The Way of Water
Highest good is like water.
Because water excels in benefiting the myriad creatures without contending with them and settles where none would like to be, it comes close to the way.
The weak and the supple overcome the hard and the strong.
To yield is to be preserved whole.
To be empty is to be full . . .
To have little is to possess.
The stiff and the hard are companions of death,
The supple and the weak are companions of life.
There is nothing softer and weaker than water,
And yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things.
The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly;
The whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.
Thus something and nothing produce each other;
The difficult and the easy complement each other;
The long and the short off-set each other;
The high and the low incline towards each other;
Note and sound harmonize with each other;
Before and after follow each other
In a home it is the site that matters;
In quality of mind it is depth that matters;
In an ally it is benevolence that matters;
In speech it is good faith that matters;
In government it is order that matters;
In affairs it is ability that matters;
In action it is timeliness that matters.
It is because it does not contend that it is never at fault.
Of old he who was well versed in the way
Was minutely subtle,
And too profound to be known.
It is because he could not be known
That he can only be given a makeshift description:
Tentative, as if fording a river in winter,
Hesitant, as if in fear of his neighbors;
Formal like a guest;
Falling apart like the thawing ice;
Thick like the uncarved block;
Vacant like a valley;
Murky like muddy water.
Who can be muddy and yet, settling, slowly become limpid?
Who can be at rest and yet, stirring, slowly come to life?
He who holds fast to this way desires not to be full.
It is because he is not full that he can be worn and yet newly made.
If people do not revere the Law of Nature,
It will inexorably and adversely affect them.
If they accept it with knowledge and reverence,
It will accommodate them with balance and harmony
Attain complete emptiness,
Maintain steadfast quietude.
All things flourish
But each one returns to its root.
This return to its root means tranquility.
To hold and fill to overflowing,
Is not as good as it is to stop in time.
Sharpen a sword-edge to its very sharpest,
And the edge will not last long.
Withdraw as soon as your work is done.
Such is Heaven's Way.