14.

视之不见名曰夷。
听之不闻名曰希。
抟之不得名曰微。
此三者不可致诘,
故混而为一。
其上不皦, 其下不昧,
绳绳不可名,复归於无物。
是谓无状之状,无物之象,是谓惚恍。
迎之不见其首,随之不见其後。
执古之道以御今之有。
能知古始,是谓道纪。

Fairly Literal Translation

The look that does not see is called foreign

The listening that does not hear is called unusual

The taking in hand that does not grasp is called humble

These three cannot be further analysed

On the old way one acts alone

One's ups are not sparkling

One's downs are not hidden

Rope, rope” is not what you call it

Return to emptiness.

This is called the form of formlessness: the manifestation of emptiness is undistinguished.

When we welcome it, we do not see its face; when follow it, we do not see its rear.

Using the Tao's original ways you have the means to resist the modern tendency.

Awareness of original stirrings is called intimation of the Tao.

Commentary

Taoism is a movement for authenticity that is not corrupted by conformism to social convention and prejudice. In society we are all trying to shine in socially approved ways. Taoism sees this as false. It advocates a more natural humility. This means not being taken in by the conventional way of seeing things, but being willing to look at things openly.

The look that does not see” means the look that is fresh. Generally when we look at something we “see” what we expect. However, the foreigner looks with a more open mind and has less expectation. Similarly when we listen or grasp something, we do so with an expectation that crowds out any new experience. The first three lines, therefore, advocate that even in familiar situations there is benefit in looking at things freshly, without too much expectation, and taking things in a humble way that does not presume too much to know in advance what is there or what it is about.

The person who goes along in the old way acts as if alone, authentically, not trying to impress or manipulate others. He is not making a show of his talents and successes nor hiding his failings. In fact, rather the reverse. Aware of his limitations he remains humble. This is because he is not trying to control. “Rope, rope” refers to trying to keep control, as the rope keeps control of a beast.

Return to emptiness means go back to what is authentic and not influenced. has an implication of whatever is outside, around one. It is a fundamental of Taoism that the best way to be is unaffected, free from the felt need to put on a show. So this acting from emptiness does not conform to a pre-established pattern. It is not to be recognised or approved according to established criteria. The modern way (even two thousand years ago, apparently) is to fit things into established forms so that people conform. We are encouraged to try to be the best at something, but, from a Taoist perspective, this is folly. Trying to be outstanding is just asking for trouble.

The person of Tao can resist this by seeing the deeper roots of what is happening and trusting the natural instinct. In this way he gleans intimations of the Tao and lives a liberated life.

So…

Loose Translation

Look at things as if you are a foreigner

Listen, but not in the usual way,

When you take things up, be humble with them.

These three are basic.

The original way is to be authentic.

Don’t make a show of your successes,

don’t minimise your faults and failings,

don’t be a control freak.

Enter the world empty,

the form of formlessness, not outstanding.

The Tao is to be free of such compulsions.

You will not recognise it by any system.

Trust your original nature and do not fall into conventional sophistication.

Trust your original impulse, that's where you'll find intimations of the Tao.

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