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The Way as “way” bespeaks no common lasting Way,
The name as ‘name’ no common lasting name.
Absent is the name for shy and land’s first life,
Present for the mother of all ten thousand things.
Desire ever absent:
Behold the seed germs of all things;
Desire ever present:
Behold their every finite course.
Forth together come the two
As one and the same
But differ in name.
As one, a dark recess
That probed recedes
Past that portal whence
The milling seed germs teem.

In every fair the world considers fair
There’s foul;
In every good the world considers good
There’s ill.
For what is what is not yields,
And the harder the easier consummates;
The long the short decides,
And higher lower measures;
Bronze gongs jade chimes join,
And former latter sequence form,
Ever round, and round again.
This is why the man of wisdom
Concerns himself with under-acting
And applies the lesson
Of the word unspoken,
That all ten thousand things may come forth
Without his direction,
Live through their lives
Without his possession,
And act of themselves
Unbeholden to him.
To the work he completes
He lays down no claim.
And this has everything to do
With why his claim holds always true.

Do not promote those who excel
And folk will have no cause to quarrel.
Prize not goods too hard to find
And people won’t be turned to crime.
The people’s thoughts remain subdued.
Thus under a wise man’s rule
Blank are their minds
But full their bellies,
Meek their wills
But tough their bones.
He keeps the folk
From knowing and craving,
And the intellects
From daring to lead.
By acting himself without taking the lead
Inside his kingdom all is well ruled.

Ever void, Dao provides
But does not fill.
To a welling font akin,
The living myriad’s sacred source
Is like the darkness of the deep;
There its living presence bides.
Child of whom I cannot tell,
Liken it to the ancestor of ancestors.

Heaven and earth refuse kin-kindness:
Treating all things as dogs of straw.
Wise rulers too refuse kin-kindness:
Taking gentlefolk as dogs of straw.
The space that heaven and earth frame
Works like a kiln-bellows and airpipes,
Which thought emptying is not exhausted,
And activated, pours more forth.
A ruler’s swiftly spent who speaks too much;
Better for him to guard his inner state.

The valley’s daemons never die,
The valley called the dark world womb;
The portal of the dark world womb
They call the tree root of sky and land.
A hidden yet seeming presence,
Use it and stay strong.

The heavens last, the earth endures.
And the reason why they do?
By disowning what they yield,
Heaven can last and earth endure.
So, surely, does the world-wise lord,
Who puts his interest far behind
And ends up in the lead,
Who puts his interest to the side
And ends up safe and whole.
Is it not so:
That having nothing to own
He can achieve his goal?

Perfect mastery works like water:
A boon to every living creature,
In adverse relation never;
At home where most can abide,
Closest to the Way it lies.
For position, favour lower ground:
For thought, profundity;
For engaging, gentility;
For speaking, credibility;
For ruling, authority;
For service, capability;
For action, suitability.
Avoiding confrontation
Eliminates accusation.
There is no other way.

Desist before the vessel overruns.
Honed too sharp no blade retains its edge.
Treasure-filled no room remains secure.
Pride in wealth and place yields retribution.
“Tasks complete, doers retreat”:
Such is heaven’s way.

The new-moon soul aborning holds to oneness;
Can you keep it from being divided?
To center all breath-energy, to work gently
Can you keep as if newborn?
To purify the eye within
Can you keep without strain?
To care for the people and rule the kingdom
Must you not master under-acting?
Midst ebb and flow from heaven’s gates
Must you not play the female part?
For your vision to reach all quarters
Must you not be unknowing?
Through giving birth and care
Dao gives life without possessing,
Performs without obligating,
Presides without controlling:
Such is the meaning of “hidden power.”

Thirty spokes join the wheel nave
And make of void and form a pair,
And a wagon’s put to use.
Clay is thrown to shape a vase
And make of void and form a pair,
And a vessel’s put to use.
Boor and window vent a room
And make of void and form a pair,
And a room is put to use.
Thus the value of what is
Depends for use on what is not.

The five colours bring blindness,
The five tones deafness,
The five flavours loss of savour,
Racing and hunting gloss of reason,
And rare goods shameless action.
When wise men govern this is why
They favour the belly, not the eye,
The one accept, the other deny.

