To know that you do not know is best.* Who knows that he does not know is the highest. To know when one does not know is best.
Who pretends to know what he does not know is sick-minded; To think one knows when one does not know is a sort of malady. Pretend to know when you do not know - that is a disease. He who recognises this disease as a disease can also cure himself of it [and maybe not]. [One may eventually get free from a disease by recognising it for what it is.]
Who recognises sick-mindedness as sick-mindedness can't be wholly sick-minded, after all.
The wise man is hardly sick-minded if he recognises sick mind as sick and also cures some diseases. He's hardly a sick mind.
* Not to know that you know you don't know could work equally well. ;) This is to say: One is to beware of sophistry also. [TK]
If the people hardly fear what is dreadful, something greatly dreadful could descend. If people have no fear of force, then great force descends. So never mind if people are not intimidated by your authority. Some mightier authority could deal with them in the long run.
Neither despise their dwellings nor narrow the living space of their dwellings. They could cease to turn away if you do not put them in jail. Do not dislike their offspring, harass or oppress their lives. Do not harass them, and they could cease to turn from you. Drop heavy taxes, and the people will not be fed up. If you do not persecute all, you'll hardly be so much disliked. They are not oppressed if you refrain from gross oppressive measures.
So the wise man knows himself but hardly shows off. Knows his own value, but does not exalt himself.
Truly, "he rejects the one [brute force or enemicy] but accepts or takes the other [being some kind, sturdy neighbour]."
Who is brave in daring can kill or get killed [on a bus].
On the other hand, one who is brave in not daring, can survive or give life. Either approach can be profitable or unprofitable, still one of them is harmful.
Who is brave in non-daring without ado lets live. There can be some advantage and some disadvantage in each approach -
Now, "Tao-heaven hates the one it hates, hates what it hates; and none can know the reason why." Who knows why and what it dislikes? Heaven dislikes certain people; but the wise man considers it a tricky question. Yes, why heaven seems to hate - even a wise man regards it as a tricky question.
Well, it is in the fixed Tao sets of heaven not to strive in the open, but none the less to conquer. Not to compete, but all the same win expertly. Be good at conquest without strife.
Tao hardly speaks, it skilfully responds. It comes without skilful invitation, it can appear without a call. It does not seem anxious about things and yet it shows up it plans very well. It gets able results without obvious design, as from hidden, laid, [broad] plans and schemes. [Say little, foster well laid schemes and designs.]
Tao-heaven's net is wide, with big, coarse meshes. Still it misses nothing. Nothing slips through.
When the people are not afraid of death, why threaten them with death sentences?
Even supposing the people are constantly afraid of death and we can seize and kill those who are unruly or vicious, who would dare to slay them? There is always the master executioner [Heaven]. To kill in his stead is like thrusting oneself into he master-carpenter's place and doing his chipping for him. "He who tries it is lucky if he does not cut his hand," they say. To undertake executions for the master executioner is like hewing wood for him. It rarely happens you escape injuring your own hands. Now, often it happens as well that the executioner is killed -
And to take the place of the executioner is in part like handling the hatchet for the master carpenter. He who handles the hatchet for the master carpenter seldom escapes injury to his hands.
People are hungry because rulers eat too much income, too much tax-grain. Therefore they starve, but also because of bad interference from those above. Some turn hard to rule as their rulers do too many things. That is why they are hard to keep in order.
If so, the people are not very afraid of death, as they are anxious to make a living. That is why they take death lightly in such cases.
So: Those who interfere not with their living that are wise in exalting life. Maybe he who seeks only little after life can excel in making life valuable. But all that have hearts set only little on life could be superior to those who set store by life.
When man is born, he is tender and weak. In death he becomes stiff and hard.
All things, the grass as well as trees, are supple and soft while alive. When dead they become brittle and dried.
So hardness and stiffness very often accompany death, the soft and gentle could be companions of life.
The headstrong army will lose in battle. They say "the weapon that is too hard will be broken, the tree that has the hardest wood will be cut down". Yes, a hard tree will be cut down.
So the hard and mighty eventually should be cast down; and the soft and weak may be set on high.
Heaven's way is like the bending of a bow. When a bow is bent the top comes down and the bottom-end comes up.
So too could heaven take away from those who have too much, and give to those that have not enough. Take away from those that have too much and give to those that have not enough.
But this is far from man's way. He takes away from those that have not enough to offer those who already have too much.
The man of Tao can fool enough and spare, and next give to the whole world.
So the wise man acts, but does not possess, accomplishes but lays claim to no credit.
If he accomplishes a task, achieves an aim, he does not wish to reveal himself as better than others. So he seems to claim no credit. He seems to have no wish to appear superior, no desire to display excellence.
There is hardly anything more yielding than [gas, air, and] water, but almost none is better in attacking the resistant and hard,
There are few substitutes for it.
Thus the yielding may conquer the resistant and the soft the hard. This was utilised by none I knew.
"Only he who has accepted the dirt of a country can be lord of its soil-shrines: can become heaven-accepted there. Who bears evils of the country can become a king. Who takes into himself the calumny of the world serves to preserve the state."
Straight words seem crooked.
To allay the main discontent, but in a way that begets further discontents, can hardly be top successful. And to patch up great hatred is sure to leave some hatred behind; how can this be regarded as satisfactory?
So the wise man keeps the obligation of a contract
And refrains from blaming the other party. He stays where he is and does not go round making claims on people.
Therefore good people attend to their obligations, while those without virtue attend to other people's mistakes.
The way of heaven is impartial. It is always with the good man, without distinction of persons, to keep the good firmly supplied.
Let there be a small country with few people. Let there be ten times and a hundred times as many utensils and let them not be used.
Let there be contrivances requiring ten times, a hundred times less labour; they should not use them.
Let the people value their lives highly and not travel far. Bring it about that the people are quite ready to lay down their lives at times to defend their homes rather than emigrate.
As for ships and carriages, let there be none to ride.
There can still be weapons, but no one to drill seriously with them and none to display them often.
People should have no use for any form of writing save knotted ropes: Let the people again knot cords for reckoning.
Let them be very pleased with their food, beautify their clothing, be content with their homes, take pleasure in rustic tasks, and delight in such customs.
The neighbouring place can be overlooked, can be so near that one may hear the cocks crowing in it, the dogs barking; but the people would grow old and die without ever having been there.
And never outside their country.
True words hardly sound fine. Nice words are far from always true.
A good man seldom proves by argument; he hardly argues. He who argues or proves by argument is hardly so good [as non-argumentative good men]. Who argues [blatantly] is hardly a [very] good man.
[All this is "Lao" arguing, debating or clowning.]
Brilliant wisdom is different from sordid learning. Much bookish learning can mean too little wisdom. Who has extensive knowledge is hardly a wise man.
The wise man has no need to hoard for himself. He lives for other people, seemingly, and grows richer himself if the more he uses for others, the more he has for himself - He gives to other people to get greater abundance.
Heaven's way is to sharpen and bless, all free from harm of cutting,
And the wise man's way is to act and accomplish without contending or striving.