The highest motive is to be like water: water is essential to all life, yet it does not demand a fee or proclaim its importance. Rather, it flows humbly to the lowest level, and in so doing it is much like Tao.
In the home the truly wise love the humble earth, the foundation on which the home is built; in the heart they love what is genuine; in friendship they are compassionate; in words they are sincere; in government they foster peace and good will; in business they work with quiet efficiency.
Nothing in the world is weaker or more yielding than water; yet nothing is its equal in wearing away the hard and strong.
Thus, the weak can overpower the strong; the flexible can overcome the rigid. The whole world can perceive this, but does not put it into practice.
And so the truly wise say: whoever bears the shame of a nation is fit to lead the nation; whoever bears the sins of the world is fit to lead the world.
When the world follows Tao, racehorses work on farms.
When the world forsakes Tao, cavalry horses practice in parks.
The greatest curse is being discontent. It is the greatest misery. The greatest sin is selfish striving. Being content with contentment is to be always satisfied.
The Best Leader
As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate.
If you have no faith people will have no faith in you, and you must resort to oaths.
When the best leader’s work is done the people say: “we did it ourselves!”
To Lead Appear to Follow
Why do rivers and seas have dominion over lowlands? Because the one lowers itself to the other. To be elevated by the people, speak like their inferior. To lead the people, walk behind them. Thus the truly wise are above, but people do not feel their weight. They walk in front, but people do not feel blocked. The whole world respects and never grows tired of such leadership. Because the truly wise are not aggressive, no one is aggressive toward them.
Lead With a Deep Unity
From past ages there has been Unity: the heavens achieved it and became clear, the earth achieved it and became firm, the valleys achieved it and became fertile, the spirit achieved it and became inspired, all things achieved it and became existent, leaders achieved it and became good rulers.
Thus good leaders are humble. The high are founded on the low just as a chariot is made up of many small parts.
To Govern Be Gentle
Govern passively, the people are happy. Govern precisely, the people are restless. Happiness arises from unhappiness; unhappiness lies beneath happiness. Who knows best? When the state is self-righteous, self-righteousness becomes strategy and good becomes evil. Man has long been misguided.
With Tao You Are Supreme
In governing people and serving nature, nothing surpasses thrift and moderation.
Restraint begins with giving up one’s own ideas. This depends on virtue gathered in the past. If there is a good store of virtue, then nothing is impossible. If nothing is impossible, then there are no limits. If a man knows no limits, he is fit to lead.
This is the way to be deeply rooted and firmly planted in the Tao, the secret of long life and lasting vision.
Simplicity An Ancient Standard
The ancient ones were simple-hearted and blended with the common people. They did not shine forth; they did not rule with cleverness, so the nation was blessed.
When they think that they know the answers, people are difficult to guide. When they know they do not know, people can find their own way.
Not using cunning to govern a country is good fortune for the country. The simplest pattern is the clearest. Content with an ordinary life, you can show all people the way back to their true nature.
Do But Never Overdo
Governing a large country is like frying a small fish: do not overdo it!
Approach the universe with the Tao and evil will have no power. Not that evil is not powerful, but its power will not be used to harm others.
If only the ruler and his people would refrain from harming each other, all the benefits of life would accumulate in the nation.
Should you want to contain something, you must deliberately let it expand. Should you want to weaken something, you must deliberately let it grow strong. Should you want to eliminate something, you must deliberately allow it to flourish. Should you want to take something away, you must deliberately grant it access.
The lesson here is called the wisdom of obscurity. The gentle outlasts the strong. The obscure outlasts the obvious.
As fish should not leave the deep, so the sharp weapons of the state should always be hidden from view.
Be Lawful, Not Full of Laws
Rule by what is right. Wage war by clever strategy. Win the world by being passive. How do I know? By this: more restrictions mean weaker people; more weapons mean a troubled state; more cunning means many surprises; more laws mean more violators. Therefore be passive and the people will be reformed; be serene and the people will be righteous; be peaceable and the people will be wealthy; be selfless and the people will be simple and serene.
Lead Humbly But Surely
When people do not fear absolute rule, greater fear will yet descend on them.
Do not give them cramped quarters; do not make sacrifice of their children. If you do not dislike them you will not be disliked yourself. The truly wise know themselves but do not flaunt themselves. The truly wise love themselves but do not take pride in themselves. Therefore, they reject the one and accept the other.
Rule Without Interfering
When taxes are too high, people go hungry. When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit.
Act for the people’s benefit; trust them, leave them alone.
The Tao of Statecraft
A great country is like the lowland, toward which all streams flow. It is the reservoir of all under heaven, the feminine of the world. The female overcomes the male with stillness, by lowering herself through her quietness.
So if a great country lowers itself before a small one, it wins friendship and trust. And if a small country can lower itself before a great one, it will win over that great country. The one wins by stooping; the other, by remaining low.
War Is Evil
Weapons are tools of destruction avoided by followers of Tao. The citizen favors the creative in time of peace; the citizen favors the destructive in time of war.
Weapons are the tools of destruction not used by people of dignity, but when their use cannot be avoided, the best policy is calm restraint.
There is no beauty in victory. Whoever call it so delights in slaughter. Whoever delights in slaughter is not fit to rule.
Tao in War
Whoever advises a ruler according to Tao opposes conquest by war. Policies of war tend to rebound. Where the armies march, brambles grow. Whenever a great army is formed, hunger and evil follow. So, a wise general achieves his goal and stops; he does not battle beyond victory; he wins, but does not boast of it; he wins, but does not celebrate it; he wins, but does not revel in the spoils; he wins, for it is his duty to win; he wins, but not from love of violence. Things reach their peak, then decline. Violence opposes Tao. Whoever opposes Tao dies early.
Ancient military strategists said: “I would rather be invaded than be the invader; I would rather retreat one foot than advance on inch.”
This means not marching in formation; not appearing prepared, with sleeves up; not charging in frontal assault. There is no more fateful catastrophe than to underestimate the enemy. To underestimate the enemy is to run the risk of losing treasures
Victory in Tao
A good soldier is not violent. A good fighter is not angry. Good winners do not contend. Good employers serve their workers. The best leader follows the will of the people. This is the mastery of life.