“At favour (as disgrace) take fright:
Honours to the self bring woe.”
“Explain ‘At favour (as disgrace) take fright.’”
“What could be more dire than favour?
Its gain – or loss – betokens danger.
Such is the meaning.”
“Explain ‘Honours to the self bring woe.’”
“our selves are why we suffer harm;
Without them what harm would there be?
So to the one
Who honours self above the world
Confide its care;
To the one
Who holds the self more dear than it
Entrust its care.”

Something looked for but not seen,
Or listened for, not heard,
Or reached for, not found:
Call one “dim”, one “faint”, one “slight,”
Not for summons nor for challenge.
Combined these three make one –
The One, the foremost number,
When daylit sky and dark of night
Have yet to be.
Through this One all living forms coil forth
Helter-skelter – how else to name it? –
Only to go round home again
TO their unbodied state:
Form before form,
Guises of the unbodied,
Or gleams in a dim void.
Who can engage them?
Who find the foremost?
Who can pursue them?
Who find the last?
Hold fast to the Way of ancient days
To guide us through our present world;
To know how things began of old
Is to be grounded in the Way.

The ancient master workers of the Way
Had vision to perceive the subtlest force.
Too deep they were to recognize,
And since they can’t be recognized,
One can but strain to picture them:
Wary, as if wading a winter river;
Watchful, as if threatened from all sides;
Stately and restrained, like a guest;
Smooth and even, like melting ice;
Impassive, even as the spacious sea;
Unfettered, like a restless windstorm;
Rough and solid, like an unwrought bole;
Compact and dense, like something unrefined;
Wide and open-stretching, like a vale.
If sullied they kept calm and stayed pure;
If secure they moves with care and stayed alive. But who can do so now?
Those who embrace the Way do not grow too great;
And thus survive and overcome defeat.

By reaching utmost receptivity
And keeping steadfast stability,
I, as myriads come forth in profusion,
Contemplate their circulation.
All multiply in fruitful growth,
Then bend homeward to their root.
This going home call equilibrium;
Equilibrium, returning life;
Returning life, call natural order;
To know this order, inner vision.
Not to know it is delusion.
Delusion will produce misfortune.
Knowing order means acceptance;
Acceptance, magnanimity;
Magnanimity, totality;
Totality, accord with Heaven;
Accord with heaven, with the Way;
With the Way, long-lasting life;
The self submerged will not miscarry.

The best of ancient kings were in their kingdoms hardly known;
Next the patriarchs, loved and widely praised.
Next again those the people feared.
Last come those whose abuse they endured,
Who unworthy of trust were met with distrust.
What care the ancients took with every word.
Of tasks fulfilled and works of merit done
The hundred families all declared,
“This was no one’s doing but our own.”

And when the olden way of rule declined,
The words for love and serve came in.
Next came knowledge and keen thought,
Advent of lying, sham, and fraud.
When kinsmen lost their kind concord,
They honoured child- and parent-love.
In dark disorder ruling houses
Turned to loyal devoted vassals.

Refuse the wise, dismiss the intellects,
The folk will reap a hundredfold;
Refuse kin-kindness, dismiss due service,
The folk again will love as child and parent;
Refuse craft-skill, reject all gain,
No thief no robber will be found –
These three as text do not suffice.
Commandments must be put in practice:
Plain appearance, humble habits,
Owning little, craving less.
Reject the teaching of the young
And thereby suffer no distress.

How distant from condemn consent?
Disgust, delight, how different?
He whom others fear,
He too has to fear.
All is beyond reach and never-ending.
High in sprits seems the crowd,
Like celebrants at a sacrifice,
Or viewers on the spring-rite stand.
I alone, adrift with no signs of hope,
Deserted and without appeal,
Am simple as a newborn before it smiles,
Dejected like someone without a home.
The crowd seems sunny an inspired;
I am sullen and low,
And my heart without guile.
The crowd, so busy and eager;
I, drawn into myself;
Impassive, even as the spacious sea; unfettered, like a restless wind.
The crowd has more than it needs;
I am left untended.
The crowd has its ways and its means;
I am set in my ways and despised.
Alone and apart from all others,
I honour the life-giving mother.

Boundless virtue all-accepting
Attends the Way, the Way alone.
Assuming form, the Way reveals
Shapes half-seen and then half-hid.
In dark half-lit, a likening;
In light half-dark, forms visible;
Hidden within, the germ of life;
The germ of life, no thing more real:
It contains a thing to trust.
From present time to ancient day
These names have never been forgotten;
Through them we can scrutinize
The myriad millions’ genesis.
How do we know of their formation?
Through the virtue of the Way.

