Ch. 16. Returning to the Root. 歸根

posted 8 Mar 2017, 05:53 by Jim Sheng
16. 1. The (state of) vacancy should be brought to the utmost degree, and that of stillness guarded with unwearying vigour. All things alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see them return (to their original state). When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root. This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness maybe called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.

2. The report of that fulfilment is the regular, unchanging rule. To know that unchanging rule is to be intelligent; not to know it leads to wild movements and evil issues. The knowledge of that unchanging rule produces a (grand) capacity and forbearance, and that capacity and forbearance lead to a community (of feeling with all things). From this community of feeling comes a kingliness of character; and he who is king-like goes on to be heaven-like. In that likeness to heaven he possesses the Tâo. Possessed of the Tâo, he endures long; and to the end of his bodily life, is exempt from all danger of decay.


歸根 , 'Returning to the Root.' The chapter exhibits the operation of the Tâo in nature, in man, and in government; an operation silent, but all-powerful; unaccompanied with any demonstration of its presence, but great in its results.

An officer receives a charge or commission from his superior ( 受命); when he reports the execution of it he is said復命 . So all animate things, including men, receive their charge from the Tâo as to their life, and when they have fulfilled it they are represented as reporting that fulfilment; and the fulfilment and report are described as their unchanging rule, so that they are the Tâo's impassive instruments, having no will or purpose of their own,--according to Lâo-dze's formula of 'doing nothing and yet doing all things ( 無為而無不為).'

The getting to possess the Tâo, or to be an embodiment of it, follows the becoming Heaven or Heaven-like; and this is in accordance with the saying in the fourth chapter that 'the Tâo might seem to have been before God.' But, in Kwang-dze especially, we often find the full possessor and displayer of the Tâo spoken of as 'Heaven.' The last sentence, that he who has come to the full possession of the Tâo is exempt from all danger of decay, is generally illustrated by a reference to the utterances in ch. 50; as if Lâo-dze did indeed see in the Tâo a preservative against death.