Tao Thought: Armor and Tao Te Ching Verse 54

Chinese Characters for "armor"

lithograph wonderful  textures shape of scissors

Ripe fruit, crisp greens, live grain,
Vital roots, tender meat, spring water.
Growing essence nourishes your own.
Essence alloyed with breath makes you flexible
but hard.
The sage’s body is armored.
The sage is impervious to death.

Those who follow Tao speak of three treasures in the body: essence, breath, and spirit.

Essence is the biochemical aspect of your body, nurtured by the food you eat, and regulated by the quality of your hormones. Therefore, all your food should be packed and glowing with energy. Eat food as close to its source as possible. Pray before you eat, for everything that you take, whether plant or animal, is living. You must consume to survive, but when you die, acknowledge that you will become food for others.

To build the breath, work and exercise diligently. Build stamina and discipline yourself. You will gain great flexibility and combined with hardened flesh, and you will be graceful. Immunity to minor physical traumas as well as many kinds of illness will be yours.

The ultimate training of the spirit begins with th e question of death. The sages see beyond dying. Though they must die, they also know that nothing is lost because no one owns body or mind anyway. Those who follow Tao safeguard themselves, and live their spirituality with a realistic appreciation of death. The establishment of essence, breath, and spirit is like wearing armor; the travails of the world mean nothing.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

“Sloping Scissors” Mao Xuhui 1999 Lithograph 25" x 20" YiBo Gallery
Mao Xuhui was born in Chongqing, Sichuan Province in 1956. In 1982 he graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Yunnan Academy of Fine Arts, Kunming, where he began teaching in 1996. He has participated in numerous group art exhibitions since 1985 and has had 2 solo exhibitions: "Dream of the Red Earth by Mao Xuhui," Soobin Art Gallery, Singapore 1997 and "Scissors," Hanart TZ Gallery, Hong Kong 1999.

Stanford Studies on Daoism


  • The Laozi Story
  • Date and Authorship of the Laozi
  • Textual Traditions
  • Commentaries
  • Approaches to the Laozi

Textual Traditions

The Guodian and Mawangdui manuscripts are certainly older than the received text of the Laozi, but this does not necessarily mean that they are therefore closer to the “original,” if there was an original. As opposed to a linear evolutionary model, it is conceivable that there were several overlapping collections of sayings attributed to Laozi from the start, each inhabiting a particular interpretive context, from which different versions of the Laozi were derived. Although some key chapters in the current Laozi that deal with the nature of Dao (e.g., chs. 1, 14) are not found in the Guodian corpus, the idea that the Dao is “born before heaven and earth,” for example, which is found in chapter 25 of the received text is already present. The critical claim that “being [you] is born of nonbeing [wu]” in chapter 40 also figures in the Guodian “A” text. This seems to argue against any suggestion that the Laozi, and for that matter ancient Chinese philosophical works in general were not interested or lacked the ability to engage in abstract philosophic thought, an assumption that sometimes appears to underlie evolutionary approaches to the development of Chinese philosophy.

The Guodian and Mawangdui finds are extremely valuable. They are syntactically clearer than the received text in some instances, thanks to the larger number of grammatical particles they employ. However, they cannot resolve all the controversies and uncertainties surrounding the Laozi. Perhaps the two approaches identified above are not mutually exclusive. Different written collections of Laozi sayings, leaving open the time and the way in which they were first formed, circulated during the fourth century. Overlapping in some cases and with varying emphases in others, they address both the nature of Dao and Daoist government. These were then developed in several ways—e.g., some collections were combined; new sayings were added; and explanatory comments, illustrations, and elaboration on individual sayings were integrated into the text. The demand for textual uniformity rose when the Laozi gained recognition, and consequently the different textual traditions eventually gave way to the received text of the Laozi.

As mentioned, the current Laozi on which most reprints, studies and translations are based is the version that comes down to us along with the commentaries by Wang Bi and Heshanggong. Three points need to be made in this regard. First, technically there are multiple versions of the Wang Bi and Heshanggong Laozi—over thirty Heshanggong versions are extant—but the differences are on the whole minor. Second, the Wang Bi and Heshanggong versions are not the same, but they are sufficiently similar to be classified as belonging to the same line of textual transmission. Third, the Wang Bi and Heshanggong versions that we see today have suffered change. Prior to the invention of printing, when each manuscript had to be copied by hand, editorial changes and scribal errors are to be expected. In particular, the Laozi text that now accompanies Wang Bi's commentary bears the imprint of later alteration, mainly under the influence of the Heshanggong version, and cannot be regarded as the Laozi that Wang Bi himself had seen and commented on. Boltz (1985) and Wagner (1989) have examined this question in some detail.

