Translation: Tao Te King – Chapter 15. Portraying virtue

Chapter 15. Portraying virtue

The ancient wise ones¹ were skillful in their knowledge of the depths.

Picture of flowers in rippling water
Photo, upload and CC-BY-SA 2.5 by Patrick Heusser

They were unmeasurable in their depth. So deep they were that I cannot raise them before the eyes of my mind.

They were careful like one who is crossing flooding streams.

They were mysterious like one who suspects his partners.

They were on guard like one who travels far from his homeland.

They were fading to themselves like snow that melts in the sunshine.

They were modest like freshly felled trees.

They were lowly like the valley is.

They were murky like muddy water.²

But can man not make muddy water clear by holding it still?

Can man not make an inanimate object alive by tirelessly moving it?³

Those who follow this Road (Tao) are not full of themselves and devoid of all possessions they grow old without needing to be filled with their own emptyness.


  1. Mr. Ervast comments: “Also Laozi is referring to the age when humankind’s first great teachers and leaders from elsewhere dwelled on Earth.”
  2. “Water is clear in itself. The mind of those wise ones was mady murky only by the sorrows of others.”
  3. “Like friction generates heat (life) in “inanimate” objects, in similar manner the emotebody (tunneruumis), that has died for its selfishness, is full of compassion as soons as the emotions, joys and worries of others generate ripples in it.

Own translation from 1925 Finnish translation by Pekka Ervast (ISBN 951-8995-01-X) with kind permission of Ruusu-Ristin Kirjallisuusseura ry.

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