(author: Translated by Archie J. Bahm)
Nature can never be completely described, for such a description of Nature would have to duplicate Nature. No name can fully express what it represents.
It is Nature itself, and not any part (or name or description) abstracted from Nature, which is the ultimate source of all that happens, all that comes and goes, begins and ends, is and is not. But to describe Nature as “the ultimate source of all” is still only a description, and such a description is not Nature itself. Yet since, in order to speak of it, we must use words, we shall have to describe it as “the ultimate source of all.”
If Nature is inexpressible, he who desires to know Nature as it is in itself will not try to express it in words
Although the existence of Nature and a description of that existence are two different things, yet they are also the same.
For both are ways of existing. That is, a description of existence must have its own existence, which is different from the existence of that which it describes; and so again we have to recognize an existence which cannot be described.
It is because we single out something and treat it as distinct from other things that we get the idea of its opposite. Beauty, for example, once distinguished, suggests its opposite, ugliness.
And goodness, when we think of it, is naturally opposed to badness.
In face, all distinctions naturally appear as opposites. And opposites get their meaning from each other and find their completion only through each other. The meaning of “is” and “is not” arise from our distinguishing between them.
Likewise “difficult and easy,” “long and short,” “high and low,” “loud and soft,” “before and after” – all derive their meanings from each other.
Therefore the intelligent man accepts what is as it is. In seeking to grasp what is, he does not devote himself to the making of distinctions which are then mistaken to be separate existences. In teaching, he teaches, not by describing and pointing out differences, but by example. Whatever is exists, and he sees that nothing is gained by representing what fully exists by a description – another lesser, diluted kind of existence. If something exists which cannot be wholly revealed to him with his viewpoint, he does not demand of it that it be nothing but what it seems to him.
If some one else interprets him, he does not trust that interpretation as being equal to his own existence. If some part of him stands out as if a superior representative of his nature, he will not surrender the rest of his nature to it.
And in not surrendering the whole of his nature to any part of it, he keeps himself intact. This is how the intelligent man preserves his nature.
If no distinctions of superiority and inferiority prevail among officers, they will devote themselves to their tasks rather than to rivalries with one another.
If no special value is placed upon rare things, one will have no incentive for stealing them.
If nothing appears to arouse envy, one will remain satisfied with things as they are
Since this is so, the wise administrator does not lead people to set their hearts upon what they cannot have, but satisfies their inner needs. He does not promote ambition to improve their status, but supports their self-sufficiency. He does not complicate their lives with knowledge of multifarious details or with an urge to attend to this, that and the other.
By keeping people contented, he prevents those who mistakenly believe that ambition is better than contentment from leading the contented astray.
By being calm and contented himself, he sets an example for his people.
Nature contains nothing but natures; and these natures are nothing over and above Nature.
In Nature, all natures originate,
all conflicts are settled, all differences are united, all disturbances are quieted.
Yet no matter how many natures come into being, they can never exhaust Nature.
To look for an external source of Nature is foolish, for Nature is the source of all else.
Opposites are not sympathetic to each other. Each one of the many kinds of opposites acts as if it could get along without its other. But Nature treats opposites impartially, dealing with each of every pair of opposites with the same indifference.
And the intelligent man will regard opposites in the same manner.
No matter how deeply natures are torn by opposition, Nature itself remains unchanged. In conflicts between opposites, the more one attacks his seeming opponent (upon which he really depends for his completion), the more he defeats himself (and thereby demonstrates that only Nature, and not any opposite abstracted from existence, is self-sufficient).
So, likewise, no matter how much debaters argue, their argument proves nothing. Things are what they are, regardless of how much we disagree about them.
The tendency towards opposition is ever-present. Opposition is the source of all growth.
And the principle of opposition is the source of all opposites.
The principle of opposition is inherent in Nature, so oppositeness will continue forever, no matter how many opposites may come and go.
The principle of initiation persists; and the principle of completion continues.
Why do such opposing principles persist? Because they inhere in Nature, rather than stand by themselves. That is why opposites endure.
The intelligent man, when an issue arises, stands off and observes both contentions.
Since he does not take sides, he never loses a battle.
By not favouring one side more than the other, he is able to appreciate the virtues of both sides.
The best way to conduct oneself may be observed in the behaviour of water. Water is useful to every living thing, yet it does not demand pay in return for its services; it does not even require that it be recognized, esteemed, or appreciated for its benefits. This illustrates how intelligent behaviour so closely approximates the behaviour of Nature itself.
If experience teaches that houses should be built close to the ground, That friendship should be based on sympathy and good will,
That good government employs peaceful means of regulation, That business is more successful if it employs efficient methods, That wise behaviour adapts itself appropriately to the particular circumstances, All this is because these are the easiest ways.
If one proceeds naturally, without ambition or envy, everything works out for the best.
Going to extremes is never best.
For if you make a blade too sharp, it will become dull too quickly
And if you hoard all the wealth, you are bound to be attacked.
If you become proud and arrogant regarding your good fortune, you will naturally beget enemies who jealously despise you.
The way to success is this: having achieved your goal, be satisfied not to go further. For this is the way Nature operates.
If you would retain a wholesome personality, must you not restrain your lower interests from dominating over your higher interests?
If you wish to live healthily, should you not breathe naturally, like a child, and not hold your breath until your vitality is nearly exhausted?
If you desire to realize the potentialities of your indescribable original nature, how can you insist that some selected aspect of your personality is really superior to that original nature?
If you are required to govern others, ought you not be able to guide them by example, rather than by forcing your will upon them?
