Sometimes in the search for meanings related to our studies and practice, we have to rely on scholarly translations. However if our practice go deeper perhaps beyond the understanding of most scholars and practitioners, then we may have to do the required homework or research ourselves.
It is not really my wish to translate chapters of the Tao Te Ching, since one has just started to read this classic only a few years ago as compared to the many that have read it for decades and the available hundreds of translations.
It could be obvious to some that the understanding of what Laozi said in the Tao Te Ching may differ much between scholars and those who cultivate. Perhaps this translation of Chapter 5 may provide glaring differences with the extant English translations. The reason for this translation is because one is doing limited research for my neidan practice on the subject of the ‘germinal vesicle’ (an invisible cavern within). And want to leave behind some notes for fellow travelers and self for future reference.
As usual, knowing my limitations, readers should prepare to read my translation of Chapter 5 with a pinch of salt:
Heaven and Earth are not humane. They treat the myriad things as straw dogs.
Sages are not humane. They treat the hundred surnames as straw dogs.
The space between Heaven and Earth is like a bellows*. Empty yet inexhaustible.
Actions improve and bring it* out.
Many words have limitations. Not as good as guarding the Center.
Perhaps for the English, the bellows is the most appropriate word to describe the space between Heaven and Earth.
In alchemic terms, Earth acts as the furnace while Heaven acts as the Cauldron. Probably most Western scholars have linked bellows to that of the waidan practice. Waidan practitioners used the bellows to blow on the fire started in the furnace to melt and then mix the medicine and chemicals in the cauldron, before taking in the refined mixture.
The written Chinese word translated as bellows actually indicates a bag opening at both ends with holes for exhale – perhaps more akin to the ‘germinal vesicle’, not to the bellows.
If my understanding is correct, then Chapter 5 is also about neidan practice and therefore the various available English translations may not have come close to the real meanings of what Laozi had revealed.
The penultimate verse confirms my simple understanding of the workings of the ‘germinal vesicle’. And like what Laozi had revealed, it is used by Daoists to reach and guard the Center. (More on this understanding and the germinal vesicle later)
It is always up to each of us students to understand what the sages meant to say and to put their advice into practice otherwise we are like straw dogs. If we do not understand the words of the ancient sages, do not expect to understand the actions of Heaven and Earth. Ha, straw dogs again! Cannot run away from that!