Tao Te Ching Chapter 28


He who is aware of the Male
But keeps to the Female
Becomes the ravine of the world.
Being the ravine of the world,
He has the original character (teh) which is not cut up.
And returns again to the (innocence of the) babe.

He who is conscious of the white (bright)
But keeps to the black (dark)
Becomes the model for the world.
Being the model for the world,
He has the eternal power which never errs,
And returns again to the Primordial Nothingness.

He who is familiar with honor and glory
But keeps to obscurity
Becomes the valley of the world.
Being the valley of the world,
He has an eternal power which always suffices,
And returns again to the natural integrity of uncarved wood.

Break up this uncarved wood
And it is shaped into vessel
In the hands of the Sage
They become the officials and magistrates.
Therefore the great ruler does not cut up.

Lin Yu Tang


Being the stream of the universe,
Ever true and unswerving,
Become as a little child once more.
Know the white,
But keep the black!
Be an example to the world!
Being an example to the world,
Ever true and unwavering,
Return to the infinite.

Know honor,
Yet keep humility.
Be the valley of the universe!
Being the valley of the universe,
Ever true and resourceful,
Return to the state of the uncarved block.

When the block is carved, it becomes useful.
When the sage uses it, he becomes the ruler.
Thus, “A great tailor cuts little.”

Jane English and Gia-fu Feng

Is it all really so arcane and abstruse and solemnly profound and weighty as these translations make it sound? Is the wisdom of the sage really all that difficult to grasp? It seems to be common sense to me.

We are considering the ravine now. In Chapter 6 it was the Valley Spirit, the divine feminine, the holistic, intuitive capability inherent in the human perceptive mechanism which is directly connected, naturally, to our life experience without benefit of the confusions of upper cortical complexity. It is the direct connection we have to being in the body, in the mind, in life and of it, sharing an experience we have in common with the universe and every living thing in it from the first single-celled life form to our own complexly evolved form.

In addition to the “ravine” we also have the experience of duality inherent in mind, the experience of pieces comprised of points which create distance, time, direction, value, diametrics like good and bad, safe and dangerous, and so individual action paths within the common experience and place we all belong to.

And then we have the balance between the two. The balance of mind and heart.

Too much mind, and we are no longer connected to life, to each other, to the earth, to the life force of the universe. We are connected to bits and pieces, and become a bit or a piece ourselves.

Too much heart and we are disengaged from the mind and deny half of our human reality. Not a bad thing in the sense that such a connection effectively removes us from the troubles of our mind experience. Yet not necessarily a good thing either because, unbalanced, it still involves invoking duality, choosing one aspect over the other, and so denies its true essence – an experience which involves both the heart and the mind.

The sage tells us a simple thing in chapter 28. The mind can become unruly when it forgets the heart. It will mow down entire forests in pursuit of its own ends unless it is in balance with the heart. In balance with the wisdom of the heart it will be governed rightly. It will form a useful wooden bowl instead. The sage cuts up little, acting with graceful balance of heart and mind. The sage has a separate life, simultaneously connected to all life. A paradox? An arcane, diffuse, elusive thing? No. Actually, it’s just a simple fact. It’s just, as the sage said at the end of the previous chapter,

 The subtle, secret center of the Tao.

Or, as JJ Cale said about the heart’s groove and the mind’s motor,

Some like this and some like that
And some don’t know where it’s at
If you don’t get loose, if you don’t groove
Well, your motor won’t make it and your motor won’t move…

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One Response to Tao Te Ching Chapter 28

  1. Louis W. says:

    I have also found the various translations of this chapter to be abstruse (a good word for this). You have summed it up pretty well, though.

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