1. All things are produced by the Dao, and nourished by its outflowing operation. They receive their forms according to the nature of each, and are completed according to the circumstances of their condition. Therefore all things without exception honour the Dao, and exalt its outflowing operation.
2. This honouring of the Dao and exalting of its operation is not the result of any ordination, but always a spontaneous tribute.
3. Thus it is that the Dao produces (all things), nourishes them, brings them to their full growth, nurses them, completes them, matures them, maintains them, and overspreads them.
4. It produces them and makes no claim to the possession of them; it carries them through their processes and does not vaunt its ability in doing so; it brings them to maturity and exercises no control over them;—this is called its mysterious operation.
養德, 'The Operation (of the Dao) in Nourishing Things.' The subject of the chapter is the quiet passionless operation of the Dao in nature, in the production and nourishing of things throughout the seasons of the year;—a theme dwelt on by Laozi, in II, 4, X, 3, and other places.
The Dao is the subject of all the predicates in par. 1, and what seem the subjects in all but the first member should be construed adverbially.
On par. 2 Wu Cheng says that the honour of the Son of Heaven is derived from his appointment by God, and that then the nobility of the feudal princes is derived from him; but in the honour given to the Dao and the nobility ascribed to its operation, we are not to think of any external ordination. There is a strange reading of two of the members of par. 3 in Wang Bi, viz. 亭之毒之 for 成之熟之.1 This is quoted and predicated of 'Heaven,' in the Nestorian Monument of Xi'an in the eighth century.
From Qigong Meditation: Small Circulation2
1. When Dao is born, the natural virtues are raised, objects are formed, and the natural state will be complete.
The Chinese transcription follows the "strange reading" of Wang Bi since it is the consensus of most versions, including the recent Mawangdui texts. A corresponding modification of Legge's translation might replace "completes them, matures them" by "shelters them, heals them". ↩