The ancient masters were subtle, mysterious, profound, responsive.
The depth of their knowledge is unfathomable.
Because it is unfathomable,
All we can do is describe their appearance.
Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.
Alert, like men aware of danger.
Courteous, like visiting guests.
Yielding, like ice about to melt.
Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood.
Hollow, like caves.
Opaque, like muddy pools.
Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?
Who can remain still until the moment of action?
Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfillment.
Not seeking fulfillment, they are not swayed by desire for change.
People of power
Once upon a time
people who knew the Way
were subtle, spiritual, mysterious, penetrating,
Since they're inexplicable
I can only say what they seemed like:
Cautious, oh yes, as if wading through a winter river.
Alert, as if afraid of the neighbors.
Polite and quiet, like houseguests.
Elusive, like melting ice.
Blank, like uncut wood.
Empty, like valleys.
Mysterious, oh yes, they were like troubled water.
Who can by stillness, little by little
make what is troubled grow clear?
Who can by movement, little by little
make what is still grow quick?
To follow the Way
is not to need fulfullment.
Unfulfilled, one may live on
needing no renewal.
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 what may transpire,
Decays, but will not renew.
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