That which is at rest is easily kept hold of; before a thing
has given indications of its presence, it is easy to take measures
against it; that which is brittle is easily broken; that which is very
small is easily dispersed. Action should be taken before a thing has
made its appearance; order should be secured before disorder has
The tree which fills the arms grew from the tiniest sprout; the
tower of nine storeys rose from a (small) heap of earth; the journey
of a thousand li commenced with a single step.
He who acts (with an ulterior purpose) does harm; he who takes hold
of a thing (in the same way) loses his hold. The sage does not act
(so), and therefore does no harm; he does not lay hold (so), and
therefore does not lose his bold. (But) people in their conduct of
affairs are constantly ruining them when they are on the eve of
success. If they were careful at the end, as (they should be) at the
beginning, they would not so ruin them.
Therefore the sage desires what (other men) do not desire, and does
not prize things difficult to get; he learns what (other men) do not
learn, and turns back to what the multitude of men have passed by.
Thus he helps the natural development of all things, and does not dare
to act (with an ulterior purpose of his own).
The ancients who showed their skill in practising the Tao did
so, not to enlighten the people, but rather to make them simple and
The difficulty in governing the people arises from their having
much knowledge. He who (tries to) govern a state by his wisdom is a
scourge to it; while he who does not (try to) do so is a blessing.
He who knows these two things finds in them also his model and
rule. Ability to know this model and rule constitutes what we call
the mysterious excellence (of a governor). Deep and far-reaching is
such mysterious excellence, showing indeed its possessor as opposite
to others, but leading them to a great conformity to him.
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