致虛極,守靜篤。萬物並作,吾以觀復。夫物芸芸,各復歸其根。歸根曰靜;是謂復命。

1. The (state of) vacancy should be brought to the utmost degree, and that of stillness guarded with unwearying vigour. All things alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see them return (to their original state). When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root. This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness may be called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.

復命曰常。知常曰明;不知常妄作凶。知常容,容乃公。公乃王;王乃天。天乃道。道乃久;沒身不殆。

2. The report of that fulfilment is the regular, unchanging rule. To know that unchanging rule is to be intelligent; not to know it leads to wild movements and evil issues. The knowledge of that unchanging rule produces a (grand) capacity and forbearance, and that capacity and forbearance lead to a community (of feeling with all things). From this community of feeling comes a kingliness of character; and he who is king-like goes on to be heaven-like. In that likeness to heaven he possesses the Dao. Possessed of the Dao, he endures long; and to the end of his bodily life, is exempt from all danger of decay.

Legge's Comments

歸根, 'Returning to the Root.' This chapter exhibits the operation of the Dao in nature, in man, and in government; an operation silent, but all-powerful; unaccompanied with any demonstration of its presence, but great in its results.

An officer receives a charge or commission from his superior (受命); when he reports the execution of it he is said 復命. So all animate things, including men, receive their charge from the Dao as to their life, and when they have fulfilled it they are represented as reporting that fulfilment; and the fulfilment and report are described as their unchanging rule, so that they are the Dao's impassive instruments, having no will or purpose of their own,—according to Laozi's formula of 'doing nothing and yet doing all things (無為而無不為).'

The getting to possess the Dao, or to be an embodiment of it, follows the becoming Heaven or Heaven-like; and this is in accordance with the saying in the fourth chapter that 'the Dao might seem to have been before God.' But, in Zhuangzi especially, we often find the full possessor and displayer of the Dao spoken of as 'Heaven.' The last sentence, that he who has come to the full possession of the Dao is exempt from all danger of decay, is generally illustrated by a reference to the utterances in ch. 50; as if Laozi did indeed see in the Dao a preservative against death.

From Qigong Meditation: Embryonic Breathing1

1. Approach (Follow) the nothingness (emptiness) to its extremity and maintain calmness with sincerity. Millions of objects (lives) are in actions which allow us to observe their cyclic repetitions. Though there are so many objects, each individual must repeatedly return to its root (origin). When it returns to the root, it means 'calmness.' When it is calmed it means 'repetition of a life.'

2. When the life repeats, it means 'constant natural routine.' If (one) knows this constant natural routine , then (his mind) is clear (eηlightened). If (one) does not know this constant natural routine, then various unfortunate dangers could occur. If (one) knows this constant natural routine, then (life) is permitted. When life is permitted, then it is impartial. If it is impartial, then it can be completed. When it is completed, then it is heaven (nature). When it is heaven, it is the Dao. If it is the Dao, then it can be long and the death of the body will not be near.

From Qigong Meditation: Small Circulation1

1. Approach the nothingness (emptiness) to its extremity, and maintain calmness with sincerity. Millions of objects (lives) in action allow me to observe their cyclic repetition. Though there are so many objects, each individual must repeatedly return to its root (origin). When it returns to the root, it means calmness. When it is calmed, it means repetition of a life. When the life repeats, it means constant natural cycle.