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Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.


A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 21

How do I know

that this is so?

  ​​​​​   róng

(宀roof + 谷valley)

appearance, form, contain


. . . . . .

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The vast Power

of the Way

appears to us in its

many forms,

and each one is in accord

with the Way alone.*



​​kǒng     德dé   之zhī    容róng

​​great, hole, opening,    power     (poss)   appearance, form   

唯wéi    道tào    是shī    從cóng

only        Way         to be/this         follow

The appearances of the

empty power of the Way
only follow the Way.


      Here Lao Tzu makes a  distinction between the 道Tào Way itself, and what the Way does--its 德dé Power. He tells us that all the things 容róng appearing in the world around us--ourselves included, do so through the Way's 德dé Power; and that, after making their appearance, these continually abide in the Way, and the Way alone.

     But while the distinction between the 道Tào Way and its 德dé Power may be a helpful  one, it is only a mental distinction. As Lao Tzu makes clear in this lesson and others, the 德dé Power of the Way--that is, what the Way is doing upon each instant, is no different from the Way itself.

     Take, as an analogy, the marathon runner.  Is the runner apart from his or her running? Remove the runner, and there’s no running. Take away the running, and there’s no runner. In that act of running, they are the same.

      That the manifested world  is an ongoing doing of the Way, is the point of Lao Tzu's very first lesson as well as each lesson after that. For example, in Lesson 1 Lao Tzu asserts that, yes, the Way is timeless, nameless, and mysterious; and yet if we look around us, we we see and experience the "teeming" world of many things.

     The next line is crucial, and the key to each of Lao Tzu's lessons.

                        "These two are actually the same."




​​​​Note: 德dé, "Power," has also been translated as “virtue” and “integrity.” But these imply a kind of moral quality rather than suggesting that the 德dé Power of the Way is an impersona and indwelling power.  For that reason, I prefer Waley’s translation as “Power.”  (Waley, Arthur, trans.The Way and Its Power, Grove Press, 1958.)


*There is a little different understanding of this line if the character 孔kǒng is understood in its other meaning, "small cave," "hole," and "empty."  As Wang Bi says. "孔 means hollow. Only by means of hollowness (becoming empty to ourselves) are we able to follow the Way."    孔kóng  空kōng  也yě  唯wéi 以yǐ 空kōng  為wèi  德dé 然rán 後hǒu  乃nǎi 能néng  動dóng  作zuò  從cóng 道tào


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But the "thingness"

of the Way itself

cannot be perceived.


道tào  之zhī  物wù*   

way      (poss.)    thing

​唯wéi      朢wàng   唯wéi    𢗘hū

only/indeed  gaze from afar only/indeed   vague.

​The thing of the way

is indeed indistinct, indeed vague.


    We can all touch, smell, hear, and see the doings of the Way--that is, the world around us and all 容róng appearances in it. But the Way itself remains imperceptible.

     This is not hard to understand when we note that no one has ever seen life. We have only living things, and a lot of them, but not life itself.


     We know of "life" only by making a rational inference. We see a rabbit scampering across the road and we know that life is present --not in that rabbit, but as that rabbit. That "as" is 德dé the power of the Way expressing itself as the life of that rabbit.




*物wù, “thing”, or here, “thingness,” is Lao Tzu’s way of pointing to the nature of the Way, that is, to the Way’s many properties which remain unseen.


​​​  ​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



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is the Way!


is the Way!

Yet within the Way

the things of our world

come into existence!


​​​​​​惚hū     呵hē      朢wàng   呵hē    

vague    (exclaim)  gaze from afar   (exclaim)    

中zhōng  有yǒu  象xiàng 呵hē    

middle/center   has/exist      image     exclaim



It's middle has images!

     Lao Tzu continues his theme--that the Way is not available to our senses. Only what the Way is doing is evident to us.

     Regarding, "Yet within the Way....":  The character 中zhōng, "middle," "center," is used here in its prepositional form of "within," or "inside."


     This may be a bit of levity on Lao Tzu's part, because it comes on the heels of his assertion that the Way is "formless" and "shapeless."

​    So where is the circumference that might have something "within" it?

​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .




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No markings!

No outline!

And yet within the Way

each thing

has its own existence.

朢wàng   呵hē   𢗘hū    呵hē 

gaze from afar   (exclaim)   vague    (exclaim)

中zhōng 有yǒu  物wù   呵hē

middle          have/exist   thing    (exclaim)



Its middle has things!

      Of itself, "life" has no markings, no outline. And yet it exists. Life doesn't come into physical existence until Life, Way, presents itself as a form, or body.


 ​​​. . . . . .




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And yet within it are

the essences of all life.


窈yǎo    呵hē   冥míng 呵hē

secluded  ( exclaim)  deep            (exclaim)

中zhōng   有yǒu      精jīng*      呵hē

middle          has/exists   semen/essence  (exclaim)

​   Secluded! Deep!

   Its middle has essence.



     精jīng, means "semen," "essence," and by extension the sense of "spirit" and "vitality."


     ​​​. . . . . .





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These essences are very real,

and within them

is the evidence.


其qí     精jīng      甚shén  真zhēn

 (pron.)   semen/essence   very          real    

其qí    中zhōng   有yǒu    信xìn

(pron.)     middle/center   has/exist   trust/believe

​Its semen is very real.

Its middle has trust.

      The existence of these essences is self-evident, meaning they require no reasoning or proof to verify them. They themselves are the proof, and this proof is unmistakable to us when we pause and consider whether we are ourselves responsible for our own ongoing living.


​​​. . . . . .

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For all of time,

the things of the world

have always been.

It is by this that

we know to heed

the father of all things.


自zì   今jīn      及jí      古gǔ 

from    now/today reach/extend ancient

其qī    名míng    不bù  去qù

(pron)   name/acclaim   not         leave

以yǐ   順shùn  眾zhòng 父fù

by means   obey          multitude        father

From today reaching to old times,

its name/fame has not left.

By means of this we obey the multitude’s father.


     The character 名míng means "name," "fame," "reputation." Here it is translated as "things" because, as we've seen in other lessons, only "things" have names. The Way itself remains "nameless."


  ​​​. . . . . .





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How do I know that

the father of

all things is like this?

By this!

吾wú   何hē    以yǐ      知zhī

I          (interrog)   by means of   know

眾zhòng   父fù   之zhī   然rán  

multitude          father    (possess)    like this


以yǐ      此cǐ

by means of   like this

As for me, by means of what do I know the

the multitude's father is so?

By this

     If the Way is "formless," "shapeless," and "concealed" as Lao Tzu has told us, then how can he possibly know that what he is telling us, is so? The simple answer is: "By this!" 

     Consider someone asking us how we know we are present in this room. Our answer, "Just look, will you? It's self-evident."

      What is self-evident cannot be proven through any objective means.  Ultimately, all proof is interior. The most that can be said, is, "I just know."


​​   ​​​. . . . . .




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