Of old, the adept student was minutely subtle, open and deep beyond knowledge.
He alone cannot be known, hence his strength lies in allowing.
He prepares as if fording a river in winter; as if like in fear of neighbors;
Solemn that seems to allow; vanishing like ice that melts away;
Honest that is like simple; broad that is like a valley;
Blending that is like muddy water; tranquil that is like the sea.
Windy as if without end.
Who can be muddy as well as still to gently clarify.
Who can be calm as well as aroused to gently live.
Keeping to this way, he desires not to be full.
Therefore, only he who is not full can shelter and yet newly become.
1) ancient of good (be good at) do (act; serve as; be; mean) bachelor (scholar) (者), minute (tiny) wonderful (subtle) black (dark; profound) open (through; connect; whole), deep (difficult; profound) cannot (should not; must not) know (knowledge). 古之善为士者，微妙玄通，深不可识。(gŭ zhī shàn wéi shì zhĕ, wēi miào xuán tōng, shēn bù kĕ shí.)
2) husband (man) only (alone) cannot (should not; must not) know (knowledge), reason (cause; hence) stubborn (unyielding) do (act; serve as; be; mean) of hold (permit; allow). 夫唯不可识，故强为之容。(fū wéi bù kĕ shí, gù jiàng wéi zhī róng.)
3) to comfort (to ease) ! like (seem; as if) winter wade (ford; experience) river; just as (like; still) ! like (seem; as if) fear (respect) four neighbor; 豫兮若冬涉川；犹兮若畏四邻；(yù xī ruò dōng shè chuān; yóu xī ruò wèi sì lín;)
4) majestic (solemn; dignified) ! his (its; that; such) like (seem; as if) hold (permit; allow); melt (vanish) ! like (seem; as if) ice (put on the ice; feel cold) of support (bring; handle) explain (dispel; let go); 俨兮其若容；涣兮若冰之将释；(yăn xī qí ruò róng; huàn xī ruò bīng zhī jiāng shì;)
5) honest (sincere) ! his (its; that; such) like (seem; as if) simple (plain); vast (spacious; free from petty ideas) ! his (its; that; such) like (seem; as if) valley; 敦兮其若朴；旷兮其若谷；(dūn xī qí ruò pò; kuàng xī qí ruò gŭ;)
6) mix (confuse; pass for) ! his (its; that; such) like (seem; as if) turbid (muddy; deep and thick); tranquil (placid, quiet) ! his (its; that; such) like (seem; as if) sea (extra large); 混兮其若浊；澹兮其若海；(hún xī qí ruò zhuó; dàn xī qí ruò hăi;)
7) wind in high place ! like (seem; as if) nothing (nil; without) stop (to; till; only). 飂兮若无止。(liáo xī ruò wú zhĭ.)
8) who (which; what) ability (capability; skill; able) turbid (muddy; deep and thick) use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) still (quiet; calm) of slowly (gently) unmixed (clear; distinct; settle). 孰能浊以静之徐清。(shú néng zhuó yĭ jìng zhī xú qīng.)
9) who (which; what) ability (capability; skill; able) peaceful (quiet; tranquil; calm) use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) move (stir; change; arouse) of slowly (gently) give birth to (bear; grow; life). 孰能安以动之徐生。(shú néng ān yĭ dòng zhī xú shēng.)
10) protect (maintain; preserve) this road (way, speak; think) (者) no (not) desire (longing; about to) be full of (have a surplus of). 保此道者不欲盈。(băo cĭ dào zhĕ bù yù yíng.)
11) husband (man) only (alone) no (not) be full of (have a surplus of) reason (cause; hence) ability (capability; skill; able) cover (shelter; hide) <conj.> and (yet, but) new (fresh) accomplish (become; fully grown). 夫唯不盈故能蔽而新成。(fū wéi bù yíng gù néng bì ér xīn chéng.)
Work in Progress
In line 1, I had omitted xuán (玄) black; dark; profound. I’m not sure why; poetic license I assume. Well that is why I call this project a ‘work in progress’. Anyway, I added profound and replaced open with connecting. Open is a little misleading perhaps. Connect hits closer to the mark: Tōng (通) open; through; open up or clear put by poking or jabbing; lead to; go to; connect; communicate; notify; tell; understand; know; authority; expert; logical; coherent; general; common; all; whole.
Line 2 warranted revision from He alone cannot be known, hence his strength lies in allowing to He alone, beyond knowledge, hence stubborn in allowing. If you check the word for word section, you’ll notice this matches the Chinese better, and it’s more succinct besides. In addition, using line 1’s beyond knowledge again in line 2 consolidates matters, which is usually preferable.
There are a pair of characters that appear in lines 5 and 6: qí (其) his; its; that; such and ruò (若) like; seem; as if. I had these as that is like, but replace this with a slightly simpler such as. Again, consolidate where possible.