The “current” version refers to the “Sibu beiyao” and the “Sibu congkan” editions of the Daodejing. The former contains the Wang Bi version and commentary, together with a colophon by the Song scholar Chao Yuezhi (1059-1129), a second note by Xiong Ke (ca. 1111-1184)), and Lu Deming's (556-627) Laozi yinyi (Glosses on the Meaning and Pronunciation of the Laozi). It is a reproduction of the Qing dynasty “Wuying Palace” edition, which in turn is based on a Ming edition (see especially Hatano 1979). The Heshanggong version preserved in the Sibu congkan series is taken from the library of the famous bibliophile Qu Yong (fl. 1850). According to Qu's own catalogue, this is a Song version, published probably after the reign of the emperor Xiaozong (r. 1163-1189). Older extant versions include two incomplete Tang versions and fragments found in Dunhuang.

Besides the Guodian bamboo texts, the Mawangdui manuscripts, and the received text of Wang Bi and Heshanggong, there is an “ancient version” (guben) edited by the early Tang scholar Fu Yi (fl. 600). Reportedly, this version was recovered from a tomb in 574 C.E., whose occupant was a consort of the Chu general Xiang Yu (d. 202 B.C.E.), the rival of Liu Bang before the latter emerged victorious and founded the Han dynasty. A later redaction of the “ancient version” was made by Fan Yingyuan in the Song dynasty. There are some differences, but these two can be regarded as having stemmed from the same textual tradition.

Manuscript fragments discovered in the Dunhuang caves form another important source in Laozi research. Among them are several Heshanggong fragments (especially S. 477 and S. 3926 in the Stein collection, and P. 2639 in the Pelliot collection) and the important Xiang'er Laozi with commentary. Another Dunhuang manuscript that merits attention is the Suo Tan fragment, now at the University Art Museum, Princeton University, which contains the last thirty-one chapters of the Daodejing beginning with chapter 51 of the modern text. It is signed and dated at the end, bearing the name of the third-century scholar and diviner Suo Tan, who is said to have made the copy, written in ink on paper, in 270 C.E. According to Rao Zongyi (1955), the Suo Tan version belongs to the Heshanggong line of the Laozi text. A more recent study by William Boltz (1996) questions its third-century date and argues that the fragment in many instances also agrees with the Fu Yi “ancient version.”

While manuscript versions inform textual criticism of the Laozi, stone inscriptions provide further collaborating support. Over twenty steles, mainly of Tang and Song origins, are available to textual critics, although some are in poor condition (Yan 1957). Students of the Laozi today can work with several Chinese and Japanese studies that make use of a large number of manuscript versions and stone inscriptions (notably Ma 1965, Jiang 1980, Zhu 1980, and Shima 1973). Boltz (1993) offers an excellent introduction to the manuscript traditions of the Laozi.

daodejing verse fifty-four


What is planted right is not uprooted
what is held right is not ripped away
future generations worship it forever.

Cultivated in thee self
virtue becomes real
Cultivated in the family
virtue multiplies
Cultivated in the village
virtue increases
Cultivated in the state
virtue prospers
Cultivated in the world
virtue abounds.

Thus view the self through the self
View the family through the family
View the village through the village
View the state through the state
View the world through the world.

How do we know
what the world is like?
Through this.

— RED PINE translator


Plant yourself firmly in the Tao
and you won't ever be uprooted.
Embrace Tao firmly
and you won't ever be separated from it.
Your children will thrive,
and your children's children.

Cultivate goodness in your self,
and goodness will be genuine.
Cultivate it in your family,
and goodness will flourish.
Cultivate it in your community,
and goodness will grow and multiply.
Cultivate it in your country,
and goodness will be abundant.
Cultivate it in the world,
and goodness will be everywhere.

How do I know the world works like this?
By watching.



Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the universe
and the universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.


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