Chapter 5 The use of emptiness

天地不仁,以萬物為芻狗;聖人不仁,以百姓為芻狗。天地之間,其猶橐籥乎?虛而不屈,動而愈出。多言數窮,不如守中。

1. Heaven and earth do not act from (the impulse of) any wish to be benevolent; they deal with all things as the dogs of grass are dealt with. The sages do not act from (any wish to be) benevolent; they deal with the people as the dogs of grass are dealt with.

2. May not the space between heaven and earth be compared to a bellows?

‘Tis emptied, yet it loses not its power;
‘Tis moved again, and sends forth air the more.
Much speech to swift exhaustion lead we see; Your inner being guard, and keep it free.

Derek Lin
Heaven and Earth are impartial
They regard myriad things as straw dogs
The sages are impartial
They regard people as straw dogs

The space between Heaven and Earth
Is it not like a bellows?
Empty, and yet never exhausted
It moves, and produces more

Too many words hasten failure
Cannot compare to keeping to the void

Peter Merel

Nature is not kind;
It treats all things impartially.
The Sage is not kind,
And treats all people impartially.
Nature is like a bellows,
Empty, yet never ceasing its supply.
The more it moves, the more it yields;
So the sage draws upon experience
And cannot be exhausted.