Tao Te Ching —
The Classic about Ways And Instances
(Translated, with comments, by William P. Coleman)
We look at it and can’t see its name,
so we say it’s invisible.
We listen to it and can’t hear its name,
so we say it’s inaudible.
We touch it and can’t catch hold of its name,
so we say it’s formless.
These three qualities can’t be further investigated,
for the reason that each has merged and become a unity.
Its above is not bright;
its below is not dark;
Completely continuous, it cannot be given a name.
It reverts, returning to non-being.
This is referred to as not having a form of its own,
not having a being of its own;
This is called “vague” and “elusive.”
In front, you will not see its face;
follow it and you won’t see its back.
Hold fast to the ancients’ way
in order to grasp its here and now, its existence.
You can know its ancient origin.
This is called the way’s main thread.
|<– Chapter 13
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For comparison, I’m including the translation by Lin Yutang, which I always love and respect, even when I disagree:
14. Prehistoric Origins
Looked at, but cannot be seen –
That is called the Invisible (yi).
Listened to, but cannot be heard –
That is called the Inaudible (hsi).
Grasped at, but cannot be touched –
That is called the Intangible (wei).
These three elude our inquiries
And hence blend and become One.
Not by its rising, is there light,
Nor by its sinking, is there darkness.
It cannot be defined,
And reverts again to the realm of nothingness.
That is why it is called the Form of the Formless,
The Image of Nothingness.
That is why it is called the Elusive:
Meet it and you do not see its face;
Follow it and you do not see its back.