1. Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs;
[According to the translator's footnote: "straw dogs were treated with the greatest deference before they were used as an offering, only to be discarded and trampled upon as soon as they had served their purpose."]
Heaven and earth can be understood as the forces - unseen and seen - that conspire to bring about certain sequences of events. So in what way do they treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs? - By giving them life perhaps, by sustaining them before taking their lives at any moment. The forces of the Universe have given us life, given us the means to sustain it, given us hopes and ideals to inspire and uplift but at any moment we can be afflicted by disease or violence and then death.
Myriad creatures has been understood literally here. The usual understanding of myriad creatures as states of mind, egoistic fancies etc could be applied but the literal understanding is valid for this chapter especially since it is juxtaposed with the next phrase which deals with the work of the sage:
the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as straw dogs.
The word people is used here in contrast to myriad creatures in the previous clause. The people can be understood as what populates the psyche, that is, our psychological tendencies and the notions and concepts that we deal with. In what way does the sage treat them as straw dogs? - The sage is indifferent to their fate. In order to function in the world a certain deference is paid to them. We have to go along with them to some extent (without being taken in by them) but as soon as they're no longer useful, discard them completely. There is an analogy with scientific theory. For example, the model of the atom as some sort of miniature solar system is useful to some extent but to mistake this model for reality, to give it some essential validity, means that understanding cannot progress and more sophisticated mathematical models of the atom would fail to be appreciated. In spiritual practice all 'models' must be given up.
2. Is not the space between heaven and earth like a bellows?
The space between heaven and earth is the 'space' between the inner and the outer, the "inner" referring to the field of thoughts, emotions, feelings, etc and the "outer" referring to the world 'out there'. This 'space' is where awareness is located. Awareness can be exercised inwardly or outwardly but bear in mind that as far as this commentary is concerned the inner and the outer are both aspects of there. It is awareness of awareness that brings us to Here. It is this awareness of awareness that is like a bellows. It blows away the straw dogs, or fans the flames that burns them.
3. It is empty without being exhausted:
A bellows has nothing in it. This is the source of its power. So too with pure awareness. In practice, awareness can be confused with a particular mood. If so, then it is not pure. In the practice of awareness one should endeavour to make sure that it is not underpinned or flavoured by a particular mood. It is in this sense that it is empty and far from being exhausted its power is enhanced:
The more it works the more comes out.
The more this awareness is practised the more these subtle egoistic ploys are exposed.
4. Much speech leads inevitably to silence.
Well, isn't silence a good thing? So is much speech being advised here? When consciousness is lost and the practitioner has a vague feeling that they are lost then practising awareness of speech can help. However, I think the sense here is given in the Feng and English translation:
More words count less.
In other words, much speech is counterproductive. The more words that are being used then the less is being communicated. Instead it's:
5. Better to hold fast to the void.
But why did the author mention speech? The production of speech - jawing - is similar to the action of a bellows. The 'bellows' in this case is pointing towards our centre of awareness. It's then possible that awareness is being negated, silenced. Perhaps in these last two lines the author is admonishing him or herself. Enough. Be still. In pure, empty, awareness.