Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 9, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
It is as if Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter, is saying, “Let me show you a better way.” He was talking yesterday of the way that people disdain. People that are never satisfied with how full their bowls already are. They always want more. More. But Lao Tzu is showing us a better way. The way that most people disdain.
There is a better way than filling your bowl to the brim, the endless accumulation of wealth. Do you think you will be satisfied with great halls full of gold and precious gems? That hoard would be in constant peril from thieves. Your knife will never be sharp enough to defend it.
There is a better way than chasing after money and security, with a heart that will never unclench. And, you don’t have to be a prisoner to the opinion of others. There is a better way. And, here it is: You have work to do. So, do it. Just do it. And, be done with it.
This is what Stephen Mitchell translates as the only path to serenity. But, what is serenity, really? Is it something that we can experience in this life? I think it is. I think it is something we can experience at the conclusion of each day’s work. Don’t be like most people, who can’t sleep peacefully after their day’s work is done. Be content with simply being yourself; today, and every day. And, experience serenity; today, and every day.
Is that it? Is serenity just getting a good night of sleep? Actually, that is only a beginning. When Lao Tzu is talking about serenity, I think what he is talking about is inexhaustible wealth and boundless power. But, most people can’t bring themselves to experience that. They are so busy chasing after the illusion, they can never see the reality. And, because of that, they will never have true wealth or true power.
But, you aren’t most people; so, I will share with you the way, as I have seen it explained. The wealth from giving generously is inexhaustible. The power from not accumulating is boundless. What? You doubt this is true wealth? You question that this is true power? Do you disdain this way? Try doing your work today; and, sleeping on it tonight.