Bend to not break.
Wrong leads to right,
Depletion to expansion,
Ruin to revival,
Deprivation to acquisition.
Thus the wise hold fast to oneness,
Their measure for this world below;
They make no display and thus shed light,
Put forward no claim and thus set patterns,
Do not advance and thus succeed,
Do not assert and thus preside.
By their refusal to contend
The world cannot with them contend.
Those ancient words “Bend to not break”
Have pith and point
Truly those unbroken credit them.
“Spare speech and let things be.”

The whirlwind’s spent before the morning ends;
The storm will pass before the day is done.
Who made them, wind and storm? Heaven and earth.
If heaven itself cannot storm for long,
What matter, then, the storms of man?
But those who attend and serve the Way
Correspond to the Way;
Those who attend and serve the power
Correspond to the power;
Those who decline and attend and serve them
Correspond to their decline.
Those who correspond to the Way
The Way will favour;
And those who correspond to its decline
The Way will decline to favour.
“Those unworthy of trust are met with distrust.”

How long can you stand up on your toes?
How far walk with stretching stride?
Self-display does not illumine;
Self-justifying sets no pattern;
Self-advancement won’t succeed;
Self-assertion cannot lead.
In terms of Dao, as has been said,
“Like food discarded, excess actions
Provoke repugnance.”
Dao-keepers will indeed avoid them.

Manifesting material in form unshaped,
Born before heaven and earth themselves,
Unseen, unheard, above, apart,
Standing alone ever true to itself,
Swinging in cycles that never fail,
Mother of heaven and earth, it seems,
But I know not how to give it names.
Pressed, I shall dub it the moving Way,
Or call it by name the all-supreme,
All-supreme and passing-beyond,
Passing beyond and reaching-far,
Reaching-far and reverting-back.
Indeed the Way is all-supreme,
And heaven too, and earth, and man –
The four things in this world supreme,
And among them one is man,
Who is bound to follow the rule of earth,
And earth must follow heaven’s rule,
And heaven the rule of the Way itself;
And the moving Way is following
The self-momentum of all becoming.

As weight anchors lightness
And calm governs impulse,
The wise leader, all day on the march,
Stays by his stockage train
Within his guarded cordon,
Safely positioned, beyond harm’s reach.
Could the lord of ten thousand wagons of war
Risk his own self for the sake of the world?
Let such lightness lose him his anchoring base?
Such impulse his rule?

Expert marching leaves no trails;
Expert wording has no flaws;
Expert reckoning needs no tallies.
Well-sealed doors have no crossbar
Yet cannot be opened.
Well-tied knots employ no cord,
Yet cannot be loosened.
Accordingly, the wise know how to salvage men
And make sure none go to waste;
They know how to salvage things
And make sure none go to waste;
This is called far-reaching insight.
The expert learns from the expert,
And draws lessons from the unfit.
Not to value the teacher,
Not to hold dear his subjects
Is misguided in even the most learned.
This is called the crucial secret.

Acknowledge the male,
But retain the female:
Be a drain-way for the world below the sky.
As a drain-way for the world below the sky,
Your constant power will never depart,
Will lead back home to infancy.
Acknowledge the white
But remember the black:
Be a measure for the world below the sky.
As a measure for the world below the sky,
Your constant power will never decline,
Will lead you back home to before duality.
Acknowledge honours,
But remember humility;
Be a valley for the world below the sky.
As a valley for the world below the sky,
Your constant power will suffice,
Will lead back home to stark simplicity.
“As simplicity disintegrated useful things were forged”:
These were the words that wise men went by
When serving as officers and elders,
For fine cutters never harm the stone.

Whoever mean to take this realm and rule it –
I see them failing to attain that end.
For this realm below, a sacred vessel,
Never may be subject to such rule.
They ruin it who try,
Lose it who hold on.
All living things of form
Now move ahead, now trail behind;
Now breathe hot, now cold;
Now wax strong, now fade;
Now are safely set, but soon will fall.
And so the wise stay far from
All extremes, all surfeit, all grandeur.

Those who guide their leaders by the Way
Will not urge war to dominate the world,
For such a course is bound to haunt its taker.
Fields where armies camp grow thorns and weeds,
And plague and famine follow every war.
When the fruits of victory desist;
Never seek to break a beaten foe,
And flaunt no prowess with the victory,
Assert no strength, show no pride;
Be a visitor against your will,
A victor who will not dominate.
“Beware old age in pride of manly might”:
This warns you work not against the Way.
“Work against the Way, die before your day.”

