A big kingdom can be compared to the lower part of a river, like the low ground which all streams flow down towards.
Here is a point towards which all things under heaven converge. Its part must be that of the woman
Who overcomes man by simple quietude. By [such as] quiescence she gets underneath, and by tranquillity she is down under.
A big kingdom can take over [a soul of] a small one if it succeeds in getting itself below the small kingdom; If so it absorbs some from the small country, or wins some adherence of the small kingdom in the open.
If a small country on the other hand places itself below a big country, it can absorbs or take over some of the big country [assets]. Therefore some place themselves low so as to take over or absorb [others]. Some are [naturally] low and absorb [others]. Because small kingdoms are by nature in this way underneath large kingdoms, they [sometimes] win the adherence of large kingdoms [or end].
What a big kingdom is after is but to annex and herd others. So what large countries really need is a lot of inhabitants. What small countries need is some place where their surplus inhabitants can go and get employment. What they want can be little more that to join, be somewhat sheltered and perhaps serve for it all.
Both can have what they want; I say the large kingdom must "get underneath".
Tao is thought up as the mysterious secret of the universe, it could be the storehouse of "all things", like the pivotal worship centre in the south-west corner in the [old Chinese] house. It is the good man's treasure and the bad man's support and resort.
Fine words can buy honour, fine sayings can be sold. Fine deeds can win respect from others. The best conduct is a gift. Persons of noble, grave demeanour are accepted as gifts.
Even if a man is bad, when has [Tao] rejected him? Why reject bad people [the winners of tomorrow if all goes fine]? Even the bad let slip no opportunity to acquire gifts that fit them well enough.
Therefore on the crowning of an emperor and appointing his three ministers of the state, rather than send ta disc of jade and teams of four horses, sit down and deliver this Tao. It can be done without moving from one's seat.
What did the old ones say of this Tao, how did they prize it? Why did they treasure such Tao?
Did they not say of those that have it "Pursuing, they shall catch; pursued, they shall escape?" Or, "Search for the guilty ones and pardon them?" Or, "Those who seek shall have it, those who sin shall be freed"?
They thought [common] Tao to be the most precious, the treasure of the world.
Succeed in the magician's wu-wei: Accomplish seemingly do-nothing.
Attend seemingly to no-affairs. And do completely without ado. What runs, acts without action, does without doing,
So let's taste without tasting. Taste the flavourless. Taste the flavourless without tasting. Find flavourless flavour.
Whether it is big or small, many or few, requite hatred with virtue.
Tao can make the small great and the few many, can requite injuries with some decent deeds. But prepare for the hard while it is still easy. Deal with it while it is still easy. Deal with the great or big while it is still small.
In governing your kingdom everything hard must be dealt with while it is still easy. The hard has to be dealt with while still very easy. All the great [ones and great problems] of the world are to be dealt with while they are yet small. Everything great must be dealt with while it is still small.
Therefore the wise man never has to deal with the great; and so gets greatness. He never strives for the great, by this the great is had.
So great undertakings shall start with what is small.
But again "Who makes rash promises surely lacks. Who lightly makes a promise, can find it too hard to keep his faith. And light assent inspires little confidence. Who takes things very easy is surely in for dealing with more difficulty in the end. So "many easies" means many a hard. In other words, who makes light of many things should find many difficulties.
From all this even the wise man regards things as hard, but he also knows how to make the easy difficult. For that reason he very seldom meets with difficulties. [Uha.]
What remains placid is quite easy to hold.
Not determined happenings can be prepared for well in advance. Before there has been an omen it is easy to lay plans. It is easy to forestall some things that do not are or not yet occur. It is quite easy to plan for and prepare well in advance.
[But such forestalling is had by thoughts, and thoughts are airy and can be tender and brittle, to say the least.] And what is brittle is easy to crack. What is tender is easily torn. What is brittle like ice is easy to melt. And what is tiny is easy to scatter.
[All the same, reach up to] deal with things in their state of not-yet-being; deal with things well before they appear. Just put things well in shape before disorder and confusion. Put all very well in order before disorder, and next go on to check loss or disorder well. A tree as big as a man's hug grows from a tiny sprout. A tower nine storeys high begins with a clod of earth. Further, the journey of three hundred miles began with ... the feet. A journey of a thousand li begins right where one stands, even with the very first step.
Still, he who takes a [visible forestalling] action fails. Who acts, harms; he who grabs, lets slip. And therefore the wise man does not act in the open, and so does not spoil or harm; yes, he takes seemingly no action and therefore hardly fails.
And why is this? It is due to: He who grasps things [often] loses them. He does not grasp a lot, he does not let slip a lot. Does hardly grab in the open, and so does not let slip a lot. He grasps nothing visibly to others, and therefore he does not lose much. Whereas people in their handling of affairs often fail when they are about to succeed at their tasks. Such people constantly spoil things when within an ace of completing them.
Be as careful at the end as at the start to avert failures at hand. Then there will be no such failures. Heed the end no less than the start, so that your valuable work will not be spoiled and ruined.
Therefore the wise man learns to seem unlearned, wants only things that are unwanted. Yes, the wise man publicly desires to have no desire. Therefore the wise man desires no desire - and desires all the same.
