The larger spreads below where all under heaven meet.
Of all under heaven, The female normally uses stillness to overcome the male.
Using stillness she supports the lower position.
For this reason, the larger, using the lower position, normally takes in the smaller,
The smaller, using the lower position, normally takes in the larger.
Hence, perhaps the low takes in, perhaps the low yet taken in.
The larger only wishes concurrently to raise the people.
The smaller only wishes to join in the affairs of the people.
Both each satisfying the position they want,
The larger fittingly serves the lower position.
1) big (great; fully) country (者) below (down; under; lower; inferior) flow (drifting; spread; circulate), land under heaven of hand over (give up; meet; join). 大国者下流，天下之交。(dà guó zhĕ xià liú, tiān xià zhī jiāo.)
2) land under heaven of female (of some birds and animals), female (of some birds and animals) ordinary (normal; constant; often) use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) still (quiet; calm) victory (surpass; wonderful; be equal to) male. 天下之牝，牝常以静胜牡。(tiān xià zhī pìn, pìn cháng yĭ jìng shèng mŭ.)
3) use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) still (quiet; calm) do (act; act as; serve as; be; mean; support) below (down; under; lower; inferior). 以静为下。(yĭ jìng wéi xià.)
4) reason (cause; on purpose; hence) big (great; fully) country use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) below (down; under; lower; inferior) small country, standard (norm; rule > imitate; follow) take (get; seek; adopt) small country. 故大国以下小国，则取小国。(gù dà guó yĭ xià xiăo guó, zé qŭ xiăo guó.)
5) small country use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) below (down; under; lower; inferior) big (great; fully) country, standard (norm; rule > imitate; follow) take (get; seek; adopt) big (great; fully) country. 小国以下大国，则取大国。(xiăo guó yĭ xià dà guó, zé qŭ dà guó.)
6) reason (cause; on purpose; hence) perhaps (or; either…or…; > someone) below (down; under; lower; inferior) use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) take (get; seek; adopt), perhaps (or; either…or…; > someone) below (down; under; lower; inferior) <conj.> and (yet, but) take (get; seek; adopt). 故或下以取，或下而取。(gù huò xià yĭ qŭ, huò xià ér qŭ.)
7) big (great; fully) country merely (however; only) desire (wish; want; about to) double (simultaneously) raise domestic animals human (man; people). 大国不过欲兼畜人。(dà guó bù guò yù jiān chù rén.)
8) small country merely (however; only) desire (wish; want; about to) enter (join; agree with) matter (affair; thing; involvement) human (man; people). 小国不过欲入事人。(xiăo guó bù guò yù rù shì rén.)
9) husband (man) two (both; either; some) (者) each (every; various; different) get (obtain, gain > satisfied_need; must) place desire (wish; want; about to), 夫两者各得所欲 (fū liăng zhĕ gè dé suŏ yù)
10) big (great; fully) (者) suitable (appropriate; fitting; should) do (act; act as; serve as; be; mean; support) below (down; under; lower; inferior). 大者宜为下。(dà zhĕ yí wéi xià.)
Work in Progress
I completely dropped ‘country’ ( 国) from my poetry, i.e., 大国 小国, and instead just use the adjectives: The larger (大) and The smaller (小). The character for ‘country’ ( 国) is found about ten times in the Tao Te Ching. D.C. Lau usually translates it as empire or state. I shift back and forth throughout my translation, either omitting it, or translating it as country, empire, state or nation, all of which can apply. Thinking of this character and its meaning a deeper and more personal way, country make sense, as would ‘native home’. Nations, states, empires are all recent cultural adaptations… emergent properties arising from our primal tribal instinct. What is the most useful way to interpret this for common people (not kings, presidents)? Sometimes just leaving it silent and implied may work best. Anyway, that was what I’ve done here. The dynamics of The larger (大) and The smaller (小) apply universally, not just to country or state. On the other hand, using country or state as an example of the process can help illuminate it.
Line 3 is curious. Using stillness she serves the lower position. The character 为 has two pronunciations / meanings. Wéi with a rising tone means: do; act; act as; serve as; become; be; mean. Wèi with a falling tone is a preposition, or has a <formal> meaning: stand for, support. Squinting my nitpicking eye, I see the similar (if blurry) meaning both these share. Perhaps it would read a little better saying, Using stillness she supports the lower position.
I’d like to change For this reason to the simpler Hence or Therefore. I don’t know what came over me. The rest of the sentence is also awkward: the low as well as taking in, the low yet taken in. Another way to say this could be: Hence, either the low takes in, or the low yet taken in. The character 或 (huò) means perhaps; maybe; probably; or; either…or…; <formal> someone. Fortunately as this is Taoism and not rocket science, we can also try Hence, perhaps the low takes in, perhaps the low yet taken in.
