A great country is like the sea,
Like a watershed that all rivers flow down toward.
The feminine of the world,
It joins everything together
Overcoming aggression with humility, stillness, and peace.
In this way a great country
Wins over smaller and weaker ones
With respect and appreciation.
Not threatened, smaller countries support and sustain the larger
Winning patronage and protection
Like the feminine drawing in the male.
They both lie low to be on top,
Accomplish by surrendering.
The Tao is the hidden center of all things.
Treasured by the good, it brings refuge to the bad.
Beautiful words can buy honor,
Good deeds can buy respect -
Even the most foolish can claim these.
Basic goodness though has no price and is here for all.
Though people stray far from this path,
It will never abandon them.
Therefore when a leader is empowered,
Don’t bother with material gifts or fine words.
Offer instead stillness and uncontrived awareness.
This is why the Tao is revered now and since ancient times:
When looked for, it appears;
When lost, mistaken, and confused;
It begins again fresh and pure.
Do what can’t be done by doing things,
Let action be effortless.
Make what can’t be made by making things,
Savor the tasteless.
Treat the small as large,
The few as many.
Repay wrongs with the Power of Goodness.
Work on problems before they become big,
Study the complicated while it’s still obvious.
The biggest challenge starts out easy,
The most renowned projects
Begin small and uncomplicated.
Since taking things too lightly creates big problems
And thinking things too easy makes them difficult,
The wise don’t make much ado about anything,
Don’t take to heart what they can throw over their shoulders,
Don’t believe or like lightly.
By never attempting great ventures,
They accomplish great goals.
It’s easy to guide a peaceful situation,
Easy to stop trouble before it starts,
Easy to break something when still fragile,
Easy to get rid of something when still small,
Easy to get clear before things get complicated and confused.
As a giant tree grows from a small seed,
And a tall building rises from a shovelful of earth,
Our 10,000 mile journeys begin with one step.
But rushing into action fails,
And grasping makes things slip away.
The wise therefore let things take their course and nothing goes wrong,
Don’t hold on and nothing is lost.
Instead of ruining things when on the verge of success,
They mind the end as the beginning,
The journey as the goal.
The wise only want not to want
And care nothing for hard won treasures.
They study what no one else studies
And turn back to the places
Others have gone on from.
They go along with things as they are
Without presuming to act.
The wise don’t teach people to believe in words
But only to search for the true meaning.
When people are convinced by concepts,
When leaders are convinced by concepts,
Corruption, confusion, and conflict reign.
When instead they remain unconvinced and open,
Blessings and goodness spread.
Realizing the difference between understanding the words
And understanding the sense
Is a key to the Hidden Power of Goodness.
This power goes deep and reaches far.
It leads all things back to their own true nature.
By always seeking the most lowly position,
Oceans can welcome and receive all rivers and streams.
In this way the wise, by placing themselves lower than others
Gain the most respect and influence.
They teach and guide by listening.
They lead by following behind.
For these reasons,
When the wise are in charge,
The people don’t feel oppressed.
When the wise are in front,
The people don’t feel blocked.
The world never tires of praising
And appreciating this kind of leader.
Because they don’t struggle or compete,
They have no competition.
People say that the Tao is great
But not practical, even useless.
Because it’s great it’s improbable, not practical or useful.
What’s probable is conventional and petty.
If it were useful,
It would never have become great.
Because it’s great, it seems like folly.
When truths become solid,
They transform into clichés.
Only 3 qualities are worth treasuring and following closely:
Compassion, moderation, and humility.
From compassion comes bravery,
From moderation comes generosity,
From humility comes authentic leadership.
But bravery without compassion,
Generosity without self-restraint,
Leadership without humility
All lead to disaster.
Compassion wins every battle
And outlasts every attack.
What goodness creates,
During golden ages
The best soldiers were never angry,
The best generals were never aggressive.
They overcame enemies without fighting.
The best victors didn’t compete,
The best employers served their employees.
This is the goodness of no struggle, no striving, no gaining ideas;
The best use of ability;
The joining of heaven and earth.
The best military experts advise:
Retreat when not strong enough to advance,
Advance when your opponent not strong enough to attack.
March without moving,
Roll up your sleeves without flexing your muscles,
Be strong and powerful without weapons,
Give an attacker no opponent -
Nothing is worse than attacking what yields,
To attack and find no enemy.
Aggression destroys our greatest treasure.