If Nature’s way is a joint process of initiation and completion, sowing and reaping, producing and consuming, can you rightly demand that you deserve always to play the role of the consumer?
If you desire to know the nature of the various kinds of things, must you meddle with them, experiment with them, try to change them, in order to find out?
Nature procreates all things and then devotes itself to caring for them, Just as parents give birth to children without keeping them as slaves. It willingly gives life, without first asking whether the creatures will repay for its services. It provides a pattern to follow, without requiring anyone to follow it. This is the secret of intelligent activity.
Every positive involves its negative or opposing factor; for example: In order to turn a wheel, although thirty spokes must revolve, the axle must remain motionless; so both the moving and the non-moving are needed to produce revolution.
In order to mold a vase, although one must use clay, he must also provide a hollow space of empty clay; so both clay and the absence of clay are required to produce a vessel.
In order to build a house, although we must establish solid walls, we must also provide doors and windows; so both the impenetrable and penetrable are essential to a useful building.
Therefore, we profit equally by the positive and negative ingredients in each situation.
Interest in the varieties of colour diverts the eye from regarding the thing which is coloured. Attention to the differences between sounds distracts the ear from consideration for the source of the sounds. Desire for enjoyment of the various flavours misdirects the appetite from seeking foods which are truly nourishing.
Excessive devotion to chasing about and pursuing things agitates the mind with insane excitement. Greed for riches ensnares one’s efforts to pursue his healthier motives.
The intelligent man is concerned about his genuine needs and avoids being confused by dazzling appearances. He wisely distinguishes one from the other.
Pride and shame cause us much fearful anxiety. But our inner peace and distress should be our primary concerns.
Why do pride and shame cause us so much fearful anxiety? Because: Pride attaches undue importance to the superiority of one’s status in the eyes of others; And shame is fear of humiliation at one’s inferior status in the estimation of others. When one sets his heart on being highly esteemed, and achieves such rating, then he is automatically involved in fear of losing his status. Then protection of his status appears to be his most important need. And humiliation seems the worst of all evils. This is the reason why pride and shames cause us so much fearful anxiety.
Why should our inner peace and distress be our primary concerns? Because: The inner self is our true self; so in order to realize our true self, we must be willing to live without being dependent upon the opinions of others. When we are completely self-sufficient, then we can have no fear of disesteem.
He who wisely devotes himself to being self-sufficient, and therefore does not depend for his happiness upon external ratings by others, is the one best able to set an example for, and to teach and govern, others.
Since what is ultimate in Nature cannot be seen with one’s eyes, it is spoken of as invisible. Since it cannot be heard with one’s ears, it is called inaudible. Since it cannot be grasped in one’s hands, it is thought of as intangible
But not even all these three together can adequately describe it. Nature did not originate in beginnings, and will not reach its goal in endings. Rather it acts unceasingly, without either absolute beginnings or final endings. If we cannot describe it intelligibly, this is because it is beyond our understanding.
Nature is the formless source of all forms, and yet it remains unaffected by its forms. Thus it appears to us as if mysterious.
No matter how closely we scrutinize its coming toward us, we cannot discover a beginning. No matter how long we pursue it, we never find its end.
One must comprehend the way in which the original Nature itself operates, if he wishes to control present conditions. That is, he should study the ultimate source itself. This is the way to understand how Nature behaves.
In primitive times, intelligent men had an intuitively penetrating grasp of reality which could not be stated in words.
Since their instinctive beliefs have not been recorded for us, we can only infer them from old sayings which have come down to us. Regarding caution when crossing a stream in winter: the more nervous you are, the more likely you are to slip and fall: Regarding suspicion of enemies; the more you fear others, the more the will be afraid of you: Regarding courtesy as a guest: the longer you stay, the more you become indebted to your host.
Regarding melting ice: the more you do to prevent it from melting, the quicker it melts. Regarding making furniture: the more you carve the wood, the weaker it gets. Regarding digging ditches: the steeper you slope their sides, the sooner they will wash down. Regarding muddy water: The more you try to stir the dirt out of it, the murkier it gets.
What, then, should we do in order to clear the muddy water? Leave it alone and the dirt will settle out by itself. What, then, must we do in order to achieve contentment? Let each thing act according to its own nature, and it will eventually come to rest in its own way.
Those who fully comprehend the true nature of existence do not try to push things to excess. And because they do not try to push things to excess, they are able to satisfy their needs repeatedly without exhausting themselves.
In order to arrive at complete contentment, restrain your ambitions.
For everything which comes into being eventually returns again to the source from which it came. Each thing which grows and develops to the fullness of its own nature completes its course by declining again in a manner inherently determined by its own nature.
Completing its life is as inevitable as that each thing shall have its own goal. Each thing having its own goal is necessary to the nature of things.
He who knows that this is the ultimate nature of things is intelligent; he who does not is not. Being intelligent, he knows that each has a nature which is able to take care of itself. Knowing this, he is willing that each thing follow its own course. Being willing to let each thing follow its own course, he is gracious. Being gracious, he is like the source which graciously gives life to all. Being like the gracious source of all, he embodies Nature’s way within his own being. And in thus embodying Nature’s way within himself, he embodies its perpetually recurrent principles within himself.
And so, regardless of what happens to his body, there is somethng about him which goes on forever.
The most intelligent leaders bring about results without making those controlled realize that they are being influenced. The less intelligent seek to motivate others by appeals to loyalty, honour, self-interest, and flattery. Those still less intelligent employ fear by making their followers think they will not receive their rewards. The worst try to force others to improve by condemning their conduct.
