A truly good man is not aware of his goodness
And is therefore good.
A foolish man tries to be good
And is therefore not good.
A truly good man does nothing
Yet leaves nothing undone.
A foolish man is always doing
Yet much remains to be done.
When a truly kind man does something, he leaves nothing undone.
When a just man does something, he leaves a great deal to be done.
When a disciplinarian does something and no-one responds,
He rolls up his sleeves in an attempt to enforce order.
Therefore when the Tao is lost, there is goodness,
When goodness is lost, there is kindness,
When kindness is lost, there is justice,
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.
Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of the Tao.
It is the beginning of folly.
Therefore the truly great man dwells on what is real and not on the surface.,
On the fruit and not on the flower.
Therefore accept the one and reject the other.
 For this section Lau (who translates the 'good' and 'bad' men above as men of 'highest' and 'lowest' virtue) has: A man of highest benevolence acts, but from no ulterior motive. A man of highest rectitude acts, but from ulterior motive. A man most conversant with the rites acts, but when no-one responds rolls up his sleeves, etc.'
The Ma wang tui text, however, says (and this is the reading as understood by Wang Pi too): The highest virtue takes no action, yet it has no reason for acting in this way.
In a note Henricks points out that the 'foreknowledge' mentioned in the next to last section probably means to have one's mind made up before entering a new situation as to what is 'right' and 'wrong', 'proper', 'acceptable' and so on.
He also points out that, moving from the 'highest virtue' down to the 'highest propreity', and from 'taking no action and having no reason for doing so' down to 'taking action and using force to enforce it' is the author's way of ranking what he thinks of the so-called 'Confucian virtues'.
Wang Pi (who has commented on this chapter at great length, dividing his commentary into 14 different fairly extensive sections!) says (in part):
1. Virtue (teh) consists of attainment (teh). Because this means constant attainment without loss and benefit without harm, we use the word 'virtue' as a name for it. Where does one attain virtue? One attains it from the Tao. How does one fulfil the Tao? One fulfils it by functioning out of nothing. If one's functioning stems from nothing, there is no-one who will not be upheld by it... This is why, though Heaven and Earth are vast, they have nothingness for their heart/mind, and why the sage sovereign, though great, bases his rule on nothingness. Therefore I say that if one looks at it in terms of (the hexagram) Fu ('Return'), the heart/mind of Heaven and earth is seen, and if we think of it in terms of the solstice, the perfection of former kings is witnessed(*). Therefore, if one is able to extinguish one's self-interest and nullify personal existence, no-one within the four seas will fail to look up to one, nor anyone near or far fail to gravitate toward one.
(*) Richard Lynn's note here extends over two: For the first section, concerning the heaxagram Fu (Return), please refer to the note in ch.26
Then in the Commentary on the Images for the same hexagram, we read: Thunder within the Earth: this constitutes the image of Return. In the same way, the former kings closed the border passes on the occasion of the winter solstice, merchants and travellers did not move about and neither did kings go out to inspect their domains'. Wang's commentary says:
The winter solstice is the time when the yin principle commences its Return (i.e., begins to become quiescent). Thus, to undergo Return as such means to reach perfect stillness and great tranquility. The former kings behaved in such a way as to act as do Heaven and Earth. For activity to be subject to Return means that it becomes quiescent; for movement to be subject to Return means that it comes to a halt; and for matters to be subject to Return means a disengagement from matters.
2. If one regards oneself as something special possessing a heart/mind of one's own, this one body one has will fail to remain whole, its flesh and bones rendered incompatible. This is why a person of superior virtue functions only in tandem with the Tao. He does not regard his virtue as virtue, never holds on to or makes use of it. Thus he is able to have virtue and nothings fails to be done. He attains it without seeking it and fulfils it without conscious effort. Thus, although he has virtue, he has no reputation for virtue.
3. A person of inferior virtue attains it by seeking it and fulfils it with conscious effort, then establishes 'goodness' as a means of keeping the people in order. Thus he has a reputation for virtue, but if one attains it by seeking it, one will surely lose it, and if one tries to fulfil it by making conscious effort, one will surely fail. Once the name 'good' appears, there will also be a 'not good' corresponding to it... One who acts out of nothing remains free of all bias. Those who cannot act without conscious effort are always persons of inferior virtue, that is to say, are concerned with benevolence, righteousness, propreity and etiquette.
