Daodejing Chapter 55: like an infant

Richard Brown
2 min readAug 15, 2023

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.
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.
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.

Notes
1.) See Chapter 10 of the Daodejing for a similar comparison:
“Can you concentrate your vital energy and reach a state of suppleness,
Like an infant?”

Infancy is the weakest and most vulnerable phase of human life. Yet an infant’s grip is firm, its energy seems boundless, and its body seems immune to attacks from predators. This innate power comes from the infant’s primordial Qi (气) or vital energy. Qi is self-sufficient and self-renewable, but abusing it only brings negative results. Trying to direct it with your heart-and-mind only transforms its natural power into its opposite: unnatural force.

2.) The final three lines are the same as the concluding ones of Chapter 30:
Brute force ages quickly.
It goes against the Dao.
Going against the Dao
Leads to an early end.

It is certainly a lesson that is worth repeating.

3.) I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!

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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.