"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."
Translated by Derek Lin, 2006, Chapter 14, Tao Te Ching
Commentary on Chapter 15 of the Tao Te Ching by Derek Lin, 2006:
"The concept of emulation is central to the Tao. The ancient masters recognized that they did not understand the Tao completely but that they could learn from it by emulating nature. We can learn from them in the same way. The ancient masters were not given to frivolous or reckless acts. They handled responsibilities with serious regard; they resolved issues by carefully considering all sides, without jumping to conclusions. The masters were careful, but not uptight. They went about their activities with a certain looseness, which took nothing away from their concern for others and for doing a good job. They could be relaxed without being lax, and thus achieve excellence effortlessly; they could be unattached without being uncaring, and thus focus on the process instead of the result. "Plain wood" is a reference to simplicity. By keeping everything simple, the ancient masters experienced the profound happiness of the uncomplicated present. The ancient sages were known for their openness. They gladly considered new ideas without dismissing anything out of hand. They treated everyone, even difficult people, with infinite patience. Being opaque means these masters never put themselves on display, despite their spiritual refinements. They had no interest in showing off their brilliance. The image of muddy water becoming clear refers to the gradual revelation of a master's inner qualities. The masters had tremendous depth, so it would take time for people to really know them. The serenity of a sage can be mistaken for passivity or apathy. It may be difficult for people to understand how anyone can embody tranquility and dynamism simultaneously. The ancient masters were therefore never full of themselves. Like them, we can cultivate quietly, preserving a sense of calmness without drawing attention to ourselves or creating a disturbance."
Tao Te Ching: Annotated and Explained. Translation and Annotation by Derek Lin. Foreword by Lama Surya Das. "An inspiring, precise translation of the ancient Chinese wisdom classic─ with facing-page commentary that brings the text to life for you." Woodstock, Vermont, 2006. 167 pages.
Other Translations, Interpretations or Interpolations of Chapter 15:
"The skillful masters of the Dao 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.
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.
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.
They who preserve this method of the Dao 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."
- Translated by James Legge, 1891, Chapter 15
"The Sages of old were profound
and knew the ways of subtlety and discernment.
Their wisdom is beyond our comprehension.
Because their knowledge was so far superior
I can only give a poor description.
They were careful
as someone crossing a frozen stream in winter.
Alert as if surrounded on all sides by the enemy.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Whole as an uncarved block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Turbid as muddied water.
Who can be still
until their mud settles
and the water is cleared by itself?
Can you remain tranquil until right action occurs by itself?
The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.
For only those who are not full are able to be used
which brings the feeling of completeness."
- Translated by John H. McDonald, 1996, Chapter 15
"Of old, those who were leaders in good actions examined mysteries with deep penetration; searching deeply, they did not understand; even Masters did not understand; therefore their actions were void of strength.
They were timid, as those who cross a torrent in winter; irresolute, as those who fear their neighbors; grave, as strangers before their host; they effaced themselves as ice that melts; they were rough as undressed wood, empty as a valley, confused as troubled water.
Who is able by quietness to make pure the troubled heart?
Who is able by repose to become conscious of Inner Life?
He who safely maintains his consciousness of Life will find it to be inexhaustible.
Therefore he will be able, though not faultless, to renew perfectness."
- Translated by Isabella Mears, 1916, Chapter 15
"Profound indeed were the most excellent among the ancients, penetrating, fathomless;
inasmuch as they were fathomless it becomes necessary to employ far fetched symbols when speaking of them.
Irresolute? as if fording a stream in winter.
Timid? as though fearful of their neighbors.
Grave? as if they were guests.
Elusive? like ice about to melt.
Simple? like raw material.
Expansive? like the space between hills.
Turbid? like muddy water.
Who can still the turbid and make it gradually clear;
or quiet the active so that by degrees it shall become productive?
Only he who keeps this Tao, without desiring fullness.
If one is not full it is possible to be antiquated and not newly fashioned."
- Translated by C. Supurgeon Medhurst, 1905, Chapter 15
古之善為士者, 微妙玄通, 深不可識.
故能蔽不新成. - Chinese Characters, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 15
ku chih shan wei shih chê, wei miao hsüan t'ung, shên pu k'o shih.
fu wei pu k'o shih.
ku ch'iang wei chih jung.
yü yen jo tung shê ch'uan.
yu hsi jo wei ssu lin.
yen hsi ch'i jo jung.
huan hsi jo ping chih chiang shih.
tun hsi ch'i jo p'u.
k'uang hsi ch'i jo ku.
hun hsi ch'i jo cho.
shu nêng cho yi ching chih hsü ch'ing.
shu nêng an yi chiu tung chih hsü shêng.
pao tz'u tao chê pu yü ying.
fu wei pu ying.
ku nêng pi pu hsin ch'êng.
