The Way of heaven and earth is based on virtue; the Way gives them direction, and beings straighten themselves thereby. It is extremely subtle and very much inward: it is not esteemed on account of things, so it does not depend on achievement for establishment, does not consider rank honorable, does not need fame to be distinguished, does not need ritual to be dignified, and does not require armaments to be powerful.
Therefore the Way is established without coercion, enlightenment is perceptive without being invasive. That the way is established without coercion means that it does not usurp people's abilities; that enlightenment is perceptive without being invasive means that it does not interfere with their undertakings.
Coercion is contrary to virtue and harmful to beings. Therefore since natural phenomena are on the same course but have different patterns, and myriad beings have the same feelings but different forms, the wise do not try to coerce each other and the talented are not beholden to each other. Thus sages establish laws to guide the hearts of the people, inducing them all to be true to themselves; therefore the living have no gratitude and the dying have no resentment.
The universe is not humane; it makes all beings into straw dogs. Sages are not humane; they consider the people as straw dogs. Kindness, compassion, humaneness, and duty constitute a short and narrow path: when those on a narrow path enter into a greater range, they get lost; and when those on a short path travel a farther distance, they got confused. On the Way of sages one enters into vastness without getting lost, and travels afar without getting confused. To always be empty and self-contained can be considered its consummation; this is called natural virtue.
Translated by Thomas Cleary