Daodejing Chapter 15: the great masters of antiquity

Daodejing

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 Dao,
Were subtle, clever, mysterious, and perceptive;
Their thoughts were too profound to be understood.
Because they could not be understood,
The best I can do is describe their appearance:
Cautious as if crossing a river in winter,
Alert as if aware of danger from all sides;
Dignified like a guest;
Yielding like a melting block of ice;
Simple like an uncarved block of wood;
Open-minded like a valley;
Opaque like muddy water.
Who can remain calm until the mud settles?
Who can remain tranquil until the right time to act arrives?
Those who embrace the Dao never seek fulfillment;
Precisely because they never seek fulfillment,
They can always renew themselves.

What are the qualities that you will develop by following the way? Although he claims that he can only “attempt” to describe these qualities, Laozi paints a vivid portrait of the “great masters of antiquity” who had absorbed its teachings to provide you with the right example to follow.

The highly-evocative metaphors he employs make it easy to picture how people possessing these qualities look like and behave. They are cautious and alert, dignified and practical, honest and simple, open-minded and inscrutable, and patient and unruffled.

As a result, they remain humble and balanced. Like the way itself, they are like an empty vessel that never fills up*.

*See Chapter 4 :

「道沖而用之,或不盈。」

“The way is an empty vessel; But as much as it is drawn from, it never fills up.”

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