But since, if leaders do not trust their followers then their followers will not trust the leaders, The intelligent leader will be careful not to speak as if he doubted or distrusted his follower’s ability to do the job suitably.
When the work is done, and as he wanted it done, he will be happy if the followers say: “This is just the way we wanted it.”
When people try to improve upon, and thus deviate from, the way Nature itself naturally functions, they develop artificial codes of right and wrong.
When knowledge becomes highly abstract, men are deceived by mistaking abstractions for realities.
When instinctive family sympathies are replaced by rules for proper conduct then parents become “responsible” and children become “dutiful”.
When corruption replaces genuine benevolence in government, then loyalty oaths are demanded of officials.
Therefore – If we ignore intricate learning and knowledge of petty distinctions, we shall be many times better off.
If we neglect to insist upon the formal proprieties of etiquette, our intuitive sympathies will return.
If we abolish opportunities for profiteering “within the law,” incentive for political corruption will disappear.
If the foregoing three principles are unclear, then at least the following are understandable:
Simply be yourself. Act naturally. Refrain from self-assertiveness. Avoid covetousness.
If we stop fussing about grammatical trivialities, we will get along much better. The difference between “Yes” and “ya” is insignificant as compared with a genuine distinction like “Good” and “Bad”.
Yet some people are as fearful of making a grammatical mistake as of committing a vital error. How stupid to waste our lives in infinite details!
While others enjoy devoting themselves to ceremonious holiday celebrations, such as the spring festivals, I stay at home as unperturbed as a helpless babe.
So while others are feasting, I appear neglected. Am I the one who is a misguided fool?
When everyone else is exuberant, I continue to be disinterested. When everyone else is alert to the niceties of etiquette, I persist in being indifferent. I am as unconcerned as the rolling ocean, without a care to bother me.
While others behave like busybodies, I alone remain placid and resist arousement. How can I withstand the pressure of public opinion? Because I am succored by Mother Nature herself.
Intelligence consists in acting according to Nature.
Nature is something which can neither be seen nor touched. Yet all of the forms which can possibly be seen or touched are latent within it. And all of the things that will actually be seen or touched are embedded as potentialities within it. Deep in its depths are activating forces. No matter how unplumbable the depths, these forces unfailingly sustain the world as it appears to us.
From the beginning until now, they have never ceased to express themselves in appearances.
How do I know all this to be so? It is intuitively self-evident, for every existing thing testifies to it, including what appears right here and now.
Submit to Nature if you would reach your goal. For, whoever deviates from Nature’s way, nature forces back again. Whoever gives up his desire to improve upon Nature will find Nature satisfying all his needs. Whoever finds his desires extinguished will find more desires arising of their own accord. Whoever desires little is easily satisfied. Whoever desires much suffers frustration.
Therefore, the intelligent person is at one with Nature, and so serves as a model for others.
By not showing off, he is exemplary. By not asserting that he is right, he does the right thing. By not boasting of what he will do, he succeeds in doing more than he promises.
By not gloating over his successes, his achievements are acclaimed by others. By not competing with others, he achieves without opposition.
Therefore the old saying is not idle talk: “Submit to Nature if you would reach your goal.” For that is the only genuine way.
Things which act naturally do not need to be told how to act. The wind and rain begin without being ordered, and quit without being commanded. This is the way with all natural beginnings and endings.
If Nature does not have to instruct the wind and the rain, how much less should man try to direct them?
Whoever acts naturally is Nature itself acting. And whoever acts unintelligently is unintelligence in action.
By acting naturally, one reaps Nature’s rewards. So by acting intelligently, one achieves intelligent goals. Whereas by acting unintelligently, one comes to an unintelligent end.
Those who do not trust Nature as a model cannot be trusted as guides.
One who tries to stand on tiptoe cannot stand still. One who stretches his legs too far cannot walk.
One who advertises himself to much is ignored. One who is too insistent on his own views finds few to agree with him.
One who claims too much credit does not get even what he deserves. One who is too proud is soon humiliated.
These, when judged by the standards of Nature, are condemned as “Extremes of greediness and self-destructive activity.” Therefore, one who acts naturally avoids such extremes.
There exists something which is prior to all beginnings and endings, Which, unmoved and unmanifest, itself neither begins nor ends. All-pervasive and inexhaustible, it is the perpetual source of everything else,
For want of a better name, I call it Nature. If I am forced to describe it, I speak of it as “ultimate reality.”
Ultimate reality involves initiation of growth, initiation of growth involves completion of growth, and completion of growth involves returning to that whence it came.
Nature is ultimate, the principle of initiating is ultimate, and the principle of perfecting is ultimate. And the intelligent person is also ultimate. Four kinds of ultimate, then, exist, and the intelligent man is one of them.
Man devotes himself to satisfying his desires, fulfilling his purposes, realizing his ideals, or achieving his goals. But goals are derived from aims. And all aiming is Nature’s aiming, and is Nature’s way of being itself.
Saneness or sobriety is more basic than frivolity. Calmness or self-sufficiency is superior to being agitated.
Therefore the intelligent man, though he goes on a long journey, will never depart far from his means of conveyance. No matter how exciting the distractions, he never submits to their lures.
What would happen if Nature were to act frivolously?
If it became frivolous, it would be deprived of its sanity. If it became agitated, it would lose control of itself.
The wise traveler has no need to retrace his steps. The effective speaker does not need to repeat himself. The generous trader needs no scales.
The self-closing door needs no bolt, for it will not open itself even though it is not forced to stay shut. Things which go together naturally do not have to be tied; for they will not separate even without bonds.
