Those Who Possess Virtue in Abundance Know How to Be Balanced

“He who possess 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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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 no 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 no 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 becomes calm, their breath becomes balance. When their breath becomes balance, 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).

In today’s verse, and tomorrow’s, Lao-tzu describes those who have an abundance of virtue. And, I am just going to say, right from the get-go, these are difficult verses for me to add my own commentary. In tomorrow’s verse, Lao-tzu basically instructs me to quit talking. “Those who know, don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.” Well, I know I don’t know, so I shouldn’t dare talk. But, here I go, anyway…

What of those who possess this virtue, Lao-tzu has been talking about, in abundance?

They resemble a newborn child. This is a metaphor, and Lao-tzu seems to be intimately acquainted with newborn children.

They harm no one and no thing. And nothing can harm them.

They are weak and soft. Yet, they possess a hidden strength.

They know nothing of what begets life, yet they are full of the essence of life.

They can cry all day without ever getting hoarse. This, Lao-tzu says, shows the perfect balance of their yin and yang breath. Hsun-tzu says, “Everything must breathe to live. When we know how to breathe, we know to nurture life and how to endure.”

Knowing how to be balanced we endure. Knowing how to endure we become wise. But you can’t force it. As Wang An-shih says, “Life cannot be extended. But people keep trying and thus incur misfortune.” Try to force things, and your supposed strength will mature until you become old.

And what becomes old, dies. It ends early. That isn’t the Way, says Lao-tzu.

Now, with tomorrow’s verse we will hopefully get a better understanding of what it means to be balanced.

Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:

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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