道常無名。

1. The Dao, considered as unchanging, has no name.

樸雖小,天下莫能臣也。侯王若能守之,萬物將自賓。

2. Though in its primordial simplicity it may be small, the whole world dares not deal with (one embodying) it as a minister. If a feudal prince or the king could guard and hold it, all would spontaneously submit themselves to him.

天地相合以降甘露,民莫之令而自均。

3. Heaven and Earth (under its guidance) unite together and send down the sweet dew, which, without the directions of men, reaches equally everywhere as of its own accord.

始制有名。名亦既有,夫亦將知止。知止可以不殆。

4. As soon as it proceeds to action, it has a name. When it once has that name, (men) can know to rest in it. When they know to rest in it, they can be free from all risk of failure and error.

譬道之在天下猶川谷之於江海。

5. The relation of the Dao to all the world is like that of the great rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.

Legge's Comments

聖德. Chalmers translates this by 'sagely virtue.' But I cannot adopt that rendering, and find it difficult to supply a better. The 'virtue' is evidently the Attribute of the Dao come out from the condition of the Absolute, and capable of being named. In the former state it has no name; in the latter, it has. Par. 1 and the commencement of par. 4 must both be explained from ch. 1.

The 'primordial simplicity' in par. 2 is the Dao in its simplest conception, alone, and by itself, and the 始制 in par. 4 is that Dao come forth into operation and become De, the De which affords a law for men. From this to the end of the paragraph is very obscure. I have translated from the text of Wang Bi. The text of Heshang Gong is different, and he comments upon it as it stands, but to me it is inexplicable.

From The Libertarian Reader1

3. [second part] Without law or compulsion, men would dwell in harmony.