Tao Thought: Shrine daodejing55

Chinese Characters for "shrine"

Wade the warm stream to
The shrine across the river of golden sound,
Where a drunken bee drones the holy syllable
Over a crimson lotus.
Rich mango magenta and spice offerings
Are piled high by the devout.
Entering into hut of blue stone—
Cool black interior smeared with incense and
Pierced with tiny triangles of candle flame—
Ordinary cares fall to the crystalline floor.
Fiery letters appear in the air
And reappear in your heart.

It is good to have a holy places in the world, and it is good for us to go on pilgrimages. Ultimately, it isnot the place that is important; it is what you feel that is lasting.To visit a place is minor; to change within yourself is greater.

When people visit a holy place, some say that the spirits of the place speak to them. Others remember the exotic pageantry. When it comes to sacred sites, it’s better to be a pilgrim than a tourist. Go with a humble attitude, and let your heart be moved by what you experience. Then you will receive the true treasure of the

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao

Stanford Studies on Daoism


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


Commentaries to the Laozi offer an invaluable guide to interpretation and are important also for their own contributions to Chinese philosophy and religion. Two chapters in the Hanfeizi (chs. 21-22) are entitled “Explaining the Laozi” (Jie Lao) and “Illustrating the Laozi” (Yu Lao), which can be regarded as the earliest extant commentary to the classic. The “bibliographical” section of the Hanshu (History of the Former Han Dynasty) lists four commentaries to the Laozi, but they have not survived. Nevertheless, Laozi learning began to flourish from the Han period. The commentaries by Heshanggong, Yan Zun, Wang Bi, and the Xiang'er commentary will be introduced in what follows. Some mention will also be made of later developments in the history of the Daodejing. The late Isabelle Robinet has contributed an important pioneering study of the early Laozi commentaries (1977; see also Robinet 1998).

Traditionally, the Heshanggong commentary is regarded as a product of the early Han dynasty. The name Heshanggong means an old man who dwells by the side of the river, and some have identified the river in question to be the Yellow River. An expert on the Laozi, he caught the attention of Emperor Wen, who went personally to consult him. Heshanggong revealed to the emperor his true identity as a divine emissary sent by the “Supreme Lord of the Dao” — i.e., the divine Laozi — to teach him. The emperor proves a humble student, as the legend concludes, worthy of receiving the Daodejing with Heshanggong's commentary (Chan 1991a).

Recent Chinese studies generally place the commentary at the end of the Han period, although some Japanese scholars would date it to as late as the sixth century C.E. It is probably a second-century C.E. work and reflects the influence of the “Huang-Lao” (Yellow Emperor and Laozi) school, which flourished during the early Han dynasty (Chan 1991b). Called in early sources the Laozi zhangju, it belongs to the genre of zhangju literature, prevalent in Han times, which one may paraphrase as commentary by “chapter and sentence.” Its language is simple; its imagination, down-to-earth. The Heshanggong commentary shares with other Han works the cosmological belief that the universe is constituted by qi or “vital energy.” On this basis, interpreting the text in terms of yin-yang theory, the Laozi is seen to disclose not only the mystery of the origin of the universe but also the secret to personal well-being and sociopolitical order.

daodejing verse fifty-five: translations


He who contains virtue in abundance
resembles a newborn child
wasps don't sting him
beasts don't claw him
birds of prey don't carry him off
his bones are weak and his tendons are soft
and yet his grip is firm

He hasn't known the union of sexes
and yet his penis is stiff
so full of essence is he

He cries all day
yet ever gets hoarse
so full of breath is he
who knows how to breath endures
who knows how to endure is wise

Who lengthens his life tempts luck
who breathes with his will is strong

But virility means old age
this isn't the Way
what isn't the Way
ends early



She who is filled with goodness
is like a newborn child:
wasps and snakes will not bite it,
fierce beasts will not attack it,
birds of prey will not pounce on it.

Its bones are soft and its muscles weak,
but its grip is firm.

It hasn't yet known the union of male and female,
yet its organ stirs with vitality.

It can howl all day without becoming hoarse,
so perfect is its harmony.
To know harmony is to know the eternal.
To know the eternal is to be illumined.

Prolonging life is not harmonious./
Coercing the breath is unnatural.

Things which are overdeveloped must decay.
All this is contrary to Tao,
and whatever is contrary to Tao
soon ceases to be.



He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn't know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master's power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

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