上善若水。水善利萬物,而不爭,處眾人之所惡。故幾於道。

1. The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Dao.

居善地;心善淵;與善仁言善信;正善治;事善能;動善時。

2. The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the place; that of the mind is in abysmal stillness; that of associations is in their being with the virtuous; that of government is in its securing good order; that of (the conduct of) affairs is in its ability; and that of (the initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness.

夫唯不爭,故無尤。

3. And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about his low position), no one finds fault with him.

Legge's Comments

易性, 'The Placid and Contented Nature.' Water, as an illustration of the way of the Dao, is repeatedly employed by Laozi.

The various forms of what is excellent in par. 2 are brought forward to set forth the more, by contrast, the excellence of the humility indicated in the acceptance of the lower place without striving to the contrary.