Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – Chapter 15


The wise ones of old had subtle wisdom and depth of understanding,
So profound that they could not be understood.
And because they could not be understood,
So must they be thus described:
Cautious, like when one crosses an icy stream,
Vigilant, like one fearing danger all around,
Serious, like one acting as a guest,
Unassuming, like ice beginning to melt,
Genuine, like a piece of undressed wood,
Open-minded, like a valley,
And mixing freely, like murky water.

Who can find repose in a muddy world?
By lying still, it becomes clear.
Who can maintain his calm for long?
By activity, it comes back to life.

He who embraces this Tao
Guards against being over-filled.
Because he guards against being over-filled,
He is beyond wearing out and renewal.
(Translation by Lin Yutang)

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Here, Lao Tzu tells us the seven characteristics of the wise and old, or those who were monks. He is visionary and unfathomable. He is mysterious; we can barely describe him. However, Lao Tzu uses the following seven images to describe him-

1) Cautious, as if wading through an icy river in winter.
2) Alert, as if sensing the encroachment of an enemy.
3) Solemn, as if attending a grand feast.
4) Modest, as if he is slowly melting ice.
5) Genuine, as if he is a piece of undressed wood,
6) Open-minded, as if he is a valley,
7) Mixing freely, as if he is murky water.

Then Lao Tzu concludes that if muddy water settles and become clear after waiting patiently, therefore the wise will also remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself. In other words, he will stay calm and clear in chaotic times and seek change when it arrives.

Again, Lao Tzu tells those who observe the Tao to not seek fulfillment. Like a valley, always keep yourself empty and humble, so you are beyond wearing out and are open to renewal.

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