The transcendent quality resembles water
Without resisting it assumes the form of each thing
It takes the lowest position that men scorn (because they are seeking the heights)
The farther one is from acting in common, the more one is close to the Way
Thus the True Man in the material domain holds remaining in the place he has as good
In the domain of feeling he holds the depth of the abyss as good
If he gives, he holds (impersonal) generosity as good
Speaking, he holds the truth as good
Governing he holds ordered development as good
Acting, he holds the watchful realization of the end as good
In the practical domain, he holds being at the right place as good
Really, even thanks to adapting without conflict
Nothing changes his being
Classical Taoist comparison of water for subtle acting and the “higher virtue” (shang shan). Adapting himself exteriorly to things and situations, he does not exalt but descends below (which means: beyond superficiality) in order to exercise the desired influence. According to another aspect: in this context the saying “fracture but do not bend” is tied to the mania of the I; “bending myself (=water) it fractures” could be contrasted. The whole of the behavior illustrated in this chapter is designated as I hsing (which is equivalent to “ease of nature”). The positive counterpart is also recommended: a spontaneous and essential mode of working, beyond opposites.
To preserve when one is filled up to the brim
Is not possible
To keep a blade very sharp
Is not possible.
One cannot, at the same time,
Possess and conserve.
Goods and power united to pride
Prepare your own ruin
To act and pull back [= to pass into the shadow]
Is the Way of Heaven
References, through images, to the law of converting everything that is joined at the extreme into the opposite. Decadence begins at the peak. For essential mastery and for control of the transformations, it is necessary to know how to abandon at the right point what is brought to completion. To be tied to, and especially to be associated with, the pride of the I, means to plummet. The inner meaning of these maxims must be placed before the social and political meaning, where it usually ended in banal terms (for example: not to accumulate riches and goods because they cannot be made secure – or rather: to retreat to an obscure life after having realized or gathered honors).
Conserving the One to which spirit and body are joined
And are no longer separated
To make the fresh and subtle breath circulate (in the body)
Begetting the embryo.
To polish the secret mirror excluding every complex thought
To which the mind does not wear itself out
In relations with the others and ruling the State
To follow non-acting
The instability [changeableness] of fortune [the opening and closing of the Gate of Heaven]
Is worth developing the receptivity of the soul [= the virtue of the feminine]
With the essential vision that embraces every aspect [the four dimensions]
To eliminate (discursive) knowing [= to seem ignorant]
In order to reach the development
To create without possessing
To act without appropriating
To rise without forcing
This is the Way
The first part of the chapter reflects the ideas of operative Taoism about the elaboration of immortality. The hint about the practice with breathing, vehicle of vital energy that, subtlized, was used as means for the secret unification of the spirit and body in the Origin. Spirit and body, hun and p’o (first line) – technically: yang soul and yin soul, spiritual soul and physical soul. The former is the non-terrestrial luminous principle, the other is the being of life. One could also say: the “being” principle and the “life” principle. The privileged condition of immortality is obtained through the union of the two principles, in the sense of a perfect compenetration of the po by the hun, by “life”, by “being”, overwhelmed and occluded from entering into the current of forms. The integration of the two principles of the One is compared to the formation of an embryo – the embryo of an existence distant from transformation. On these practices, beyond the already cited study of H Maspero, we can see the text also translated into Italian, in the Secret of the Golden Flower.
The starting point of such practices is also sketched out: detachment from the environment, the simplification and the calm of the mind, in order to conserve one’s own completely pure and integral nature. In Chuang Tzu, the “abstinence of the heart”:
Do not listen with the ear nor with the heart, but only with the spirit. To block the way of the senses, to keep the mirror of the heart pure. To keep oneself empty. From the outside, do not let things that no longer have names penetrate inside (impressions liberated from mental translations). (IV, 1)
The transcendent Man exercises his intelligence only like a mirror: he knows without following attraction or repulsion, without leaving any traces. In such a way he is superior to everything and impartial in the face of it. (VII, 6)
The heart of the True Man, completely calm, is like a mirror that reflects Heaven, Earth and all beings. (XIII, 1)
All this, by reconnecting to Lao Tzu’s “polishing the secret mirror”.
The successive operative developments, liking joining the “decoagulant” of body and spirit, are attested also in Lieh Tzu (II,3; IV, 6) in these terms:
The spirit is condensed little by little as the body is dissolved” (one “etherizes”, one “rarifies”).
We note the correspondence with the formula solve et coagula of the Western Hermetic-alchemical tradition, which is known also in the formula ”Flesh out the spiritual, spiritualize the body, make fixed the volatile and volatilize the fixed” (Part II of The Hermetic Tradition, #16)
The second part of the chapter outlines the “non-acting” behavior of the True Man.