Knowing And Mastering Yourself

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, when Lao Tzu was talking about powerful men and women, he was talking about people with some measure of intelligence and strength. They couldn’t have attained their lofty positions without having some knowledge and power over others. I like to poke fun at these establishment figures; but hey, I will give them their due. The popularity of the anti-establishment messages from within the establishment, I am thinking, of course, of Bernie Sanders on the so-called left, and Donald Trump on the so-called right, attest to the extent of their knowledge of and mastery over a whole lot of other people. A whole lot of people are being played for the fools they apparently are. There is so much willful ignorance. And so much acquiescence to the fear-mongering which is being perpetrated by both sides of the political aisle. I am thinking especially of the fear-mongering regarding Muslims and the fear-mongering regarding Donald Trump.

The right wants you scared to death of Muslims, so vote for them. The left wants you scared to death of Donald Trump, so vote for them. I have a much better (I think) idea. Let’s realize what the source of fear is; and reject it, whenever it rears its ugly head. Lao Tzu has talked about this before. He said that fear is a phantom that arises because we are thinking of the self as self. Translated, that means, “We don’t know who and what we are.” That is the theme of today’s chapter. It is another timely one, given current events. Sadly, I have friends on both sides of the political aisle that are going to go to the polls motivated by fear. I think the establishment has really jumped the shark with our current political climate. They will stoop to anything, to convince you to lend their system legitimacy by voting. By the time November of 2016 rolls around, I wouldn’t be surprised, at all, if we won’t be required to vote.

And right here, I do want to apologize once again to my followers who don’t live in the United States. My posts do seem, at times, to be U.S. centric. I promise you, if I lived anywhere but smack dab in the middle of fly over country in the United States, I’d be talking about your own country’s crazy politicians.

But what I really need to do is stay on topic. Today’s topic is knowing and mastering others is simply not enough. While those in power content themselves with this knowledge and mastery, they will never know true wisdom and true power. We need to know and master ourselves. Then, we won’t so easily succumb to the fear-mongering.

Lao Tzu has been talking about the eternal reality all along. That is, see the world as your self; then, you won’t have anything to fear. Seriously, knowing who and what we are is the key to banishing, not Muslims, not Donald Trump, but the real phantom menace, fear.

We need to know ourselves if we are ever going to come to master ourselves. If you know yourself, in other words, if you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich. That is that wisdom Lao Tzu was talking about earlier.

Now, I know it is a whole lot easier to remain willfully ignorant of ourselves. The powers that be in the corporate establishment certainly prefer we remain willfully ignorant. They want us to be afraid, constantly afraid, and they want us to consume, constantly consume. We are fed a constant diet of propaganda. Bread and circuses to keep us brain dead. Critical thinking is frowned upon. In an age where information is readily available to all, people willingly dig their heads into the sand. Don’t teach me how to think for myself, just tell me what I am supposed to believe. They know us and master us, pretty effectually. But can we know and master ourselves?

Remember, yesterday, when Lao Tzu painted that utopian vision of what kind of world we would be living in if only the powerful among us could stay centered in the Tao? Well, I am not holding out any hope for that one. Hope, as you may recall, is another one of those phantoms that aren’t real. But, you and I can stay in the center, and not let fear dismay us. We can embrace death with our whole heart, and in so doing, endure forever.

Now wait just a doggone minute. What’s that he said about embracing death? I was going to pass over that one; simply because, he immediately followed it with enduring forever. But I probably should take the time to explain what I think Lao Tzu means by embracing death. When you know who and what you are, mastering yourself, is not succumbing to the hopes and fears that beset those who don’t know who and what they are. One of those would be our fear of death. Mastering yourself is not fearing, but embracing death. That doesn’t mean having a death wish. Don’t be silly. It means realizing that you are not finite and temporal, and therefore, subject to death. You have the infinite, eternal Tao within you, and that means you will endure forever. So you embrace it. Knowing, death is not final. The self as self does die. The world as self endures, forever.

2 thoughts on “Knowing And Mastering Yourself”

  1. It is interesting to link Laozi with the election effort of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

    However, I won’t agree with you that mastering oneself is realizing that one is not subject to death and one has the infinite, eternal Tao within him, and one will endure forever. Realizing these is not enough. One has to do something in actual daily life.

    In my opinion, knowing oneself means knowing the truth of life and therefore knowing what to do and what not to do in daily life. The truth is not much different from what Jesus said: man is degraded and fallen, must repent, refrain from greed, reform oneself, for eternal salvation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *