“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 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).
Ah, the wonders of a newborn child! In my commentary on yesterday’s verse we were talking about cultivating virtue in ourselves, first. Today’s verse is the realization of that practice. Those who possess virtue in abundance resemble a newborn child: wasps don’t sting them, beasts don’t claw them, birds of prey don’t carry them off.
Lao-tzu demonstrates, in the verse today, just how enamored with newborns he was. They were a metaphor for an abundance of virtue. And, just in case we need reminding, newborns don’t “do” much of anything. Their virtue isn’t something they do, it is simply what they are.
Lao-tzu juxtaposes the newborn with those who become old. The differences between them couldn’t be more explicit. The newborn is balanced. While the old have grown out of balance. They have lengthened their life, and tempted luck, through force. This is the exact opposite of the newborn, who does nothing. But, once things mature, they become old. This isn’t the Way, says Lao-tzu, and what isn’t the Way ends early.
Most of us, are somewhere in between newborn and old and if we don’t want to end early, we should practice the virtue of the newborn, rather than the force of the old.
Be perfectly balanced. Like the newborn. For if we know how to be balanced, we will endure. And knowing how to endure is wisdom.
Not the wisdom which comes from a lifetime of regrets, but the wisdom that comes from being perfectly 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.