Chapter 15 The exhibition of the qualities of the Dao

古之善為士者,微妙玄通,深不可識。夫唯不可識,故強為之容。豫兮若冬涉川;猶兮若畏四鄰;儼兮其若容;渙兮若冰之將釋;敦兮其若樸;曠兮其若谷;混兮其若濁;孰能濁以靜之徐清?孰能安以久動之徐生?保此道者,不欲盈。夫唯不盈,故能蔽不新成。

1. The skilful masters (of the Tao) in old times, with a subtle and exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep (also) so as to elude men’s knowledge. As they were thus beyond men’s knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort they appeared to be.

2. Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in winter; irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them; grave like a guest (in awe of his host); evanescent like ice that is melting away; unpretentious like wood that has not been fashioned into anything; vacant like a valley, and dull like muddy water.

3. Who can (make) the muddy water (clear)? Let it be still, and it will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of rest? Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.

4. They who preserve this method of the Tao do not wish to be full (of themselves). It is through their not being full of themselves that they can afford to seem worn and not appear new and complete.

Derek Lin
The Tao masters of antiquity
Subtle wonders through mystery
Depths that cannot be discerned
Because one cannot discern them
Therefore one is forced to describe the appearance

Hesitant, like crossing a wintry river
Cautious, like fearing four neighbors
Solemn, like a guest
Loose, like ice about to melt
Genuine, like plain wood
Open, like a valley
Opaque, like muddy water

Who can be muddled yet desist
In stillness gradually become clear?
Who can be serene yet persist
In motion gradually come alive?

One who holds this Tao does not wish to be overfilled
Because one is not overfilled
Therefore one can preserve and not create anew

Peter Merel

The enlightened possess understanding
So profound they can not be understood.
Because they cannot be understood
I can only describe their appearance:
Cautious as one crossing thin ice,
Undecided as one surrounded by danger,
Modest as one who is a guest,
Unbounded as melting ice,
Genuine as unshaped wood,
Broad as a valley,
Seamless as muddy water.
Who stills the water that the mud may settle,
Who seeks to stop that he may travel on,
Who desires less than may transpire,
Decays, but will not renew.