Heavy is the root of light.
Stillness is the ruler of haste.
Although he travels all day,
The sage never loses sight of his luggage carts.
Only when he rests securely inside the walls,
He relaxes his attention.
Why would a ruler with ten thousand chariots
Look lightly on himself or his domain?
In lightness, the root is lost.
In haste, the ruler is lost.
This is one translation. The challenge with ancient texts written in remote languages is the plenitude of room for interpretation. In the second stanza, my translation says something in the meaning of: “Although he is the ruler of luxurious palaces and parks, / he remains humble and calm, above vanity.” Nothing about “relaxing his attention”. To be honest, the version I own on my bookshelves is closer and sounds more natural to me.
Another difference comes in the third stanza, the one with the 10000 chariots. My version reads “Would the ruler of ten thousand chariots / treat his kingdom lightly because of himself”. Online, I found yet another wording: “How, then, should a ruler of ten thousand chariots / Make light of his own person in the eyes of the empire?” See what I mean? Three different nuances. Moreover, they are so different, that I cannot see which one I prefer.
“Stillness is the ruler of haste.” I love this. Haste will always bow before stillness. Because stillness is persistent, it can go on for a long time without getting tired. It is equally intensive at its ending as it is at its beginning. Eventually, it should win. Well, there are situations in life when haste is preferable. Imagine you need to run away from danger or ruin. I can’t deny the usefulness of thinking and acting quickly. At the end of this Chapter, hastiness is mentioned once again to say that it is the ruin of the ruler. So, sages and rulers shouldn’t be hasty.
“Heavy is the root of light.” I have difficulties understanding that. I thought about it, looking at the sentence from several points of view, and I can’t say I reached any clarity. Maybe just like any plant needs roots and can’t survive without them, relying on the nurture and stability coming from them, in the same way, anything light cannot survive without taking energy, food and stability – its life, in short – from the heavy. The ending of the Chapter revisits the idea, stressing that if you have lightness only, the root is lost. That last idea made me think of a balloon. With nothing to hold it down, it flies away.
Let me know what you think, I’d love to read all your views and ideas in the comments.