Bend and you will be whole.
Curl and you will be straight.
Keep empty and you will be filled.
Grow old and you will be renewed.
Have little and you will gain.
Have much and you will be confused.
Therefore, the Sage embraces the One,
And becomes a Pattern to all under Heaven.
He does not make a show of himself,
Hence he shines;
Does not justify himself,
Hence he becomes known;
Does not boast of his ability,
Hence he gets his credit;
Does not brandish his success,
Hence he endures;
Does not compete with anyone,
Hence no one can compete with him.
Indeed, the ancient saying: “Bend and you will remain whole” is no idle word.
Nay, if you have really attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.
This passage is brimming with wisdom, so much so that I read it multiple times, gaining deeper insight with each pass.
The first thing that came to me was the importance of humility to the sage. The sage leads by example, choosing to humbly walk the path and abstaining from boasting about his or her wisdom. As a westerner, I am well aware of the dangers of hubris and how this leads to the inevitable fall of an individual. By following the simple (yet not easy) steps outlined in this passage, one avoids the pitfalls of hubris and self-importance.
I noticed that the phrase “Bend and you will remain whole” appears twice in this passage, at the beginning as well as at the end. Clearly, Lao Tzu wanted to emphasize this. On the surface, it appears that he is asserting that one should be flexible, to bend and “go with the flow” instead of fighting and resisting the inevitable changes which occur in life. But I feel that there is more here, especially when you consider that Lao Tzu states that this “is no idle word.” I think that many people consider flexibility and non-resistance to be the opposite of striving, hence being idle. But this is not so. The opposite of striving is not-striving; it’s acceptance; it’s bending; it’s making a conscious decision to not struggle against the forces of nature and to accept the way that is being presented. Bending to the way of the One is an act—it is not being passive. And when you do this, you move a little closer to attaining wholeness and a connection with the One.