This is What Happens When You Don’t Know When to Stop

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This is What Happens When You Don’t Know When to Stop

I was feeling all warm and fuzzy inside (warm, because I just can’t manage to break this fever; fuzzy, because of the itch in my throat), but except for still being sick with the flu, I was feeling quite happy that Stephen Mitchell didn’t have me choosing between sickness and health in his translation of Lao Tzu, today. But, then I read through Red Pine’s translation…

“Which is more vital

fame or health

which is more precious

health or wealth

which is more harmful

loss or gain

the deeper the love

the higher the cost

the bigger the treasure

the greater the loss

who knows contentment

thus suffers no shame

and who knows restraint

encounters no trouble

while enjoying a long life”

While I have never had a problem with Stephen Mitchell’s translation, and I am certainly not rejecting it by including Red Pine’s translation, in my current state of health (or lack thereof as is the case currently), Red Pine’s translation certainly resonates more with me, today. Making me even more happy!

Red Pine certainly has Lao Tzu very concerned with our health. Indeed, the welfare of our bodies is what is at risk when we pursue fame or fortune to excess. Lao Tzu has talked before of the importance of knowing when to stop. Knowing when to stop, we can avoid all danger. And, today, the danger to our body’s health is front and center.

This certainly got my attention, since I have been sick with the flu for the last five days. This morning I got out of bed after a fitful rest all night. And, I have felt the weakest I have felt in a long time. My son, unbeknownst to me, must be paying a whole lot of attention to Lao Tzu, and my commentaries. Because he read me the riot act this morning: I was still doing too much. I needed to get some serious bed rest. I wasn’t going to get well again, until I did. He might as well have told me, “You don’t know when to stop. That is why you didn’t avoid danger.” Okay, okay, I get it. What would I give to have my health restored? It is so much more vital to me, than mere fame. And, more precious to me, than all the wealth in the universe.

I have spent a good deal of my day flat on my back, trying to recover a bit more strength. My son gets all of his wisdom from me, hehe. So, of course, I followed his sage advice. And, now, I am finally able to sit up and start typing.

Let’s take a look at the wisdom of the sages from the last 2,000 years, Red Pine includes with this translation. I know I am still playing the part of the weak, here. You will just have to excuse me, until I fully recover my health.

HUANG MAO-TS’AI says, “What the world calls fame is something external. And yet people abandon their bodies to fight for it. What the world calls wealth is unpredictable. And yet people sacrifice their bodies to possess it. How can they know what is vital or precious? Even if they succeed, it’s at the cost of their health.”

SSU-MA KUANG says, “Which is more harmful; to gain wealth and fame and lose one’s health or to gain one’s health and lose wealth and fame?”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Heroes seek fame and merchants seek wealth, even to the point of giving up their lives. The first love fame because they want to glorify themselves. But the more they love fame, the more they lose what they would really glorify. Hence, the cost is high. The second amass wealth because they want to enrich themselves. But the more wealth they amass, the more they harm what they would truly enrich. Hence, the loss is great. Meanwhile, those who cultivate Virtue know the most vital thing is within themselves. Thus, they seek no fame and suffer no disgrace. They know the most precious thing is within themselves. Thus, they seek no wealth and encounter no trouble. Hence, they live long.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “If we love something, the more we love it, the more it costs us. If we treasure something, the more we treasure it, the more it exhausts us. A little of either results in shame. A lot results in ruin. And regret comes too late. People who are wise are not like this. They know that they have everything they need within themselves. Hence, they do not seek anything outside themselves. Thus, those who would shame them find nothing to shame. They know their own limit, and their limit is the Tao. Hence, they don’t act unless it is according to the Tao. Thus, those who would trouble them find nothing to trouble. Hence, they survive and, surviving, live long.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Excessive sensual desire exhausts our spirit. Excessive material desire brings us misfortune. The living keep their treasures in storerooms. The dead keep their treasures in graves. The living worry about thieves. The dead worry about grave robbers. Those who know contentment find happiness and wealth within themselves and don’t exhaust their spirit. If they should govern a country, they don’t trouble their people. Thus, they are able to live long.”

HUAI-NAN-TZU says, “Long ago Chih Po-ch’iao attacked and defeated Fan Chung-hsing. He also attacked the leaders of the states of Han and Wei and occupied parts of their territories. Still, he felt this wasn’t enough, so he raised another army and attacked the state of Yueh. But Han and Wei counterattacked, and Chih’s army was defeated near Chinyang, and he was killed east of Kaoliang. His skull became a drinking bowl, his kingdom was divided among the victors, and he was ridiculed by the world. This is what happens when you don’t know when to stop” (Huainantzu:18).

This concludes the wisdom of the sages regarding today’s chapter. I wish you all good health. I am going to go back and lie down again.

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