Therefore the intelligent man expresses his beneficence to other men by accepting each man’s own way as best for himself. And he performs the same service for all other beings, for he willingly recognizes that, by following its own nature, each thing does the best that can be done for it.
This may be called the two-pronged lesson: Bad men can learn from the good man’s successes. Good men can learn from the bad man’s failures.
Whoever despises such teachers, whether good or bad, or who fails to appreciate such lessons, Even though he may be a “walking encyclopedia,” is really a misguided fool. This is the secret of wisdom.
He who knows how to be aggressive, and yet remains patient, becomes a receptacle for all Nature’s lessons. Being thus receptive, he continually reembodies intelligence, and recuperates his primal nature.
He who knows how to be brilliant, and yet remains demure, becomes the ideal which all things have as their ultimate goal. Being thus the ideal, he actualizes the unending goal of existence, and reinstates his primordial condition of perfect self sufficiency.
He who know how to be proud, and yet remains humble, becomes the recipient of all Nature’s bounties. Being thus receptive, he reintegrates intrinsic goodness, and restores primitive wholeness.
Intrinsic goodness, when devoted to varieties of uses, functions as instrumental value. When the intelligent man employs instrumental values, he treats them as means to ends, For he is concerned with the ultimate ends, never mistaking the means as ends in themselves.
Whenever someone sets out to remold the world, experience teaches that he is bound to fail.
For Nature is already as good as it can be. It cannot be improved upon. He who tries to redesign it, spoils it. He who tries to redirect it, misleads it.
Consider how Natures operates: Some things precede while others follow. Some things blow one way while some blow another. Some things are strong while others are weak. Some things are going up while others are going down.
Therefore the intelligent man avoids both extremes, shunning excess in one way as well as in the other.
Whoever tries to help Nature run itself does not need to use force. For force will be met with force, and wherever force is used fighting and devastation follows.
After the battle come years of destitution.
He who is wise lets well enough alone. He does not press a victory by further conquest.
When peace has been restored, he does not behave like an arrogant victor. When security has been regained, he does not gloat like a conqueror. When he gets what he needs, he does not destroy those who have been defeated. Whenever he does something which he has to do, he does it without cruelty.
When things reach maturity, they decay of themselves. So cruelty is unnatural. Whoever acts unnaturally will come to an unnatural finish.
Weapons have a negative value, for they create fear in others. Therefore, the follower of Nature avoids them.
For when among intimates, one naturally prefers the gentler, more trusting, position on the left. And when among enemies, one naturally jockeys for the more strategic position on the right.
Since weapons have a negative value, the intelligent man will have nothing to do with them if he can. But when he is forced to use them, he does so with reluctance and restraint.
He does not admire conquest. For whoever desires to conquer desires to kill. And whoever delights in murder, cannot inherit the earth.
When things go well, we signify this by honouring the position on the left. When ills prevail, we symbolize this by giving precedence to the position on the right. In military parades, the second in command, who is ordered to give orders, takes his place on the left, While the first in command, who by himself undertakes to give orders, takes the right hand position. There is a significant similarity between fighting and funerals.
Just as the slaughter of many people should be accomplished by weeping and mourning, So the positions in a victory parade should properly parallel those in a funeral procession.
Nature is always indeterminable. Although, in its original simplicity, it may appear to be helpless, no one else can tell it what to do.
If legislators and administrators could keep this in mind, everybody would obey their laws without enforcement.
When opposites supplement each other, everything is harmonious. Without compulsion, each supports the other.
But when boundaries between opposites appear, then the boundary lines are marked out. Once one begins to differentiate between one thing and another, how will we know where to stop? To know when to stop making distinctions is to be free from error.
The true relationship of every determinate thing to Nature is reintegrative, like all the rivers and rivulets ever running to their ocean.
He who knows much about others may be learned, but he who understands himself is more intelligent.
He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.
He who receives his happiness from others may be rich, but he who whose contentment is self-willed has inexhaustible wealth.
He who occupies a place provided for him by others may live a long life, but he who dwells in his own self-contained place, even though he decays, is eternal.
Ultimate reality is all-pervasive; it is immanent everywhere.
All other things owe their existence to it and draw their sustenance from it, without anyone being refused. Having created and and nurtured them, it does not demand title to them. Even though it has provided for all, it refuses to dominate over a single one.
Since it asks nothing in return for its services, it may appear as of little worth.
But all things return home to it again, even though they do not know that they are being called home. Therefore it may be thought of as ultimate.
Since it never claims ultimacy for itself, it is, by that very fact, ultimate indeed.
He who grasps the ultimate structure of reality draws everyone to him. They approach him without being harmed, but find security, satisfaction, and contentment.
Particular goods of various kinds attract the interests of men as they travel through life.
But the all-pervasive way of Nature attracts no attention to itself (for its true nature is not found to be in particulars). Even though it is present in the mouth, it remains untasted. Even though it is embedded in all objects, it remains unseen. Even though it permeates sound, it remains unheard. Yet, no matter how much we use it, it can never be exhausted.
The purpose of contracting (returning to Nature) is served by expanding (emerging out of Nature in the first place). The purpose of weakening (subsiding or satisfying of desire) is served by strengthening (arousing the will to live). The purpose of decline (of individual self-assertion) is served by arising (of individuality). The purpose of taking away (culminating or perfecting life) is served by being given (ie., “the last of life for which the first was made”).
This is the most penetrating insight into the way of life. The giving in or finishing always triumphs over the starting out.
Just as a fish should not be taken out of water, So a sword should never be taken from its scabbard.
Nature never acts, yet it activates everything.
