IT IS THE WAY OF HEAVEN to keep moving and to allow no piling up ‑ hence the ten thousand things come to completion. It is the Way of the emperor to keep moving and to allow no piling up ‑ hence the whole world repairs to his court. It is the Way of the sage to keep moving and to allow no piling up ‑ hence all within the seas bow to him. Comprehending Heaven, conversant with the sage, walker in the six avenues and four frontiers of the Virtue of emperors and kings ‑ the actions of such a man come naturally; dreamily, he never lacks stillness.

The sage is still not because he takes stillness to be good and therefore is still. The ten thousand things are insufficient to distract his mind ‑ that is the reason he is still. Water that is still gives back a clear image of beard and eyebrows; reposing in the water level, it offers a measure to the great carpenter. And if water in stillness possesses such clarity, how much more must pure spirit. The sage's mind in stillness is the mirror of Heaven and earth, the glass of the ten thousand things.

Emptiness, stillness, limpidity, silence, inaction ‑ these are the level of Heaven and earth, the substance of the Way and its Virtue. Therefore the emperor, the king, the sage rest in them. Resting, they may be empty; empty, they may be full; and fullness is completion.1 Empty, they may be still; still, they may move; moving, they may acquire. Still, they may rest in inaction; resting in inaction, they may demand success from those who are charged with activities. Resting in inaction, they may be merry; being merry, they may shun the place of care and anxiety, and the years of their life will be long.

Emptiness, stillness, limpidity, silence, inaction are the root of the ten thousand things. To understand them and face south is to become a ruler such as Yao was; to understand them and face north is to become a minister such as Shun was.2 To hold them in high station is the Virtue of emperors and kings, of the Son of Heaven; to hold them in lowly station is the way of the dark sage, the uncrowned king. Retire with them to a life of idle wandering and you will command first place among the recluses of the rivers and seas, the hills and forests. Come forward with them to succor the age and your success will be great, your name renowned, and the world will be united. In stillness you will be a sage, in action a king. Resting in inaction, you will be honored; of unwrought simplicity, your beauty will be such that no one in the world may vie with you.

He who has a clear understanding of the Virtue of Heaven and earth may be called the Great Source, the Great Ancestor. He harmonizes with Heaven; and by doing so he brings equitable accord to the world and harmonizes with men as well. To harmonize with men is called human joy; to harmonize with Heaven is called Heavenly joy. Chuang Tzu has said, "This Teacher of mine, this Teacher of mine ‑ he passes judgment on the ten thousand things but he doesn't think himself severe; his bounty extends to ten thousand generations but he doesn't think himself benevolent. He is older than the highest antiquity but he doesn't think himself long‑lived; he covers heaven, bears up the earth, carves and fashions countless forms, but he doesn't think himself skilled." 3 This is what is called Heavenly joy.

So it is said, for him who understands Heavenly joy, life is the working of Heaven; death is the transformation of things. In stillness, he and the yin share a single Virtue; in motion, he and the yang share a single flow. Thus he who understands Heavenly joy incurs no wrath from Heaven, no opposition from man, no entanglement from things, no blame from the spirits. So it is said, his movement is of Heaven, his stillness of earth. With his single mind in repose, he is king of the world; the spirits do not afflict him; his soul knows no weariness. His single mind reposed, the ten thousand things submit ‑ which is to say that his emptiness and stillness reach throughout Heaven and earth and penetrate the ten thousand things. This is what is called Heavenly joy. Heavenly joy is the mind of the sage, by which he shepherds the world.

The Virtue of emperors and kings takes Heaven and earth as its ancestor, the Way and its Virtue as its master, inaction as its constant rule. With inaction, you may make the world work for you and have leisure to spare; with action, you will find yourself working for the world and never will it be enough. Therefore the men of old prized inaction.