Weapons of war are omens of doom,
To be loathed by every living thing
And shunned by those who keep the Way.
Presiding at court the leader honours the left.
Resorting to war he honours the right.
But weapons are never the leader’s choice.
Weapons of war are omens of doom,
Not to be used unless compelled.
Above all, with mind and heart unstirred,
To arms give no glory:
For to glory in arms
Is to sing and rejoice in the slaughter of men.
And singers in praise of the slaughter of men
Shall not in this world gain their ends.
Thus the left is for deeds that are blessed,
The right is for deeds that bring death.
To the left the minor commander,
To the right the chief general:
Placed for the rites to honour the dead. When the slaughter is great,
Let the leader come forth to keen for the slain;
The victory won,
To perform solemn rites in mourning the day.

The Way continues on unnamed.
Though in its unhewn rawness low and humble,
None in the realm can force it to serve.
When lords and kings to this Way keep,
Ten thousand things as honoured guests attend.
When heaven and earth cojoined and shed sky-mead,
Uncommanded the people shared it fairly.
But the advent of rule brought names;
And names meant mastering restraint.
To master restraint ensures survival.
The Ways presence in the realm of men,
As valley streams join rivers, then the ocean.

Knowledge knows others
But wisdom the self.
Power conquers others
But strength the self.
To know contentment is wealth,
To act with strength resolve.
Long as those who do not lose their place may last,
Timeless those who die but perish not.

The Way moves like the turning tide,
Leftward, rightward, lending its aid.
Ten thousand on the Way depend;
By it they live; the Way, never shirking,
Attain success, fulfills its tasks,
Without its ever being named.
Under its mantle all beings thrive;
But ruling them not, not desiring aught,
The Way wins the name of humble and low.
All beings bend to that home of no known master,
And thus the Way wins the name supreme.
And so may the wise achieve this themselves:
To shun self-supremacy all of their days
Is the way they achieve things supreme.

Maintain all semblance of the Way supreme
And all the world will follow your royal lead
And do so without harm to each other,
Thus sharing in peace and calm and plenty.
The sounds of music and the banquet scene
May tempt the passing traveler to pause;
The truths we utter here are bland and plain:
Look, but there is nothing for the eye;
Listen, there is nothing for the ear;
But use them and they never fail to serve.

To what you mean to draw in, first give slack
And make strong what you would weaken;
Raise up whom you would remove,
And provide when you mean to deprive.
That is to do the unseen, unseen.
For over the hard and the strong
The soft and the weak shall prevail.
Like fish down deep that cannot be lured,
Hold craft of policy far from view.

The Dao in constant circum-motion,
Pursuing no end leaves nothing not dome –
Let lords and kings to this conform
And all shall turn to them in trust.
Should then desires assert themselves,
We shall humble them with stark no-naming –
Yes, humble them with the starkness of no-naming,
And thus there shall be no desire;
And out of the repose of no-desire,
The world on its own will come to order.

High virtue by obliging not
Acquires moral force.
Low virtue obliges always
And thus lacks moral force.
High virtue neither strives
Nor acts for its own ends.
Low virtue does not strive
But acts for its own ends.
High kindness does strive
But not for its own ends.
High service also strives
And does so for its ends.
High ritual not only strives
But, compliance failing, stops at nothing
To compel conformance.
Thus the loss of the Way
Meant the advent of virtue,
The loss of virtue
The advent of kindness,
The loss of kindness
The advent of service,
The loss of service
The advent of ritual rule.
Ritual rule turned loyal trust to deceit,
Leading to disorder.
All that has been learned adorns the Way
And engenders delusion.
Hence those strong and true keep commitment,
Shun deceit,
Stay with the kernel that’s real,
And sun flowery adornment,
Choosing the first, refusing the last.

From ancient times the foremost number
Has kept the heavens clear and pure,
The earth below firm and secure,
And made its spirits animate,
And its vales exuberant,
Enabled being to procreate,
And kings and lords to tell their fate.
Without that one prime integer
Heaven would crack, since not kept pure,
And earth would split, since not secure.
Spirits would fade since not vital,
And valleys fail, since not fruitful.
All things would die, not procreating,
And kings would fall, their fate mistaking.
The noble and the lowly are sustained;
Those above must have support below.
Hence lords and kings themselves proclaim
“Bereft,” “bereaved,” or “humble slave,”
Relying on a lowly name.
Is it not so?
Thus “frequent praising brings no fame.”
“Prefer not jade’s gentle chime
To dull stone’s harsher tang.”

