Laozi's way empties and exhausts us. It's not something that empowers us.

Like a vortex, generations of living creatures. It dulls our sharp edges, loosens tight knots, dims bright lights, settles thick clouds of dust. Like an instinct, something that helps it survive.

Child of who knows what, eldest of the elder gods.


The title is from Heshanggong.

Every English translation I've seen describes as empty () and is our use of it. Here, , and are verbs, the object of each is , and all three complement the sayings as 's entropic balancing, moderating effect.

Given , , and , another theme of the poem is something like evolution.

In Heshanggong, the sayings are advice. Sharp edges () are the desire for worldly success, fame and fortune, which should be discouraged. Tangled knots () are grudges, which should be resolved by meditating on 's unbiased, hands-off approach (). Bright lights () are true believers who should learn to keep their lamp under a bushel, or at the very least not threaten people with violence. Finally, is fellowship. It's about living in the real world with everyone else, not keeping yourself separate and aloof.

I've been more or less literal with the sayings except that is more like equalize (as is more like harmonize) and is a cloud of dust or maybe a strong, lingering odor.

As if is saturated or soaked and is keep safe, preserve.

In pre-Qin and Han ctext, appears once in Laozi and once in Guoyu, and in Guoyu, it refers specifically to ancient sage-king Shun (). In Laozi I think it refers collectively to mythic gods and heroes of the distant past.


dào dǎo
辵 162 + 9
path, road, street; method, way
水 85 + 4
pour, infuse, steep; wash away
ér néng
而 126 + 0
and; and then; and yet; but; Kangxi radical 126
用 101 + 0
use, employ, apply, operate; use
zhī zhū
丿 4 + 3
marks preceding phrase as modifier of following phrase; it, him her, them; go to
huò yù
戈 62 + 4
or, either, else; perhaps, maybe
bù fǒu
一 1 + 3
no, not; un-; negative prefix
皿 108 + 4
fill; full, overflowing; surplus
水 85 + 8
gulf, abyss, deep
八 12 + 2
exclamatory particle
shì sì
人 9 + 5
resemble, similar to; as if, seem
禸 114 + 8
ten thousand; innumerable
牛 93 + 4
thing, substance, creature
宀 40 + 5
lineage, ancestry; ancestor, clan
cuò zuò
手 64 + 7
push down; chop down; grind
qí jī
八 12 + 6
his, her, its, their; that
金 167 + 7
sharp, keen, acute, pointed
jiě jiè
角 148 + 6
loosen, unfasten, untie; explain; hexagram ䷧
糸 120 + 4
in disorder, scattered, tangled
hé hè
口 30 + 5
harmony, peace; peaceful, calm
guāng guàng
儿 10 + 4
light, brilliant, shine; only
tóng tòng
口 30 + 3
same, similar; together with
土 32 + 11
dust, dirt, ashes, cinders
zhàn chén
水 85 + 9
deep; profound; clear; tranquil, placid
子 39 + 3
exist, live, be; survive; remain
wú yú
口 30 + 4
i, my, our; resist, impede
zhī zhì
矢 111 + 3
know, perceive, comprehend
shéi shuí
言 149 + 8
who? whom? whose? anyone?
zi zǐ
子 39 + 0
offspring, child; fruit, seed of; first earthly branch
豕 152 + 5
elephant; ivory; figure, image
巾 50 + 6
supreme ruler, emperor; god
儿 10 + 4
first, former, previous
wú mó
火 86 + 8
negative, no, not; lack, have no
水 85 + 10
spring; source, head; surname
火 86 + 5
do, handle, govern, act; be
舛 136 + 6
legendary ruler, last of the Five Emperors