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)
We were talking, yesterday, about the so-called powerful men and women. These are people that have some measure of intelligence and strength. Why? Because they have knowledge of and mastery over others. They certainly wouldn’t have attained their lofty positions, otherwise. The populist anti-establishment messages from within the establishment, from Bernie Sanders on the so-called left, and Donald Trump on the so-called right, attest to the extent of their knowledge of and mastery over a whole lot of other people. We are being played. Just like we have always been played by powerful men and women. Some of us, of course, have awakened to this reality. I’d like to think that is because we knew when to stop, in order to avoid danger.
But today’s chapter isn’t about powerful men and women. People who were content to only know and master others, but never realizing their need to know and master themselves. Today’s chapter isn’t about them, it is about us; people who knew when to stop. You can only gain so much intelligence from your knowledge of others. You can only gain so much strength from your mastery of others. If you want to tap into true wisdom and true power, you need to learn how to tap into the infinite Source.
And that only happens as we come to know ourselves. And, then going on to mastering ourselves.
“Know Thyself.” Whole volumes could be written on these two words. And, in fact, they have been. That quote, often attributed to Socrates, is the cornerstone of western philosophy. And since, Lao Tzu said the same thing, I think it is safe to say, eastern philosophy, as well.
I am not going to take the time to try and recall everything that has been written and said about the need to know your self. I think my readers are already knowledgeable enough about its rich history. And with Google as our friend, we have little excuse, not to further educate ourselves. I do recall a couple questions posed to a certain Greek philosopher by the name of Thales. He was asked, “What is the most difficult thing?” to which he replied, “To know thyself.” And when he was then asked, “What is the easiest thing?” he said, “To give advice.”
Knowing yourself is both very important and very hard to accomplish. It is important because you can’t tap into the true wisdom without knowing yourself, first. And, it is important because you can’t begin to master yourself, thus tapping into the true power, until you rightly know yourself. But why is it so difficult to accomplish? One reason is that we are content not to. Perhaps we are content with our knowledge of others. Like the powerful men and women I like to poke fun at. But even more than that, I think we simply prefer ignorance. We are willfully ignorant of ourselves. We delight in the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. I am not poking any fingers at anyone here. I am just as guilty as all of us. Quite frankly, it is difficult, because we make it difficult.
There are many lies we delight in telling ourselves about ourselves. But Lao Tzu only mentions two of them today.
The first lie is that we don’t have enough. If we knew ourselves, we would realize that we already have enough. And that knowledge would make us truly rich. You already have enough. But you won’t realize that, until you stop lying to yourself about yourself. That is true wisdom. It solves a good deal of life’s problems, right there. As long as we think wrongly of ourselves, as long as we think we don’t have enough, we will never be content. And the whole purpose of living is being content. If you think your life should have some higher purpose than that, that is just another lie you are telling yourself. We must realize this! It is absolutely essential! We can’t begin to master ourselves, until we know this about ourselves. We already have enough.
Believing this lie about ourselves is almost excusable. After all, the powerful corporate establishment feeds us this lie everywhere we turn. It is how they have gained mastery over us. Like I said earlier, we are being played. And, we have become willing accomplices, because of our willful ignorance of the truth about ourselves. But, while the first lie is almost excusable, the second lie is a lot less so. For we should know better. Therefore, when we convince ourselves of the second lie, we are really being completely dishonest with ourselves. What is the second lie? That we can avoid death.
I can already hear you lying to yourself, right this moment. You are saying that you know you can’t avoid death. That you don’t lie to yourself about this. Look at the level of dishonesty we exhibit toward ourselves. Of course you know better. That is what makes this lie so dishonest, so insidious. Look, I am not going to try and convince you. You and you alone must examine yourself. You must know your self. But please, try and be honest in this self-examination. No excuses. And no more lies.
We want to avoid death. We want to believe we can avoid death. That is what makes the lie so delightful to us. But that is only all the more reason for us to know our selves. That is where the true wisdom is to be found. Knowing the truth about ourselves. Staying in the center of the circle. Embracing death with your whole heart.
What does that even mean? Notice that he didn’t say to embrace death with your mind. Popular culture, a thing controlled by the corporate establishment, would love for you to substitute an embracing of death culture for embracing death with your whole heart. Don’t make that mistake. What Lao Tzu is talking about gets to the heart of our problem. It is a heart problem. We need to embrace the death of self as self. That is what he means by embracing death. As long as we insist on seeing the self as self we will always seek to avoid death, while, perhaps, flirting with it. They don’t mind you flirting with it, as long as they can keep you convinced that you can avoid it. But we need to die to that. We need to see the world as self. Then we can truly live. That is where the true power is.
That isn’t easy, because we make it difficult. But the wisdom and power that are ours when we do, make it so much worth being honest with ourselves. It is the power to endure forever. Yes, even beyond death.