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To cultivate yourself internally, turn your gaze within and embrace your unifying essence. Can you do this without letting your attention wander? Manage your breathing and become aware of the energy coursing through your body. Can you relax yourself until you feel as soft and carefree as an infant? Lastly, release all concerns and worries about the material world. Can you let all of it go, without exception?
To cultivate yourself externally, you must manage your life and connect with your loved ones without meddling. In using your mind to solve problems and make plans, you must incorporate the gentleness and flexibility of the yin principle. As you observe the situation all around you, you must trust your feelings, and not second-guess yourself in overthinking the matter, or end up with analysis paralysis.
We can live a great life if we learn from the Tao in shaping every aspect of it. That means not being possessive of what we create, not being arrogant when we have accomplished things, and not being domineering toward those we have helped. It doesn’t seem advantageous to live this way, and yet it is the sure path to greatness. This is the Mystic Virtue.
In holding to your inner essence and embracing the oneness of your being, can your mind avoid being distracted, and thus going astray?
In focusing on your chi (the “breath”, or the living energy that courses through the body) and reaching a relaxed, softened state, can you identify with the purity of a newborn child?
In cleansing and getting rid of all the diversions of the materialistic panorama, can you be completely without any lingering attachments?
In caring for the people and governing a nation, can you administer without resorting to manipulative tricks?
When the gateway to the soul opens, the mind is in motion; when it closes, the mind at rest. In the opening and closing of this gateway, can you grasp the yin principle of serenity and quietude?
In approaching a true understanding that reaches out in all directions and encompasses all corners of the world, can you let go of the false knowledge gained through rationalization and intellectual sophistry?
The Tao gives birth to everything and nurtures everything, but does so without becoming possessive.
Creation is full of wondrous and marvelous works of nature. The Tao is the force behind them, and yet does not become presumptuous in such achievements. It gives life every chance to develop and thrive, and yet does not become domineering or controlling because of that.
We call this attribute Mystic Virtue. Sages emulate it in their actions. They nurture, encourage, teach and mentor those around them without the need to possess, gloat, or dominate.
The second line 能無離乎 means “Can one be without straying?” It is a reference to the path of centered oneness, and how one can stray far away from it. Some translations render this “straying” as “separation” or “division,” thus obscuring the original meaning and making the line more difficult to understand.
The seventh line 愛民治國 means “In loving the people and ruling the nation.” This may appear to be directed at kings and emperors, but it actually addresses the individual as well. Think of a kingdom as a metaphor for your workplace, family, social circle, sports team, and even your immediate surroundings. Read the following lines in that light, and the practical utility of this section becomes clear.