天下皆謂我道大,似不肖。夫唯大故似不肖。若肖,久矣其細也夫!

1. All the world says that, while my Dao is great, it yet appears to be inferior (to other systems of teaching). Now it is just its greatness that makes it seem to be inferior. If it were like any other (system), for long would its smallness have been known!

我有三寶持而保之。一曰慈;二曰儉;三曰不敢為天下先。

2. But I have three precious things which I prize and hold fast. The first is gentleness; the second is economy; and the third is shrinking from taking precedence of others.

慈故能勇;儉故能廣;不敢為天下先,故能成器長。今舍慈且勇;舍儉且廣;舍後且先;死矣。

3. With that gentleness I can be bold; with that economy I can be liberal; shrinking from taking precedence of others, I can become a vessel of the highest honour. Now-a-days they give up gentleness and are all for being bold; economy, and are all for being liberal; the hindmost place, and seek only to be foremost;—(of all which the end is) death.

夫慈以戰則勝,以守則固。天將救之,以慈衛之。

4. Gentleness is sure to be victorious even in battle, and firmly to maintain its ground. Heaven will save its possessor, by his (very) gentleness protecting him.

Legge's Comments

三寶, 'The Three Precious Things.' This title is taken from par. 2, and suggests to us how the early framer of these titles intended to express by them the subject-matter of their several chapters. The three things are the three distinguishing qualities of the possessor of the Dao, the three great moral qualities appearing in its followers, the qualities, we may venture to say, of the Dao itself. The same phrase is now the common designation of Buddhism in China,—the Tri-ratna or Ratna-traya, 'the Precious Buddha,' 'the precious Law,' and 'the Precious Priesthood (or rather Monkhood) or Church;' appearing also in the 'Tri-śaraṇa,'1 or 'formula of the Three Refuges,' what Dr. Eitel calls 'the most primitive formula fidei of the early Buddhists, introduced before Southern and Northern Buddhism separated.' I will not introduce the question of whether Buddhism borrowed this designation from Daoism, after its entrance into China. It is in Buddhism the formula of a peculiar Church or Religion; in Daoism a rule for the character, or the conduct which the Dao demands from all men. 'My Dao' in par. 1 is the reading of Wang Bi; Heshang Gong's text is simply . Wang Bi's reading is now generally adopted.

The concluding sentiment of the chapter is equivalent to the saying of Mencius (VII, ii, IV, 2), 'If the ruler of a state love benevolence, he will have no enemy under heaven.' 'Heaven' is equivalent to 'the Dao,' the course of events,—Providence, as we should say.


  1. Given as "Tri-sarana" by Legge. [transcriber note]