If legislators and administrators would behave likewise, each thing would develop in accordance with its own nature. Just as, when things develop, those which become passionate are restrained by that passionless one which activates them,
So the way to restrain men’s passions is by dispassionate restraint. And thus all passions will subside.
Intelligent control appears as uncontrol or freedom. And for that reason it is genuinely intelligent control. Unintelligent control appears as external domination. And for that reason it is really unintelligent control.
Intelligent control exerts influence without appearing to do so. Unintelligent control tries to influence by making a show of it.
The generous giver gives because he wants to give. The dutiful giver gives because he wants to receive. Whenever a regulation is imposed from above, it is not willingly obeyed. Then effort is used to enforce it.
But when Nature’s spontaneous activity disappears, then intelligent action is called for. But when intelligent action is unavailable, then intuitive generosity may be appealed to. But when intuitive sympathy is lacking, principles of morality may be invoked. But where morality is ineffective, laws are enacted.
But where law is enforced, spontaneous and sincere loyalty declines, and disintegration of the harmonious society sets in. Thus valuing law as an end in itself results in minimizing fidelity to Nature itself. Knowledge of law appears at once as a flowering of Nature’s way and as the source of error.
Therefore the intelligent man adheres to the genuine and discards the superficial. He keeps the fruit rather than the flower, Naturally preferring the one to the other.
There are things that have always maintained their own self-activity. The tendency to initiate is, by its self-activity, obviously self-originating. The tendency towards completion is, by its self-activity, always self-perfection. The tendency to maintain integrity, by its self-activity, sustains integrity. The tendency to oppose is, by its self-activity, sufficient for all opposition.
It is by self-activity that all things fulfill themselves. So it is by self-activity that the world is governed. Such is the extent of self-activity.
If the tendency to initiate were not clearly such, it would be ineffective. If the tendency toward completion were not dependable, things would be chaotic. If the tendency to maintain integrity were not persistent, things would disintegrate. If the tendency toward opposition were not sustained, vitality would disappear.
If there were no self-activity, life would cease. If self activity did not govern, then disruption would set in.
The esteemed must depend upon others for their esteem, whereas the unesteemed are self-sufficient. The high must depend on the low for its foundations, whereas the low serves as its own foundation.
Therefore intelligent leaders consider themselves as independent, self-sufficient, and unesteemed. For, must not the unesteemed be the basis for the esteemed?
Therefore the unesteemed are the ultimate in esteem.
One cannot be outstanding when he is alone, and he should not try to be so when he is with others.
Nature alternates dynamically. When it completes what it is doing, then it starts all over again.
All that is springs from such alternation.
When the intelligent man hears about Nature’s alternating ways, he seeks to embody it within himself. The mediocre man sometimes accepts it and sometimes does not.
Unintelligent men scoff at it. Yet this very scoffing at intelligence itself exemplifies Nature’s way of alternation.
This is the reason for the old sayings: Nature’s brightest day fades into night. Nature’s most luxuriant growth ages toward decay. Nature’s smoothest plain erodes itself away into rough terrain.
Nature’s most harmonious adjustment generates conflict. Nature’s most beautiful objects grow dim and ugly. Nature’s greatest prize soon becomes despised. Nature’s strongest power eventually weakens. Nature’s soundest supports gradually rot away. Nature’s squarest corners soon become rounded. Nature’s grandest structures sooner or later are destroyed. Nature’s loudest sounds are finally silenced.
Hence, Nature, although beyond comprehension and description, Knows how to bring about, alternately, all initiating and completing.
Nature first begets one thing. The one thing begets another. The two produce a third. In this way, all things are begotten.
Why? Because all things are impregnated by two alternating tendencies, the tendency towards completion and the tendency towards initiation, which acting together, complement each other.
Most men dislike to be considered of no account, lowly, unworthy. Yet intelligent leaders call themselves thus.
For people are admired for their humility and despised for their pride.
There are many other ways of illustrating what I am teaching: “Extremists reach untimely ends.” This saying may be taken as a good example.
That which is most yielding eventually overcomes what is most resistant. That which is not becomes that which is. Acting without coercing or being coerced is best.
Guiding by example rather than by words is most successful. Such simple truths are so hard to understand.
Esteem by others or self-esteem, which is better? To value things or to value yourself, which is better? To have more or to have less, which is worse?
The more you have, the more you have to lose. The more you value things, the less you value your self. The more you depend on others for esteem, the less you are self-sufficient.
He who knows how to discriminate wisely avoids danger, And continues safely on his way.
What is most complete is still incomplete: Yet it is as complete as it can be. That which has achieved the most, still has the whole of its future yet to be achieved: Hence it will not stop achieving.
Make a thing as straight as possible; Yet it is still crooked or will become crooked. Acquire the greatest skill; And there will still be endless skill to be acquired. Develop the greatest power of expression; And there will be much that is unexpressed and inexpressible.
The same may be said about activity and passivity and cold and heat. Only he who fully accepts these alternations is the best guide for all to follow.
When what is natural prevails in human affairs, horses forced to train for racing are returned to the fertile pastures. When artificiality prevails in human affairs, horses are trained for war and are restricted to walled enclosures.
There is no greater evil than desiring to change others – (to take from or give to others what they do not, of their own accord, want to give or take). There is no greater misfortune than desiring to change oneself – being discontented with one’s lot. There is no greater vice than desiring to change things – (to possess, control, or reconstruct their natures).
Only he who is satisfied with whatever satisfactions his own nature provides for him is truly satisfied.
Without going out-of-doors, one can know all he needs to know. Without even looking out of his window, one can grasp the nature of everything. Without going beyond his own nature, one can achieve ultimate wisdom.
