The Way that can be told of is not an Unvarying Way;
The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.
Truly, 'Only he that rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essences' ;
He that has never rid himself of desire can see only the Outcomes.
These two things issued from the same mould, but nevertheless are different in name.
This ' same mould' we can but call the Mystery,
Or rather the 'Darker than any Mystery',
The Doorway whence issued all Secret Essences.
It is because every one under Heaven recognizes beauty as beauty,that the idea of ugliness exists.
And equally if every one recognized virtue as virtue, this would merely create fresh conceptions of wickedness.
For truly 'Being and Not-being grow out of one another;
Difficult and easy complete one another.
Long and short test one another;
High and low determine one another.
Pitch and mode give harmony to one another.
Front and back give sequence to one another'.
Therefore the Sage relies on actionless activity,
Carries on wordless teaching,
But the myriad creatures are worked upon by him; he does not disown them.
He rears them, but does not lay claim to them,
Controls them, but does not lean upon them,
Achieves his aim, but does not call attention to what he does;
And for the very reason that he does not call attention to what he does
He is not ejected from fruition of what he has done.
Because 'action' can only make one thing high at the expense of making something else low, etc.
Literally, 'does not place (i.e.classify) himself as a victor'. cf. MenciusⅡ, Ⅰ;
If we stop looking for 'persons of superior morality' (hsien) to put in power, there will be no more jealousies among the people. If we cease to set store by products that are hard to get , there will be no more thieves. If the people never see such things as excite desire, their hearts will remain placid and undisturbed. Therefore the Sage rules
By emptying their hearts
And filling their bellies,
Weakening their intelligence
And toughening their sinews
Ever striving to make the people knowledgeless and desireless.
Indeed he sees to it that if there be any who have knowledge, they dare not interfere. Yet through his actionless activity all things are duly regulated.
Particularly in the sense of 'having ideas of one's own'.
The Way is like an empty vessel
That yet may be drawn from
Without ever needing to be filled.
It is bottomless; the very progenitor of all things in the world.
In it all sharpness is blunted,
All tangles untied,
All glare tempered,
All dust smoothed.
It is like a deep pool that never dries.
Was it too the child of something else? We cannot tell.
But as a substanceless image it existed before the Ancestor.
Dust is the Taoist symbol for the noise and fuss of everyday life.
A hsiang, an image such as the mental images that float before us when we think.
The Ancestor in question is almost certainly the Yellow Ancestor who separated Earth from Heaven and so destroyed the Primal Unity, for which he is frequently censured is Chuang Tzu.
Heaven and Earth are ruthless;
To them the Ten Thousand Things are but as straw dogs.
The Sage too is ruthless;
To him the people are but as straw dogs.
Yet Heaven and Earth and all that lies between
Is like a bellows
In that it is empty, but gives a supply that never fails.
Work it, and more comes out .
Whereas the force of words is soon spent.
Far better is it to keep what is in the heart.
Though ruthless nature is perpetually bounteous.
Laws and proclamations.
For chung as 'what is within the heart', see Tso Chuan, Yin Kung 3rd year and Kuan Tzu,37, beginning. The comparison of Heaven and Earth to a bellows is also found in Kuan Tzu (P'ien 11, beginning).
The Valley Spirit never dies.
It is named the Mysterious Female.
And the Doorway of the Mysterious Female
Is the base from which Heaven and Earth sprang.
It is there within us all the while;
Draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry.
Lieh Tzu quotes these lines as coming from the Book of the Yellow Ancestor; but it does not follow that the Tao Ching is actually quothing them from this source. They may belong to the general stock of early Taoist rhymed teaching. For ch' in compare below, Chapter 52, line 9, and Huai-nan Tzu I, fol.2.
Heaven is eternal, the Earth Everlasting.
How come they to be so? Is it because they do not foster their own lives;
That is why they live so long.
Therefore the Sage
Puts himself in the background; but is always to the fore.
Remains outside; but is always there.
Is it not just because he does not strive for any personal end
That all his personal ends are fulfilled?
The highest good is like that of water. The goodness of water is that it benefits the ten thousand creatures; yet itself does not scramble, but is content with the places that all men disdain. It is this that makes water so near to the Way.
And if men think the ground the best place for building a house upon,
If among thoughts they value those that are profound,
If in friendship they value gentleness,
In words, truth; in government, good order;
In deeds, effectiveness; in actions, timeliness-
In each case it is because they prefer what does not lead to strife,
And therefore does not go amiss.
Even ordinary people realize the importance of the Taoist principle of 'water-like' behaviour, i.e. not striving to get on top or to the fore.
Stretch a bow to the very full,
And you will wish you had stopped in time;
Temper a sword-edge to its very sharpest,
And you will find it soon grows dull
When bronze and jade fill your hall
It can no longer be guarded.
Wealth and place breed insolence
That brings ruin in its train.
When your work is done, then withdraw!
Such is Heaven's Way.
 the expression used can also apply to filling a vessel to the brim; but 'stretching a bow' makes a better parallel to 'sharpening a sword'.
 as opposed to the Way of man.