Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;
Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.
Therefore the wise men embrace the one
And set an example to all.
Not putting on a display,
They shine forth.
Not justifying themselves,
They are distinguished.
They receive recognition.
They never falter.
They do not quarrel
So no-one quarrels with them.
Therefore the ancients say, 'Yield and overcome'.
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole
And all things will come to you.
 Wang Pi reads this line as, 'Having little gives one access. Having much leads one astray'. His commentary says: This is the Tao of nature, which is just like a tree. The more a tree has, the further it is from its roots; the less it has, the closer it is to roots. In like manner, the more one has, the further one is from one's authenticity. That is why the text uses the expression 'leads on astray'. The less one has, the better the access to one's roots. This why the text speaks here of 'access'.
 Lau reads these pairs in temporal sequence: Bowed down then preserved/Bent then straight, etc., but the Ma wang tui text bears out Feng's reading.
 Ma wang tui: '... become the shepherd of the world'. Unless I severely misunderstand this text, this one of the first times that Grandfather Lao is actually talking about being an example to others as such. Up to now, almost anything he's said - even when referring to 'others', 'the people' and so forth - has actually had to do only with cultivation of oneself as per the Great Learning cited yesterday.
 Most other versions have something more like: No-one is able to compete with them for the simple reason that they do not compete. This certainly makes more sense in the context.
For all the fact that Cheng, as far as I can make out (and please forgive me if I am wrong), completely misreads the ultimate intention of Lao-tze, his commentaries on the words and links to other chapters are far from uninteresting, so I shall continue to use him here and to point out his Confucianist bias wherever it comes up. A perfect example is the conclusion drawn in the opening sentence of his commentary below - Although such an idea may be acceptable in the context, for example, of t'ai chi combat, the object of which, after all, is to put an end to conflict as swiftly and painlessly as possible, no Taoist practitioner would live his life based on this utterly conflictual notion.
The ancient phrase(*) has it: 'Yield and become whole', meaning making concessions in order to achieve greater results in the totality of events. Lao-tze invokes examples. The sayings, 'bent... straight', 'hollow... filled', 'exhausted... renewed', and those which follow in later chapters, such as 'know the masculine, cleave to the feminine', 'know the bright, keep to the dull', 'understand glory, keep to humility' or 'sick of sickness, you will gain health', all express parallel ideas. One who can put into practice the dictum 'small amounts are attainable; large amounts confusing... take Oneness as the guide', penetrates to the very core and source of the Tao and will not be confused.
(*) The Book of Rites.
What blows my brain is that, despite the fact that the conclusion of the paragraph totally contradicts that of the first sentence, what he's saying here - his final conclusion - is exactly spot on. I mentioned before that I wondered whether he was not just throwing a cat among the pigeons... I still wonder...
The meaning of the remaining lines is similar to a statement in the Book of Change: The goal of the noble man is 'to be humble in the face of adulation and thus be a shining light; to be able to endure the most extreme degradation'
all of which makes perfect sense, and then adds the following note: When Lao-tze introduces the quote 'yield and become whole' from the Classic on Rites, he means it in a theoretical sense. However, when, on the brink of death, Tseng-tze(*) summoned his disciples and said 'Examine my feet, examine my hands. The Book of Odes says, 'In fear and trembling as if hanging over an abyss or treading on thin ice'. Henceforth I know release from committing faults my little ones!' his words come directly from his personal experience in life and so are much more meaningful than the mere theories of Lao-tze.
(*) His translator's note here says: Tseng-tze (Tseng Shen, 505 - c.436 BCE) was an outstanding pupil of Confucius and was noted for his filial piety. In this death-bed quote (Analects 8:3), he is referring to the dictum that a filial child should take care of his body so that when he meets his ancestors in the after-life he will be as whole as when he was born into the world. This is one of the goals of the noble man...
... Of the Confucian 'noble man', perhaps. The Taoist 'noble man' is of a far subtler order. For a start, the Confucian 'noble man', 'superior man' was - indeed, and inevitably - a man.
Leaving that for the moment,, however, what Lao-tze is actually saying here is that, in remaining true to the openness you will find that everything else proceeds of itself to the very goal you are seeking, viz., that of all-encompassing and absolutely natural perfection. The 16th. Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpa'i Dorje, once remarked that, if the centre is kept clear, everything it needs will quite naturally come to it.
This is a very, very difficult idea to live by.
You see it, for example, in the t'ai chi exercise called 'push hands': Unless they happen to be extraordinarily adept, the moment the two partners place their hands on each other, there is already a modicum of tension and expectation. Technically, at that point they have already both 'lost', and someone who was really adept would already have used that tension to throw them yards off without the slightest exertion of effort on his part. It's almost innate: a situation apears; one sets oneself up vis-à-vis it, and already one is wrong... This is the very nature of duality.
Lao-tze is saying: let go of all that; come to rest here... in this... here...
Just a note concerning Professor Cheng: I think it's very useful to have someone who doesn't go along blindly with the ideas put forth here as one of our commentators. Inasmuch as I, too, have enormous respect for the 'Philosopher K'ung' (Confucius) and those of his school, he certainly makes me think twice before committing myself to you!