15th Verse – Wisdom of the Ancient Masters

The ancient masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it.
One can only describe them vaguely
by their appearance.

Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.
Alert, like men aware of danger.
Simple as uncarved wood.
Hollow like caves.
Yielding, like ice about to melt.
Amorphous, like muddy water.

But the muddiest water clears
as it is stilled.
And out of that stillness
life arises.

He who keeps the Tao does not want to be full.
But precisely because he is never full,
he can remain like a hidden sprout
and does not rush to early ripening.

There are several themes prevalent in this verse, but I want to focus on three that stand out to me and that speak to my life in its current state.

Characteristics of the Ancient Masters

The first are the characteristics of the ancient masters that the verse describes. (It is interesting that a book written thousands of years ago refers to ancient masters.) These characteristics are worth noting as important for us all:

  • Watchful – Aware of what the Universe/God is presenting.
  • Alert – Ready for whatever life dishes out.
  • Simple – Not needing fancy garments or objects to make them who they are.
  • Hollow – Open to new experiences and ideas and keeping space within to allow room for growth mentally and spiritually.
  • Yielding – adaptable to the changing situations of one’s life.
  • Amorphous – Not formed around or tied to any one idea, precept, or notion, but rather open to all.


The second one is the third stanza that talks about stillness. This stanza is a good analogy for the mind. Even the “muddiest” mind clears as one sits in stillness. And it is out of this stillness that our minds can be ready to handle anything.

Unfold as they will

The last one and the one that is the most profound to me because it is something that I have been focusing on in my own life comes in the last stanza of this verse. The message of this stanza is for us not to be focused on the end state. I.e. “to be full”. Instead we should be content with how we are right now; knowing that things (physical or non-physical) will come to us when the time is right. So don’t “rush to early ripening”, let things unfold as they will.

The Universe/God does not have a concept of time. That is something that we create in our society. The Universe/God does care if it is now or twenty years from now, what we need will come to us when the time is right. So we shouldn’t create anxiety, anger and sadness in our lives because we are fighting to make things happen according to our plans or expectations on time.

As I have written before in previous posts, this does not mean that we should not plan goals and go for things in our life and just sit around for things to come to us. The Universe/God does require action. Instead this means we should be accepting and gracious for what we are given and continue to work towards what is right for us in a positive and constructive manner instead of fighting against the flow of life.


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