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Think of Beginning—Advance Gradually Lao Tzu, Translation and Commentary

by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, January 7, 2019



(The goals of pursuing the Dao are) to do things without doing,
            to conduct affairs without conducting,
            and to taste flavor without tasting.
Whether big or small, many or few,
            requite hate with kindness.
Handle the difficulty while it is still easy;
            manage the big while it is still small.
All difficult tasks in the world must begin while it is still easy.
            All great achievement in the world must begin while it is still small.
Thus, those sages never strive for greatness and,
            therefore, achieve greatness.
Those who make a promise easily are surely seldom trusted.
            Taking matters lightly will surely result in more difficulty.
Therefore, those sages always see difficulties when it seems easy,
            thus, they never have difficulties.

General Interpretation

The Nature has always developed gradually. For those who are cultivating the Dao, the final goal is "doing without doing" (wuwei, 無為). However, to reach this level, you must begin with the easy and small. Only after you are able to take care of easy and small matters should you then gradually advance into more difficult and bigger matters.

Keep your mind gentle, kind, and generous. This is the first step in cultivating your temperament. It does not matter how big or small the offence; you should treat them equally, with kindness and fairness. There will then be no enmity and no disturbance of your peaceful and harmonious mind. Song, Chang-Xing (宋常星) said:

"(We should) follow Nature (i.e., the Dao) without insisting on our own opinion, correspond to the event with feeling, and have no concern for the self (i.e., no bias or selfishness). However, even if there are some complaints about me, big or small, many or few, which cause people's resentments, since these resentments are from the people, how can I have resentment myself? If I also have resentment about others and find the way to repay the coming resentment equally, then, the big and small thoughts will be merged and more or few self-opinions will be generated. In this case, those resentments that fall upon me will not cease and my thought of revenge will not end. Then, it is not only others fault, but also my fault. Only if we ignore those resentments falling upon us and don't payback the resentment . . . I will be able to influence others and finally there will be no problems. Therefore, it is said: 'It does not matter if it is big or small, many or few; just repay the resentment with good virtue.'"

You should not give your promise easily without profound consideration. With every initiation of an event, there is a consequence. If you are not able to fulfill your promise, then you have lost others' trust. It is the same when someone makes his promise too easily without thinking it over. Very often, this promise cannot be trusted. After a few untrustworthy promises, you will eventually not be able to trust this person anymore. Song, Chang-Xing (宋常星) said: "For example, if those shallow people (i.e., people who do not think deeply) who talk carelessly, whose mind is not firm, just brag about their capabilities, and give promises lightly and, in the end, cannot fulfill their promises, with their actions not matching their words, and there is no result from what they said, they will receive little trust from others."

Next, in order to achieve a great task, you must begin with the fundamentals. You must think deeply and plan far ahead so you can foresee the future. Often, those who do not see far and make promises easily cannot be trusted. Those who do not take matters seriously at the beginning may end up with a huge disaster at the end. Confucius said: "If a person does not think into the distance, he will soon encounter worry." This means it is necessary to have forethought and precaution. When you see far and plan ahead, you will not worry about the present since you will have already prepared for what obstacles you may encounter.

Han Fei (韓非) said:

"Bian Que (扁鵲) (a famous doctor in ancient times) came to see Cai Huan Gong (蔡桓公) (a lord of Cai). He stood there for a while. Then Bian Que said: 'You are sick. It shows on your skin. If you don't treat it, I am afraid it will get more serious.' Huan Gong said: 'I am not sick.' After Bian Que left, Huan Gong said: 'Those doctors like to treat those without sickness and receive credit.' After ten days, Bian Que again saw Huan Gong: 'Your sickness has entered from the skin into the muscles. If you don't treat it, it will go deeper.' Huan Gong did not respond. After Bian Que left, Huan Gong was again not happy. After another ten days, when Bian Que saw Huan Gong, he turned his back and left quickly. Huan Gong sent someone to ask him the reason. Bian Que said: 'When the sickness showed on the skin, herbs could have treated it. When the sickness showed in the muscles, acupuncture could have treated it. When the sickness reached the intestines and stomach, the internal fire was initiated. When the sickness reached the marrow, it was hopeless to save his life. Now, I cannot do anything to help since the sickness has reached the marrow. This is why I did not ask him to undergo further treatment.' After five more days, Huan Gong experienced serious bodily pain. He sent people to look for Bian Que, but it was in vain since Bian Que had already escaped to Qin. Finally, Huan Gong died."

