Daodejing: back to the good old days

Ah, the good old days when men were men and, well, I’m sure you get my drift. Just like Confucius did with the Duke of Zhou, Laozi is attempting to evoke a golden age from deep antiquity that almost certainly never existed. He is imploring people to learn from the mythologized behavior of the (nameless) great masters of the past in the hope that everyone returns to the right path.

While appeals for a return to traditional values do still resonate among certain communities today, calls for changes in people’s behavior are now increasingly being driven by fear of impending crises in the future. I wonder if the latter form of discourse will be any more effective than the former.

古之善為道者,微妙玄通,深不可識。夫唯不可識,故強為之容。豫兮若冬涉川,猶兮若畏四鄰,儼兮其若客,渙兮若冰之將釋,敦兮其若樸,曠兮其若谷,渾兮其若濁。孰能濁以靜之徐清,孰能安以動之徐生。保此道者不欲盈,夫唯不盈,故能蔽而新成。
古之善為道者,微妙玄通,深不可識。夫唯不可識,故強為之容。豫兮若冬涉川,猶兮若畏四鄰,儼兮其若客,渙兮若冰之將釋,敦兮其若樸,曠兮其若谷,渾兮其若濁。孰能濁以靜之徐清,孰能安以動之徐生。保此道者不欲盈,夫唯不盈,故能蔽而新成。
The great masters of antiquity who were adept in the way,
Were subtle, clever, mysterious, and perceptive;
Their thoughts were too profound to be understood.
Because they could not be understood,
I am forced to attempt to describe them:
Cautious as if crossing a river in winter,
Alert as if aware of danger from all sides;
Dignified like a guest;
Expert in solving a problem as if melting a block of ice;
Honest and simple as an uncarved block of wood;
Open-minded like a valley;
Inscrutable like murky water.
Who can remain calm until the murky water clears?
Who can remain unperturbed until the right time to act arrives?
Those who embrace the way never seek fullness;
Precisely because they never seek fullness,
They can always renew themselves.

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