- Wade-Giles Romanization, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 15
"The Tao of those eminent for wisdom in the olden times was subtle, mysterious, recondite, and penetrating.
Its depths were unrecognizable by others.
The non-adepts, being unable to learn it, strove by main force, therefore, to act it out in practice.
They endured the hardships of their search as those who ford streams in the winter.
Cautious were they, as those who dread the ridicule of their neighbors.
Reverent were they, as those who entertain a visitor.
Expansive were they, as ice on the point of melting.
Simple and unpolished were they, as unhewn wood.
Vacant were they, as a ravine.
Undiscerning were they, as turbid water.
Who is able to make turbid water grow gradually clear by reducing it to quiescence?
Who is able to impart unending life to that which is at rest by setting it in perpetual motion?
Those who preserve this Tao desire no fullness; wherefore, having no fullness,
they are able to guard it in their hearts for ever and it never requires to be renewed."
- Translated by Frederic Henry Balfour, 1884, Chapter 15
"Los sabios perfectos de la antigüedad
eran tan sutiles, agudos y profundos
que no podían ser conocidos.
Puesto que no podían ser conocidos,
sólo se puede intentar describirlos:
Eran prudentes, como quien cruza un arroyo en invierno;
cautos, como quien teme a sus vecinos por todos lados;
reservados, como un huésped;
inconstantes, como el hielo que se funde;
compactos, como un tronco de madera;
amplios, como un valle;
confusos, como el agua turbia.
¿Quién puede, en la quietud, pasar lentamente de lo
turbio a la claridad?
¿Quién puede, en el movimiento, pasar lentamente
de la calma a la acción?
Quien sigue este Tao
no anhela la abundancia.
Por no estar colmado
puede ser humilde,
eludir lo vulgar
y alcanzar la plenitud."- Translation from Wikisource, 2013, Tao Te Ching, Capítulo 15
"Those of yore who have succeeded in becoming masters are subtle, spiritual, profound, and penetrating.
On account of their profundity they cannot be understood.
Because they can not be understood, therefore I endeavor to make them intelligible.
How cautious they are!
Like men in winter crossing a river.
How reluctant! Like men fearing in the four quarters their neighbors.
How reserved! They behave like guests.
How elusive! They resemble ice when melting.
How simple! They resemble rough wood.
How empty! They resemble the valley.
How obscure! They resemble troubled waters.
Who by quieting can gradually render muddy waters clear?
Who by stirring can gradually quicken the still?
He who cherishes this Reason is not anxious to be filled.
Since he is not filled, therefore he may grow old;
Without renewal he is complete."
- Translated by D. T. Suzuki and Paul Carus, 1913, Chapter 15
"Those good at practicing Dao in antiquity
were subtle and wonderful, mysterious and penetrating.
They are too deep for us to know.
And precisely because they cannot be known,
so I am forced to figure them out.
as if crossing a river in winter!
as if afraid of the surrounding neighbors!
they were like guests!
they were like ice about to melt!
they were like a piece of natural wood!
they were like valleys!
they were like turbid water!
When left still, the turbid
slowly turns clear.
When roused, the quiet
gently comes to life
To keep this Dao
is not to desire to be filled.
And precisely because they do not desire to be filled,
they can, therefore, remain hidden
and stay unfinished."
- Translated by Joseph Hsu, 2008, Chapter 15
A typical webpage created by Mike Garofalo for each one of the 81 Chapters (Verses, Sections) of the Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) by Lao Tzu (Laozi) includes 25 different English language translations or interpolations for that Chapter, 5 Spanish language translations for that Chapter, the Chinese characters for that Chapter, the Wade-Giles and Hanyu Pinyin transliterations (Romanization) of the Mandarin Chinese words for that Chapter, and 2 German and 1 French translation of that Chapter. Each webpage for each one of the 81 Chapters of the Tao Te Ching includes extensive indexing by key words, phrases, and terms for that Chapter in English, Spanish, and the Wade-Giles Romanization. Each webpage on a Chapter of the Daodejing includes recommended reading in books and websites, a detailed bibliography, some commentary, research leads, translation sources, and other resources for that Chapter. Each webpage includes a Google Translate drop down menu at the top that enables you to read the webpage in over 100 languages.
Chapter 15, Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Chapter and Thematic Index (Concordance) to the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
English Language Daodejing Translators' Source Index
Spanish Language Daodejing Translators' Source Index
Ripening Peaches: Taoist Studies and Practices
Taoism: A Selected Reading List