4. ... A person of inferior virtue who still has the lowest capcity for acting out of nothing turns out to be a person of superior benevolence. That is, he is still someone whose capacity is such that he can act out of nothing, but (when he does so),... those who act out of something regard this disinterested benevolance as a calamity.
5. The root of action is found where there is no conscious effort (i.e., in wu wei), and the mother of action is found in the nameless (the Tao). If one rejects the root, casts off the mother and turns, instead, to the child, though one's merit may indeed become great because of it, there will surely be instances where benefit fails, and though one might thus attain a praisworthy reputation, falsehood will surely arise too.
6. ...There appear those who promote sweeping applications of benevolence and kindness, and such love may well be free of biased self-interest...
7. Since love of this nature cannot be applied universally, there appear those who - with a little more truing here, a little less straightening there - try to apply righteousness and moral principles. They rage against the crooked and bless the straight, assisting that one and attacjking this, for they act with something in mind when dealing with matters.
8. As straightening cannot make people sincere, there appear those who turn cultural institutions and ceremonial etiquette into superficial ornamentation. Since those who esteem cultivation and etiquette interact by wrangling and fault finding, anger arises with the conflict of opinions...
9. How can the greatest thing possible be anything else than the Tao? How could any lesser expression adequately serve to honour it? Thus, although virtue (teh) may be replete, its enterprise great, its rich abundance embrace the myriad things and each thing stil have access to its own virtue, none of these can, in itself, embrace all of it. Thus Heaven cannot serve to uphold it, Earth to cover, or man to support it. Though the myriad things are noble, their functioning is based on nothing, and they cannot reject having nothingness as their embodiment. If one were to reject nothingness as one's embodiment, one would lose one's power to be great. This is what is meant by 'One resorts to virtue only after losing the Tao'.
10. If one's functioning is based on nothing, one has access to the mother and it is then possible, without one's labouring at it, for all people without exception to live in an orderly manner. If one falls from this, however, one loses the mother that gives birth to functioning. One who is incapable of unconscious effort will value sweeping applications of benevolence. One who is incapable of even such sweeping application will value truing, straightening and regulation. One who is incapable of regulation will value ornamental etiquette... Propreity as such gets its start when loyalty and trust have become insincere. The frank and unconventional, refusing to go along with such pretense, heap scorn on such superficiality, while sticklers obssessed with minutae wrangle over its application. If even acting out of the benevolence and righteousness that emerge from within is still wrong, how much less likely is it that efforts at external ornaent will endure for long?...
11. 'Foresight' means knowing something before others do and refers to those of inferior virtue. Such people dry up their intelligence in the quest of foresight and apply their 'knowledge' in schemes devised to deal with the masses. They may get at the innate tendencies of things, but will be responsible for the spread of treachery; they may enrich their reputations, but, in so doing, will augment loss of honesty and sincerity. The harder they work, the more obscured situations become.; the more effort they make, the more entangled with weeds and filth government becomes. The more they dry up their sovereign's sagehood and intelligence, the more harm befalls the people. If one discards the self and leaves things alone, peace will arrive without conscious effort. If one holds fast to simplicity and the uncarved block, there will be no need for any system of criminal law. The problem is that one becomes besotted with what wins one a reputation and forgets and rejects what the uncarved block holds for one... All this is 'the origin of duplicity'.
12. When one has access to the mother who provides success, 'the myriad beings model their behaviour upon one, yet one does not lay claim to authority', and, though one does not work at it, the myriad affairs all simply come to completion. It is because one functions by not using forms and rules and not using set names that it becomes possible for benevolence, righteousness, propriety and etiquette to display themselves. If one upholds the people with the Tao and subdues them only with nameless simplicity, they will have nothing to exalt and their hearts and minds will have nothing to scheme about.. Each person tending to his or her own affairs and acting out of their innate sense of sincerity, the virtue of benevolence will deepen, the practice of righteousness rectify itself, and propriety and etiquette become pure of themselves.
