To know how not to know:
this is the highest.
To not know about knowing:
this is sickness.

Therefore, the Consultant
perceives the sickness as a sickness,
that is why he avoids being sick.


chapter notes:

This chapter is paraphrased as straightforwardly as I could manage while still remaining comprehensible.

My words are easy to know,
and easy to practice,
but no one can know them,
and no one can practice them.

Well, words have an ancestor,
and tasks have a manager,
and it is only the practice of not-knowing
that means no one can know me.
Well, and if those who know me are few,
then I must perforce be valuable.

Therefore, the Consultant
wears jeans and a T-shirt:
what is valuable, he carries inside.


chapter notes:

Aside from inserting terms from the world of the modern Consultant, this chapter is fairly straightforward.

There is a military saying:
rather than go visiting my enemy, I would have him visit me;
before taking an inch of ground, I would retreat a foot.

This is:
maneuver without motion,
rolling up sleeves without baring arms,
capture without force,
battle without an enemy.

There is no disaster like not recognizing the enemy:
fail to respect an opponent, and you will lose your assets.
When arms are taken up, other things being equal,
the side that worries will win.


chapter notes:

In the first verse, the first half of the proverb is originally something like, “I dare not be the lord, but rather the host”. My understanding is that this is in the sense it is a lord’s task to visit his vassals; I have translated the underlying implication that battle on your own ground is preferable to that chosen by your enemy.

A good soldier is not belligerent.
A good duelist does not lose his temper.
A good tactician will not prefer a frontal assault.
One good at using others places himself below them.

This is the virtue of noncompetition.
This is how to use others.
This is the ancient art of matching Heaven.


chapter notes:

The first verse is somewhat idiomatic; the second verse is literal; both are otherwise straightforward.

All the world calls me great,
although I don’t seem like much.
Well, it is only because I don’t seem like much
that I can be great:
If I were like something else,
I would always remain small!

I have three things of true value:
the first is compassion;
the second is economy;
the third is not pushing to the front.

Compassion permits courage.
Economy permits generosity.
Not pushing to the front permits leadership.

Courage without compassion;
generosity without economy;
leading from the front:
these things lead to death.

Compassion leads to victory in war,
and security in defense.
That which Heaven would establish,
it first surrounds with compassion.


chapter notes:

This chapter is a straightforward translation.

My understanding of this chapter is that, while “compassion” here implies deep empathy and understanding, it does not necessarily imply benevolent action as a consequence; q.v. chapter 5.

The great river and the sea
rule the ten thousand valleys
by virtue of lying below them.

Therefore, the Consultant,
in order to stand above other developers,
must present himself as below them;
in order to lead the world,
he must leave his self-interest behind.

That way, although he is on top,
he does not feel like a burden;
although he is in front,
he does not appear to block the way:
the world itself promotes him tirelessly.

Well, it is only because he does not compete
that nobody can compete with him.


chapter notes:

In the first verse, I have again gratuitously used “ten thousand” where it did not originally appear. Otherwise, this is a pretty straightforward translation — although the chapter title picks a target example of particular modern relevance.

In ancient times, those who followed the Way
did not educate the people, but kept them ignorant.
They reckoned it difficult to govern an educated people:
thus, promoting learning would harm the state,
while promoting ignorance would benefit the state.

True mastery of knowledge and ignorance
also finds a basis for mental discipline.
True mastery of this discipline
is called Subtle Virtue.
Subtle Virtue is deep and far-reaching,
and returns things to their natural flow.


chapter notes:

As advocacy of mass ignorance is the subject of the first verse, I can find no honest way to translate it without acknowledging this. I have resorted to simple historical acknowledgement, rather than attempting to justify it in some modern sense.

The second verse is a simple statement of one aspect of Daoism I find personally useful.

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”.

Take action without force.
Pursue your interests without self-interest.
Keep the Way in mind.

Handle the small like the great.
Handle the few like the many.
Handle anger with Virtue.

Handle the difficult by addressing the easy;
handle the great by addressing the small:
in this world, the difficult is born of the easy,
and the great is born of the small.

Therefore, the Consultant
does not take great action:
that way, he can accomplish great things.

He who makes agreements lightly is unreliable.
He who thinks everything is easy will find many difficulties.

Therefore, the Consultant
thinks everything is difficult:
that way, he finds no difficulties.


chapter notes:

In the first verse, I have converted “taste the tasteless” to “keep the way in mind” — rather than propagate a trivial riddle opaque to my primary audience, I have answered it.

Note that, in combination, “handle the small like the great” and “handle the great by addressing the small” can be read as a prescription for recursive decomposition (which is useful for both problem solving and algorithm design).

The Way is the confluence of ten thousand things:
it is valuable to the competent,
and guardian to the incompetent.

Fine words are essential for marketing.
Classy suits are essential for negotiation.
But, those who are incompetent at these things:
why should they be eliminated?

When a new management team is installed:
rather than issuing them a corner office
and a reserved parking space,
better to show them the Way.

The Way is as true now as in ancient days:
those who seek may find,
and those who fail may redeem themselves.
Thus, it is valuable to the world.


chapter notes:

In converting to a development/corporate context, the management perks have been considerably downgraded!

January 2023

Post Categories