The Way moves on by contra-motion;
Yielding is the application.
Becoming begets all beings below,
Becoming begotten of negation.

When men of service hearken to the Way,
The lofty strive to see it applied,
The average cannot seem to decide,
While the lower sort grandly deride.
Their derision makes Dao’s reputation.
So the Words of Guidance says:
“Seers of the Way seem not to see
And those who advance, to retreat.
The smoothest path seems unsure,
Honoured virtue seems undistinguished,
Ample virtue unqualified,
Resolute virtue undependable,
Stable virtue unfaithful.
Pure white seems impure,
Broad planes lack angles,
Great works take time,
Mighty voices rarely sound,
Grand vision has no set design,
Unknown the Way and thus unnamed.”
But the Way it is, the Way alone,
That brings first motions to fruition.

The number one of the Way was born.
A duad from this monad formed.
The duad next a triad made;
The triad bred the myriad,
Each holding The number one of the Way was born.
A duad from this monad formed.
The duad next a triad made;
The triad bred the myriad,
Each holding yang
And held by yin,
Whose powers’ balanced interaction
Brings all ten thousand to fruition.
By the names men most of all abhor –
“Orphaned,” “wanting,” “destitute” –
Kings and lords make themselves known.
For in this world
Those who take less shall have more,
Those given more shall have less.
These words men have taught
And so shall I teach:
“Who lives by might never do die right”,
These my authority, my guiding light.

In this world below the sky
The gentle wind will outdo the strong,
And the nonmaterial are able
To enter the impregnable.
Thus I know and know for sure
The gains that under-acting yields.
But teaching by the word unspoken
In this world few can master;
The gains that under-acting yields
In this world few realize.

Is the name or the man more precious?
Does the man or his goods count for more?
Does the gain or loss bring more pain?
Extreme economies entail great waste,
And excess holding heavy losses;
But a humbling is spared by few wants,
A miscarriage by knowing the limits;
Thus one can abide and endure.

Great successes may seem flawed,
But their benefits injure no one.
Great abundance may seem spent,
But its supply is endless.
Great honesty may seem unfair,
Great eloquence like reticence,
Great artistry like clumsiness,
But they stand the trial of use.
Keen cold yields to excitation,
And heat of passions to repose:
On reflection and repose rely
To rightly rule the world below the sky.

When the Way prevails below the sky
Disbanded chargers dung the lad;
But when the Way the world deserts
War horses breed outside the towns.
No crime exceeds desire sanctioned,
No woe is worse than discontent,
No omen more dire than desire gained.
Truly with few wants content,
Contentment lasts as long as life.

No need to venture past the door
To know this world below the skies,
No peer outside the window frame
To see the heaven's works and ways:
“Distant ventures, meager knowledge.”
For this reason men of wisdom
Know the world not having walked it,
And name it true not having seen it,
And gain success not striving for it.

To pursue learning, learn more day by day;
To pursue the Way, unlearn it day by day:
Unlearn and then unlearn again
Until there is nothing left to pursue:
No end pursued, no end ungained.
Whoever means to win this world below
Never undertakes that task:
Whoever does make that his task
Is not fit to win this world below.

The wise maintain no constant mind,
But take as theirs the people’s mind.
“Thos minded to do good we take for good,
As we do those not so minded”:
And this obligates their goodness.
“And the trusted I trust,
As I trust the not-to-trust”:
And this obligates their trust.
In this world the wise man stands
All-enfolding, all-accepting –
No longer apart from the world, no above.
The people lend him their eyes and their ears;
The wise man cradles them like babes.

They come forth into life and they go to the dead:
The gateways of life are thirteen in all,
And the gateways of death the same thirteen.
But people in pursuit of life
Drive themselves to where death waits
At any of the thirteen mortal points.
And why is this?
A way of life too rich.
Men say those who secret themselves well
Will meet no gaur or tiger on the land,
Nor suffer weapon’s wound in war:
Present the gaur no place to gore them,
Nor the tiger place to claw them,
Nor the foe a place to stab them.
And why is this so?
Their mortal points are not exposed.

