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Be Content

Part 44 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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Fame or self: which is more important? Your possessions or your person: which is worth more to you? Gain or loss: which is worse?

Therefore, to be obsessed with “things” is a great waste, the more you gain, the greater your loss.

Being content with what you have been given [Wu: To know when you have enough], you can avoid disgrace. Knowing when to stop, you will avoid danger. That way you can live a long and happy life.

(Tao Teh King 44, Mabry’s translation)

Fame or self: which is more important?

In this world of externalized consciousness, people are much more interested in what people only think they are rather than what they really are. Further, they will compromise, degrade and even falsify themselves so others will have the opinion of them they desire. This is incredibly dangerous, because in time such people will completely lose touch with their true character. I have known people who believed they were what people considered them to be, lacking any self-awareness whatsoever. Needless to say, these were thoroughly characterless people, hardly even two-dimensional personalities. Some were one-dimensional, just being a husk with a name, a mask with no one really behind it.

Your possessions or your person: which is worth more to you?

I think we know the general answer to that: possessions alone matter. There are even those who pride themselves on frugality or austerity whose lack of possessions are most important to them. And there are those engaged frantically in what is known as “conspicuous non-consumption.” So whether there is a desire for more or less, material possessions define most people, both to themselves and others. These people, as well as those discussed in the previous section, have not just lost their soul, they have tossed it away for the sake of appearance. As Galsworthy satirically put it: “What does it profit a man to gain his soul and lose his possessions?”

Gain or loss: which is worse?

This has already been discussed in Section 42 where it is said: “Truly, one may gain by losing; And one may lose by gaining.” So now we are being urged to look at the consequences of gain and loss in regard to our personal integrity, not to make a blanket evaluation of the two.

Therefore, to be obsessed with “things” is a great waste, the more you gain, the greater your loss.

To be possessed by possessions is to be lessened by them the more they are gained. Here, too, people can be reduced to mere husks, their life energies drained away by their money and possessions. Once a friend and I encountered a very wealthy but obnoxious young man. When the man left, my friend commented to me: “If he wasn’t a ‘rich kid’ he would be nothing.” The spectacle of such people is terribly sad. Jesus was actually giving practical psychological advice when he told the rich young man: “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matthew 19:21).

Being content with what you have been given

Wu: “To know when you have enough, you can avoid disgrace.” There is no doubt that the stress of getting more and more can ruin physical and mental health, what to speak of the anxiety about keeping what has been gained. Having just the right amount and being content with it contributes to general well-being. So many people come to ruin personally and socially when this is not known or not followed.

Knowing when to stop, you will avoid danger.

This applies to all aspects of life, not just material welfare. There is nothing in human life that cannot become a curse when overdone. Knowing what is necessary and never going beyond that is the formula for success and happiness. (Though there is the lazy insistence by those who do not want to fulfill their spiritual obligation: “You can go too far, you know!”)

That way you can live a long and happy life. And be a valuable example to others.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Calm Quietude

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Introduction to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Chapters of The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Preface to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

  1. On the Absolute Tao
  2. The Rise of Relative Opposites
  3. Action Without Deeds
  4. The Character of Tao
  5. Nature
  6. The Spirit of the Valley
  7. Living for Others
  8. Water
  9. The Danger of Overweening Success
  10. Embracing the One
  11. The Utility of Not-Being
  12. The Senses
  13. Praise and Blame
  14. Prehistoric Origins
  15. The Wise Ones of Old
  16. Knowing the Eternal Law
  17. Rulers
  18. The Decline of Tao
  19. Realize the Simple Self
  20. The World and I
  21. Manifestations of Tao
  22. Futility of Contention
  23. Identification with Tao
  24. The Dregs and Tumors of Virtue
  25. The Four Eternal Models
  26. Heaviness and Lightness
  27. On Stealing the Light
  28. Keeping to the Female
  29. Warning Against Interference
  30. Warning Against the Use of Force
  31. Weapons of Evil
  32. Tao is Like the Sea
  33. Knowing Oneself
  34. The Great Tao Flows Everywhere
  35. The Peace of Tao
  36. The Rhythm of Life
  37. World Peace
  38. Degeneration
  39. Unity Through Complements
  40. The Principle of Reversion
  41. Qualities of the Taoist
  42. The Violent Man
  43. The Softest Substance
  44. Be Content
  45. Calm Quietude
  46. Racing Horses
  47. Pursuit of Knowledge
  48. Conquering the World by Inaction
  49. The People’s Hearts
  50. The Preserving of Life
  51. The Mystic Virtue
  52. Stealing the Absolute
  53. Brigandage
  54. The Individual and the State
  55. The Character of the Child
  56. Beyond Honor and Disgrace
  57. The Art of Government
  58. Unobtrusive Government
  59. Be Sparing
  60. Governing a Big Country
  61. Big and Small Countries
  62. The Good Man’s Treasure
  63. Difficult and Easy
  64. Beginning and End
  65. The Grand Harmony
  66. The Lords of the Ravines
  67. The Three Treasures
  68. The Virtue of Not-Contending
  69. Camouflage
  70. They Know Me Not
  71. Sick-Mindedness
  72. On Punishment (1)
  73. On Punishment (2)
  74. On Punishment (3)
  75. On Punishment (4)
  76. Hard and Soft
  77. Bending the Bow
  78. Nothing Weaker than Water
  79. Peace Settlements
  80. The Small Utopia
  81. The Way of Heaven

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