Chapter 61 The attribute of humility

大國者下流,天下之交,天下之牝。牝常以靜勝牡,以靜為下。故大國以下小國,則取小國;小國以下大國,則取大國。故或下以取,或下而取。大國不過欲兼畜人,小國不過欲入事人。夫兩者各得其所欲,大者宜為下。

1. What makes a great state is its being (like) a low-lying, down- flowing (stream); — it becomes the center to which tend (all the small states) under heaven.

2. (To illustrate from) the case of all females: — the female always overcomes the male by her stillness. Stillness may be considered (a sort of) abasement.

3. Thus it is that a great state, by condescending to small states, gains them for itself; and that small states, by abasing themselves to a great state, win it over to them. In the one case the abasement leads to gaining adherents, in the other case to procuring favor.

4. The great state only wishes to unite men together and nourish them; a small state only wishes to be received by, and to serve, the other. Each gets what it desires, but the great state must learn to abase itself.

Derek Lin

The large country is like the lowest river
The converging point of the world
The receptive female of the world
The female always overcomes the male with serenity
Using serenity as the lower position

Thus if the large country is lower than the small country
Then it can take the small country
If the small country is lower than the large country
Then it can be taken by the large country
Thus one uses the lower position to take
The other uses the lower position to be taken
The large country only wishes to gather and protect people
The small country only wishes to join and serve people
So that both obtain what they wish
The larger one should assume the lower position

Peter Merel

A nation is like a hierarchy, a marketplace, and a maiden.
A maiden wins her husband by submitting to his advances;
Submission is a means of union.
So when a large country submits to a small country
It will adopt the small country;
When a small country submits to a large country
It will be adopted by the large country;
The one submits and adopts;
The other submits and is adopted.
It is in the interest of a large country to unite and gain service,
And in the interest of a small country to unite and gain patronage;
If both would serve their interests,
Both must submit.

Chapter 60 Occupying the throne

治大國若烹小鮮。以道蒞天下,其鬼不神;非其鬼不神,其神不傷人;非其神不傷人,聖人亦不傷人。夫兩不相傷,故德交歸焉。

1. Governing a great state is like cooking small fish.

2. Let the kingdom be governed according to the Dao, and the manes of the departed will not manifest their spiritual energy. It is not that those manes have not that spiritual energy, but it will not be employed to hurt men. It is not that it could not hurt men, but neither does the ruling sage hurt them.

3. When these two do not injuriously affect each other, their good influences converge in the virtue (of the Dao).

Derek Lin

Ruling a large country is like cooking a small fish
Using the Tao to manage the world
Its demons have no power
Not only do its demons have no power
Its gods do not harm people

Not only do its gods not harm people
The sages also do not harm people
They both do no harm to one another
So virtue merges and returns

Peter Merel

When you use the Way to conquer the world,
Your demons will lose their power to harm.
It is not that they lose their power as such,
But that they will not harm others;
Because they will not harm others,
You will not harm others:
When neither you nor your demons can do harm,
You will be at peace with them.

Chapter 59 Guarding the Dao

治人事天莫若嗇。夫唯嗇,是謂早服;早服謂之重積德;重積德則無不克;無不克則莫知其極;莫知其極,可以有國;有國之母,可以長久;是謂深根固柢,長生久視之道。

1. For regulating the human (in our constitution) and rendering the (proper) service to the heavenly, there is nothing like moderation.

2. It is only by this moderation that there is effected an early return (to man’s normal state). That early return is what I call the repeated accumulation of the attributes (of the Tao). With that repeated accumulation of those attributes, there comes the subjugation (of every obstacle to such return). Of this subjugation we know not what shall be the limit; and when one knows not what the limit shall be, he may be the ruler of a state.

3. He who possesses the mother of the state may continue long. His case is like that (of the plant) of which we say that its roots are deep and its flower stalks firm: — this is the way to secure that its enduring life shall long be seen.

Derek Lin

In governing people and serving Heaven
There is nothing like conservation
Only with conservation is it called submitting early
Submitting early is called emphasis on accumulating virtues
Accumulating virtues means there is nothing one cannot overcome
When there is nothing that one cannot overcome
One’s limits are unknown
The limitations being unknown, one can possess sovereignty
With this mother principle of power, one can be everlasting
This is called deep roots and firm foundation
The Tao of longevity and lasting vision

Peter Merel

Manage a great nation as you would cook a delicate fish.
To govern men in accord with nature
It is best to be restrained;
Restraint makes agreement easy to attain,
And easy agreement builds harmonious relationships;
With sufficient harmony no resistance will arise;
When no resistance arises, then you possess the heart of the nation,
And when you possess the nation’s heart, your influence will long endure:
Deeply rooted and firmly established.
This is the method of far sight and long life.

