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Freedom Founts

Source Materials About Freedom




1. The things which from of old have got the One (the Dao) are—

    Heaven which by it is bright and pure;
    Earth rendered thereby firm and sure;
    Spirits with powers by it supplied;
    Valleys kept full throughout their void;
    All creatures which through it do live;
    Princes and kings who from it get
    The model which to all they give.

All these are the results of the One (Dao).

天無以清,將恐裂; 地無以寧,將恐發; 神無以靈,將恐歇; 谷無以盈,將恐竭; 萬物無以生,將恐滅; 侯王無以貴高,將恐蹶。

2. If heaven were not thus pure, it soon would rend;
    If earth were not thus sure, 'twould break and bend;
    Without these powers, the spirits soon would fail;
    If not so filled, the drought would parch each vale;
    Without that life, creatures would pass away;
    Princes and kings, without that moral sway,
    However grand and high, would all decay.


3. Thus it is that dignity finds its (firm) root in its (previous) meanness, and what is lofty finds its stability in the lowness (from which it rises). Hence princes and kings call themselves 'Orphans,' 'Men of small virtue,' and as 'Carriages without a nave.' Is not this an acknowledgment that in their considering themselves mean they see the foundation of their dignity? So it is that in the enumeration of the different parts of a carriage we do not come on what makes it answer the ends of a carriage. They do not wish to show themselves elegant-looking as jade, but (prefer) to be coarse-looking as an (ordinary) stone.

Legge's Comments

法本, 'The Origin of the Law.' In this title there is a reference to the Law given to all things by the Dao, as described in the conclusion of chapter 25. And the Dao affords that law by its passionless, undemonstrative nature, through which in its spontaneity, doing nothing for the sake of doing, it yet does all things.

The difficulty of translation is in the third paragraph. The way in which princes and kings speak depreciatingly of themselves is adduced as illustrating how they indeed got the spirit of the Dao; and I accept the last epithet as given by Heshang Gong, 'naveless' (), instead of (= 'the unworthy'), which is found in Wang Bi, and has been adopted by nearly all subsequent editors. To see its appropriateness here, we have only to refer back to chapter 11, where the thirty spokes, and the nave, empty to receive the axle, are spoken of, and it is shown how the usefulness of the carriage is derived from that emptiness of the nave. This also enables us to give a fair and consistent explanation of the difficult clause which follows, in which also I have followed the text of Heshang Gong. For his , Wang Bi has 輿, which also is found in a quotation of it by Huainanzi; but this need not affect the meaning. In the translation of the clause we are assisted by a somewhat similar illustration about a horse in the twenty-fifth of Zhuangzi's Books, par,. 10.