天地不仁;以萬物為芻狗。聖人不仁,以百姓為芻狗。

1. Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be benevolent; they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are dealt with. The sages do not act from (any wish to be) benevolent; they deal with the people as the dogs of grass are dealt with.

天地之間,其猶橐籥乎?
虛而不屈;
動而愈出。
多言數窮;
不如守中。

2. May not the space between heaven and earth be compared to a bellows?
    'Tis emptied, yet it loses not its power;
    'Tis moved again, and sends forth air the more.
    Much speech to swift exhaustion lead we see;
    Your inner being guard, and keep it free.

Legge's Comments

虛用, 'The Use of Emptiness.' Quiet and unceasing is the operation of the Dao, and effective is the rule of the sage in accordance with it.

The grass-dogs in par. 1 were made of straw tied up in the shape of dogs, and used in praying for rain; and afterwards, when the sacrifice was over, were thrown aside and left uncared for. Heaven and earth and the sages dealt so with all things and with the people; but the illustration does not seem a happy one. Both Zhuangzi and Huainan mention the grass-dogs. See especially the former, XIV, 25 a, b. In that Book there is fully developed the meaning of this chapter. The illustration in par. 2 is better. The Chinese bellows is different to look at from ours, but the principle is the same in the construction of both. The par. concludes in a way that lends some countenance to the later Daoism's dealing with the breath.

From Qigong Meditation: Embryonic Breathing1

Heaven and Earth (i.e. Nature) does not have benevolence, therefore, all millions of objects (i.e. lives) are treated just like Chu Gou. Those holy men do not have benevolence, therefore, the populace are treated as Chu Gou. Between the Heaven and the Earth, is it just like the Tuo Yue? Empty but cannot be bent (i.e. resources cannot be exhausted), the more it moves, the more it produces. If (we) talk too much about it then it will be often limited (i.e. parted from the Dao). Therefore, it is better if we keep (ourselves) at the center (i.e. neutral thinking).2


  1. See Introduction, Addenda

  2. Further explanation "Chu Gou were sacrificial dogs that were made from straw and used for ceremonies of worship in ancient China" and "Tuo Yue is the bellows that was used to assist air circulation in ancient times".