1. If any one should wish to get the kingdom for himself, and to effect this by what he does, I see that he will not succeed. The kingdom is a spirit-like thing, and cannot be got by active doing. He who would so win it destroys it; he who would hold it in his grasp loses it.
2. The course and nature of things is such that
What was in front is now behind;
What warmed anon we freezing find.
Strength is of weakness oft the spoil;
The store in ruins mocks our toil.
Hence the sage puts away excessive effort, extravagance, and easy indulgence.
無為, 'Taking no Action.' All efforts made with a purpose are sure to fail. The nature of the Dao necessitates their doing so, and the uncertainty of things and events teaches the same lesson.
That the kingdom or throne is a 'spirit-like vessel' has become a common enough saying among the Chinese. Julien has, 'L'Empire est comme un vase divin;'1 but I always shrink from translating 神 by 'divine.' Its English analogue is 'spirit,' and the idea in the text is based on the immunity of spirit from all material law, and the uncertain issue of attempts to deal with it according to ordinary methods. Wu Cheng takes the phrase as equivalent to 'superintended by spirits,' which is as inadmissible as Julien's 'divin.' The Dao forbids action with a personal purpose, and all such action is sure to fail in the greatest things as well as in the least.
"The Empire is like a divine vessel" [transcriber translation] ↩