The Peace of Tao
Hold the Great Symbol
and all the world follows,
Follows without meeting harm,
(And lives in) health, peace, commonwealth.
Offer good things to eat
And the wayfarer stays.
But Tao is mild to the taste.
Looked at, it cannot be seen;
Listened to, it cannot be heard;
Applied, its supply never fails.
Lin Yu Tang (1955)
Hold fast to the great image and all under heaven will come;
They will come but not be harmed, rest in safety and peace;
Music and fine food will make the passerby halt.
When the Way is expressed verbally,
We say such things as
“how bland and tasteless it is!”
“We look for it, but there is not enough to be seen.”
“We listen for it, but there is not enough to be heard.”
Yet, when put to use, it is inexhaustible!
Victor H. Mair, 1990
And so the sage, aware of the separation between being and seeing, reflects upon looking and listening for the Tao, of speaking of it in language. The sage observes that being in the Tao, knowing it, sustains us more than looking at it and listening for it and speaking of it can.
This chapter was foreshadowed by the sage in Chapter 33 and my commentary there covers the ground here. As we approach the end of the Tao Ching with Chapter 37 and begin the Te Ching (see the postscript to the commentary on Chapter 38 at Ralston Creek Review) we find the sage reflecting upon the usefulness of language and intellect, and the limits there. It will be interesting to see how the sage wraps up “The Book of Tao” in the next two chapters.