Dào Dé Jīng with footnotes: 8

Standard disclaimer

The highest good is like water. [i] [ii]

Watery good benefits countless creatures, for it does not argue. [iii] [iv] [v]

It remains in places that the crowds find foul, so it is close to the way. [vi] [vii]

Resting, the good is the earth. [viii]

Feeling, the good is deep. [ix] [x]

Giving, the good is the sky. [xi] [xii]

Talking, the good is sincere.

Governing, the good is orderly.

Working, the good is skilled.

Moving, the good is timely. [xiii]

Only by not arguing is it without fault. [xiv] [xv]


[i] This chapter in particularly significant to Allan’s (1997) argument for the centrality of water metaphors to works from this era. She notes (24) that like the dào, water gives everything life without taking apparent action.

[ii] Henricks (2000, 18) notes that although this chapter does not appear in the Guodian texts, water plays a significant role in the cosmology in the Taiyi shengshui, ‘The Great One Gave Birth to Water’ part of those texts.

[iii] Roberts (2001, 46) notes that ‘benefit’, (利), is a Mohist term for the impersonal good that government should provide the people, but that the scale here is much larger than the merely human.

[iv] Ma-wang-tui A has ‘and is tranquil’. Text B has ‘and it argues’, which is almost certainly an error (Henricks 1989, 202).

[v] Allan (1997, 138) links ‘not arguing’ to ‘without action’ (wúwéi).

[vi] This follows Ma-wang-tui A. Ma-wang-tui B and the received version have ‘crowds of people’ (Henricks 1989, 202).

[vii] Roberts (2001, 45) notes that this may be a response to Analects 19.20, in which Zigong says ‘The gentleman hates to dwell in low places, because all the badness in the world gathers there’ (Slingerland 2003, 227).

[viii] Lau (1963, 126) suspects this line, which breaks the rhyme pattern, is a later interpolation; but it does appear in the Ma-wang-tui finds.

[ix] ‘Feeling’ is literally heart, Xīn (心) as a verb (see chapter 3, footnote 3). English contains no single verb with its range. In addition to feeling it includes thinking, judging, and intending. Pairing ‘feeling’ with ‘deep’ captures more of the sense than the alternatives, but is imperfect.

[x] ‘Deep’, yuān (淵), could be ‘a deep pool’, which supports Allan’s (1997, 86) claim that this is the central metaphor for Xīn. Note that a term applied to dào in chapter 4 is the used for the (good) heart here.

[xi] This follows Ma-wang-tui B (Henricks 1989, 202). For ‘sky’, tiān (天), the received version has ‘humane’, rén (仁). Given the first line of chapter 5, this substitution seems to make a significant change to the meaning. Note also that in the Ma-wang-tui version, xīn (心), ‘hearts’ (see fn 9) appears naturally between the classic pair of sky and earth. In this version, the water metaphor extends into the list: earth is where water rests, hearts are deep pools, and the sky rains water.

[xii] ‘Giving’, (與), includes ‘joining with’ (Kroll 2015, 570).

[xiii] ‘Moving’, dòng (動), emphasises the initiation of movement. It includes being moved emotionally (Kroll 2015, 90).

[xiv] Lau (1963, 12) notes that this line seems continuous in sense and maybe rhyme with the start of chapter 20.

[xv] Ryden (2008, 18) notes the similarity between this line and the declarations of diviners on oracle bones (1350-1100BC). Similar phrases to wú yóu (無尤), ‘without fault’, abound in the I Ching (Redmond 2017, 372).

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