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There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet for attacking things that are firm and strong there is nothing that can take precedence of it; – for there is nothing (so effectual) for which it can be changed.
Every one in the world knows that the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong, but no one is able to carry it out in practice.
Therefore a sage has said,
‘He who accepts his state’s reproach,
Is hailed therefore its altars’ lord;
To him who bears men’s direful woes
They all the name of King accord.’
Words that are strictly true seem to be paradoxical.
(Translated by James Leggs)
The image is from Clifton Hill.
The content of this chapter is divided into two parts: the first half speaks the truth of being weak and strong. The latter part says that if a person can bear the dirt and ominousness of the country, then he will become the master of the country.
Nothing is softer or weaker than water, yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong. This is because nothing can change the water. Everyone knows the story of water dripping through stone, water drop by drop will eventually drip the rock through, this is the illustration of “weak wins strong”. In this process, the water is not damaged, the stone does not change water. How about something else to break through the rock? For example, the steel may be able to cut the stone, but steel is sure to be damaged more or less. That is to say, steel has been changed by the stone and worn out.
Lao Tzu tells us the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong, but no one can carry it out in practice. The main reason is that people are instilled with the idea of striving to be the winners. Under the domination of this thought, people became competitive, and they are unable to practice being soft, gentle and be adaptable to the environment like water.
Lao Tzu uses water as a metaphor for “Tao,” and he associates it with the behavior of state leaders. He quoted the quotation from ancient sages: “He who receives the dirt of the state is called the Lord of the state; He who receives the ill omen of his country is the king of the world. He is worthy of being sovereign who suffers the indignity of the nation; He who bears the whole kingdom is worthy to be king.” Lao Tzu teaches that the water is weak and soft, yet it contains the character of perseverance. It is also the character of the water to accept suffering, sacrificing and take on the world. The nature of water is also the character of saints. To learn the aspect of water is to practice the character of saints.
The truth appears to be contrary to our expectations!