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)
True Wisdom, True Strength, True Wealth
Once again, I find myself drawn to Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter.
“Those who know others are perceptive
those who know themselves are wise
those who conquer others are forceful
those who conquer themselves are strong
those who know contentment are wealthy
those who strive hard are resolved
those who don’t lose their place endure
those who aren’t affected by death live long”
What Lao Tzu is doing, here, is telling us to value what is internal over what is external. If we were to be yin to what is outside, we would be yang on the inside. This is a theme which Lao Tzu first introduced back in chapter three. There, he was talking about what happens when we over-esteem great men, when we overvalue possessions. Both of these things are too much focus on what is external. And, he said, the Master leads by emptying people’s minds and weakening their ambition (that is being yin, teaching us to let go of those external thoughts and plans), and filling their cores and strengthening their resolve (that is yang, it is all focused on the inside of us, the core of our being).
Oh, you know others, do you? How very perceptive you are And, you can conquer others? That just shows how adept you are with the use of force. But, what have you really gained?
If you were truly wise, you would focus on the one thing which is important. I believe it was Socrates, who is acknowledged as saying it first, “Know thyself.”
There is no end to conquering others. Take Alexander. History books call him, “the Great”, for conquering the whole world when he was still a very young man. But, what was his end? He died a heart-broken young man. Having lost the only thing that mattered to him. He never reaped anything from all of his conquering of others. Alexander didn’t have true strength. True strength is conquering yourself. Your hopes, your fears, your will, your ambitions.
Knowing yourself, conquering yourself, Lao Tzu tells us exactly what he means by that. It is realizing you have enough, right now. There is nothing to be gained on the outside which is going to enrich what you are on the inside. Let that go. Empty yourself, weaken those ambitions. Let the core of your being be filled. Strengthen your inner resolve. Everything you need is inside of you. And the true measure of wealth is realizing it. Be content! Stay centered! And, nothing can touch you. Nothing can affect you.