Therefore the intelligent man knows all he needs to know without going away, And he sees all he needs to see without looking elsewhere, And does all he needs to do without undue exertion.
While day by day the overzealous student stores up facts for future use, He who has learned to trust nature finds need for ever fewer external directions.
He will discard formula after formula, until he reaches the conclusion: Let Nature take its course. By letting each thing act in accordance with its own nature, everything that needs to be done gets done.
The best way to manage anything is by making use of its own nature; For a thing cannot function properly when its own nature has been disrupted.
The intelligent man is not willful. He accepts what others will for themselves as his will for them.
Those who appear as good, he accepts, And those who appear as bad, he accepts; For Nature accepts both.
Those who appear faithful, he accepts, And those who appear unfaithful, he accepts; For Nature accepts both.
The intelligent man treats every kind of nature impartially, And will good to one as much as the another. All people admire the intelligent man, Because he regards them all as a mother regards her children.
It is natural for man to be born and to die. And it it natural for each of his parts to be born and to die and to evolve through its life cycle.
Why do men become so perturbed and anxious to prolong the life of each part when endangered? The truth is that whatever is natural is good.
Since it is natural for man to dies anyway, being assisted by horn or claw or spear in bringing about his death in no way endangers his nature.
No wild buffalo horn can change the course of Nature. No tiger’s claw can act unnaturally. No soldier’s spear can go against Nature. Why? Because death is natural, but Nature cannot die.
Nature produces things, and intelligence guides them. Although different in kind, each thing has its own self-sufficient intelligence to guide it. Nothing can fail to emulate Nature and intelligence by embodying them within its own life. Such emulation is not demanded, but occurs of its own accord.
Nature originates and suckles, rears and develops, protects and provides for, and guides and perfects all things.
Whatever is produced, Nature accepts it for what it is. However it behaves, Nature lets it follow its own way. Whatever its fortune, Nature injects no external interference. Such is Nature’s marvelous sagacity.
Nature, because it has mothered all, may be regarded as Mother Nature.
He who understands Mother Nature, understands her children. But to avoid the children’s mistakes, one should follow close to Mother Nature herself, If throughout his life he desires a safe guide.
If one remains silent and keeps to himself, he will not fail to fulfill his life;
But is he gives advice and meddles in others’ affairs, he invites trouble.
If you see what is small as it sees itself, And accept what is weak for what strength it has, and use what is dim for the light it gives, Then all will go well.
This is called acting naturally.
Let us be intelligent and follow Nature itself. Let us not stray.
Nature’s way is simple and easy, but men prefer the intricate and artificial.
When they congregate in artistically engineered cities, and neglect their farms, their food supply is cut off.
When they bedeck themselves with ornaments and weapons, and display their fancy foods and rich properties, they thereby invite thievery. This is acting unnaturally.
What is deeply rooted in Nature cannot be uprooted. He who embraces Nature’s way as his own will not easily go astray; And his children and grandchildren will continue to emulate him.
If one embodies Nature’s way in his own life, he will be genuinely intelligent. If he establishes it in his family, his home life will be felicitous. If he cultivates it in he community, his future will be prosperous. If he fosters it in his state, his future will be auspicious. If he inspires in in the whole country, his benefit will become universal. Thus one’s own individual life serves as an example for other individuals.
One’s family life serves as an example for other individuals. One’s family life serves as a model for other families. One’s community serves as a standard for other communities. One’s state serves as an ideal for other states.
How do I know all this? It is obvious.
He who is intelligent is like a little child. Poisonous insects do not sting him. Ferocious beasts do not attack him. Wild birds do not claw him. His bones are soft, his muscles weak, yet is grip is strong.
Because he has no urge for sexual union, he is fully satisfied. His vitality is intact.
He can cry all day without getting hoarse. His existence is harmonious. To know such harmony is to be in accord with Nature.
To be in accord with Nature is to be achieving the goal of life. But to seek excitement is to invite calamity. Those too eager for activity soon become fatigued.
For when things exhaust their vigour, they age quickly. Such impatience is against Nature. What is against Nature dies young.
He who is wise keeps silent. He who advises is a fool.
The wise man shuts his mouth, Closes his doors, Curbs his anxieties, Withdraws from entanglements, Remains untempted by attractions, And retains his self-sufficiency.
Nature is profoundly impartial. It cannot be persuaded by pampering, Nor dissuaded by scoffing. It cannot be tempted by bribes, Nor influenced by injury. It cannot be cajoled by flattery, Nor chagrined by slander. Thus it is the most reliable thing in the world.
A good leader guides by example; A bad leader resorts to force and intrigue. Everything gains by noninterference. How do I know this?
Consider the evidence: The more restrictions and taxes there are, the poorer the people become. The more weapons people possess, the more they fight.
The more complicated machines become, the greater the danger from mechanical accident. The more laws are enacted and taxes assessed, the greater the number of law-breakers and tax-evaders.
This is why the intelligent man concludes: When I attend to my own business, other people are able to attend to theirs. When I exemplify self-reliance, other people will devote themselves to the exercise of their own intelligence.
When I make no demands upon them, other people themselves will prosper. When I express no desire to interfere in their lives, others will become genuinely self-sufficient.
When government governs little, people are happy. When government governs much, people are miserable.
Thus happiness depends on little, And misery depends on much.
What does the desire to govern come to? To restrict interferers is itself interference. So attempts to increase happiness end only in misery. Mankind has been foolish for so long a time!
