from Tao, The Great Luminant: Essays from the Huai Nan Tzu, from “Dissertation on The Cosmic Spirit”

from Tao, The Great Luminant: Essays from the Huai Nan Tzu

by Evan S. Morgan (1933)

from “Dissertation on The Cosmic Spirit”


The properties of the Tao.

The Cosmic Spirit (Tao)1 embraces Heaven and supports Earth. It stretched the four quarters of the Universe and generated the eight points of the the firmament. There is no limit to its height, and its depth is unfathomable. It constituted Heaven and Earth and endowed them with the primary elements, when as yet they were without form. Flowing like a fountain, bubbling like a spring, impalpable, its energies bubbled forth in the void and filled space. Continuing to effervesce, it transformed the murky air of chaos into crystal clearness. Hence it filled Heaven and Earth and stretched to the uttermost parts of the sea. It spent itself without exhaustion: there was no morning or evening, i.e., rise and decay, no fatigue and revival.

Expanding, the Cosmic Spirit overspread every part of the firmament, earth, time and space. Rolled together, it was not a fistful; compressed, it can expand; opaque, it can yet be clear; yielding, yet strong, soft, yet firm. It is a macrocosmos as well as a microcosmos. It holds, as in a net, the four poles: and comprehends the active and passive forces of creation. It links the universe together and makes the sky luminous. It is most substantial and full of sap; most tenuous and fine: so delicate is it that it penetrates every pore and crevice.

The work of the Tao.

It gives height to the mountain and depth to the abyss. It fashioned beasts to walk and birds to fly. Sun and moon are luminous by its power, and the planets revolve in their courses because of it: the Chilin comes forth through its energy, and the phoenix wheels in the empyrean through its might.

Agency of Yin and Yang.

In the beginning, the two forces Yin and Yang,2 having obtained the essence of the Tao, became the central organizing powers. Their divinity and influence determined the transformations of Heaven and the stability of Earth. The revolutions of the Universe were unfailing. It was through the Tao that the heavens first revolved and the earth was made fast: the successive revolutions failed not. The waters eternally flowed without ceasing and were conterminous with creation. The winds blew; the clouds steamed. There was nothing which should not be. Every thing was as it should be. The thunder pealed; rains fell: each and all responding to the movement of the Tao without cessation. Mysterious in its operations like the emergence of spirit, or the arrival of the phoenix, or the transformations of the dragon, its vestiges may be traced.

Flux of matter.

As the potter moves the wheel, the hub turns, one complete turn following on the other. In the universal flux, organisms, when finished and polished, dissolve again into their rough elements and constituent parts.

Without (apparent) doing, things came into existence under the inspiration of the Tao. There is no sound or speech to indicate activity: the successive evolutions proceed with energies permeating all. Without love or hate, impartially, and in no boastful spirit, the perfect harmony is attained. The myriad varieties are organised each with its own nature. The energy of the Tao is imparted to the minutest thing: and, also, it operates in the greatest, composing the mighty universe. Its virtue gives flexibility to nature and harmonizes into unity the operations of Yin and Yang. It divides the four seasons and co-ordinates the five elements. Its beneficent spirit breathes on all, fructifying creation and the world of life. It sends forth its fattening dews on grass and tree; it bathes metal and stone with lustre; it makes bird and beast strong; it gives sheen to scale and feather, and strength to wing; and it begets the horns (of cattle). Through its powers the embryo of beasts do not miscarry nor the eggs of birds addle.

The Tao preserves men from calamity.

It is due to the Tao that fathers have no occasion to mourn over the untimely death of their children,3 nor the elder brother weep over the untimely death of a younger member. Children are not made orphans nor wives widows. That the ill-starred rainbow does not appear, nor unlucky comets career in the sky, is due to the harmonious control of the Tao.4

Its transforming power.

The supreme Tao begets all creation, but keeps itself as though it did not exist, i.e. makes no boast of it. It produces all phenomena, yet without appearing as the controller. Creatures that walk and breathe, that fly to and fro, and all creeping things depend on it for life, yet are unconscious of the merits of the Tao in their well-being. They await its behests for death, without bearing any grudge at the change. The benefits of the Tao in life are not extolled: the decay of death, through wear and tear, is not blamed. Accumulations of goods and stores must not be boasted of as wealth, nor are their distributions and donations to be looked upon as any impoverishment. Its fluxes are incomprehensible; its delicate operations are interminable. Build it up and you cannot give it any more height of glory. Subtract from it and you cannot rob it of any virtue. Multiply it and it is the same number; detract from it and it is no fewer; hack it and it is no thinner; slay it yet it is not destroyed; dig into it and it is without depth; fill it in and it will be no shallower.

Oh! how swift! how sudden! No form does it take: how exhaustless. Profound, Oh! Obscure, Oh! Responsive, Oh! Answer there is, Oh! Effective, Oh! Never does it move in vain, Oh! Conterminous with heaven and earth in its expansion and contraction, Oh! Ascending and descending with Yin and Yang, Oh!



  1. Fu tao cho. The chô follows the theme indicating the matter discussed. It also implies personality, but not so here.
  2. Yin and Yang. The negative and positive principles conceived of as existing in nature universally: male and female: light and darkness.
  3. There are no surprising calamities, because all is natural and well-ordered. It may refer more to ill-starred signs than actual physical disturbance.
  4. The rainbow is a bad sign: no one dares to point the finger at it.

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