Tao Te Ching – Chapter 63


To live in the Tao is to live without attachments — taking actions without overdoing anything; managing matters without interfering with other people; being involved without losing oneself in the process. No matter what it is, we are detached from having to “get even,” so even when people treat us badly, we respond with goodness.

We are also detached from the need to be heroic in the various things we work on. Rather than to attempt a difficult feat, we start with something easy; rather than to create something big, we start with something small. This makes sense because even the most difficult task can be broken down into simpler steps, and even the grandest achievement must be composed of smaller parts.

This detached approach has an interesting effect. By focusing on the small, sages end up accomplishing great things. They apply the concept consistently, so they never promise anything lightly and set unrealistic expectations. They know people who underestimate the effort required tend to encounter numerous difficulties, so they are the very opposite in what they do. This is their “secret” for living the easy life.

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Translation Notes

大小多少 literally means “great, small, many, few” and can be kept exactly as it is in translation. It says the Tao applies to anything we tackle in life: big things or little things, many tasks or just a few errands.

Even something simple like this can be messed up when an author writes about ancient Chinese without knowledge of it. One rendering says “think of the small as large and the few as many.” This strays quite far from the original meaning.

圖難於其易 is essentially a practical advice: solve a difficult problem by attacking its easiest parts first. Divide and conquer; pick the low-hanging fruits. This has been mistranslated as “all difficult things in the world are sure to arise from a previous state in which they were easy.” This turns Lao Tzu’s helpful insight into unhelpful platitude.

Derek Lin
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