Translation by Harold D. Roth

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The vital essence of all things:

It is this that brings them to life.

It generates the five grains below

And becomes the constellations above.

When flowing amid the heavens and the earth

We call it ghostly and numinous.

When stored within the chests of human beings,

We call them sages.


Therefore the vital energy is:

Bright! - as if ascending the heavens;

Dark! - as if entering an abyss;

Vast! - as if dwelling in an ocean;

Lofty! - as if dwelling on a mountain peak.

Therefore this vital energy

Cannot be halted by force,

Yet can be secured by inner power [Te].

Cannot be summoned by speech,

Yet can be welcomed by the awareness.

Reverently hold onto it and do not lose it:

This is called "developing inner power."

When inner power develops and wisdom emerges,

The myriad things will, to the last one, be grasped.


All the forms of the mind

Are naturally infused and filled with it [the vital essence],

Are naturally generated and developed [because of] it.

It is lost

Inevitably because of sorrow, happiness, joy, anger, desire, and profit-seeking.

If you are able to cast off sorrow, happiness, joy, anger, desire, and profit-seeking,

Your mind will just revert to equanimity.

The true condition of the mind

Is that it finds calmness beneficial and, by it, attains repose.

Do not disturb it, do not disrupt it

And harmony will naturally develop.


Clear! as though right by your side.

Vague! as though it will not be attained.

Indiscernible! as though beyond the limitless.

The test of this is not far off:

Daily we make use of its inner power.

The Way is what infuses the body,

Yet people are unable to fix it in place.

It goes forth but does not return,

It comes back but does not stay.

Silent! none can hear its sound.

Suddenly stopping! it abides within the mind.

Obscure! we do not see its form.

Surging forth! it arises with us.

We do not see it form,

We do not hear its sound,

Yet we can perceive an order to its accomplishments.

We call it "the Way."


The Way has no fixed position;

It abides within the excellent mind.

When the mind is tranquil and the vital breath is regular,

The Way can thereby be halted.

That Way is not distant from us;

When people attain it they are sustained

That Way is not separated from us;

When people accord with it they are harmonious.

Therefore: Concentrated! as though you could be roped together with it.

Indiscernible! as though beyond all locations.

The true state of that Way:

How could it be conceived of and pronounced upon?

Cultivate you mind, make your thoughts tranquil,

And the Way can thereby be attained.


As for the Way:

It is what the mouth cannot speak of,

They eyes cannot see,

And the ears cannot hear.

It is that with which we cultivate the mind and align the body.

When people lose it they die;

When people gain it they flourish.

When endeavors lose it they fail;

When they gain it they succeed.

The Way never has a root or trunk,

It never has leaves or flowers.

The myriad things are generated by it;

The myriad things are completed by it.

We designate it "the Way."


For the heavens, the ruling principle is to be aligned.

For the earth, the ruling principle is to be level.

For the human beings, the ruling principle is to be tranquil.

Spring, autumn, winter, and summer are the seasons of the heavens.

Mountains, hills, rivers, and valleys are the resources of the earth.

Pleasure and anger, accepting and rejecting are the devices of human beings.

Therefore, the Sage:

Alters with the seasons but doesn't transform,

Shifts with things but doesn't change places with them.


If you can be aligned and be tranquil,

Only then can you be stable.

With a stable mind at your core,

With the eyes and ears acute and clear,

And with the four limbs firm and fixed,

You can thereby make a lodging place for the vital essence.

The vital essence: it is the essence of the vital energy.

When the vital energy is guided, it [the vital essence] is generated,

But when it is generated, there is thought,

When there is thought, there is knowledge,

But when there is knowledge, the you must stop.

Whenever the forms of the mind have excessive knowledge,

You lose your vitality.


Those who can transform even a single thing, call them "numinous";

Those who can alter even a single situation, call them "wise."

But to transform without expending vital energy; to alter without expending wisdom:

Only exemplary persons who hold fast to the One are able to do this.

Hold fast to the One; do not lost it,

And you will be able to master the myriad things.

Exemplary persons act upon things,

And are not acted upon by them,

Because they grasp the guiding principle of the One.


With a well-ordered mind within you,

Well-ordered words issue forth from your mouth,

And well-ordered tasks are imposed upon others.

Then all under the heavens will be well ordered.