Line 7-11 will read a little better now. So as to fits the process better than as well as. In other words, when muddy precedes clear, or quiet precedes living, balance is more easily maintained. It is important not to ‘jump the gun’ in life, yet this often happens because the ‘head’ too easily precedes the ‘body’.
The live in line 9’s, Who can be quiet so as to stirring gently live, is the character Shēng (生) give birth to; bear; grow; existence; life; livelihood; living; get; have; light; unripe; raw. That is a lot of meaning to confine to one word. I suppose live covers it as well as anything. (Line 8 and 9 could use a comma I feel, but I’m undecided as to where).
Today, I interpreted this as a view from the ‘other side’, so to speak. Normally thinking plays out in a linear, logical way—subject -> object point of view, so to speak. The ‘other side’ goes something like this: object -> subject point of view. Perhaps, this is more of an ‘in the eye of the beholder’ experience. I can see this probably doesn’t make much sense. Oh well… onward…
When I consider the nature of any external (any object) of which I am aware, there is no moment when I am truly an impartial observer. However, when I am that (Tat Tvam Asi), I become impartial… experientially speaking. For these moments, there is nothing external to observe (impartially or otherwise) in the usual subject (I) -> object (other) sense. It is a pleasant and fleeting sense of Oneness. Although fleeting, the memory of that remains as a principle—a law.
On the other hand, when need or fear are in high gear, these emotions cut short and stifle my awareness of this law. I begin thinking that I know and begin judging ‘that other’ objectively. Of course, there is no objectivity as all; all I see is a reflection of my own need and fear projected outward. This is natural—the bio-hoodwink as I call it. It is just extremely useful to be aware of the various ‘angles’ of awareness. That makes the ‘blind spot‘ less likely to set up shop on a permanent basis anyway.
‘Experiential impartiality’ is awareness of the minutely subtle, profoundly connecting, and deep beyond knowledge. This is the muddy and calm side of my awareness. It is where profound sameness dwells. Dealing in the world, taking action, jumping into life, is the stirring gently live side of the coin. I find the more easily I can return to the muddy and quiet side, also the easier the other side—gently clear and gently live. It feels balanced!
I am only aware of what I know when I’m muddy and quiet, which makes all this much easier to understand theoretically than to know viscerally. Solemn and honest helps break into this circle. It is a muddy thing, and honestly accepting that helps keep my cognitive ball rolling in the Right direction.
Of old, the adept student was minutely subtle,
….profoundly connecting, and deep beyond knowledge.
He alone, beyond knowledge, hence stubborn in allowing.
He prepares as if fording a river in winter; as if in fear of neighbors;
Solemn such as allows; vanishing as if ice melting away;
Honest such as simple; broad such as the valley;
Blending such as muddy water; tranquil such as the sea.
Circular as if without end.
Who can be muddy so as to calmly gently clear.
Who can be quiet so as to stirring gently live.
Maintain this way, not desiring to be full.
He alone is not full, therefore able to conceal and yet newly become.
 This character is missing from the original so I had to use my poetic license: 圆 yuan = round; circular; spherical.
Chapter of the Week
I’ve always read this chapter as describing my ‘original nature’ (i.e., subjective, personal, mysterious). While still mysterious, today I see it describing everyone’s ‘original nature’. Not that I ever thought otherwise really, I just never put the two together on the same page. Probably the phrase ‘of old he who was well verse in the way‘ pointed me in that subjective, personal direction. After all, I’ve been ‘versing’ myself in the way as long as I can remember. Not that I actually practice what I preach, mind you. Alas, it is often easy to confuse where we are with where we see ourselves going. Nevertheless, I felt I was hopefully (and truly) on the way there. Finally, I’ve come to feel that we myriad creatures, one and all, are there, here! Now, that’s a mouthful of mysterious sameness.
It is natural to take a purely subjective view, as I use to do. On the other hand, it would be just as easy to take an opposite, purely objective view of this too. From that vantage point it could appear to describe someone ‘over there’ and certainly beyond normal experience. It is easy to see things either subjectively or objectively. Seeing outside (or is it inside?) those two boxes is more difficult.
If everyone ‘is minutely subtle, open and deep beyond knowledge, cannot be known’, etc., why don’t we act (prepare, blend, honest, allow) like it in the ‘real world’? Precisely because our ‘original self’ feels so utterly deep beyond knowledge‘. We are instinctively driven to work around (contend, mask) the sense of weakness this causes. Life must resist entropy (the essence of weakness) to live. Life must work. The difficulty: how does one work and yet be vanishing like ice that melts away? Another irony here: Weakness is the means the way employs. Oh my word, circular as if without end certainly describes it. It helps to stand back far enough from the circle to see how it stands alone and does not change, goes round and does not weary. And then, get back to work.