Great Power, not clinging to power,
has true power.
Lesser power, clinging to power,
lacks true power.
Great power, doing nothing,
has nothing to do.
Lesser power, doing nothing,
has an end in view.
The good the truly good do
has no end in view.
The right the very righteous do
has an end in view.
And those who act in true obedience to law
roll up their sleeves
and make the disobedient obey.
So: when we lose the Way we find power;
losing power we find goodness;
losing goodness we find righteousness;
losing righteousness we're left with obedience.
Obedience to law is the dry husk
of loyalty and good faith.
Opinion is the barren flower of the Way,
the beginning of ignorance.
So great-minded people
abide in the kernel not the husk,
in the fruit not the flower,
letting the one go, keeping the other.
Tao Te Ching #38 - Ursula K. LeGuin's rendition
A vast dense argument in a minimum of words, this poem lays out the Taoist values in steeply descending order: the Way and its power; goodness (humane feeling); righteousness (morality); and - a very distant last - obedience (law and order). The word I render as "opinion" can be read as "knowing too soon": the mind obeying orders, judging before the evidence is in, closed to fruitful perception and learning.
LeGuin's translation notes:
The series here is of familiar Confucian principles: jen, li, i - "good, humane, human-hearted, altruistic"; "righteous, moral, ethical"; "laws, rites, rules, law and order." But Lao Tzu reverses and subverts the Confucian priorities.
Chien shih in the fourth verse is "premature knowledge" in Carus and "foreknowledge" in Lau, Henricks, and Waley (who explains it as part of Confucian doctrine). Henricks interprets it as having "one's mind made up before one enters a new situation about what is 'right' and 'wrong' and 'proper' and 'acceptable' and so on." Prejudice, that is, or opinion. Buddhists and Taoists agree in having a very low opinion of opinion.
There is a ton of political and social commentary packed into this particular chapter. It is well worth considering at great length and using as a method for observing where people abide... the husk... the flower... the fruit.... It is even more useful for observing where our own thoughts and reactions are coming from... the husk? ... the flower? ... the fruit?
The nuance in translation of chinese into english is also very, very interesting and instructive. Opinion as "knowing too soon" or "premature knowledge." Very interesting.