"When one word is grasped,

All under the heavens will submit.

When one word is fixed,

All under the heavens will listen."

It is this [word "Way"] to which the saying refers.


When your body is not aligned,

The inner power will not come.

When you are not tranquil within,

Your mind will not be well ordered.

Align your body, assist the inner power,

Then it will gradually come on its own.


The numinous [mind]: no one knows its limit;

It intuitively knows the myriad things.

Hold it within you, do not let it waver.

To not disrupt your senses with external things,

To not disrupt your mind with your sense:

This is called "grasping it within you."


There is numinous [mind] naturally residing within;

One moment it goes, the next it comes,

And no one is able to conceive of it.

If you lost it you are inevitable disordered;

If you attain it you are inevitable well ordered.

Diligently clean out its lodging place

And its vital essence will naturally arrive.

Still your attempts to imagine and conceive of it.

Relax your efforts to reflect on and control it.

Be reverent and and diligent

And its vital essence will naturally stabilize.

Grasp it and don't let go.

The the eyes and ears won't overflow

And the mind will have nothing else to seek.

When a properly aligned mind resides within you,

The myriad things will be seen in their proper perspective.


The Way fills the entire world.

It is everywhere that people are,

But people are unable to understand this.

When you are released by this one word:

You reach up to the heavens above;

You stretch down to the earth below;

You pervade the nine inhabited regions.

What does it mean to be released by it?

The answer resides in the calmness of the mind.

When your mind is clam, your senses are calmed.

What makes them well ordered is the mind.

By means of the mind you store the mind:

Within the mind there is yet another mind.

That mind within the mind: it is an awareness that precedes words.

Only after there is awareness does it take shape;

Only after it takes shape is there a word.

Only after there is a word is it implemented;

Only after it is implemented is there order.

Without order, you will always be chaotic.

If chaotic, you die.


For those who preserve and naturally generate vital essence

On the outside a calmness will flourish.

Stored inside, we take it to be the well spring.

Floodlike, it harmonizes and equalizes

And we take it to be the fount of the vital energy.

When the fount is not dried up,

The four limbs are firm.

When the spring is not drained,

Vital energy freely circulates through the nine apertures.

You can then exhaust the heavens and the earth

And spread over the four seas.

When you have no delusions within you,

Externally there will be no disasters.

Those who keep their minds unimpaired within,

Externally keep their bodies unimpaired,

Who do not encounter heavenly disasters

Or meet with harm at the hands of others,

Call them Sages.


If people can be aligned and tranquil,

Their skin will be ample and smooth,

Their ears and eyes will be acute and clear,

Their muscles will be supple and their bones will be strong.

They will then be able to hold up the Great Circle [of the heavens]

And tread firmly over the Great Square [of the earth].

They will mirror things with great purity.

And will perceive things with great clarity.

Reverently be aware [of the Way] and do not waver,

And you will daily renew your inner power,

Thoroughly understand all under the heavens,

And exhaust everything within the Four Directions.

To reverently bring forth the effulgence [of the Way]:

This is called "inward attainment."

If you do this but fail to return to it,

This will cause a wavering in your vitality.


For all [to practice] this Way;

You must coil, you must contract,

You must uncoil, you must expand,

You must be firm, you must be regular [in this practice]

Hold fast to this excellent [practice]; do not let go of it.

Chase away the excessive; abandon the trivial.

And when you reach its ultimate limit

You will return to the Way and its inner power.


When there is a mind that is unimpaired within you,

It cannot be hidden.

It will be known in your countenance,

And seen in your skin color.

If with this good flow of vital energy you encounter others,

They will be kinder to you than your own brethren.

But if with a bad flow of vital energy you encounter others,

They will harm you with their weapons.

[This is because] the wordless pronouncement

Is more rapid than the drumming of thunder.

The perceptible form of the mind's vital energy

Is brighter than the sun and moon,

And more apparent than the concern of parents.

Rewards are not sufficient to encourage the good;

Punishments are not sufficient to discourage the bad.

Yet once this flow of vital energy is achieved,

All under the heavens will submit.

And once the mind is made stable,

All under the heavens will listen.


By concentrating your vital breath as if numinous,

The myriad things will all be contained within you.

Can you concentrate? Can you unite with them?