The larger only wishes to concurrently raise the people. Opps, split infinitive, so this is better restated: The larger only wishes concurrently to raise the people. Next, concurrently raise the people (兼畜人) is a little odd. The middle character xu is normally used when referring to domestic animals. In fact, the same character spoken as chu means domestic animal, livestock. Yet here the context refers to people. I like to think that is an early recognition that humans are simply animals, that the distinctions drawn are due to a kind of universal cultural myopia, i.e., Humans are special.
Next, there is concurrently: 兼 (jiān) double; twice; simultaneously; concurrently; hold two or more jobs concurrently. This is more easily understood if you’ve been a parent. The experience of being fulfilling two roles simultaneously, where as the child is fully occupied with being a child. As a parent, one is both still a child and a steward (parent). Well, at least that is one way to look at it.
On the last line I’ll add the missing ‘s’, i.e., The larger fittingly serves the lower position.
Finally, I’d reconsider using both wish and want, where as the character is 欲 (yù) which means desire; wish; want; about to. It may help to use one or the other, but not desire due to my view that desire is need + thought. Of course, the same can be said for wish and want. If only they had instead used the character 需 (xū): need; want; require; necessaries; needs. Oh good grief… semantics! Am I not a glutton for punishment. 😉
This chapter was a doozy, issues-wise, so I’ll keep this short. This chapter was a very useful model / reminder for me in raising my kids… the ‘animal people’. Stillness really is the most powerful ‘weapon’ an adult has in dealing with kids… or animals, which really means anybody. But, it is easier to notice its effect in the more intuitive as they notice the stillness more readily, perhaps.
WfW Commentary – 01/18/2011
The virtue of the humble, lower position is universally acknowledged. Yet, I am also drawn to success and the ‘higher’ position—not surprising seeing how animals, and especially humans, want to have ‘it’ both ways (e.g., decrease taxes not benefits, eat rich food not get fat, and countless other double-dealings). Happily I am able to notice this and take the lower position with increasing grace as each year passes. You might say the female (time) only reveals herself after much of the male (energy) has spent himself.(1)
A key issue for me is the wax and wane dynamic that complements all the streams of the world uniting. Chapter 36 puts it wonderfully: If you would have a thing weakened, you must first strengthen it; if you would have a thing laid aside, you must first set it up. Interestingly, noticing one phase or the other, but not both as inextricably connected, is all too easy.
Indeed, I think we are innately blind to Nature’s omnificent cyclic nature. In an ironic way, we suffer the illusion of expecting that action (the waxing, strengthening, ‘setting it up’ phase) leads directly to resolution. It does, in a long term way, just as all the streams of the world unite… at the lower reaches. The illusion is that one’s contentment is tied directly to successful action. The further irony is that the lower position, the female is felt as the position one must avoid at all costs(2). We are innately driven to contend long and hard to reach the top. Yet, reaching the top, all we can ever see is the lower position.
Personally speaking, it has taken years of living to fully appreciate and viscerally feel nature’s ‘game’. Now, that doesn’t mean I get to quit playing the game prematurely (before death). However, it does permit me to understand more deeply the game’s rules. While all in nature experience the game’s dynamic, only humans think they know. The snag here is how the dynamic itself drives our thoughts to think that success brings peace. Sure it does for about a minute before we find ourselves at the end-of-the-line once more. That subtly is lost on us. Only after years of being hoodwinked by our biology, do we begin to see a possible resolution: One does less and less until one does nothing at all, and when one does nothing at all there is nothing that is undone.(3)
Really, isn’t this drive to succeed just Mother Nature’s way of keeping us alive, resisting entropy until the full-on entropy of our last dying breath? Yes, it is nature’s way. However, if we’re going to circumvent nature’s restraints as are want to do, we would be wise to understand a little deeper how she hoodwinks us as well. Otherwise, we’re bound to lose balance, stumble repeatedly and suffer needlessly.
Nevertheless, understanding that nature is hoodwinking me doesn’t prevent me from ‘enjoying’ the illusion. Just as knowing a magician’s tricks are just tricks doesn’t hinder my sense of awe at his illusions. I find the true benefit of knowing I am being hoodwinked lies in helping me know, yet think that I don’t know. This cuts down on the alternative: “Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty”.
(1) Female and male here have nothing to do with gender; women have just as much male as men have female. These just express themselves differently among us all. The surface only appears different; the deeper we look the more mysterious sameness we see.
(2) We begin each moment from a lower position drawn toward a ‘higher position’, the male, merit. The illusion that resolution and peace come with success drives us to struggle on. The beautiful irony of this is that we begin each moment from resolution (the lower position) and essentially go in full circle (or perhaps a ‘mysterious’ spiral) only to arrive back at the beginning. It helps to know it’s a game—not real—no matter how real it feels.
(3) This has less to do with actual doing; it’s more about our actual expectation of accomplishment. Without dreams of success bugging us to over-do, we naturally tend keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action, with an emphasis of taking! Simple necessity (need) drives action, more than imagined necessity (desire).