Those sages always think far ahead, plan far ahead, and treat matter seriously and cautiously. Since all difficulties are seen, predicted, and prepared for, the sages can avoid them. Song, Chang-Xing (宋常星) said:

"When an affair is about to happen, I don't think about it before, nor worry about it at the beginning or the end, without knowing the seriousness of the problem, and not gauging how it can be accomplished. I just think there is nothing I cannot do and there is no time restraint for what I want. I use multiple minds, ignorant, shallow, uneasy thinking, without knowing the possibility of success. This will result in the possibility becoming an impossibility. Often that which can be accomplished has become unobtainable. That which was easy will change and become difficult."

Qigong Interpretation

There are three important concepts of qigong practice. First, the final goal of qigong practice is to reach the stage of "wuwei" (無為) (doing nothing). This means the "regulating of no regulating" in qigong practice. When you practice qigong to a certain level and it has become a daily routine, a part of your lifestyle, you will practice it without even knowing it. For example, if you sit too often and too long in front of a computer, you commonly will develop a deformed torso. Your torso becomes curved and the neck stretches forward. This is very harmful since the qi can be trapped at the front chest area and can trigger heart problems and cause the heart to be on fire. Furthermore, due to the trapping or stagnation of qi in the front chest area, smooth breathing can become hindered and cause sickness such as asthma or other breathing difficulties. In addition, due to the constant forward stretching of the neck, the qi and blood circulation from the torso to the head will be stagnant. Naturally, this will affect your brain's normal functions as well.

Once you know what problems you have, you can begin to practice qigong to correct them. After you have practiced for a long time and a new healthy habit has been established, you won't have to use your mind to make it happen. This is called "regulating of no regulating." When you have reached this stage, you will have a more powerful qigong solution for your problem. That means you will practice qigong subconsciously. This is the final goal of qigong practice. Huang, Shang (黃裳) said: "When gong (i.e., qigong) has been practiced to a stage that your insubstantiality (i.e., subconscious mind) has harmonized with the Dao (i.e., become natural), it is the stage of 'doing of not doing'; following Nature and dealing with the matter without dealing with it. Since it is so insipid (i.e., plain, common, and natural), and is nothing exciting, how can we have taste (i.e., special feeling, excitement, or effort) at this stage?"

Second, in order to reach the final goal of "regulating of no regulating," you must begin with a simple and easy practice. Only after you have mastered the basic skills should you then step into the more difficult ones. For example, if you use qigong exercises to condition your physical body, since your body cannot be rapidly conditioned, you must be patient and take it easy, advancing slowly and gradually. If you push yourself too fast, you will cause injury.

Third, before your get involved in qigong practice, you must know your problem or goal. You must know the theory behind the practice, you must know your body, you must analyze your capability, and you must determine how much time it will take to reach the goal. You also need to set up a plan so you can reach the stage of "regulating of no regulating." For example, if you want to practice qigong for breast cancer prevention or even treat it, you must first recognize and analyze the problem (what), why these qigong practices will help (why), and the methods of practice (how). Once you have these clearly in mind, you may set up the plan. As we all know, we are lazy. At the beginning of any project, we often get excited. However, once the honeymoon period is over, we become lazy and finally quit. If you have a plan and set up a rule and routine, then you must place a whip behind you to achieve your plan. For example, you may set up a rule that when evening TV news is on, instead of sitting down, you begin to swing your arms while you are watching. When the news is over, you stop and you have already practiced thirty minutes.

A wise person will know himself and find the way to conquer himself. If you are able to do so, without doubt, you are a person who can keep his commitment and be successful.


The final goal of qigong practice is "wuwei" (regulating of no regulating). The method of reaching this goal is advancing gradually until you have established a subconscious habit. The key to success is knowing what, why, and how. However, the most important key of success is conquering your laziness and impatience.

The above is an excerpt from The Dao De Jing: A Qigong Interpretation, Lao Tzu, Translation and Commentary by Dr. Yang. Jwing-Ming, published October 2018, by YMAA Publication Center, ISBN: 9781594396199.


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