"Meet the difficult while it is easy."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 63
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Act without action.
Pursue without interfering.
Taste the tasteless.
Make the small big and the few many.
Return animosity with virtue.
Meet the difficult while it is easy.
Meet the big while it is small.
The most difficult in the world
Must be easy in its beginning.
The biggest in the world
Is small in its beginning.
So, the sage never strives for greatness,
And can therefore accomplish greatness.
Lightly given promises
Must meet with little trust.
Taking things lightly
Must lead to big difficulties.
So, the sage regards things as difficult,
And thereby avoids difficulty.
Big Is Small at First
We already know about non-action, wu-wei, and about
the importance of avoiding to interfere, but what about
tasting the tasteless?
Well, chapter 12 says that the five flavors dull
the mouth. Spicy food is tiresome at length. Fireworks in
the mouth deafen the palate. Chapter 12 also warns against
a multitude of colors and tones. Spectacles are fun at first,
but at length they dull the senses.
Tasting the tasteless is to increase one's sensitivity
by being restrictive with stimuli. Sensations wear down
the senses. When you increase your sensitivity you learn to
taste what seems tasteless. You perceive nuance and observe
the small things.
With increased sensitivity the small things grow in
your perception of them, and you discover their importance.
This is another way of saying what was stated in chapter
59: moderation means prevention. When you see the
glimpses and listen to whispers, you become aware of things at
the moment of their appearance.
They may be small and seem completely
insignificant. But if you contemplate their possible consequences
at length, you may be able to avoid disaster.
That's meeting the big while it's still small. Anyone
with huge responsibilities must learn it, or crisis after crisis
Big problems start as small problems. That's when
to solve them. Big obstacles start as small obstacles.
That's when to overcome them.
This is true for one's personal life, as well as for the
family, the town, the country, and the whole world.
Whatever great problem we live with, if we look back we discover
that it could have been solved easily in the beginning. But at
that time nobody cared.
We are often stuck in the misconception that the
world is a static place, although we can see that everything in
it moves and changes constantly. When problems appear,
they are usually quite small and nonthreatening. So we
ignore them, thinking that they will stay that size forever.
Any problem not dealt with will grow. That's the way
it is. We need to learn to deal with problems
immediately. Then we will find that we need to do almost nothing.
Actually, many problems are initially so small that
they are solved just by recognizing them. By discovering
and exposing them, we make our world immune to their
In the middle of his reasoning about big and small,
Lao Tzu states that we should return animosity with virtue.
That attitude alone would solve just about any major crisis
in society, if it had been applied early on. Animosity feasts
on being met by animosity. If not, it will wither.
So, to create a peaceful world we must learn not to
respond to aggression with the same, but treat it in a
noble manner. That's great virtue, in the sense of being
morally superior as well as being the most efficient countermeasure.
Treating small issues as if they were big, is learning
to take things seriously. Not only should we seriously
consider what we want to do before doing it, but also what seems
so insignificant that we feel no urge at all to deal with it.
The danger lies in ignorance and indifference – especially in
In society, few things are as damaging as indifference.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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