Last year, I posted here 2 chapters of Lao Zi: Dao De Jing (or Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching), a most translated work reputedly second only to the Bible. They are Chapters 17 and 49, posted in January and February respectively. In my English rendition, I have interpreted them to be on the question of trust, that the sage ruler ought to have trust in his people, that "it is the ruler's lack of trust in the people that creates their mistrust" (chapter 17, line 5).
Today, I am giving you my rendition of Chapter 63 with my interpretation that the 於 in 於其易/ 細 (lines 6 and 7) does not mean "when/while" it is easy/small but should mean "where" it is easy/small, and, hence, the 於 in 作於易/ 細 (lines 8 and 9) cannot mean "when/while" it is easy/small but must mean "through" the easy/small. Problems big and tough can be split into smaller and easier parts to handle. This reminds me of Karl Popper's "piecemeal social engineering". A truly great practical philosophy, not just for sage rulers, but for everyman's everyday life!
Lao Zi (circa 500 BCE): Dao De Jing Chapter 63
(Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching 63)
1 Act not for the sake of being active;
2 Pursue not for the sake of pursuits;
3 Find taste in the otherwise tasteless.
4 Regard the small as great, the few as many,
5 Requite goodness for injury
6 Tackle the difficult where it is easy,
7 Act on the great where it is small;
8 The difficult in the world can be done through the easy,
9 The great in the world can be done through the small.
10 Thus, the sage ruler never acts on anything great
11 That he can succeed in achieving the great.
12 Now, he who makes promises lightly rarely keeps them,
13 He who regards matters to be easy often finds them difficult.
14 Thus, the sage ruler ever regards matters to be difficult
15 That they, in the end, turn out not to be difficult.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
Translated from the Chinese original - 老子: 道德經 六十三章
* Lines 1, 2 and 3: I have, and I think rightly, taken 為 “act” (line1), 事 “pursue” (line 2) and 味 “taste” (line 3) to be inevitable and have, therefore, come to interpret line 1 為無為 as 為，但不要為了自己要有所作為而為之 “Act not for the sake of being active”, line 2 事無事 as 事，但不要為自己的事業業績而從事 “Pursue not for the sake of pursuits”, and line 3 味無味 as 味(自然的味)是可以在無味中找到的 “Find taste in the otherwise tasteless”.
* Lines 4, 13 and 14: 大小多少 in line 4 can be interpreted as 大者小之，多者少之 to mean it is nature’s way to “dwarf the great and dwindle the plentiful” which interpretation, however, does not seem to fit the context which is a piece of advice on how to handle worldly matters. I have, therefore, interpreted it as 視小者如大，少者如多 “Regard the small as great, the few as many” which is in full accord with the sentiments of lines 13 and 14 多易必多難 是以聖人猶難之 “He who takes most things as easy often finds them difficult. Thus it is because the sage ruler ever regards things as difficult …..”
* Lines 6 and 7: Most translators have rendered the word 於 as “when” or “while”. I beg to differ and have instead rendered it as “where”. I believe this “where” is where the true wisdom of Lao Zi lies. Though reluctant, I am prepared to accept the inclusion of “when” in addition to my “where”, but only as “where or when” in that order.
* Lines 8 and 9: For 必作於 I had considered “should/must be done through” but have now decided for “can only be done through”.
* Lines 13 and 14: In line 13, 多易 is rendered as “regards most things as easy” and 多難 as “often finds them difficult”, and in line 14, 猶難之 is rendered as “ever regards things as difficult”. For these adaptations and more, I am grateful to the late D.C. Lau.