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What does not struggle is easy to hold.
What has not yet shown warning signs is easy to plan for.
What is fragile is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.
Take action before problems occur;
cultivate order before disorder blossoms.

A great oak grows from a small acorn.
A great fortress rises from a scoop of earth.
A thousand mile journey starts with a single step.

Take action with force, and you may be defeated;
grasp after something, and you may lose it.
Therefore, the Consultant
takes action without force, and suffers no defeat;
is not grasping, and suffers no loss.

People always seem to seize defeat from the jaws of victory.
Thus, the saying goes:
be as careful at the end as at the beginning, and you will not fail.

Therefore, the Consultant
seeks objectivity, rather than lusting after expensive toys;
learns how not to learn, and returns to study neglected fields.
Though he helps maintain the ten thousand programs,
he knows better than to try to capture them.

 


chapter notes:

This translation is more poetically idiomatic than literal. As usual, I have incorporated popular sayings; as the particular version of the proverb “A thousand mile journey starts with a single step” has become popular in the West, I have used this rather than any ancient or contemporary Chinese version.

In the last verse, I have converted advice against learning to “learn how not to learn”.

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