載營魄抱一,能無離乎。專氣致柔,能如嬰兒乎。滌除玄覽,能無疵乎。

1. When the intelligent and animal souls are held together in one embrace, they can be kept from separating. When one gives undivided attention to the (vital) breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a (tender) babe. When he has cleansed away the most mysterious sights (of his imagination), he can become without a flaw.

愛國治民,能無為乎﹖天門開闔,能為雌乎﹖明白四達,能無知乎﹖

2. In loving the people and ruling the state, cannot he proceed without any (purpose of) action? In the opening and shutting of his gates of heaven, cannot he do so as a female bird? While his intelligence reaches in every direction, cannot he (appear to) be without knowledge?

生之畜之;生而不有;為而不恃;長而不宰。是謂玄德。

3. (The Dao) produces (all things) and nourishes them; it produces them and does not claim them as its own; it does all, and yet does not boast of it; it presides over all, and yet does not control them. This is what is called 'The mysterious Quality' (of the Dao).

Legge's Comments

能為, 'Possibilities.' This chapter is one of the most difficult to understand and translate in the whole work. Even Zhu Xi was not able to explain the first member satisfactorily. The text of that member seems well supported; but I am persuaded the first clause of it is somehow corrupt.

The whole seems to tell what can be accomplished by one who is possessed of the Dao. In par. 3 he appears free from all self-consciousness in what he does, and of all self-satisfaction in the results of his doing. The other two paragraphs seem to speak of what he can do under the guidance of the Dao for himself and for others. He can by his management of his vital breath bring his body to the state of Daoistic perfection, and keep his intelligent and animal sounds from being separated, and he can rule men without purpose and effort. 'The gates of heaven' in par. 2 is a Daoistic phrase for the nostrils as the organ of the breath; see the commentary of Heshang Gong.

From Qigong Meditation: Embryonic Breathing1

1. When bearing and managing the Po (Vital Sirit) and embracing (maintaining) it to a singularity (simplicity), can it be not separating? When concentrating the Qi to reach its softness, cann it be as (soft as) a baby? When cleansing the thought to reach its purity, can it be no flaw?

2. When loving the people and ruling the country, can it be no ruling? The opening and closing of the Heaven Gate, can it be (calm and tender) as a female? To comprehend (nature) and reach the four directions (everywhere), can it be known without knowing?2

3. When bearing and raising, (if one can) bear without keeping it to self, raising without being meritorious, leading without controlling, then this is the way of "profound natural virtue."

From Qigong Meditation: Small Circulation1

1. When bearing and managing the Po (魄, Vital Spirit) and embracing the state of oneness (Bao Yi, 抱一), can it be not separate? When concentrating Qi to reach softness, can it be soft as a baby? When cleansing the thought to reach purity, can it be without flaw?


  1. See Introduction, Addenda

  2. Dr. Yang adds: "Tian Men (天門) (Heaven Gate) means 'The Third Eye' that allows you to communicate with nature".