治人事天,莫若嗇。

1. For regulating the human (in our constitution) and rendering the (proper) service to the heavenly, there is nothing like moderation.

夫唯嗇,是謂早服。早服謂之重積德。重積德,則無不克。無不克則莫知其極;莫知其極,可以有國。

2. It is only by this moderation that there is effected an early return (to man's normal state). That early return is what I call the repeated accumulation of the attributes (of the Dao). With that repeated accumulation of those attributes, there comes the subjugation (of every obstacle to such return). Of this subjugation we know not what shall be the limit; and when one knows not what the limit shall be, he may be the ruler of a state.

有國之母可以長久。是謂深根固柢:長生久視之道。

3. He who possesses the mother of the state may continue long. His case is like that (of the plant) of which we say that its roots are deep and its flower stalks firm:—this is the way to secure that its enduring life shall long be seen.

Legge's Comments

守道, 'Guarding the Dao.' The chapter shows how it is the guarding of the Dao that ensures a continuance of long life, with vigour and success. The abuse of it and other passages in our Jing helped on, I must believe, the later Daoist dreams about the elixir vitae and life-preserving pills. The whole of it, with one or two various readings, is found in Han Fei (VI, 4 b–6 a), who speaks twice in his comments of 'The Book.'

Par. 1 has been translated, 'In governing men and in serving Heaven, there is nothing like moderation.' But by 'Heaven' there is not intended 'the blue sky' above us, nor any personal Power above it, but the Dao embodied in our constitution, the Heavenly element in our nature. The 'moderation' is the opposite of what we call 'living fast,' 'burning the candle at both ends.'

In par. 2 I must read , instead of the more common . I find it in Lu Deming, and that it is not a misprint in him appears from his subjoining that is is pronounced like 服. Its meaning is the same as in 復歸其明 in ch. 52, par. 5. De is not 'virtue' in our common meaning of the term, but 'the attributes of the Dao,' as almost always with Laozi.

In par. 3 'the mother of the state' is the Dao as in ch. 1, and especially in ch. 52, par. 1.