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.



Tao Thought: Sage and Tao te Ching Verse 53



Were I sufficiently wise
I would follow the Great Way
and only fear going astray

The Great Way is smooth
but people love byways

Their palaces are spotless
their fields are overgrown
and their granaries are empty

They wear fine clothes
they carry sharp swords
they tire of food and drink
and possess more than they need

This is called robbery
and robbery is not the Way



Because I have a little wisdom,
I choose to walk the great path of Tao
and fear nothing except to stray from it.

The great way is very smooth and easy,
but some people are fond of getting sidetracked.

When a ruler's palace is full of treasure,
the people's fields are weedy
and their granaries are empty.

If the ruler wears fancy clothes
and his house is full of weapons,
if his table is laden with extravagant food and drink
and everywhere one looks he has more wealth than he can use,
the ruler is a robber and thief.

This is not in keeping with Tao.



The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
While farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn-
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.


Ancient sages lived in forests and
Wandered from village to village.
Sharing openly, teaching the people
Without profit or ownership.

There were more holy aspirants in ancient times. These men and women cultivated themselves in the mountains or wandered among forests and streams. When they came to a village and saw that there was some knowledge that could be imparted to the people, they did so openly. Once they taught what was necessary, they disappeared, knowing that others would follow behind them. They did not establish religious schools, temples, or philosophies bearing their names. They knew knowledge did not belong to anyone. It could not be owned, parceled out for profit, or withheld selfishly.

Nowadays, many people regard knowledge as a mere commodity to be packaged, marketed, and sold. Their interest is not in benefit for others' souls but for their own pocketbooks. For example, one contemporary master requires a thousand ounces of gold before he will teach a single technique. We live in a world where the selfless sharing of knowledge is no longer a virtue.

The more knowledge that you give away, the more will come to you. The more you hoard, the less you will accumulate. Be compassionate to others. What do you have to fear by being open?

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

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Tao Thought: Meditation and Tao Te Ching Verse 52

Tao te Ching Verse Fifty-two on Facebook


The world has a maiden
she becomes the world's mother

Who knows the mother understands the child
who understands the child
keeps the mother safe
and lives without trouble

Who blocks the opening
who closes the gate
lives without toil

Who unblocks the opening
who meddles in affairs
lives without hope

Who sees the small has vision
who protects the weak has strength

Who uses his light
who trusts his vision
lives beyond death

This is the Hidden Immortal



The origin and mother of everything in the world is Tao.

Know the mother and you can know the children.
Having known the children,
return to their source and hold on to her.
Abiding by the mother,
you are free from danger,
even when your body dies.

Don't live for your senses.
Close your mouth, close all the body's openings,
and reside in the original unity.
In this way you can pass your
life in peace and contentment.

Open your mouth,
increase your activities,
start making distinctions between things,
and you'll toil forever without hope.

See the subtle and be illuminated.
Abide in gentleness and be strong.

Use your light, and return to insight.
Don't expose yourself to trouble.
This is following Tao.



In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgements
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren't led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.


Sit still and disengage normal activities.
Draw energy from the earth,
Admit power from the heavens.
Fertilize the seed within;
Let it sprout into a flower of pure light.
And let brightness open the top of your head:
Divine light will come pouring in.
Your mind is empty,
Light seeps into your whole body.
Sitting cross-legged, with hands clasped,
As if trying to embrace the brilliant flood,
Your skin turns transparent.
How can a bag of skin hold divine magnitude?
Your last vestiges burn away in a torrent of infinity.

Only after indeterminate time do you return.
Flesh, blood, bone.
Were you gone? Or were you never here in the first place?
Where is the torrent?
It is not gone;
You've only closed to it once more.

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

any artwork that is my own is public domain as I recognize its impermanence - other artwork on website has attribution and source listed for your resources only

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Tao Thought: Totality and Tao Te Ching Verse Fifty One


The Way begets them
Virtue keeps them
matter shapes them
usage completes them

Thus do all things honour the Way
and glorify Virtue

The honour of the Way
the glory of Virtue
and not conferred but always so
The Way begets and keeps them
cultivates and trains them
steadies and adjusts them
nurtures and protects them

But begets without possessing
acts without presuming
and cultivates without controlling

This is called Dark Virtue



Tao gives life to all beings.
Nature nourishes them.
Fellow creatures shape them.
Circumstances complete them.
Everything in existence
respects Tao and honours nature
not by decree, but spontaneously.

Tao gives life to all beings.
Nature watches over them,
develops them, shelters them,
nurses them, grows them,
ripens them, completes them,
buries them, and returns them.

Giving birth, nourishing life,
shaping things without possessing them,
serving without expectation of reward,
leading without dominating:
These are the profound virtues of nature,
and of nature's best beings.



Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them,
protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.


Those who consider their path superior are condescending.
A parrot who speaks of the totality of the self is absurd.
Many paths lead to the summit,
But it takes a whole body to get there.

Once I met a woman who was a lifelong Christian. She had two sons who practiced yoga. She thought that was wonderful, but they arrogantly considered their beliefs to be superior to hers and told her that she was not doing enough for her spiritual salvation.

No one has a right to condemn another person's spiritual beliefs. No spiritual system is superior to another. Each one of us should have the philosophy and practices that work for us. We should be happy once we find it, we should help those who are interested in the spirituality we represent, but none of us should behave condescendingly toward others' spirituality.

We are all trying to get to the summit of spiritual realization, and there are many valid paths leading to the top. Of course, the view and terrain on one side of a mountain will differ from the other, but the summit is identical no matter what your approach.

Whatever your path, all that matters is that you commit yourself totally to following it. Others will do the same. As long as we all climb, each from our own direction, and reach the summit of human spirituality, we can achieve complete totality in our lives. Then all the fracturing discussions of sects and different religions become unnecessary.

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

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Tao Thought: Master and Tao Te Ching Verse 50


Tao te Ching Verse Fifty can be found at Facebook
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Appearing means life
disappearing means death

Thirteen are the followers of life
thirteen are the followers of death
but people living to live
join the land of death's thirteen
and why?
Because they live to live.

it's said that those who guard life well
aren't injured by soldiers in battle
or harmed by rhinos or tigers
in the wild.

For rhinos have nowhere
to sink their horns
tigers have nowhere
to sink their claws
and soldiers have nowhere
to sink their blades.
And why?
Because for them
there is no land of death.



Between their births and their deaths,
three out of ten are attached to life,
three out of ten are attached to death,
three out of ten
are just idly passing through.
Only one knows how
to die and stay dead
and still go on living.

That one hasn't any ambitions,
hasn't any ideas,
makes no plans.
From this mysterious place
of not-knowing and non-doing
he gives birth
to whatever is needed
in the moment.

Because he is constantly
filling his being with nonbeing,
he can travel the wilds
without worrying about tigers
or wild buffalo,
Or he can cross a battlefield
without armour or weapon.

No tiger can claw him.
No buffalo can gore him.
No weapon can pierce him.

Why is this so?
Because he has died,
there isn't any more room
for death in him.



The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and her has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn't think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day's work.


Deception occurs when you are divided,
Truth appears when you are whole.
Uniting male and female brings illumination,
The real master is a perfect light.

No one is ineligible to know higher truth. When concentration, energy, and thinking are scattered, we cannot break out of ignorance. The diversity and contradictions of existence confuse us, and appearances deceive us.

Do we need a master to help us in this struggle to know the truth? In the beginning we do. What is not often said is that the human master is but a temporary and imperfect manifestation of the ultimate truth. Without a master, you cannot make a beginning. If you never look beyond the person, you will never attain the entirety. A good master leads you to the true master within. Only that master, who is your own higher self, can adequately answer all questions.

Once you unite all elements within yourself, metaphorically referred to as the uniting of male and female, the light that dispels darkness appears. Just as all colored light together makes colorless light, so too does the combination of all our facets result in the integration of our polarities. When this happens, you will "see" a light in your meditations. This light brings knowledge. That is why it is called the true master.

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

any artwork that is my own is public domain as I recognize its impermanence - other artwork on website has attribution and source listed for your resources only


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