Tao Te Ching #15: “Skilled warriors of old were subtle”

Skilled warriors of old were subtle,
mysteriously powerful,
so deep they were unknowable.
Just because they are unknowable,
I will try to describe them.
Their wariness was as that of one crossing a river in winter,
their caution was as that of one in fear of all around;
their gravity was as that of a guest,
their relaxation was as that of ice at the melting point.
Simple as uncarved wood,
open as the valleys,
they were inscrutable as murky water.
Who can, in turbidity,
use the gradual clarification of stillness?
Who can, long at rest,
use the gradual enlivening of movement?
Those who preserve this Way do not want fullness.
Just because of not waning fullness,
it is possible to use to the full and not make anew.

– Thomas Cleary


The great matters of ancient times
focused on the indiscernible
and penetrated the dark
you would never know them
and because you wouldn’t know them
I describe them with reluctance
they were careful as if crossing a river in winter
cautious as if worried about neighbors
reserved like a guest
ephemeral like melting ice
simple like uncarved wood
open like a valley
and murky like a puddle
but those who can be like a puddle
become clear when they’re still
and those who can be at rest
become alive when they’re roused
those who treasure this Way
don’t try to be seen
not trying to be seen
they can hide and stay hidden

– Red Pine


The ancient master workers of the Way
Had vision to perceive the subtlest force.
Too deep they were to recognize,
And since they can’t be recognized,
One can but strain to picture them:
Wary, as if wading a winter river;
Watchful, as if threatened from all sides;
Stately and restrained, like a guest;
Smooth and even, like dissolving ice;
Impassive, even as the spacious sea;
Unfettered, like a restless windstorm;
Rough and solid, like an unwrought bole;
Compact and dense, like something unrefined;
Wide and open-stretching, like a vale.
If sullied they kept calm and stayed pure;
If secure they moved with care and stayed alive.
But who can do so now?
Those who embrace the Way do not grow too great;
And thus survive and overcome defeat.

– Moss Roberts