The intelligent man knows what is best, but does not make others conform. He knows directions, but does not direct. He pursues the straightest way to the goal, but does not urge others to deviate from their course. He is enlightened, but he cares not whether others see his light.
In managing men or anything else, the intelligent man uses self-restraint. Only by self-restraint can one forestall trouble.
Forestalling trouble strengthens one’s position. Such strengthened position enables one to withstand everything. Withstanding everything, one remains unchallenged.
Being unchallenged, one governs easily. Because he embodies Mother Nature within himself, he retains a sound position.
This is the way to be deeply rooted and firmly based, And durable and long-lived.
Whether governing a big country or cooking a little fish, follow Nature’s way and no evil tendencies will get control.
This does not mean that the dangers of evils can be eliminated entirely, but only that they will cease to harm men.
When ordinary men are unharmed, their leaders are unharmed.
And when nobody harms anybody, perfect harmony prevails.
To be great, a state must be passively receptive, like the ocean which accepts whatever the rivers bring into it, or like the feminine which always submits to the masculine. Recall how the female always overcomes the male by means of her passivity. Passivity is submissiveness.
Thus the great state places itself at the service of a small state before before it absorbs the small state. And a small state must serve the interests of the great state before it can be taken into the great state.
Hence, some submit in order to take, while others submit in order to be taken.
When a great state desires to have more people, and a small state desires to be protected,
it is by submission that both obtain what they desire.
Nature is profoundly worth while. It is that which is most worth while for good men, And it is the only real value for bad men.
Flattery may gain favours, and gifts may help one to advance, But bad men know how to flatter and bribe.
Therefore when leaders are installed in office, Better than he who artfully gives lavish gifts and glowing tribute, Is one who, by doing nothing but accepting his natural role as a follower, pays genuine homage.
Why have men always valued Nature? Was it not because Nature submitted humbly to the task of benefiting the good and the bad alike? Is this not the reason why it is the most worth while thing in the world?
Act disinterestedly – without intending that your action shall change the course of Nature. Behave indifferently – without trying to impose your own ideas upon the lives of others. Appreciate natural flavours – without adulterating natural foods with artificial flavours.
Accept the fact that what is small grows big, and what are few become many. Respond intelligently even to unintelligent treatment.
Take care of what is difficult while it is still easy, and deal with what will become big while it is yet small; For all difficult things originate in what is easy.
The most difficult things in the world Must be accomplished through the easiest. The greatest things in the world Must be accomplished through the smallest.
Therefore the intelligent man, although never troubling himself with big things, still accomplishes the same result (by dealing with them when they are small)
He who is careless about things when they are easy will have to face them when they become difficult.
Therefore the intelligent man, although dealing with things which will become difficult, does so by attending to them while they are not difficult.
That which remains quiet is easy to handle. That which has not yet developed is easy to manage, That which is weak is easy to control. That which is still small is easy to direct.
Deal with little troubles before they become big. Attend to little problems before they get out of hand.
For the largest tree was once a sprout, The tallest tower started with a single brick, And the longest journey began with a first stem.
Just as he who tries to hasten what is natural, must fail in his attempt, So he who tries to retard what is natural, must fail in his attempt.
Since the intelligent man does not seek to accelerate, he does not make waste, And since he does not try to restrain, he does not fail. People are as likely to go wrong in not letting things come to their normal conclusions as they are in not letting them start in their own way.
The intelligent man has no desire to redirect and no desire for what is hard to get. He has learned to be unlearned, and returned to the way which learned men have forgoten. He lets each thing develop in its own way, without any attempt to intervene.
Originally people knew how to follow Nature, For they did not try to arouse in the people an interest in cunning, but let them remained unspoiled.
The shrewder people are, the harder they are to govern. Therefore to try to improve government by means of increasing cleverness in people is to endanger it. But to improve government by encouraging honesty in the people is beneficial.
The comprehend the significance of these two ways is to be profoundly intelligent.
Profound intelligence is that penetrating and pervading power To restore all things to their original harmony.
Rivers and seas dominate the landscape, Because, by being good at seeking the lowest places, they fill and occupy and spread over everything.
Likewise the intelligent man is superior to others, Because he admits that he is inferior, And he is a leader of others Because he is willing to be a follower.
Thus although he is actually superior to others, they do not feel depressed. And when he leads them, they do not feel that they are being forced to obey. So all are happy to give him their support.
Since he competes with no one, no one competes with him.
Everyone says: “Nature is great, yet Nature is simple.” It is great because it is simple. If it were not simple, long ago it would have come to little.
Nature sustains itself through three precious principles, which one does well to embrace and follow. These are gentleness, frugality and humility.
When one is gentle, he has no fear of retaliation. When one is frugal, he has no fear of retaliation. When one is humble, no one challenges his leadership.
When rudeness replaces gentleness, And extravagance replaces frugality, and pride replaces humility, The one is doomed.
Since a gentle attack arouses little antagonism, And a gentle defense provokes little anger, Nature predisposes to gentleness those most suited for survival.
The best soldier does not attack. The superior fighter succeeds without violence.
The greatest conqueror wins without a struggle. The most successful manager leads without dictating.
This is called intelligent nonaggressiveness. This is called mastery of men. This is called matching the wisdom of the highest and oldest in Nature.
Military maxims say: “It is easier to defend than to attack.” “It is better to back away a foot than to assault to gain an inch.”
This means that the best way to advance is to retreat. He who bares his flesh will appear to have no need for carrying weapons. He who does not flourish weapons appears to have nothing to defend. He who does not prepare to defend himself appears to have no enemies.