When opponents are evenly matched,
The most compassionate prevails.
These teachings are easy to understand,
Easy to practice;
Yet very few understand
Or put them into practice.
These words have an ancient source,
These actions an ancient beginning.
But when this source is unknown,
There can be no real understanding.
Therefore the wise appear simple and ordinary on the outside
While holding a precious treasure concealed within.
To know without believing we know is best.
Believing we know creates mental illness.
When we recognize belief as sickness,
Because the wise are sick of this illness,
They aren’t sick.
When we don’t fear the fearful,
Confusion and great suffering arise.
Therefore fear a constricted life,
Fear wasting your time with a meaningless career.
If we don’t accept superficial values,
We won’t act in superficial ways.
And so the wise know themselves
But don’t show themselves,
Take care of and appreciate
But don’t puff up and exaggerate.
They let go of that
And choose this.
Those with outer courage
Dare to act and take life.
Those with inner courage
Dare to not act and give life.
Both of these are sometimes good,
When one best, when the other?
Even the most wise don’t know for sure.
The Way of Heaven
Doesn’t compete but easily wins,
Doesn’t speak but answers completely,
Doesn’t request but attracts all it needs,
Doesn’t stress but impeccably acts.
Heaven’s Net catches everything,
The mesh is wide yet nothing slips through.
When people don’t appreciate living,
And so aren’t afraid of dying,
What good is threatening them with the death penalty?
When they appreciate and love life,
They fear heaven’s executioner,
They naturally love and take care of their lives.
But even if having a human executioner
Would make people change for the better,
Who could justly take on this role?
Only the karmic Net of Heaven can do that.
Anyone usurping this role of heaven,
Only causes great harm to themselves.
When the rich spend taxes on making themselves richer,
The people starve.
Thieves and robbers arise from cold and hunger.
When the people don’t have enough,
Why should the rich have too much?
When the rich oppress,
The people rebel.
When the government is too intrusive,
The people are hard to govern.
The more laws they make,
The more criminals appear.
When the powerful make too much of life,
The people make light of death.
Those not seduced by fortune and fame
Are worth so much more than these wealth-seekers.
Only a leader not focused on personal gain
Can wisely govern.
When first born, we’re small and weak;
The living are soft and flexible.
When we die, we become hard and stiff;
The dead are rigid, unmoving.
The greenery - grasses, plants and trees
Growing are tender and supple,
Dead are dry and brittle.
And so the strong and hard
Go along with dying;
The open to change and flexible with living.
When an army becomes inflexible,
It suffers defeat.
A tree that won’t bend
Easily breaks in storms.
The hard and strong will fail,
The open-hearted prevail.
Following the Tao
Is like stringing a bow:
The high are brought down,
The low are lifted up.
Pull yourself down when too high,
Lift yourself up when too down.
Take from what has too much,
Give to what doesn’t have enough,
This is the way of heaven.
The way of confusion though
Takes from those who have not,
Gives to those who already have too much.
And so the wise
Help without taking credit,
Act without expectation,
Do their work without setting any store by it.
They don’t want their goodness to be seen,
They don’t want to look like they’re better than others,
They don’t sell the value of their good deeds for praise,
They won’t trade their treasure for trinkets.
Water seems so soft, weak, yielding
Yet easily overcomes the hard and strong.
It has no equal.
The soft overcomes the hard,
The weak overcomes the strong.
This is easy to understand
But rarely put into practice.
And so the wise teach:
Only leaders who take responsibility
For people’s disgrace;
Only leaders who take on people’s misfortunes
Are worthy of leadership.
The truest words always sound wrong.
If the resolution of a conflict
Leaves resentment and enmity,
How can it be called resolved?
And so the wise
Carefully fulfill their obligations
But aren’t concerned if others do or not.
They play no favorites
And only hold fast to the good.
Imagine a small country without many people.
They have advanced technology
But they aren’t mesmerized by their tools,
Hypnotized by their computers,
Enslaved by their inventions.
Mindful of death and appreciating where they are,
They have no need for long journeys.
They have good transportation systems
But no place people would rather be.
They have defensive weapons
But don’t have to display or use them.
They keep things simple
And are happy with the way things are.
They savor their food,
Enjoy wearing their clothes,
Cherish their homes,
And delight in their customs.
The next country could be close enough
To hear their dogs barking,
Their roosters crowing
But people could get old and die
Without ever making a visit.