Daodejing Chapter 2: effortless action

「天下皆知美之為美,斯惡已。皆知善之為善,斯不善已。故有無相生,難易相成,長短相形,高下相傾,音聲相和,前後相隨;是以聖人處無為之事,行不言之教,萬物作焉而不辭;生而不有,為而不恃,功成而弗居;夫唯弗居,是以不去。」
When the whole world knows to regard beauty as beauty, there is ugliness.
When the whole world knows to regard good as good, there is evil.
Thus, something and nothing nurture each other;
Difficult and easy complete each other;
Long and short give form to each other;
High and low depend on each other;
Note and sound harmonize each other;
Front and rear follow each other.
That’s why the sage:
Conducts his affairs with effortless action;
Spreads his teaching without words;
Lets all things unfold without initiating them;
Lets them grow without claiming possession of them;
Gets things done without expecting any gratitude;
Achieves his goals without claiming any credit.
It is precisely because he does not claim any credit,
That it stays with him forever.

The Dao doesn’t place any arbitrary labels on anything. It draws no false distinctions between beauty and ugliness and good and evil. It simply allows everything to unfold, without ever attempting to intervene, in the knowledge that opposing natural forces will remain in balance.

The sage adopts the same approach as the way. He refuses to rush into making subjective judgments, understanding all too well the turmoil and conflict that the pursuit of fame, wealth, and other artificial desires will unleash among the people.

The sage remains centered and grounded. Rather than pushing to make things happen, he lets them emerge naturally. Instead of telling people what to do and how to do it, he gives them the freedom to take the initiative and lets them get on with their task.

Thus, the sage “conducts his affairs with effortless action” and “spreads his teaching without words.” By setting the right example and refusing to take credit for himself, he knows that the results will take care of themselves.

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