1. (It is the way of the Dào) to act without (thinking of) acting; to conduct affairs without (feeling the) trouble of them; to taste without discerning any flavour; to consider what is small as great, and a few as many; and to recompense injury with kindness.
2. (The master of it) anticipates things that are difficult while they are easy, and does things that would become great while they are small. All difficult things in the world are sure to arise from a previous state in which they were easy, and all great things from one in which they were small. Therefore the sage, while he never does what is great, is able on that account to accomplish the greatest things.
3. He who lightly promises is sure to keep but little faith; he who is continually thinking things easy is sure to find them difficult. Therefore the sage sees difficulty even in what seems easy, and so never has any difficulties.
思始, 'Thinking in the Beginning.' The former of these two characters is commonly misprinted 恩, and this has led Chalmers to mistranslate them by 'The Beginning of Grace.' The chapter sets forth the passionless method of the Dào, and how the sage accordingly accomplishes his objects easily by forestalling in his measures all difficulties. In par. 1 the clauses are indicative, and not imperative, and therefore we have to supplement the text in translating in some such way, as I have done. They give us a cluster of aphorisms illustrating the procedure of the Dào 'by contraries,' and conclude with one, which is the chief glory of Lǎozǐ's teaching, though I must think that its value is somewhat diminished by the method in which he reaches it. It has not the prominence in the later teaching of Daoist writers which we should expect, nor is it found (so far as I know) in Zhuāngzǐ, Hán Fēi, or Huáinán. It is quoted, however, twice by Liú Xiàng;—see my note on par. 2 of ch. 49.
It follows from the whole chapter that the Daoistic 'doing nothing' was not an absolute quiescence and inaction, but had a method in it.