But I have three precious things which I prize and hold fast. The first is gentleness; the second is economy;Of the two jewels listed in these lines, I want to focus on the second one. Legge and Feng/English interpret it as economy and Derek Lin interprets it as conservation. Another translator, John McDonald, renders it as moderation. Jonathan Star indicates that the operative word, chien, can be translated as frugality, thriftiness, economy, sparing or moderation.
~ James Legge translation, from The Sacred Books of the East, 1891 ~
I have three treasures which I hold and keep.
The first is mercy; the second is economy;
~ Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation, published by Vintage Books, 1989 ~
I have three treasures
I hold on to them and protect them
The first is called compassion
The second is called conservation
~ Derek Lin translation, from Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained, published by SkyLight Paths, 2006 ~
The three most important qualities in life
are compassion, or showing kindness and mercy to others,
moderation, or knowing what a thing is worth,
~ Ron Hogan rendition, from Beatrice.com, 2004 ~
Regardless of which rendering of chien you prefer, I think all of them point to the idea of neither taking nor using more than we need. When we don't claim more than we need, then we have the opportunity to be merciful or compassionate.
To view the Index page for this series to see what you may have missed or would like to read again, go here.