If superiors adopt inaction and inferiors adopt inaction as well, then inferior and superior will share the same virtue, and if inferior and superior share the same virtue, there will be none to act as minister. If inferiors adopt action and superiors adopt action as well, then superior and inferior will share the same way, and if superior and inferior share the same way, there will be none to act as lord. Superiors must adopt inaction and make the world work for them; inferiors must adopt action and work for the world. This is an unvarying truth.

Therefore the kings of the world in ancient times, though their knowledge encompassed all Heaven and earth, did not of themselves lay plans; though their power of discrimination embraced 4 the ten thousand things, they did not of themselves expound any theories; though their abilities outshone all within the four seas, they did not of themselves act. Heaven does not give birth, yet the ten thousand things are transformed; earth does not sustain, yet the ten thousand things are nourished. The emperor and the king do not act, yet the world is benefited. So it is said, nothing so spiritual as Heaven, nothing so rich as earth, nothing so great as the emperor and the king. So it is said, the Virtue of the emperor and the king is the counterpart of Heaven and earth. This is the way to mount upon Heaven and earth, to make the ten thousand things gallop, to employ the mass of men.

The source rests with the superior, the trivia with the inferior; the essential resides in the ruler, the details in his ministers. The blandishments of the three armies and the five weapons ‑ these are the trivia of Virtue. The doling out of rewards and punishments, benefit and loss, the five penalties ‑ these are the trivia of public instruction.5 Rites and laws, weights, measures, the careful comparison of forms and names6 ‑ these are the trivia of good government. The tones of bell and drum, the posturings of feather and tassel ‑ these are the trivia of music.7 Lamentation and coarse garments, the mourning periods of varying lengths ‑ these are the trivia of grief. These five trivia must wait for the movement of pure spirit, for the vitality of the mind's art before they can command respect. The study of such trivia was known to antiquity but the men of old gave them no precedence.

The ruler precedes, the minister follows; the father precedes, the son follows; the older brother precedes, the younger brother follows; the senior precedes, the junior follows; the man precedes, the woman follows; the husband precedes, the wife follows. Honor and lowliness, precedence and following are part of the workings of Heaven and earth, and from them the sage draws his model.

Heaven is honorable, earth lowly ‑ such are their ranks in spiritual enlightenment. Spring and summer precede, autumn and winter follow ‑ such is the sequence of the four seasons. The ten thousand things change and grow, their roots and buds, each with its distinctive form, flourishing and decaying by degree, a constant flow of change and transformation. If Heaven and earth, the loftiest in spirituality, have yet their sequence of honorable and lowly, of preceder and follower, how much more must the way of man! In the ancestral temple, honor is determined by degree of kinship; in the court, by degree of nobility; in the village, by degree of seniority; in the administration of affairs, by degree of worth. This is the sequence of the Great Way.

If you speak of the Way and not of its sequence, then it is not a way; and if you speak of a way that is not a way, then how can anyone make his way by it? Therefore the men of ancient times who clearly understood the Great Way first made clear Heaven and then went on to the Way and its Virtue. Having made clear the Way and its Virtue, they went on to benevolence and righteousness. Having made clear benevolence and righteousness, they went on to the observance of duties. Having made clear the observance of duties, they went on to forms and names. Having made clear forms and names,  they went on to the assignment of suitable offices. Having  made clear the assignment of suitable offices, they went on to the scrutiny of performance. Having made clear the scrutiny of performance, they went on to the judgment of right and wrong. Having made clear the judgment of right and wrong, they went on to rewards and punishments. Having made clear rewards and punishments, they could be certain that stupid and wise were in their proper place, that eminent and lowly were rightly ranked, that good and worthy men as well as unworthy ones showed their true form, that all had duties suited to their abilities, that all acted in accordance with their titles. It was in this way that superiors were served, inferiors were shepherded, external things were ordered, the inner man was trained. Knowledge and scheming were unused, yet all found rest in Heaven. This was called the Great Peace, the Highest Government. Hence the book says, "There are forms and there are names."8 Forms and names were known to antiquity, but the men of old gave them no precedence.

