What cannot be seen is called evanescent;
What cannot be heard is called rarefied;
What cannot be touched is called minute.
These cannot be fathomed
And so they are confused and looked upon as one.
Its* upper part is not dazzling;
Its lower part is not obscure.
Dimly visible, it cannot be named
And returns to that which is without substance.
This is called the shape that has no shape.
The image that is without substance.
This is called indistinct and shadowy.
Go up to it and you will not see its head;
Follow behind it and you will not see its rear.
Hold fast to the way of antiquity
In order to keep in control the realm of today.
The ability to know the beginning of antiquity
Is called the thread running through the way.
* I.e. the Tao or the Way
Your name or your person,
Which is dearer?
Your person or your goods,
Which is worth more?
Gain or loss,
Which is a greater bane?
That is why excessive meanness
Is sure to lead to great expense.
Too much store
Is sure to end in immense loss.
And you will suffer no disgrace;
Know when to stop
And you will mee with no danger
You can then endure.
Do that which consists in taking no action; pursue that which is not meddlesome; savour that which has no flavour.
Make the small big and the few many; do good to him who has done you an injury.
Lay plans for the accomplishment of the difficult before it becomes difficult; make something big by starting with it when small.
Difficult things in the world must need have their beginnings in the easy; big things must needs have their beginnings in the small.
Therefore it is because the sage never attempts to be great that he succeeds in becoming great.
One who makes promises rashly rarely keeps good faith; one who is in the habit of considering things easy meets with frequent difficulties.
Therefore even the sage treats some things as difficult. That is why in the end no difficulties can get the better of him.
The reason why the River and the Sea are able to be king of the hundred valleys is that they excel in taking the lower position. Hence they are able to be king of the hundred valleys.
Therefore, desiring to rule over the people
One must in one’s words humble oneself before them;
And, desiring to lead the people,
One must, in one’s person follow behind them.
Therefore the sage takes his place over the people yet is no burden; takes his place ahead of the people yet causes no obstruction. That is why the empire supports him joyfully and never tires of doing so.
It is because he does not contend that no on in the empire is in a position to contend with him.
One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable;
One who excels in fighting is never roused in anger;
One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issue;
One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them.
This is known as the virtue of non-contention.
This is known as making use of the efforts of others.
This is known as matching the sublimity of heaven.
To know yet to think that one does not know is best;
Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.
It is by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it. The sage meets with no difficulty. It is because he is alive to it that he meets with no difficulty.
When the people are not afraid of death, wherefore frighten them with death? Were the people always afraid of death and were I able to arrest and put to death those who innovate, then who would dare? There is a regular executioner whose charge it is to kill. To kill on behalf of the executioner is what is described as chopping wood on behalf of the master carpenter. In chopping wood on behalf of the master carpenter, there are few who escape hurting their own hands instead.
In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it. This is because there is nothing that can take its place.
That the weak overcomes the strong.
And the submissive overcomes the hard,
Everyone in the world knows yet no one can put this knowledge into practice.
Therefore the sage say,
One who takes on himself the humiliation of the state
Is called a ruler worthy of offering sacrifices to the gods of earth and millet;
One who takes on himself the calamity of the state
Is called a king worthy of dominion over the entire empire.