True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.
The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others, the happier he is.
The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is.
The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 81, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today’s chapter finishes up the Tao Te Ching. Tomorrow, we will begin the journey all over again with chapter one. Today, Lao Tzu has one final thing to say about the art of living, the practice of true contentment.
Yesterday, I asked the question, “How can we be content?” If our country was governed wisely, we would be. But can we be content when our country is not governed wisely? True contentment, Lao Tzu reminds us, is not dependent on our external circumstances. The art of living, the practice of true contentment, involves each of us setting our own internal “thermostat” in such a way that all the chaos and turmoil going on around us does not change our inner temperament.
We haven’t been particularly eloquent as we have been going through these chapters. But that is okay. Eloquent words aren’t true. And, true words aren’t eloquent. We haven’t been trying to prove some point as we have been going along on this journey. Wisdom just is. It is self-evident. It is the eternal reality. The way things are. If you want to be content, it starts with choosing to be content. Regardless of your outward circumstances. You just realize that the way things are is the way things are, and you can live with that. No, it is more than that. It isn’t merely passively living. It is thriving. It is actively being.
Okay, I choose to be content. But how do I go about practicing true contentment? When Lao Tzu says that the Master has no possessions. We might balk at the idea that we have to give up anything. But it isn’t about giving up anything. It is about not having to have anything. If your contentment depends on you having possessions, you won’t be content. Possessions don’t foster contentment. There is no such thing as enough.
Because he isn’t “possessed” by his possessions, the more he does for others, the happier he is. And the more he gives to others, the wealthier he is. If doing for others or giving to others sounds like a sacrifice to you, then you need to adjust your inner thermostat. Your possessions are getting the better of you. You have to have them. That is why you aren’t happy. And that is why, regardless of how much you have, you aren’t wealthy. Happiness and wealth are not measured by what you have. They are measured by what you don’t have to have.
Finally, in understanding the Tao, the eternal reality behind all that happens in our world, realize this: The Tao nourishes by not forcing. The Tao isn’t aggressive. But it isn’t passive either. The Tao just is. Every being in our world is nourished by it, naturally. You don’t have to be in control. You don’t have to dominate, to lead. You lead by serving as an example. You lead by serving.