Those who spoke of the Great Way in ancient times could count to five in the sequence [described above] and pick out "forms and names," or count to nine and discuss "rewards and punishments." But to jump right in and talk about "forms and names" is to lack an understanding of the source; to jump right in and talk about "rewards and punishments" is to lack an understanding of the beginning. Those who stand the Way on its head before describing it, who turn it backwards before expounding it, may be brought to order by others, but how could they be capable of bringing others to order? Those who jump right in and talk about "forms and names," "rewards and punishments," have an understanding of the tools for bringing order, but no understanding of the way to bring order. They may work for the world, but they are not worthy to make the world work for them. They are rhetoricians, scholars cramped in one corner of learning. Rites and laws, weights and measures, the careful comparison of forms and names ‑ the men of old had all these. They are the means by which those below serve those above, not the means by which those above shepherd those below.

Long ago Shun asked Yao, "As Heaven‑appointed king, how do you use your mind?"

Yao replied, "I never abuse those who have nowhere to sue, nor reject the poor people. Grieving for the dead, comforting the orphan, pitying the widow ‑ I use my mind in these things alone."

Shun said, "Admirable, as far as admirableness goes. But not yet great."

Yao said, "Then what should I do?"

Shun said, "Heaven raised on high, earth in peace,9 sun and moon shining, the four seasons marching ‑ if you could be like the constant succession of day and night, the clouds which move, the rains that fall!"

"And to think I have been going to all this bustle and bother!" said Yao. "You are one who joins with Heaven; I am one who joins with man."

Heaven and earth have been called great since ancient times, have been praised in chorus by the Yellow Emperor, Yao, and Shun. The kings of the world in ancient times ‑ what need had they for action? Heaven and earth was enough for them.

Confucius went west to deposit his works with the royal house of Chou. Tzu‑lu advised him, saying, "I have heard that the Keeper of the Royal Archives is one Lao Tan, now retired and living at home. If you wish to deposit your works, you might try going to see him about it."

"Excellent!" said Confucius, and went to see Lao Tan, but Lao Tan would not give permission. Thereupon Confucius unwrapped his Twelve Classics and began expounding them.10 Halfway through the exposition, Lao Tan said, "This will take forever! Just let me hear the gist of the thing"

"The gist of it," said Confucius, "is benevolence and righteousness."

"May I ask if benevolence and righteousness belong to the inborn nature of man?" said Lao Tan.

"Of course," said Confucius. "If the gentleman lacks benevolence, he will get nowhere; if he lacks righteousness, he cannot even stay alive. Benevolence and righteousness are truly the inborn nature of man. What else could they be?"

Lao Tan said, "May I ask your definition of benevolence and righteousness?"

Confucius said, "To be glad and joyful 11  in mind; to embrace universal love and be without partisanship ‑ this is the true form of benevolence and righteousness."

Lao Tan said, "Hmm ‑ close‑except for the last part. `Universal love' ‑ that's a rather nebulous ideal, isn't it? And to be without partisanship is already a kind of partisanship. Do you want to keep the world from losing its simplicity? 12

Heaven and earth hold fast to their constant ways, the sun and moon to their brightness, the stars and planets to their ranks, the birds and beasts to their flocks, the trees and shrubs to their stands. You have only to go along with Virtue in your actions, to follow the Way in your journey, and already you will be there. Why these flags of benevolence and righteousness so bravely upraised, as though you were beating a drum and searching for a lost child? Ah, you will bring confusion to the nature of man!"

Shih Ch'eng‑ch'i went to see Lao Tzu. "I had heard that you were a sage," he said, "and so, without minding how long the road was, I came to beg an interview ‑ a hundred nights along the way, feet covered with calluses, and yet I did not dare to stop and rest. Now that I see you, though, I find you are no sage at all. Rat holes heaped with leftover grain and yet you turn your little sister out of the house, an unkind act indeed! More raw and cooked food in front of you than you can ever get through, and yet you go on endlessly hoarding goods!" 13 Lao Tzu looked blank and made no reply.