He does not often value rare treasures publicly. He hardly values objects hard to get or find - in public. He says he learns that which is unlearned. He claims he sets no store by products difficult to get, and so teaches things untaught. [It is a trap.]
But he also turns all beings back to the very thing they have left behind, so that he can assist in the course of nature somehow. And if so, "the ten thousand creatures" can be restored to their self-sameness, the self-so which is of [some] Tao. Yes, he supports all things in some of their natural states.
This he does; but hardly presume to interfere all right. He hardly dares to act in the open. So he denies to take any visible action.
In old times those who practised a Tao well, did hardly aim to enlighten people, but to make them ignorant and hold them that way. It seems that the more knowledge people have, the harder they are to rule. Maybe it is hard for people to live in peace due to very much knowledge.
So he who rules the state through knowledge is robber of the state; and who seek to rule by giving knowledge could be like [coming] bandits preying on the land. Maybe all who seek to rule by knowledge form the nation's curse, eventually.
He who rules a state not through knowledge is a blessing. Those who seek not to rule by knowledge, are the nation's blessing. To rule without giving knowledge could bring a stock of good fortune to the land. [And maybe not.]
One who knows these two things also [sets] the standard.
Always to know such an old standard is called to of the deep, secret calibre.
When such secret virtue becomes clear, outgoing, far-reaching, and lets things revert back to some guessed at source, all related things could return to some natural state. It could go all the way back to [brutal] concord and harmony.
How did the great rivers and seas become the kings of the ravines? By being experts at keeping low.
Therefore to be above the people you have to speak as though you are lower than the people in some ways.
So to be ahead of the people, you have to follow them in your own person. To be foremost or guide well, walk behind.
The wise man keeps himself on top, and the people hardly feels his weight or get crushed by it in time. He guides in this way, and the people do not harm him the least.
He can even walk in front [as an example], and people do not wish him harm. [Let's hope that.]
In this dynamic [guru] way everything under heaven will be glad to be pushed by him and will not find his guidance irksome. Then the people of the world are glad, the world rejoices and praises him without getting tired of it, in order to uphold him forever.
He accomplishes his aims by overt non-striving. Because he does not compete in the open, no one can compete well with him.
Every one says my Tao is greatly like folly. Just because it is great, it looks like folly. Great ways do not look like the ordinary anyhow.
If it did not look like folly, it could have turned small and petty long ago! Then it would have been small. As for things that do not look foolish to common men, there can be no question about their smallness.
I have three treasures. Guard and keep them:
The first is a deep, deep concern; call it mystic pity, if you like.
The second is never too much, which may mean frugality.
And the third is refusal to be ahead, foremost or first, for I hardly dare to be ahead.
Deep, concerned love brings guts [or fall].
Through not doing too much, one has amplitude [of reserve power]: Who has spared, may then give and seem generous.
Through not presuming to be the first and best there is, one can develop one's talent and strength; let it mature to dominate a world.
On the other hand,
To be bold by forsaking deep love;
To be generous by forsaking frugality-won reserves and clever, artful restraint;
And to be ahead and rushing in front by forsaking following behind;
All this could prove fatal in the end.
Ardent, loving concern can't fight well without conquering a lot. It shall help in the case of attack, and likewise to be firm in the case of defence.
When heaven is to save a person, heaven will protect him through deep love. Heaven arms those it wouldn't see beaten, with all right concern. [Let's hope that.]
A skilful leader of troops is never oppressive with his military strength. The brave soldier is hardly very violent;
The best fighter does not become visibly angry; he hardly loses his temper.
A skilful conqueror does not compete with people. The great conqueror does not fight for small issues alone.
The best user of men acts as though he were their inferior and puts himself below them by the virtue of not-competing.
This is called the ability or capacity to use men, or matching heaven, or being suited to the highest found principle, [maybe of old]
The strategists say:
"If I dare not be the guest, then let me be the host. When I dare not take the offensive, then I'll take the defensive. If you doubt your ability to advance, then retreat." Also: "When you doubt your ability to meet the enemy's attack, take the offensive yourself."
Much of this his implies to march without visible formations; its in part like rolling up the sleeve, and yet presenting no bare arm. Or it could be like stretching your arm without showing the sleeves.
Confront well, present no battle-front yourself. Refrain from charging in frontal attacks, and seem to be armed without weapons. [Let that come as a surprise.] Hold a thousand weapons without seeming to have them.
Now, great calamity comes from making light of an enemy. There is no greater catastrophe than if a foolishly underestimated enemy robs and destroys your most cherished treasures. It could even destroy your topmost treasure, your old, dear body. Refrain from having an enemy at the price of losing your body and life. Remember: He whose enemy presents no front, could lose his booty.
Therefore when armies meet, the kind-looking man of sorrows could win [by such as surprise tactics. But often it is the opposite that happens.] Who does not delight in warfare in the open, he wins. [And most often not?]
My words are very easy to understand and very easy to put into practice. Yet no one understands them; no one puts them into practice.
But some of my teaching could have nature as a source, and also there is a principle-ruled ancestry in some of my words.
Yes, [some of] my deeds have a lord; my deeds could have [right] Tao as sovereign.
Most men do not understand this, they are unable to understand me.
Few people understand me, and on this my real value depends. I am highly valued, for few understand me.
The wise man wears a coarse cloth on top and carries jade underneath his dress, within his bosom.