The verse quoted in this chapter seems to be the inscription over a fountain which it was claimed never ran dry. People believed that its source was deep and sprang from the root of heaven and earth, which would explain that its supply was inexhaustible. In using this quotation Lao-tze looks upon the spring as an emblem of the mysterious nature of the Tao.
The Manchu version translates the word ku, valley, as a verb by "nourishing," which makes a very good sense for the first line, thus:
"Who nourishes spirituality does not die."
The use of ku (valley) as a verb, meaning "to feed, to nourish, to quicken," according to all dictionaries, is quite common in Chinese. But we might as well interpret ku as an adjective or participle and translate (with Couvreur): 5
"Lesprit vivifiant ne meurt pas."
A literal translation would read thus:
"The quickening spirit never dies.
It is called the mysterious woman.
The mysterious woman's gate
Is called of heaven and earth the root.
For ever and aye it abides
[And] its use is without effort."
The Manchu translator finds a physiological meaning in this chapter. Dr. Berthold Laufer has kindly furnished me with a translation of it as follows:
"Who nourishes the soul will not die. This is called the life of the main artery (Kuhen-i ergen = Chinese yüen pin, "mysterious woman"). The door of the life of the main artery is called the root
of procreation and increase. As if preserved for all eternity, it is inexhaustible in its practical application." 6
Dr. Laufer adds: "It is strange that the Chinese words for 'heaven and earth' which otherwise are literally translated, are here rendered by the verbal nouns banjibure and fusembure, the former 'creating,' the latter 'increasing.'
140 :5 See his French-Chinese Dictionary, p. 447.
141:6 Literally: "Lasting preserved like; used if, inexhaustible."