13. When the Tao is rejected as a support and discarded as a means whereby to support life, use is then made of the concrete forms it assumes and application are based on what ordinary intelligence perceives. If it takes the form of benvolence it is shown esteem; if it takes that of righteousness it becomes a cause for wrangling. When it takes the form of propreity, it becomes the object of dispute. Thus, the deepening of the virtue of benevolence is impossible for one who uses only the form of benevolence, rectification of the practice of righteousness cannot be achieved by one who uses only the form of righteousness; and the purification of propriety and etiquette will never be attained by one who uses only the form of propriety.
14. When one upholds all things with the Tao and unites and controls them with the mother, then benevolence may manifest but there is no particular esteem for it, and righteousness and propriety may be displayed but there is no wrangling over them. It is use of the nameless that allows names to become honest and appropriate, and use of the formless that permits forms to come to their perfection. If one preserves the child by holding fast to the mother and makes the branch tips flourish by enhancing the roots, forms and names will all exist, but anomalies will not occur. Such great beauty will make a companion worthy of Heaven, and the superficial will not arise(*). Therefore it is important not to keep the mother at a distance nor lose contact with the roots. Benevolence and righteousness are born of the mother and should not be mistaken for the mother herself. Implements are produced by the artisan, but are not mistaken for the artisan himself. Discarding the mother to make use of the child, rejecting the roots and taking only the tips of the branches, if this manifests in names, there will be distinctions, and, if in forms, there will be limits. Though one enlarge their forms to the utmost, there is sure to be something they do not encompass. Though one make them as praisworthy as possible, it is certain there will be those who cause calamity and distress. If success depends on making such conscious effort, how can it be worth engaging in?
(*) In the Ch'uang-tze it says: Heaven and earth have their great beauties, but never speak of them; the four seasons have a clear-cut regularity, but never discuss it; the ten thousand things each have their principles but do not hold forth as regards them. The wise person seeks out the beauties of heaven and earth and masters the principles of the ten thousand things. Thus it is that the perfect person does not act and the great sage does not move. One must admit that they have perceived the Way of heaven and earth.
Cheng's commentary says: Concerning 'if Tao is lost Teh appears', Tao and Teh cannot be parted, nor can yin and yang, nor can male and female. If they could be separated, what would become of nature, of the human race? Superior Teh and inferior Teh are as different as natural and unnatural. Humanism and justice are naturally different: the basis of justice is right and wrong. When superior etiquette acts and gets no response, it goes to the extreme of resorting to violence, and is thus far distant from the Tao...
Chapter 26 states, 'not daring to be first, one can direct all instruments', so Lao-tze does not consider foreknowledge of events a serious matter. Those who are prescient compete among themselves to be first much as the stupid blithely undertake matters of consequence, and they are thus equivalent to a mere blossom of the Tao. One treats such desires by keeping them in their place with 'the original uniqueness of the Nameless'.
One must seriously respect the fruit, taking generosity as one's locus, and 'not dwell on the blossom'.
One should also assiduously avoid 'that', which is merely a 'small instrument', and cleave to 'this', into which 'that' will then naturally be transformed by the Tao.
I do not see that I have much to add here, except - perhaps - to point out once again that what we are looking at here is not a political text, but a text dealing with the most profound reaches of Chinese yoga.
'Quiescence' is, in my somewhat overweening opinion, not really a good translation. Emptiness - nothingness - is not 'quiescent-as-opposed-to-active'. On the contrary, it is the very substance of activity - the very stuff of which all activity is woven.
Cheng is quite right when he says that Tao and Teh, yin and yang are inseparable. And his invoking here of superior and inferior Teh as not at all the same thing is most telling. Throughout Taoist yoga and alchemy we come across the ideas of 'new' and 'old' yin and yang - yin and yang that are fresh and vibrant, and yin and yang that have played out their energy. We shall probably hear more on these as the section on Teh progresses, but some very useful books on the subject are:
Cultivating Stillness - Eva Wong [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
The Tao of Health, Longevity and Immortality - Eva Wong [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
Harmonizing Yin and Yang - Eva Wong [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
Cultivating the Energy of Life - Eva Wong [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
Awakening the Tao - Thomas Cleary [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
The Inner Teachings of Taoism - Thomas Cleary [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]
Undertsanding Reality - Thomas Cleary [UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII PRESS]
Immortal Sisters - Thomas Cleary [SHAMBHALA PUBLICATIONS]