Daodejing Chapter 64: journey of a thousand miles

Richard Brown
2 min readSep 23, 2023

It is easy to manage a stable situation.
It is easy to nip a problem in the bud.
It is easy to shatter something that is brittle.
It is easy to scatter something that is tiny.
Act before something happens.
Establish order before chaos emerges.
A tree an arm’s span in girth,
Grows from a tiny shoot.
A terrace nine storeys high,
Rises from a mound of earth.
A journey of a thousand miles,
Starts with a single step.
Those who act fail.
Those who grip lose.
The sage never acts
And so does not fail.
He never grips
And so never fails.
People often fail
On the brink of success.
Be as careful at the end
As at the beginning,
And there will be no failure.
The sage desires without desiring.
He does not value rare goods.
He studies without studying.
He balances the excesses
Of the masses.
By refraining from action,
He enables the myriad things
To flourish naturally.

「其安易持,其未兆易謀。其脆易泮,其微易散。為之於未有,治之於未亂。合抱之木,生於毫末。九層之臺,起於累土。千里之行,始於足下。為者敗之,執者失之。是以聖人無為故無敗,無執故無失。民之從事,常於幾成而敗之。慎終如始,則無敗事。是以聖人欲不欲,不貴難得之貨;學不學,復眾人之所過,以輔萬物之自然而不敢為。」

All too often, even the best laid plans fail because the leadership of the organization suddenly decides to move the goal posts by adding some new “must have” feature or deciding to use cheaper materials after the work has already started.

The leadership should resist the temptation to interfere once a project is underway and let it follow its natural course. Any attempts they make to speed up the process will inevitably result in cost-overruns and delays just as any signs of anxiety or overexcitement they exhibit will negatively impact the morale and performance of the members of the project team.

Notes
1.) The first three sections are closely linked to
Chapter 63 and continue its exploration of the concept of wuwei (無為), often translated as effortless action, non-action, or non-doing, that was begun in the previous chapter. They highlight the importance of adopting a pro-active approach to prevent issues from getting out of control, as well as the value of starting small, taking balanced and mindful action, and resisting the urge to push things too fast and too hard.

1.) The literal translation of the famous saying “千里之行,始於足下” is: “A journey of a thousand li begins under your feet.” I have opted for the more colloquial “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” In today’s measurements, one li equals 0.311 of a mile.

--

--

Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.