In ruling the people and serving heaven,
Nothing beats prudence.
Only with prudence can you be ready early.
To be ready early brings abundant inner power.
Abundant inner power means you can overcome any difficulty.
Once you can overcome any difficulty, you know no limits.
Once you know no limits, you possess the state.
Once you possess the mother of the state, you endure.
This is called a deep root and a firm stalk,
The way of long life and enduring clarity.
The key to a long and happy life is to build up your capacity to focus on what is important so that you do not waste time and energy on trivialities. That means developing the right mindset to achieve your goals and overcome even the toughest challenges. You are ready for anything once you have put a firm foundation in place.
1.) In modern Chinese, the character 嗇/sè means stinginess or miserliness. In this chapter, Laozi uses it in a positive sense to refer to nourishing your life-force through rigorous self-cultivation and focusing your attention judiciously so that you do not drain your vital energy. Other English translations of the term include thrift, sparing, and conservation.
2.) Frustratingly, the chapter does not provide any specific details on how to develop your inner power. Most likely it involves nurturing your vital essence (气/qì) through breathing exercises and clearing your mind through meditation.
3.) The “mother of the state” refers the Dao, which is often described as as the mother of all things.
4.) The root is the source of energy that enables a plant or tree to live. The deeper it is buried, the longer the life of the plant or tree. Like a root, a Daoist sage ruler acts as the hidden source of the stability and longevity of the state.
5.) I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!