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.
The Way is the fate of men,
The treasure of the saint,
And the refuge of the sinner.
Fine words are often borrowed,
And great deeds are often appropriated;
Therefore, when a man falls, do not abandon him,
And when a man gains power, do not honour him;
Only remain impartial and show him the Way.
Why should someone appreciate the Way?
The ancients said, “By it, those who seek may easily find,
And those who regret may easily absolve”
So it is the most precious gift.
Attend to do-nothing;
Taste the flavorless,
Magnify the small,
Multiply the few,
Return love for hate.
Deal with the difficult while it is yet easy;
Deal with the great while it is yet small;
The difficult develops naturally from the easy,
And the great from the small;
So the sage, by dealing with the small,
Achieves the great.
Who finds it easy to promise finds it hard to be trusted;
Who takes things lightly finds things difficult;
The sage recognizes difficulty, and so has none.
Care at the Beginning
What lies still is easy to grasp;
What lies far off is easy to anticipate;
What is brittle is easy to shatter;
What is small is easy to disperse.
Yet a tree broader than a man can embrace is born of a tiny shoot;
A dam greater than a river can overflow starts with a clod of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles begins at the spot under one’s feet.
Therefore deal with things before they happen;
Create order before there is confusion.
Care at the End
He who acts, spoils;
He who grasps, loses.
People often fail on the verge of success;
Take care at the end as at the beginning,
So that you may avoid failure.
The sage desires no-desire,
And returns to the places that people have forgotten;
He would help all people to become natural,
But then he would not be natural.
The ancients did not seek to rule people with knowledge,
But to help them become natural.
It is difficult for knowledgeable people to become natural;
So to use law to control a nation weakens the nation,
But to use nature to control a nation strengthens the nation.
Understanding these two paths is understanding subtlety;
Subtlety runs deep, ranges wide,
Resolves confusion and preserves peace.
Lead by Following
The river carves out the valley by flowing beneath it.
Thereby the river is the master of the valley.
In order to master people
One must speak as their servant;
In order to lead people
One must follow them.
So when the sage rises above the people,
They do not feel oppressed;
And when the sage stands before the people,
They do not feel hindered.
So the popularity of the sage does not fail,
He does not contend, and no one contends against him.
All the world says,
“I am important;
I am separate from all the world.
I am important because I am separate,
Were I the same, I could never be important.”
Yet here are three treasures
That I cherish and commend to you:
The first is compassion,
By which one finds courage.
The second is restraint,
By which one finds strength.
And the third is unimportance,
By which one finds influence.
Those who are fearless, but without compassion,
Powerful, but without restraint,
Or influential, yet important,
Compassion is the finest weapon and best defence.
If you would establish harmony,
Compassion must surround you like a fortress.
A good soldier does not inspire fear;
A good fighter does not display aggression;
A good conqueror does not engage in battle;
A good leader does not exercise authority.
This is the value of unimportance;
This is how to win the cooperation of others;
This to how to build the same harmony that is in nature.
There is a saying among soldiers:
It is easier to lose a yard than take an inch.
In this manner one may deploy troops without marshalling them,
Bring weapons to bear without exposing them,
Engage the foe without invading them,
And exhaust their strength without fighting them.
There is no worse disaster than misunderstanding your enemy;
To do so endangers all of my treasures;
So when two well matched forces oppose eachother,
The general who maintains compassion will win.
My words are easy to understand
And my actions are easy to perform
Yet no other can understand or perform them.
My words have meaning; my actions have reason;
Yet these cannot be known and I cannot be known.
We are each unique, and therefore valuable;
Though the sage wears coarse clothes, his heart is jade.