Peace is easily maintained;
Trouble is easily overcome before it starts.
The brittle is easily shattered;
The small is easily scattered.
Deal with it before it happens.
Set things in order before there is confusion.
A tree as great as a man's embrace springs from a small shoot;
A terrace nine storeys high begins with a pile of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles starts under one's feet.
He who acts defeats his own purpose;
He who grasps loses.
The sage does not act, and so is not defeated.
He does not grasp, and therefore does not lose.
People usually fail when they are on the verge of success,
So give as much care to the end as to the beginning,
Then there will be no failure.
Therefore the sage seeks freedom from desire.
He does not collect precious things.
He learns not to hold onto ideas.
He brings men back to what they have lost.
He helps the ten thousand things find their own nature
But refrains from action.
 Most readings take these six lines as a unit. For example, in Lau's text we have:
It is easy to maintain a situation while it is still secure;
It is easy to deal with a situation before symptoms develop;
It is easy to break a thing when it is yet brittle;
It is easy to dissolve a thing when it is yet minute.
Deal with a thing while it is still nothing;
Put a thing in order before disorder sets in.
 The Ma wang tui text reads these last two lines as:
He learns not to learn and returns to what the masses pass by:
He could help all things to be natural, yet he dare not do it.
Wang Pi says:
When secure, one does not forget danger, and, in maintaining security, does not forget ruin but plans for it while it is still without effect(*).
(*) Cf. the Commentary to the Appended Phrases in the I Ching, which reads in part: 'To get into danger is a matter of thinking one's position secure; to be ruined is a matter of imagining one's continuance assured; to fall into disorder is a matter of considering one's order enduring. Therefore the noble person does not forget danger when secure, ruin when enjoying continuance, or disorder when maintaining the experience of order. Thus his person is kept secure and his state protected.'
Although such danger has detached itself from nothingness and assumed existence, because of its fragility and tininess, it still lacks the wherewithal to initiate any larger effect. Thus dealing with it is 'easy'. These four (the secure, the premanifest, the fragile and the tiny) all warn that one should be heedful of how things end. One should not fail to maintain security just because the danger of ruin doesn't exist yet. Nor should one fail to dissolve the danger of ruin simply because it is not yet of much consequence. If one fails to maintain security while danger is still non–existent, danger will take root and grow into existence within that very failure. If one fails to dissolve danger while it is still small, it will take root and expand within that failure. Thus, if one is careful about disaster as it happens in the end and as it threatens at the start, no endeavour will ever end in defeat.
Act while it is still in its premanifest state.
Control it while it is still fragile and small.
It is correct that, mindful of how things end, one eliminates tiny sprouts of danger, and that, mindful of these sprouts of danger, one eliminates disorder. However, if one attempts to bring them under control by taking intentional action and implementing set procedures or tries to take administrative action against them by using punishments and names, this will, on the contrary, provoke the start of new troubles, and cunning and stealth will proliferate. This is what is meant by 'ruined' and 'lost'.
The people are not mindful of how things end.
Though preferences and desires may be tiny, contentious tastes will arise from them. Though goods hard to come by may be insignificant, greedy thievery will arise because of them.
What one is capable of without learning is the natural. To be learned in learning results only in error.
Ch'eng Man–ching says: The first section advises acting before anything has happened and setting things in order before confusion arises. Do not imagine that a mere sprout is not an omen. That 'a journey of a thousand li starts where the feet are' means that things reach into the distance gradually and quite naturally. To act consciously and clutch at things is to court failure.
The second section simply expands upon the first. The desire of the sage is not the desire of ordinary people. He does not study what ordinary people study. 'he avoids the mistakes of ordinary people' means he avoids what they mistakenly desire and mistakenly seek after. He simply assists all thing to fulfil their natures, not daring to contrive anything else.
When do thoughts and attachments dissolve? Preferably just as they are arising... Like a child recognising its mother, one knows that 'thought' is 'emptiness' and lets it go there and then. This does not mean that the thought 'disappears' – that one stamps it out – but what does happen is that – since one knows what one is experiencing – the thought is like water pouring into water, and – like a snake undo ing its knots – simply unfolds and then turns into something else... There is nothing to hang on to or to push away... Thoughts come; and then they go... You don't have to do anything about that... But you do need to be gently aware of it...
As Ch'an Master Liao An says:
Essence is unpolluted, absolutely complete in itself.
Just detach from false mental objects,
And there is the buddha of being as is.
When deluded, you deviate from the real and pursue the false;
When enlightened, you abandon the false and return to the real.
After you've reached the point where reality and falsehood both melt
And delusion and enlightenment lodge nowhere,
Then you use up old karma according to conditions,
Trusting essence and enjoying natural reality,
Exercising kindness and compassion,
Helping out the orphaned and the unsheltered,
Forgetting subject and object, annihilating shadow and form,
Becoming a person beyond measure,
Living in a realm of experience beyond measure,
And doing work beyond measure."
This is, as a friend of mine once said, exactly '... the inside that is going outside – not at all a reaction in the opposite direction, but a new coil in the spiral. The brew has brewed and now the test in all is the drinking of it...'
As Mi–p'am Rinpoche says:
"... Even if you don't know what to meditate on,
Simply seeing it as something unattainable,
Although not as though you had thrown something away,
Is to see into the foundations of the mind.
'When you allow this, too, to remain in the realm of the unattainable,
Although there is no longer the smallest atom of concrete reality,
You possess the creativity of all–illumining knowledge,
The non–duality of reality and its intrinsic awareness inseparable.
'Nothing as such, yet it has no essence of nothingness.
Examined, there is nothing. Left to itself, it is clear and bright,
Though – like the moon's reflection in water– not to be caught by grasping for it...
'... What benefit is there in its openness and its appearing?
Who is this in which there is no duality? What is it that is to be meditated upon?
Leave it as it is in its self–settledness.'
According to our various capacities, we perceive this self–established primordial awareness beyond ordinary mentality either gradually or instantaneously.
This is where yogic practitioners burn up the seeds of birth into the various realms of being in the fires of indestructible enlightened body, speech and mind that are the innate creativity of the primordial wisdom in the heart.
As he says:
From them, the sun of support and strength blazes forth,
And, holding wisdom in their hands and putting it into practice,
In a single lifetime they realise primordial buddhahood.
I'm sure that this is so.