

The spring by which the despoilers are moved is invisible and unknown to all under the sky. When the superior man has got it, he strengthens his body by it; when the small man has got it, he makes light of his life.


1: Connect with your inner source three times a day if you can

The blind hear well, and the deaf see well. To derive all that is advantageous from one source is ten times better than the employment of a host; to do this three times in a day and night is a myriad times better.

2: The greatest kindness is Heaven-sent

The mind is quickened (to activity) by (external) things, and dies through (excessive pursuit of) them. The spring (of the mind's activity) is in the eyes.
      Heaven has no (special feeling of) kindness, but so it is that the greatest kindness comes from It.

The crash of thunder and the blustering wind both come without design.

3: Heaven (Chien) is rather universal per se

Perfect enjoyment is the overflowing satisfaction of the nature. Perfect stillness is the entire disinterestedness of it. When Heaven seems to be most wrapt up in Itself, its operation is universal in its character.

4: From injury death springs, and what more?

It is by its breath that we control whatever creature we grasp. Life is the root of death, and death is the root of life. Kindness springs from injury, and injury springs from kindness. He who sinks himself in water or enters amidst fire brings destruction on himself.

5: Study heaven and eart and get sageness

The stupid man by studying the phenomena and laws of heaven and earth becomes sage; I by studying their times and productions become intelligent. He in his stupidity is perplexed about sageness; I in my freedom from stupidity am the same. He considers his sageness as being an extraordinary attainment; I do not consider mine so.

6: Yin and Yang catch one another in turns

The method of spontaneity proceeds in stillness, and so it was that heaven, earth, and all things were produced. The method of heaven and earth proceeds gently and gradually, and thus it is that the Yin and Yang overcome (each other by turns). The one takes the place of the other, and so change and transformation proceed accordingly.

7: Come brightly forward, as spontaneous as can be

Therefore the sages, knowing that the method of spontaneity cannot be resisted, take action accordingly and regulate it (for the purpose of culture). The way of perfect stillness cannot be subjected to numerical calculations; but it would seem that there is a wonderful machinery, by which all the heavenly bodies are produced, the eight diagrams, and the sexagenary cycle; spirit-like springs of power, and hidden ghostlinesses; the arts of the Yin and Yang in the victories of the one over the other: all these come brightly forward into visibility.

"They all have a deep meaning, but men do not know it. They who go to the Yin Fû for direction in war and use Lao-tzu for guidance in government go far astray from the meaning of both." - Added.

Taoist Classics of James Legge, Literature  

Legge, James, tr. The Texts of Taoism. Part 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891. ⍽▢⍽ The book is Volume 40 of the series Sacred Books of the East. It contains the text of all the works above.

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