No one will attack a person unless he appears to be an enemy, For to attack one who is not an enemy is to lose a friend.
Therefore, when opposing enemies meet for open battle, he who runs away to hide is the one who wins.
The things I am saying are very easy to understand and very easy to practice. Yet no one in the world can comprehend them fully nor practice them perfectly.
The things I am saying did not originate with me but have their source in Nature. It is because men do not understand this source that they do not understand me. Since those who understand me are few, they are, for that reason, all the more worthy of emulation.
Therefore the intelligent man presents a poor exterior, yet carries Nature’s riches embedded in his core.
To know how little one knows is to have genuine knowledge. Not to know how little one knows is to be deluded.
Only he who knows when he is deluded can free himself from such delusion. The intelligent man is not deluded, because he knows and accepts his ignorance, and accepts his ignorance as ignorance, and thereby has genuine knowledge.
Do not be irritated when people do not recognize your importance; For if you are really important, sooner or later circumstances will force them to recognize it.
Do not treat them contemptuously nor despise them; For only when you do not despise them will they not despise you.
Although the intelligent man knows his own importance, He does not require that others recognize it; and he esteems himself for what he is, But does not insist that others esteem him. He does not seek to be esteemed by others because he recognizes his self-esteem as sufficicent.
He whose courage expresses itself as defiance is often put to death. He whose courage manifests itself as patience to endure insult continues to live.
Of these two kinds of courage, the one is beneficial, the other harmful. Many people are puzzled as to why, of two courageous men, one is harmed and one benefited. But the intelligent man finds no difficulty with this question.
Nature itself has the patience to endure insult, yet always wins in the end. It does not explain; nevertheless all understand. It does not command; but all eventually obey. It does not hurry; yet everything is accomplished.
Nature’s web is so finely woven – wide enough to catch the biggest, fine enough to catch the smallest – that not a single thing escapes.
It is futile to threaten people with death. If they are not afraid to die, they cannot be frightened by the death penalty; and if they are afraid to die, why should we kill them?
Only Nature knows the proper time for a man to die. To kill is to interrupt Nature’s design for dying, Like a blundering apprentice judging himself to be wiser than his master.
Whenever an apprentice thinks he is smarter than his master, he is very likely to hurt himself.
Those who make their living by collecting taxes cause the people to starve; when the people starve, the tax collectors, having no one to tax, starve also.
Those who govern people make them discontented with being controlled; and therefore cause them to be uncontrollable.
Those who are so eager to make a better living that they risk death in doing so are the very ones most likely to die. Only the self-sufficient person who depends upon and endangers no one else in order to get his living is most sure to live.
At birth a man is soft and weak – yet capable of living the whole life ahead of him. At death he is hard and tough – yet unable to live for even a minute longer.
All things, whether plants of animals, while living, are soft and weak, But, when dead, are hard and tough.
Thus hardness and toughness are allied with death, While softness and weakness are interrelated with life.
This is the reason why the tougher fighters are more likely to be killed, and the harder trees more likely to be cut down.
Therefore it is better to be soft and weak than to be hard and tough.
Nature’s way is like the bending of a bow: The top which is high is lowered while the bottom which is low is raised, And the width which is narrow is widened while the length which is long is shortened.
Nature’s way is to take from those that have too much and give to those that have too little.
Man’s way, on the contrary, is to take away from those who have too little to give more to those who already have too much. What kind of man is able to take away from his own more than enough and give to others who have less than enough?
Only he who embodies Nature’s way within himself. Such a man gives his gift without desiring a reward, achieves benefit for others without expecting approbation, And is generous without calling attention to his generosity.
Nothing is weaker than water; Yet, for attacking what is hard and tough, Nothing surpasses it, nothing equals it.
The principle, that what is weak overcomes what is strong, And what is yielding conquers what is resistant, Is known to everybody. Yet few men utilize it profitably in practice.
But the intelligent man knows that: He who willingly takes the blame for disgrace to his community is considered a responsible person, And he who submissively accepts responsibility for the evils in his community naturally will be given enough authority for dealing with them. These principles, no matter how paradoxical, are sound.
Make agreements and then quarrelling when they are broken is never advisable. For even when a quarrel is patched up, some animosity will remain. How can this be considered good?
Therefore the intelligent man continues to carry out his side of a bargain Even though he does not demand of others that they fulfill their promises
The righteous insist on keeping agreements to the letter, And the indiscreet foolishly neglect or break their agreements;
But Nature neither keeps nor breaks contracts (because it makes none). And its ways are good for men.
The ideal state is a small intimate community Where all the necessities of life are present in abundance. There everyone is satisfied to live and die without looking around for greener pastures.
Even if they have cars or boats, they do not use them for travelling abroad. Even if they have police and fortifications, these are never put to use.
Business transactions are simple enough to be calculated on one’s fingers rather than requiring complicated bookkeeping. The people are satisfied with their food, Contented with their clothing, Comfortable in their dwellings, And happy with their customs.
Even though neighbouring communities are within sight, And the crowing of the neighbour’s cocks and barking of the neighbour’s dogs are within hearing, They grow old and die without ever troubling themselves to go outside of their own communities.
He who is genuine is not artificial; He who is artificial is not genuine.
He who is intelligent is not quarrelsome; He who is quarrelsome is not intelligent.
He who is wise is not pretentious; He who is pretentious is not wise.
Therefore the intelligent man does not struggle to achieve for himself. The more useful he is to others, the more his needs will be cared for by those repeatedly benefited by his yielding.
Nature’s way is to produce good without evil. The intelligent man’s way is to accept and follow Nature rather than to oppose Nature.