Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?
If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.
Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter with three rhetorical questions. But, is he really asking us to choose between these options? I don’t think so. I think it is equally important for us to consider why both fame, and integrity, are important to us. I think it is equally valuable for us to consider both, why our happiness depends on money, and how a happiness which doesn’t depend on money is so much better. And, I think, because Lao Tzu already said back in chapter thirteen, success and failure are equally dangerous, we need to realize they are also equally destructive. They are both destructive for the same reason they are both dangerous. They take our attention away from what truly matters, the infinite and eternal, and place our focus on the finite and temporal.
Why do we look to others for fulfillment? What possible fulfillment do we hope to gain from others? Fulfillment can only be gained by being content with who we are. It is an inward thing. Not an outward thing. If we really are to be content, in other words, happy with ourselves, then it can’t depend on anything outside of ourselves. And, that includes money.
Why aren’t we content? Why do we make it contingent on something outside of ourselves, things completely beyond our control? And then, of course, we try to control them. Only making ourselves more miserable in the process.
We have to be content with what we have. We need to know when enough is enough; and, the enough we have, has to be enough. We need to be content. But, there is something that goes along with true contentment. That is rejoicing. We need to rejoice in the way things are. The way things are, has nothing to do with our outward circumstances. It is, once again, an inward thing. It is a matter of realizing, again. It was something I said a couple of days ago. There is so much we need to realize. We perceive lack, when our focus is on what is outside of ourselves. So, we need to embrace who we are on the inside, and let that be all we need. I have everything I need. “But, I want, I want, I want.” Oh, those pesky desires, again. We need to let go of those. We have every thing we need. And, when we realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world is ours. The whole world is ours, but not for the taking. The whole world is ours for the giving, with generosity, and for the receiving, with gratitude.
I dare to imagine a world full of people who are content with who they are, and with what they have, a world that values generous giving, and thankful receiving, a world that doesn’t take what was never ours to take, nor withholds what was always meant to be bestowed. Will you dare to imagine, this kind of world, with me? Will you join me in being one of those people who rejoice in the way things are?