Daodejing Chapter 55 breakdown: poisonous insects and predatory birds

Richard Brown
2 min readFeb 1, 2024

Chapter 55 of the Daodejing compares someone who has attained inner power to an infant whose purity and vitality make it immune to attacks from external threats. By acting unconsciously without any motive, the infant is the embodiment of harmony with the Dao and the natural order. Anyone who strains this harmony by either burning the candle at both ends or attempting to extend their natural lifespan faces a premature death.

Section 1
Those who possess
Abundant inner power
Are like an infant.
Poisonous insects
Do not sting them,
Ferocious beasts
Do not pounce upon them,
Predatory birds
Do not swoop down on them.

In its innocence and lack of social conditioning, the infant represents an uncorrupted state of being that is resilient to external dangers, like stings from poisonous insects or attacks from wild animals. Because it does not threaten harm other creatures, it is not harmed by them.

Section 2
An infant’s bones are supple,
Its muscles are tender,
But its grip is firm.
It has never known
The union of male and female,
But its member can stand erect,
Because its vital essence is at its peak.
It can cry all day without going hoarse,
Because its innate harmony is at its peak.

The infant’s rude health and potency come from its primordial Qi or vital essence. It is in a state of wuwei, or effortless action, where everything functions optimally without conscious effort. The infant can cry all day without going hoarse because of its innate harmony and balance with nature and the Dao.

Section 3
To know harmony is constancy.
To know constancy is enlightenment.
To strive to extend your life is unpropitious.
Letting your heart-and-mind
Direct your vital energy
Means resorting to force.
Brute force ages quickly.
It goes against the Dao.
Going against the Dao
Leads to an early end.

Living in harmony with the Dao gives you clarity and calm. But the moment you start directing your will to oppose or control it, your vital energy will dissipate and your physical strength will decline. The more you attempt to extend your life beyond its natural span, the more you risk shuffling off this mortal coil before your allotted time.

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.