Chapter 58 Transformation according to circumstances

其政悶悶,其民淳淳;其政察察,其民缺缺。禍兮福之所倚,福兮禍之所伏。孰知其極?其無正。正復為奇,善復為妖。人之迷,其日固久。是以聖人方而不割,廉而不劌,直而不肆,光而不燿。

1. The government that seems the most unwise, Oft goodness to the people best supplies; That which is meddling, touching everything, Will work but ill, and disappointment bring.

Misery! — happiness is to be found by its side! Happiness! — misery lurks beneath it! Who knows what either will come to in the end?

2. Shall we then dispense with correction? The (method of) correction shall by a turn become distortion, and the good in it shall by a turn become evil. The delusion of the people (on this point) has indeed subsisted for a long time.

3. Therefore the sage is (like) a square which cuts no one (with its angles); (like) a corner which injures no one (with its sharpness). He is straightforward, but allows himself no license; he is bright, but does not dazzle.

Derek Lin
When governing is lackluster
The people are simple and honest
When governing is scrutinizing
The people are shrewd and crafty

Misfortune is what fortune depends upon
Fortune is where misfortune hides beneath
Who knows their ultimate end?
They have no determined outcome
Rightness reverts to become strange
Goodness reverts to become wicked
The confusion of people
has lasted many long days

Therefore the sages are:
Righteous without being scathing
Incorruptible without being piercing
Straightforward without being ruthless
Illuminated without being flashy

Peter Merel

When government is lazy and informal
The people are kind and honest;
When government is efficient and severe
The people are discontented and deceitful.
Good fortune follows upon disaster;
Disaster lurks within good fortune;
Who can say how things will end?
Perhaps there is no end.
Honesty is ever deceived;
Kindness is ever seduced;
Men have been like this for a long time.
So the sage is firm but not cutting,
Pointed but not piercing,
Straight but not rigid,
Bright but not blinding.

Chapter 57 The genuine influence

以正治國,以奇用兵,以無事取天下。吾何以知其然哉?以此:天下多忌諱,而民彌貧;民多利器,國家滋昏;人多伎巧,奇物滋起;法令滋彰,盜賊多有。故聖人云:我無為,而民自化;我好靜,而民自正;我無事,而民自富;我無欲,而民自樸。

1. A state may be ruled by (measures of) correction; weapons of war may be used with crafty dexterity; (but) the kingdom is made one’s own (only) by freedom from action and purpose.

2. How do I know that it is so? By these facts: — In the kingdom the multiplication of prohibitive enactments increases the poverty of the people; the more implements to add to their profit that the people have, the greater disorder is there in the state and clan; the more acts of crafty dexterity that men possess, the more do strange contrivances appear; the more display there is of legislation, the more thieves and robbers there are.

3. Therefore a sage has said, ‘I will do nothing (of purpose), and the people will be transformed of themselves; I will be fond of keeping still, and the people will of themselves become correct. I will take no trouble about it, and the people will of themselves become rich; I will manifest no ambition, and the people will of themselves attain to the primitive simplicity.’

Derek Lin
Govern a country with upright integrity
Deploy the military with surprise tactics
Take the world with non-interference
How do I know this is so?
With the following:

When there are many restrictions in the world
The people become more impoverished
When people have many sharp weapons
The country becomes more chaotic
When people have many clever tricks
More strange things occur
The more laws are posted
The more robbers and thieves there are

Therefore the sage says:
I take unattached action, and the people transform themselves
I prefer quiet, and the people right themselves
I do not interfere, and the people enrich themselves
I have no desires, and the people simplify themselves

Peter Merel

Do not control the people with laws,
Nor violence nor espionage,
But conquer them with inaction.
For:
The more morals and taboos there are,
The more cruelty afflicts people;
The more guns and knives there are,
The more factions divide people;
The more arts and skills there are,
The more change obsoletes people;
The more laws and taxes there are,
The more theft corrupts people.
Yet take no action, and the people nurture each other;
Make no laws, and the people deal fairly with each other;
Own no interest, and the people cooperate with each other;
Express no desire, and the people harmonize with each other.

Chapter 56 The mysterious excellence

知者不言,言者不知。塞其兑,閉其門,挫其銳,解其分,和其光,同其塵,是謂玄同。故不可得而親,不可得而踈;不可得而利,不可得而害;不可得而貴,不可得而賤。故為天下貴。

1. He who knows (the Tao) does not (care to) speak (about it); he who is (ever ready to) speak about it does not know it.

