Tao Te Ching Chapter 36 Commentary

Bend before breaking,
Weigh before bending,
Enter before Weighing,
and don’t think about seizing;
It’s a subtle insight,
four ounces defeat a thousand pounds.

Like a fish hidden in deep waters,
the final chapter needs not be revealed.

–(Tao Te Ching Chapter 36)

All famous translations I have checked seem to botch this chapter. They give a direct translation, which disjoints the first and second parts of the chapter. Examples abound; Leary, DT Suzuki, Leggae, Lin Yutang, even Red Pine, none of them seem to understand the author’s intention is to convey what the subtle insight is to the reader.

Spoiler alert, the subtle insight is not “the weak defeats the strong”. That is, rather, an effect — or, enabled by — the understanding and application of the subtle insight.

For example, which translation explains the nature of the imagery of the fish in a deep pool of water (not merely in “a pool of water”, but a “deep pool”)? It is like water moved by an unseen fish; the fish cannot leave the pool, but nonetheless it’s effect is seen from outside. I think catching that fish goes a great way towards making a meal out of the subtle insight of Chapter 36. Another harmonious proverb is the story of the doctor who treats people before they get sick.

Here I have rewritten the chapter to apply to traditional martial arts such as Tai Chi, or Aikido, in an attempt to point out this “subtle insight.”