The following day, Shih Ch'eng‑ch'i came to see him again and said, "Yesterday I was very sharp with you, but now I have no heart for that sort of thing.14 I wonder why that is?"

Lao Tzu said, "Artful wisdom, the spirit‑like sage ‑ I hope I have shuffled off categories of that sort! If you'd called me an ox, I'd have said I was an ox; if you'd called me a horse, I'd have said I was a horse. If the reality is there and you refuse to accept the name men give it, you'll only lay yourself open to double harassment. My submission is a constant submission; I do not submit because I think it time to submit."

Shih Ch'eng‑ch'i backed respectfully away so that he would not tread on Lao Tzu's shadow, and then advanced once more in humble manner and asked how he should go about cultivating his person.

Lao Tzu said, "Your face is grim, your eyes are fierce, your forehead is broad, your mouth gaping, your manner overbearing, like a horse held back by a tether, watching for a chance to bolt, bounding off as though shot from a crossbow. Scrutinizing ever so carefully, crafty in wisdom, parading your arrogance ‑ all this invites mistrust. Up in the borderlands a man like you would be taken for a thief!"

The Master said: The Way does not falter before the huge, is not forgetful of the tiny; therefore the ten thousand things are complete in it. Vast and ample, there is nothing it does not receive. Deep and profound, how can it be fathomed? Punishment and favor,15 benevolence and righteousness ‑ these are trivia to the spirit, and yet who but the Perfect Man can put them in their rightful place?

When the Perfect Man rules the world, he has hold of a huge thing, does he not? ‑ yet it is not enough to snare him in entanglement. He works the handles that control the world, but is not a party to the workings. He sees clearly into what has no falsehood and is unswayed by thoughts of gain. He ferrets out the truth of things and knows how to cling to the source. Therefore he can put Heaven and earth outside himself, forget the ten thousand things, and his spirit has no cause to be wearied. He dismisses benevolence and righteousness, rejects16 rites and music, for the mind of the Perfect Man knows where to find repose.

Men of the world who value the Way all turn to books. But books are nothing more than words. Words have value; what is of value in words is meaning. Meaning has something it is pursuing, but the thing that it is pursuing cannot be put into words and handed down. The world values words and hands down books but, though the world values them, I do not think them worth valuing. What the world takes to be value is not real value.

What you can look at and see are forms and colors; what you can listen to and hear are names and sounds. What a pity! ‑ that the men of the world should suppose that form and color, name and sound are sufficient to convey the truth of a thing. It is because in the end they are not sufficient to convey truth that "those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know." 17 But how can the world understand this!

Duke Huan was in his hall reading a book. The wheelwright P'ien, who was in the yard below chiseling a wheel, laid down his mallet and chisel, stepped up into the hall, and said to Duke Huan, "This book Your Grace is reading ‑ may I venture to ask whose words are in it?"

"The words of the sages," said the duke.

"Are the sages still alive?"

"Dead long ago," said the duke.

"In that case, what you are reading there is nothing but the chaff and dregs of the men of old!"

"Since when does a wheelwright have permission to comment on the books I read?" said Duke Huan. "If you have some explanation, well and good. If not, it's your life!"

Wheelwright P'ien said, "I look at it from the point of view of my own work. When I chisel a wheel, if the blows of the mallet are too gentle, the chisel slides and won't take hold. But if they're too hard, it bites in and won't budge. Not too gentle, not too hard ‑ you can get it in your hand and feel it in your mind. You can't put it into words, and yet there's a knack to it somehow. I can't teach it to my son, and he can't learn it from me. So I've gone along for seventy years and at my age I'm still chiseling wheels. When the men of old died, they took with them the things that couldn't be handed down. So what you are reading there must be nothing but the chaff and dregs of the men of old."