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It is always the case[3]
That the noble takes the humble as its root
And the high takes the low as its base.
Hence kings and lords call themselves
The orphaned, the solitary or the unworthy.
This is regarding the humble as the root of the noble,
Is it not?
People disdain the "orphaned," "solitary" or "unworthy."
And yet kings and lords call themselves by these terms.
Therefore the highest honor needs no flattering.
Thus with everything--
Sometimes it may increase when decreased,
And sometimes it may decrease when increased.[4]
For this reason
They desire not to dazzle and glitter like jade,
But to remain firm and plain like stone.[5]

Annotations:
[1] "The One" is again used as a substitute for the Dao.
[2] This is a good-natured warning offered to leaders in general. According to Lao Zi, rulers are likely to be overthrown and discarded if they fail to conduct state affairs by means of reliable policies and a noble spirit. Or, in modern terms, a government of whatever kind is apt to deteriorate if it happens to grow power-oriented instead of people-oriented.
[3] The last stanza seems to be contextually disassociated from the first two stanzas since it noticeably deals with the virtue of modesty on the part of nobles and leaders.
[4] This idea reflects the dialectic aspect of Lao Zi's philosophy as regards decrease and increase. Subjectively speaking, when one is modest enough to lower himself as if decreasing his self-esteem, he is liable to be easily accepted by others and win their respect and thus enjoys a kind of increase of his self-esteem, and vice versa. Objectively speaking, things may well suffer from a decrease when they are meant to be increased; they are likely to have an increase when they are deliberately to be decreased. It seems that Lao Zi intends to encourage people in general and rulers in particular to be modest and humble in one sense, and expect things to develop in a natural way in another sense.
[5] By this statement is meant that the sage ruler in Lao Zi's mind should remain modest, plain and simple instead of being arrogant, self-important or showy. Otherwise his self-image as well as authority will be subject to decrease rather than increase.

Commentary:
In this chapter one may well observe that gods even became divine with the help of the One, as another term for the Dao in Lao Zi's philosophical discourse. It is also noticeable in the context that gods appear to be liable to the same fate as the other things cited if they fail to attain the One (i.e. the Dao). In addition, gods are ranked (possibly in chronological order) after Heaven and earth. This may indicate that Heaven and earth precede gods in Lao Zi's perspective (see Chapter 4 for an identical case in which the Lord or God is filed after the Dao). Nevertheless, they are all in the same boat by virtue of the fact that they are likely to vanish if unable to grasp the Dao. In plain language, no matter what they may be (e.g. Heaven, earth, gods, valleys, the myriad things, kings, marquises, etc.), they are doomed to failure or extinction if they betray the Dao, or in other words, if they deviate from the Dao. This is precisely because the Dao in Lao Zi's mind functions as the source of all energies and the origin of all things. It does not merely generate everything, but determines everything. Hence it seems to work as a frame of reference for all. In comparing the Dao with gods, the former stays primary and original, whereas the latter are secondary and derivative.
The Chinese concept of yi is rendered into English as the capitalised "One." It can be detected in Lao Zi book that this term usually carries a two-fold sense as follows: Firstly, it stands for the Dao as an omni-potent power that produces as well as underlies all things in the world; secondly, it refers to qi known as the vital force in chaos or the primitive matter coming out of the Dao.
With regard to the relationship between the Dao and all things, as explicated by Lao Zi, his absolutization of the Dao turns out to be rather problematic and arbitrary. He dogmatically asserts that the destiny of all things lies in the palm of the Dao without any exception or condition. This seems to be somewhat misleading because it leaves no room for the initiatives and variables in existence.
According to Prof. Ren Jiyu, "This chapter begins with mention of the universality and importance of the Dao from which Heaven, earth, spirits, valleys, rulers and the myriad things come. It goes on to argue that without the Dao, or going contrary to it, all things from Heaven and earth to kings and princes will exist no more.
Epithets such as gu (the orphaned), gua (the solitary) and bu gu (the unworthy) by which rulers used to refer to themselves in the olden days are by no means flattering terms, but through such derogatory names they could actually make their majesty and nobility obvious and salient. Lao Zi preaches that one should not be at the front, nor be the last, so that one can be free from danger. (see Ren Jiyu. A Taoist Classic: The Book of Lao Zi, p. 58.)



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