Ten thousand Dao begets and breeds,
Which its power tends and feeds
As objects all take varied shape,
As things to use reach final form.
For this the natural myriad
Honour the Way, esteem its power.
Such honour and such high esteem
No mandate from above decreed;
It is their norm of self-becoming.
Dao indeed begets and breeds
All its power tends and feeds
And fosters and then raises up
And brings to full maturity
And still preserves and still protects.
For Dao begets but does not keep,
Works its way but does not bind:
Authority that does not rule.
Such is the meaning of “hidden power”.

The world below has its gestation;
We hold there’s a mother of all below.
The mother gained
The children known;
The children known,
The mother regained;
Then your life will not miscarry.
Interdict all interactions;
Seal and bar all gates and doors;
Thus prevent debility.
Open paths of interaction;
Busy furthering your ends;
Then never make recovery.
True vision marks the smallest signs;
Real strength keeps to the gentler way.
Apply your view,
But regain true vision’s inner home.
Fall not into life’s misfortunes;
Strive for the common lasting norm.

Grant me this: to firmly know
That in walking the great high Way
I shall fear only to deviate
From the high way plain and fair;
For to byways men are lightly drawn.
The court is richly blessed,
But the farm fields are wasting,
And the bins bare of grain;
And courtiers dress in elegance,
Bear well-honed swords,
Gorge on food and drink –
This superflux of wealth and goods
Is the piper’s tune for thieves,
The negation of the Way.

Virtue well-founded nothing uproots;
Virtue fast-bound no one can steal;
And this ensures through generations
The sacred services be not cut off.
Cultivated in his character,
His virtue pure and simple.
Cultivated in his clan,
His virtue well suffices.
Cultivated in his district,
His virtue offers leadership.
Cultivated in his kingdom,
His virtue brings prosperity.
Cultivate in this realm below,
His virtue knows no limitation.
This is the reason to consider
Character in terms of character,
Clan in terms of clan,
District in terms of district,
Kingdom in terms of kingdom,
And the world below as the world below.
How do I know this is true of the realm?
By this very means.

Who holds within the fullest power
To a newborn may compare,
Which no insects stings,
No wild beast seizes,
No taloned bird snatches.
Though soft-boned and weak-limbed, its grip is firm.
Before it ever knows of intercourse,
Its standing phallus knows its full life force.
It cries all day without a loss of voice,
A sign of its perfect balance.
Knowing balance means constant norm;
Knowing the norm means inner vision;
Enhancing life means good fortune;
Mind controlling spirit means inner strength.
“Beware old age in pride of manly might,”
For that means working against the Way.
“Work against the Way, die before your day.”

Those who know it do not say it;
Those who sat it do not know it.
Those who know bar interaction,
Shut and seal the gates and doors;
They dull their keen edge and
Resolve their differences,
Reconcile the points of view
And blend with the lowly dust.
This we call sublime at-oneness.
Favour affects them not,
Nor disfavour,
Neither advantage
No injury,
Neither honour
Nor dishonour.
Thus those who know are honoured in the world.

Rule kingdoms by right;
Wage war by deceit;
To win the world forsake ambition;
How do I know that this is so?
The more thou-shalt-nots for the world,
The more the people are deprived.
The more devices that bring gain,
The more the clan and kingdom’s bane.
The more that clever crafts expand,
The more strange artifacts abound.
The more the laws and writs declared,
The more that crime and violence spread.
Hence the wise in rule have said,
“May we under-govern and
The ruled uplift themselves.
May we forsake ambition and
The ruled enrich themselves.
May we have no more desire
And the ruled keep their simple ways.”

Under rule restrained but caring
Simple and wholesome stay the ruled;
But under rule that probes and prods
They connive and they contrive.
Good fortune stands beside ill fate;
Beneath good fortune ill fate hides.
Who can find the turning point?
For it there is no standard rule:
Rule reverses to exception,
Boon reverses to affliction,
For which men have lost direction
For a time of long duration.
This is why the wise who rule
Keep to the square but form no edge,
Gather gains but will not thrust,
Stay straight and true but cross no line;
And shed light but not to blind.

For ruling men, for serving heaven,
Nothing surpasses having in store.
For it is having in store
That we call taking precaution.
And taking precaution we call
Bent on amassing one’s powers
Means overcoming all obstacles.
Overcoming all obstacles
Means having no known turning point.
Having no known turning point
Gives dominion over the kingdom.
The mother-source of this dominion
Yields staying power –
What is known as deep roots and strong base,
The Way of extended life and sustained reflection.

