The very highest is barely known by men.
Then comes that which they know and love.
Then that which is feared.
Then that which is despised.
He who does not trust enough will not be trusted.
When actions are performed
Without unnecessary speech,
People say, 'We did it!'
Most texts, following Wang Pi on the assumption that this is a breviary for good government, consider that 'the very highest' and so on refer to qualities in people. Cheng, however, agrees with Feng (and myself, as luck would have it) in following Ho-shang Kung's interpretation. Let me give Cheng's text in full:
From time immemorial there have been some who have know (the Tao).
There have also been those who sympathetic toward it and praised it.
There have been those that feared it.
There have been those who ridiculed it.
There have been those who were not true enough to it,
And so there have been those who have not been true to it at all.
T'ai-shang-hsia means that in the times of great antiquity (t'ai-ku-chih t'ien hsia) there were those who knew the Tao(*). There have also been thos who feared the Tao as though 'crossing a stream in midwinter'. And there have been those who have gone beyond merely laughing at it, and have actually ridiculed and reviled it.
(*) This is the key phrase in Ho-shang Kung's interpretation.
How invaluable are the words,
'When an accomplishment is achieved and the task is finished,
People say it was only natural'.
What the people appreciate is that the task is finished, but they consider it only natural. They do not know that this is the result of non-action and that the Tao works according to nature.
Grandfather Lao goes into this again later in some detail (cf. ch. 41), but here he first speaks about the subtlety of things... That which is most subtle can barely be intuited - if at all!. For some this fact gives enormous freedom, for others it is a source of anxiety, and , for others again, it is too much to conceive of and they either laugh it off as madness or not-to-the-point, or reject the very thought that this could be so and revile all those who see it as such.
Such is the nature of the Tao...
Even the most fundamentalist 'kick-it-and-it-grunts "realists" and "scien-tists" (as opposed to genuine scientists, and not excluding all other stripe of fundamentalist) are included within it, unbeknownst to them...
Was it not ever the case that that which is broader and more profound contains and embraces that which was less so?
It also brings us back to the popular idea that the Tao is 'simple' ... As 'simple', perhaps (and if 'simple' is the word for it), as the coming together out of an ever-receding 'nothingness' of the particles that make up the proton and electron of a single atom of hydrogen, let alone hydrogen's mystical (and electric) communion with oxygen that gives us water, the basis of all life as we understand it and the very image of the Tao...
If it is in any wise 'simpler' than this, that simplicity must surely be the 'infinite complexity' of the plenum void.
Another point is that it is always all these levels - from the sublime to the utter gorblimey - simultaneously becoming, persisting and dissolving like the very fabric of the dream it actually is.