Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.
Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses and complacency.
 Lau reads this entire text as pertaining to the empire. He reads the last line of the third verse as, '... Some destroy and some are destroyed,' which seems odd to me.
A note to the he Ma wang tui text says, 'I find Hsü Kang-sheng's discussion of these lines persuasive: he feels that the missing characters (in an obvious lacuna in the Ma wang tui text) should be ch'ui huo ch'iang huo ts'o - 'blow cold, some are firm and strong, others submissive and weak. This would give, starting with line 8, 'Some are hot, others blow cold; some are firm and strong, others submissive and weak'... It seems clear throughout that these are pairs of extremes.'
Wang Pi - reading our 'The universe is sacred' as 'Everything under heaven is the numinous vessel' - says:
'Numinous' is that which is formless and infinite. A vessel is something formed by combining things together. But, since all that is under heaven is composed without form, we call it 'the numinous vessel'.
The myriad beings follow nature in forming their own natures. This is why one can act in accord with them but not act on them, can identify with them but not interfere with them. Beings have their constant nature, so if one tries to create something artificial out of them, one is sure to destroy them. Beings have their own comings and goings, so if one tries to grasp them, one is sure to lose them...
Cheng says: Spirit has no shape and a vessel has no spirit. Speaking of a vessel endowed with spirit emphasises that the world is something one can neither strive to master nor grasp.
... Chapter 64 says the sage 'assists all things to fulfil their natures, not daring to contrive any other action'. He proceeds according to whether he is leading or following, breathing stronly or gently, growing powerful or weakening, persevering or falling, doing away only with any excess, extravagance or extreme.
Assuming, again, that the 'political' analogy is merely symbolic of pure awareness and its manifestations as the universe as experienced, the idea being expressed here is that there is no need to apply antidotes. As the 11th century yogini, Niguma, once stated:
If you don't understand that whatever appears is meditation,
What can you achieve by applying an antidote?
Perceptions are not abandoned by discarding them
But are spontaneously freed when recognized as illusory.
What is meant here is that - if one recognises the pristine awareness - the wu chi of the Tao - the manifestations as waves of experience and so forth that arise out of it, manifest within it and then dissolve back into it just like waves in the ocean, look after themselves.
If not, however, you get stuck with the manifestations, and anything you try to do only makes things worse.