Rule a great state as you cook a small fish.
Through the Way take a ruler’s place in the world,
And the ghosts of the dead shall have no force.
Is it that they have no force?
Or that their force can do no harm?
That their force can do no harm?
Or that the wise lord does no harm?
Nor ghosts nor wise lords doing harm
To their joint virtue thus rebounds.

A mighty kingdom stays downstream,
Female of this world below,
Where all the courses intersect.
Dam holding still has ever conquered sire.
But to hold herself still
She must remain below.
By lying below a small kingdom
A great one takes it over.
By lying below a great kingdom
A small state is taken over.
A great kingdom seeks no more
Than to absorb and protect.
A small state no more than to enter its service.
Thus for both to fulfill their desire
Lower must the greater lie.

A midden for the myriad,
The Way is sacred to men of merit
And a safeguard to all who do wrong.
Fine words may buy high station,
Fine deeds win men’s acclaim,
But why turn from those who do wrong?
For when the son of heaven is enthroned,
And his three elder statesmen are installed,
Better to counsel them in the Way
Than ride an envoy’s four-horse coach
Heralded by the jade disc of state.
Why did men of old honour the Way?
Has it not been said, “Through the Way
Shall right be found, wrongdoers spared”?
For this the world honours the Way.

Do what is undone;
Serve the unserved;
Savour what lacks savour;
Make bigger smaller, more less;
Repay a wrong with friendly favour.
Forestall trouble when it’s easy to.
Act on the major when it’s still minor.
For this world’s troubles start with simple things,
And major matters rise from little ones.
Thus the wise, not making much of them,
Can always see their great works through.
But “lightly granted rarely honoured”;
And much too easy means much trouble.
Even the wisest looks for the trouble ahead,
And ends up with the trouble spared.

What’s stable is easy to secure,
The unmanifest to plan against,
The fragile to splinter,
The incipient to dissolve.
Act before events occur:
Decision can prevent disorder.
A tree of girth
Grows from a twig.
A nine-tier tower
From a basket of earth;
And a thousand-mile journey
Begins where one stands.
Those who take the lead shall fail.
Those who cling lose hold.
This is why men of wisdom,
Taking no lead, do not fail,
Not clinging, do not lose hold.
How often do people, assuming a task,
Ruin it at the verge of success?
Hence the saying,
“Careful at the end as at the start,
And your task shall not abort.”
This is why the worldly wise
Seek what others do not seek,
“Prize not goods hard to find,”
Learn what others do not learn:
Redeem the wrongs many have done.
In this way support and sustain
The self-becoming of the myriad,
And do not presume to act upon them.

Those of old who pursued the Way
Never meant to make their people see;
Their purpose was to keep them unaware.
The people are harder to manage
For knowing things.
To have the learned govern the kingdom
Is a bane to the kingdom.
Not to have them
Is a boon to the kingdom.
Know always that this double dictum
Defines a guide to judgement,
Which when firmly fixed in mind
May be called sublime virtue.
Such virtue, deep and reaching far,
In counter-motion like all things,
Achieves congruence with the Way.

Why is it that the rivers and the ocean,
Like kings, can lead the many valley streams?
Knowing how to stay below, they
Draw to them the many higher streams.
For this reason wise and worldly rulers,
Wishing to remain above their people,
Need to stay below by what they say;
Or if they wish to go before their people,
They need to take their place behind.
Beneath such rule the people feel no threat.
All the world rejoices and supports them
And never tries to cast such rulers off.
Is it not because the will not strive
That no one in this world can strive with them?

“All the world declares me great.”
Be great but do not seem to be.
For it is seeming not to be
That makes you great.
Otherwise, by seeming so,
You’d long ago have ceased to matter.
We have always our triple treasure,
Which we rely upon and cherish:
A mother’s heart, a frugal hand, and
No drive to boldly lead this world.”
A brave heart takes a mother’s heart,
A giving hand a frugal hand;
And one who will not lead to serve
As sacred elder of this world.
Forsaking love for bravery,
Frugal hand for giving hand,
Staying back for leading forth
Mean entering the gates of death.
A mother’s heart holds battle lines
And also makes defenses sure.
The man whom heaven means to keep
It protects with mother-heart.

Warriors who excel do not parade;
Commanders who excel do not anger;
Victors who excel don’t lightly engage;
Skilled managers of men are humble:
This defines the power of no-conflict,
The way to manage men’s strength,
The union with heaven, the acme of old.

