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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we addressed our need to know when to stop, to know our own limits. And, Lao Tzu continues this thought, into today’s chapter. We think, because we know others, and can master others, that gives us all the intelligence and strength we need in order to improve our world. The problem, remains, that our wisdom and power are only finite and temporal. We don’t have what it takes to improve our own selves, let alone the whole world. Names and forms and institutions remain, which have long since outlived their usefulness. Yet, we go on propping them up, willing them to continue; and we wonder why we have crossed into the realm of danger.
We don’t know ourselves. It is the first rule of wisdom. Know yourself. That is true wisdom. And, since we don’t know ourselves, we can’t begin to master ourselves either. Yet, that is where true power is to be found.
To truly know yourself is to realize you have everything you need. You lack nothing. We spend the majority of our lives always trying to get something more. We never seem to have enough. We are convinced there is always something lacking. And, we are never, and indeed, can never be, content. Just the simple realization that there is nothing lacking, that we truly have enough, is the most life-changing moment anyone can experience in their short lives. To realize the truth: you are truly rich.
To be content. I just have to say it one more time. To be content. That, my friends, is the key to everything. You want to improve the world, when you can’t even improve yourself. But, if you could be content, if you could realize you are already perfect, yes, and the world is perfect, as well; then, how much more perfect you would see the whole world become.
But, it won’t happen, if you aren’t content; if you aren’t content to stay in the center of the circle, if you insist on interfering and intervening, on trying to be in control, and with only the best of intentions, of course, trying to improve what is sacred; the world, and you in the world.
You have to be content to be who and what you are. You have to know yourself and master yourself. You have to know your limitations, knowing you are finite and temporal, and embrace that. Yes, Lao Tzu calls it, embracing death with your whole heart. Death, here, refers to our limitations as finite and temporal beings.
But, if we will embrace who and what we are, here is what happens: Then, we tap into the infinite and eternal Tao. It is by embracing our own ignorance, we are made wise. It is by embracing our own weakness, we are made powerful. It is by embracing our own limitations, we endure forever.
We fear death; but why? It is because we don’t want to be confronted with our own limitations. How foolish! For, it is only in embracing our limits, we can tap into the unlimited.