2. He (who knows it) will keep his mouth shut and close the portals (of his nostrils). He will blunt his sharp points and unravel the complications of things; he will attemper his brightness, and bring himself into agreement with the obscurity (of others). This is called ‘the Mysterious Agreement.’

3. (Such an one) cannot be treated familiarly or distantly; he is beyond all consideration of profit or injury; of nobility or meanness: — he is the noblest man under heaven.

Derek Lin
Those who know do not talk
Those who talk do not know

Close the mouth
Shut the doors
Blunt the sharpness
Unravel the knots
Dim the glare
Mix the dust
This is called Mystic Oneness

They cannot obtain this and be closer
They cannot obtain this and be distant
They cannot obtain this and be benefited
They cannot obtain this and be harmed
They cannot obtain this and be valued
They cannot obtain this and be degraded
Therefore, they become honored by the world

Peter Merel

Who understands does not preach;
Who preaches does not understand.
Reserve your judgments and words;
Smooth differences and forgive disagreements;
Dull your wit and simplify your purpose;
Accept the world.
Then,
Friendship and enmity,
Profit and loss,
Honour and disgrace,
Will not affect you;
The world will accept you.

Chapter 55 The mysterious charm

含德之厚,比於赤子。蜂蠆虺蛇不螫,猛獸不據,攫鳥不搏。骨弱筋柔而握固。未知牝牡之合而全作,精之至也。終日號而不嗄,和之至也。知和曰常,知常曰明,益生曰祥。心使氣曰強。物壯則老,謂之不道,不道早已。

1. He who has in himself abundantly the attributes (of the Tao) is like an infant. Poisonous insects will not sting him; fierce beasts will not seize him; birds of prey will not strike him.

2. (The infant’s) bones are weak and its sinews soft, but yet its grasp is firm. It knows not yet the union of male and female, and yet its virile member may be excited; — showing the perfection of its physical essence. All day long it will cry without its throat becoming hoarse; — showing the harmony (in its constitution).

3. To him by whom this harmony is known, (The secret of) the unchanging (Tao) is shown, And in the knowledge wisdom finds its throne. All life-increasing arts to evil turn; Where the mind makes the vital breath to burn, (False) is the strength, (and o’er it we should mourn.)

4. When things have become strong, they (then) become old, which may be said to be contrary to the Tao. Whatever is contrary to the Tao soon ends.

Derek Lin
Those who hold an abundance of virtue
Are similar to newborn infants
Poisonous insects do not sting them
Wild beasts do not claw them
Birds of prey do not attack them
Their bones are weak, tendons are soft
But their grasp is firm
They do not know of sexual union but can manifest arousal
Due to the optimum of essence
They can cry the whole day and yet not be hoarse
Due to the optimum of harmony
Knowing harmony is said to be constancy
Knowing constancy is said to be clarity

Excessive vitality is said to be inauspicious
Mind overusing energy is said to be aggressive
Things become strong and then grow old
This is called contrary to the Tao
That which is contrary to the Tao will soon perish

Peter Merel

Who is filled with harmony is like a newborn.
Wasps and snakes will not bite him;
Hawks and tigers will not claw him.
His bones are soft yet his grasp is sure,
For his flesh is supple;
His mind is innocent yet his body is virile,
For his vigour is plentiful;
His song is long-lasting yet his voice is sweet,
For his grace is perfect.
But knowing harmony creates abstraction,
And following abstraction creates ritual.
Exceeding nature creates calamity,
And controlling nature creates violence.

Chapter 54 The cultivation (of the Dao), and the observation (of its effects)

善建不拔,善抱者不脫,子孫以祭祀不輟。修之於身,其德乃真;修之於家,其德乃餘;修之於鄉,其德乃長;修之於國,其德乃豐;修之於天下,其德乃普。故以身觀身,以家觀家,以鄉觀鄉,以國觀國,以天下觀天下。吾何以知天下然哉?以此。

1. What (Dao’s) skilful planter plants Can never be up-torn; What his skilful arms enfold, From him can ne’er be borne. Sons shall bring in lengthening line, Sacrifices to his shrine.

2. Dao when nursed within one’s self, His vigor will make true; And where the family it rules What riches will accrue! The neighborhood where it prevails In thriving will abound; And when ’tis seen throughout the state, Good fortune will be found. Employ it the kingdom o’er, And men thrive all around.

3. In this way the effect will be seen in the person, by the observation of different cases; in the family; in the neighborhood; in the state; and in the kingdom.

4. How do I know that this effect is sure to hold thus all under the sky? By this (method of observation).

Derek Lin
That which is well established cannot be uprooted
That which is strongly held cannot be taken
The descendants will commemorate it forever

Cultivate it in yourself; its virtue shall be true
Cultivate it in the family; its virtue shall be abundant
Cultivate it in the community; its virtue shall be lasting
Cultivate it in the country; its virtue shall be prosperous
Cultivate it in the world; its virtue shall be widespread

Therefore observe others with yourself
Observe other families with your family
Observe other communities with your community
Observe other countries with your country
Observe the world with the world
With what do I know the world?
With this

Peter Merel

Cultivate harmony within yourself, and harmony becomes real;
Cultivate harmony within your family, and harmony becomes fertile;
Cultivate harmony within your community, and harmony becomes abundant;
Cultivate harmony within your culture, and harmony becomes enduring;
Cultivate harmony within the world, and harmony becomes ubiquitous.
Live with a person to understand that person;
Live with a family to understand that family;
Live with a community to understand that community;
Live with a culture to understand that culture;
Live with the world to understand the world.
How can I live with the world?
By accepting.

Chapter 53 Increase of evidence

使我介然有知,行於大道,唯施是畏。大道甚夷,而民好徑。朝甚除,田甚蕪,倉甚虛;服文綵,帶利劍,厭飲食,財貨有餘;是謂盜夸。非道也哉!

1. If I were suddenly to become known, and (put into a position to) conduct (a government) according to the Great Tao, what I should be most afraid of would be a boastful display.

2. The great Tao (or way) is very level and easy; but people love the by-ways.

3. Their court(-yards and buildings) shall be well kept, but their fields shall be ill-cultivated, and their granaries very empty. They shall wear elegant and ornamented robes, carry a sharp sword at their girdle, pamper themselves in eating and drinking, and have a superabundance of property and wealth; — such (princes) may be called robbers and boasters. This is contrary to the Tao surely!

Derek Lin
If I have a little knowledge
Walking on the great Tao
I fear only to deviate from it
The great Tao is broad and plain
But people like the side paths

The courts are corrupt
The fields are barren
The warehouses are empty

Officials wear fineries
Carry sharp swords
Fill up on drinks and food
Acquire excessive wealth

This is called robbery
It is not the Tao!

Peter Merel

With but a small understanding
One may follow the Way like a main road,
Fearing only to leave it;
Following a main road is easy,
Yet people delight in difficult paths.
When palaces are kept up
Fields are left to weeds
And granaries empty;
Wearing fine clothes,
Bearing sharp swords,
Glutting with food and drink,
Hoarding wealth and possessions –
These are the ways of theft,
And far from the Way.

Chapter 52 Returning to the source

天下有始,以為天下母。既知其母,復知其子,既知其子,復守其母,沒其不殆。塞其兌,閉其門,終身不勤。開其兌,濟其事,終身不救。見小曰明,守柔曰強。用其光,復歸其明,無遺身殃;是為習常。

1. (The Tao) which originated all under the sky is to be considered as the mother of them all.

2. When the mother is found, we know what her children should be. When one knows that he is his mother’s child, and proceeds to guard (the qualities of) the mother that belong to him, to the end of his life he will be free from all peril.

3. Let him keep his mouth closed, and shut up the portals (of his nostrils), and all his life he will be exempt from laborious exertion. Let him keep his mouth open, and (spend his breath) in the promotion of his affairs, and all his life there will be no safety for him.

4. The perception of what is small is (the secret of clear- sightedness; the guarding of what is soft and tender is (the secret of) strength.

5. Who uses well his light, Reverting to its (source so) bright, Will from his body ward all blight, And hides the unchanging from men’s sight.

Derek Lin
The world has a beginning
We regard it as the mother of the world
Having its mother
We can know her children
Knowing her children
Still holding on to the mother
Live without danger all through life

Close the mouth
Shut the doors
Live without toil all through life
Open the mouth
Meddle in the affairs
Live without salvation all through life

Seeing details is called clarity
Holding on to the soft is called strength
Utilize the light
Return to the clarity
Leaving no disasters for the self
This is called practicing constancy

Peter Merel

The origin of the world is its mother;
Understand the mother, and you understand the child;
Embrace the child, and you embrace the mother,
Who will not perish when you die.
Reserve your judgments and words
And you maintain your influence;
Speak your mind and take positions
And nothing can save you.
As observing detail is clarity,
So maintaining flexibility is strength;
Use the light but shed no light,
So that you do yourself no harm,
But embrace clarity.