Those who wage war often say,
“We prefer response to invitation,
The span withdrawn to the inch gained.”
This is formation that does not go forward,
Deflection with hand unraised,
The firm grip that holds no sword,
And the thrust that cannot be countered.
But “having no foe” is the greatest threat.
It leads to the loss of our triple treasure.
Once battle in joined, who gives way wins.

What we say is easy to know
And easy to do,
But the world does not know its worth
And does not act upon it.
Though we speak with ancestral sanction
And serve on high authority,
Yet this remains unknown
And so we remain unknown.
And the less that we are known,
More precious our followers.
For this reason men of wisdom
Wear rough garb and the gem in the heart.

To recognize ignorance comes first;
Not to know to know this will cause harm:
Harm that the wise are spared
Because they recognize it.
Only by recognizing the harm
Can one be spared.

When people dread not the powers that be,
A greater dread is on the way.
Encroach not on their domain;
Do not burden down their lives.
Only of those who bear bearing
Will the people bear the burden.
This is why wise men who govern
Know themselves, show themselves not,
Conserve themselves, esteem themselves not:
Rejecting these, preferring those.

Be brave in daring: kill or be killed;
Be brave in not daring: live and let live;
One of these two bring gain, one harm.
But which man knows what heaven condemns,
What precedents it’s guided by?
The way of heaven masters all:
It prevails though striving not,
It replies though speaking not,
Comes although uncalled,
And gives good counsel though affected not.
Heaven’s net, cast far and wide,
Seems slack yet nothing slips outside.

If the people fear not even death itself,
How can execution frighten them?
If they are in constant fear of death,
And we seize and put to death
Committers of crimes, then who would dare?
But to keep the folk in constant fear,
Keep the master executioner near.
Let no one kill in his stead, for that would be
To wield the knife in the master’s stead –
And no one who would for the master stand
Escapes with an uninjured hand.

The people lack for food
When those above them overtax;
That is why they lack.
And the people can’t be ruled
When those above them serve themselves.
That is why they can’t be ruled.
And when the people death defy
It is but to make their lives secure –
That is why.
Worthier far than living royally
Those who live not for themselves.

Man alive is tender, gentle,
Hard and fast in death.
Living plants are tender, fragile,
Dry and frail in death.
For fast and hard are marks of dying,
And gentle, tender marks of life.
Strength in arms bring destruction,
And the strong branch will be broken.
Let strength and might be put below,
And tender, gentle in control.

Heaven’s Way, like unto a bow full-drawn –
Low end raised, top bent down –
Subtracts from the have-mores
And supplies those in want.
Heaven’s Way – to supply who wants
By taking from the have-mores –
Is not the Way of men,
Who take from those in need
To serve those who have more.
Who will use the surplus to serve this world below?
None but men of the Way.
Wise rulers for this reason
Act without self-satisfaction,
For their deeds shun recognition
To conceal their contribution.

What more gentle in this world than water?
Yet nothing better conquers hard and strong.
What else could take its place?
Gentle conquers strong, and tender hard.
Well-known as this is to all the world,
Who has proven able to apply it?
Wiser men accordingly have said,
“He who for the kingdom’s sake bears shame
Earns the name – master of the shrine.
He who for the kingdom bears ill-fortune
Earns the name of king of all the world.”
How untrue words of truth appear to be.

When great wrongs resolved
Leave further wrongs behind –
What good will come of that?
When wise men hold the left half-tally pledge,
They do not press their debtors for their debts.
Men of virtue hold the tally pledge;
Men lacking virtue work pursuing claims.
Heaven’s way does not show kinship favour
But rather joins with good and decent men.

Keep the kingdom small, its people few;
Make sure they have no use for tools
That do the work of tens or hundreds.
Nor let the people travel far
And leave their homes and risk their lives.
Boat or cart, if kept at all, best not to ride;
Shield and blade best not to show.
Guide them back to early times
When knotted cords served for signs,
And they took relish in their food
And delight in their dress,
Secure in their dwellings,
Content in their customs,
Although a neighbour kingdom stood in view
And the barnyard cries of cocks and dogs
Echoed from village to village,
Their folk would never traffic to and fro –
Never, to the last of their days.

Words to trust and not refine.
Words refined are not to trust.
Good men are not gifted speakers.
Gifted speakers are not good.
Experts are not widely learned;
The widely learned not expert.
Wise rulers for themselves keep naught,
Yet gain by having done for all,
Have more for having freely shared;
Do good not harm is heaven’s Way;
The wise act for and not against.