Like a Newborn Child

“He who possesses virtue in abundance
resembles a newborn child
wasps don’t sting him
beasts don’t claw him
birds of prey don’t carry him off
his bones are weak and his tendons soft
yet his grip is firm
he hasn’t known the union of sexes
yet his penis is stiff
so full of essence is he
he cries all day
yet never gets hoarse
his breath is so perfectly balanced
knowing how to be balanced we endure
knowing how to endure we become wise
while those who lengthen their life tempt luck
and those who force their breath become strong
but once things mature they become old
this isn’t the Way
what isn’t the Way ends early”

(Taoteching, verse 55, translation by Red Pine)

WANG P’ANG says, “The nature of Virtue is lasting abundance. But its abundance fades with the onset of thoughts and desires.”

SU CH’E says, “Once we have a mind, we have a body. And once we have a body, we have enemies. If we did not have a mind, we would not have enemies and could not be harmed. The reason a newborn child isn’t harmed is because it has not mind.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “A newborn child doesn’t harm anyone, and no one harms it. In an age of perfect peace, Humankind knows neither noble nor base. Even wild beasts do people do harm.”

TE CH’ING says, “Those who cultivate the Tao should first focus their mind. When their mind doesn’t stray, they become calm. When their mind bcomes calm, their breath becomes balanced. When their breath becomes balanced, their essence becomes stable, their spirit becomes serene, and their true nature is restored. Once we know how to breathe, we know how to endure. And once we know how to endure, we know our true nature. If we don’t know our true nature but only know how to nourish our body and lengthen our life, we end up harming our body and destroying our life. A restless mind disturbs the breath. When our breath is disturbed, our essence weakens. And when our essence weakens, our body withers.”

HSUN-TZU says, “Everything must breathe to live. When we know how to breathe, we know how to nurture life and how to endure” (Hsuntzu: 17).

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The basis of life rests on this breath. If people can nourish the pure and balanced breath within themselves for fifteen minutes, they will discover the principle of Heaven and Earth’s immortality. If they can do this for half an hour, they will enter the gate of eternity. But if they try to extend their life or force their breath, they will create the womb of their own destruction.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Life cannot be extended. But people keep trying and thus incur misfortune.”

MOU-TZU says, “Those who attain the Way don’t become active and don’t become strong. They don’t become strong and don’t become old. They don’t become old and don’t become ill. They don’t become ill and don’t decay. Thus, Lao-tzu calls the body a disaster” (Moutzu: 32).

And RED PINE adds, “Scientists talk about the Big Bang. No one talks about the Big Breath.”

In today’s verse, Lao-tzu likens someone who possesses virtue in abundance to a newborn child. For Lao-tzu, newborn children were a marvel, something of a mystery, which he uses to illustrate the power inherent in those who possess virtue, or the Tao.

It is the power to never grow old. But, he means this figuratively, not literally. For newborn children do grow old

He highlights their weakness, their softness; but then goes on to point out the firmness of their grip. He then goes on to talk about their innocence; yet, the fullness of their essence is evidenced by the stiffness of their penis. They cry all day, yet never get hoarse. This, Lao-tzu equates with their breath being perfectly balanced.

Newborn children can not harm anyone, and nothing can harm them. It seems like perfection; as long as we don’t consider, since Lao-tzu doesn’t bring it up, their total dependence on others. Also, that whole not having any control over your bladder or bowels isn’t anything I would want to resemble, again.

But, let’s not take this metaphor beyond the limits Lao-tzu intends for it. Lao-tzu doesn’t intend for you to be a newborn child again. And, it isn’t anything we could force, anyway. Perfect balance is something we can only let happen naturally, or it won’t happen at all. Forcing it, we will only become old and die prematurely.

Red Pine introduces the following sage today:

MOU-TZU (FL. 3RD C.). High official and author of the Lihuolun, the earliest known work that addresses the conflicts arising from Buddhist practice and Chinese tradition.

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