Can you not resort to divining by tortoise or milfoil

Yet know bad and good fortune?

Can you stop? Can you cease?

Can you not seek it in others,

Yet attain it within yourself?

You think and think about it,

And think still further about it.

You think, yet still cannot penetrate it.

While the ghostly and numinous will penetrate it,

It is not due to the power of the ghostly and numinous,

But to the utmost refinement of your essential vital breath.

When the four limbs are aligned

And the blood and vital breath are tranquil,

Unify your awareness, concentrate your mind,

Then your eyes and ears will not be overstimulated.

And even the far-off will seem close at hand.


Deep thinking generates knowledge.

Idleness and carelessness generate worry.

Cruelty and arrogance generate resentment.

Worry and grief generate illness.

When illness reaches a distressing degree, you die.

When you think about something and don't let go of it,

Internally you will be distressed, externally you will be weak.

Do not plan things out in advance

Or else your vitality will cede its dwelling.

In eating, it is beset not to fill up;

In thinking, it is best no to overdo.

Limit these to the appropriate degree

And you will naturally reach it [vitality].


As for the life of all human beings:

The heavens bring forth their vital essence,

The earth brings forth their bodies.

These two combine to make a person.

When they are in harmony there is vitality;

When they are not in harmony there is no vitality.

If we examine the Way of harmonizing them,

Its essentials are not visible,

Its signs are not numerous.

Just let a balanced and aligned [breath] fill your chest

And it will swirl and blend within your mind,

This confers longevity.

When joy and anger are not limited,

You should make a plan [to limit them].

Restrict the five sense-desires;

Cast away these dual misfortunes.

Be not joyous, be not angry,

Just let a balanced and aligned [breathing] fill your chest.


(Lines 5+ probably later Confucian additions)

As for the vitality of all human beings:

It inevitably occurs because of balanced and aligned [breathing].

The reason for its loss

Is inevitably pleasure, anger, worry and anxiety.

Therefore, to bring your anger to a halt, there is nothing better than poetry;

To cast off worry there is nothing better than music;

To limit music there is nothing better than the rites;

To hold onto the rites there is nothing better than reverence;

To hold onto reverence there is nothing better than tranquility.

When you are inwardly tranquil and outwardly reverent

You are able to return to your innate nature

And this nature will become greatly stable.


For all the Way of eating is that:

Overfilling yourself with food will impair your vital energy

And cause your body to deteriorate.

Overrestricting your consumption causes the bones to wither

And the blood to congeal.

The mean between overfilling and overrestricting:

This is called "harmonious completion."

It is where the vital essence lodges

And knowledge is generated.

When hunger and fullness lose their proper balance,

You make a plan to correct this.

When full, move quickly;

When hungry, neglect your thoughts;

When old forget worry.

If when full you don't move quickly,

Vital energy will not circulate to your limbs

If when hungry you don't neglect thoughts of food,

When you finally eat you will not stop.

If when old you don't forget your worries,

The fount of your vital energy will rapidly drain out.


When you enlarge your mind and let go of it,

When you relax your vital breath and expand it,

When your body is calm and unmoving,

And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances:

You will see profit and not be enticed by it,

You will see harm and not be frightened by it.

Relaxed and unwound, yet acutely sensitive,

In solitude you delight in your own person.

This is called "revolving the vital breath":

Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly


The vitality of all people

Inevitably comes FROM THEIR PEACE OF MIND.

When anxious you lose this guiding thread;

When angry, you lose this basic point.

When you are anxious or sad, pleased or angry,

The Way has no place within you to settle.

Love and desire: still them!

Folly and disturbance: correct them!

Do not push it! do not pull it!

Good fortune will naturally return to you,

And that Way will naturally come to you

So you can rely on and take counsel from it.

If you are tranquil then you will attain it;

If you are agitated then you will lose it.


That mysterious vital energy within the mind:

One moment it arrives, the next it departs.

So fine, there is nothing within it;

So vast, there is nothing outside it.

We lose it

Because of the harm caused by mental agitation.

When the mind can hold on to tranquility,

They Way will become naturally stabilized.

For people who have attained the Way

It permeates their pore and saturates their hair.

Within their chest, they remain unvanquished.

[Follow] this Way of restricting sense-desires

And the myriad things will not cause you harm.