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Home - Dharma for Awakening - Tao Teh King for Awakening–Preface - Knowing Oneself

Knowing Oneself

Part 33 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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He who knows others is learned; he who knows himself is wise.

He who conquers others has power of muscles; he who conquers himself is strong.

He who is contented is rich.

He who is determined has strength of will.

He who does not lose his center endures.

He who dies yet (his power) remains has long life.

(Tao Teh King 33)

Byrn’s translation is so superior that I will comment on that:

“Those who know others are intelligent; those who know themselves are truly wise.
“Those who master others are strong; those who master themselves have true power.
“Those who know they have enough are truly wealthy. Those who persist will reach their goal. Those who keep their course have a strong will.
“Those who embrace death will not perish, but have life everlasting.”

Those who know others are intelligent; those who know themselves are truly wise.

We are not meant to walk through this world with blinders on or our eyes closed. That is the ideal of those who do not understand that the world is not a creation, a lifeless thing, but rather is a revelation of God, a manifestation of Divine Consciousness. We do not need to just get away from here, we have come here to learn, and those who hide under their desks or keep their eyes closed and their ears stopped up will never learn, but will have to return over and over and over until they open their eyes and ears, apply their minds and hearts and learn the lessons. Then they need never return; and if they do, it will be to teach others.

Trees, rivers and mountains are often wondrous to behold, but as the ghost of Jacob Marley told Scrooge: “Mankind was my business.” The intelligent person really learns to see people clearly and to understand them. Often we see in people what we are blind to in ourselves. You would think that first we would know ourself and then we would know others, but the world often (if not usually) works backwards because of its flawed character. So we have to know others first and then can come to understand ourself. That is silly, I know, but that is what ignorance is all about: folly.

The first step, then, is to really gain knowledge of people, to observe and come to understand. That is easy to say, but a herculean task to manage. We must learn to be an intelligent and perceptive witness and analyst of others. Having cultivated this habit of objective observation, when we turn inward we will be able to see and understand what we find there. For example, people often dislike and reject in others whatever they will not face in themselves. People with a propensity for some negative or foolish behavior will bitterly, even violently, denounce such behavior in others, in that way hiding the truth about themselves from themselves and pointing others’ attention away from themselves.

Often we hear the baseless and ego-serving cliché that if we do not love ourselves first we cannot love others, but it is just the opposite: when we can accept and be sympathetic and friendly towards others we can be the same to ourselves. This I have seen. I have never known anyone in love with themselves that had the capacity to love others, because ego is a rapacious, insatiable demon. Those who love themselves sacrifice others to their ego, whereas those who love others sacrifice themselves for others. This also I can assure you: love entails and often necessitates sacrifice. So we either sacrifice others or we sacrifice ourselves. The latter is the way of God, who has projected himself and entered into this world to undergo the experiences of all sentient beings as he guides their evolution. This is why several times in the Bhagavad Gita it is stated that God is dwelling in the hearts of all beings. Therefore the twentieth-century mystic, Bishop James Ingall Wedgwood, wrote in his original, esoteric revision of the Mass: “Uniting in this solemn Sacrifice with Thy holy Church throughout all the ages, we lift our hearts in adoration to Thee, O God the Son, consubstantial, co-eternal with the Father, who, abiding unchangeable within Thyself, didst nevertheless in the mystery of Thy boundless love and Thine eternal Sacrifice breathe forth Thine own divine life into Thy universe, and thus didst offer Thyself as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, dying in very truth that we might live.”

It is imperative that those seeking higher consciousness be perceptive, because no matter how many guides and helpers we may have along the way, still the final authority is our own judgement based on our own understanding. That is why when an American once told Swami Sivananda that he had come to India to find a guru, Sivananda immediately replied: “You are the guru.” First we learn from others and then we learn from ourselves. Nevertheless, Lao Tzu makes a distinction in those two modes of learning, saying that those who know others are intelligent, but those who know themselves are wise. So knowing others is meant to be a stepping-stone to self-knowledge, for as Chan translates it: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

Those who master others are strong; those who master themselves have true power.

It is evident that although we may start with others, we must end up with ourselves. Power can be a great evil or a great good, depending on whether it comes from ego or true knowledge. It is also true that power over others distorts and corrupts those who wield it, but those who have power over themselves will find themselves restored to their primal clarity and purity. That is why in India a respected spiritual figure is addressed as Maharaj, “great king.” As Lao Tzu says: self-mastery is true power, for it alone can last forever.

Those who know they have enough are truly wealthy.

There is an Italian folk-tale, “The Happy Man’s Shirt,” that so perfectly illustrates this that I must include it here.

A king had an only son that he thought the world of. But this prince was always unhappy. He would spend days on end at his window staring into space.

“What on earth do you lack?” asked the king. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I don’t even know myself, Father.”
“Are you in love? If there’s a particular girl you fancy, tell me, and I’ll arrange for you to marry her, no matter whether she’s the daughter of the most powerful king on earth of the poorest peasant girl alive!”
“No, Father, I’m not in love.”

The king issued a decree, and from every corner of the earth came the most learned philosophers, doctors, and professors. The king showed them the prince and asked for their advice. The wise men withdrew to think, then returned to the king. “Majesty, we have given the matter close thought and we have studied the stars. Here’s what you must do. Look for a happy man who’s happy through and through, and exchange your son’s shirt for his.”

That same day the king sent ambassadors to all parts of the world in search of the happy man.

A priest was taken to the king. “Are you happy? asked the king.

“Yes, indeed, Majesty.”
“Find. How would you like to be my bishop?”
“Oh, Majesty, if only it were so!”
“Away with you! Get out of my sight! I’m seeking a man who’s happy just as he is, not one who’s trying to better his lot.”

This the search resumed, and before long the king was told about a neighboring king, who everybody said was a truly happy man. He had a wife as good as she was beautiful and a whole slew of children. He had conquered all his enemies, and his country was at peace. Again hopeful, the king immediately sent ambassadors to him to ask for his shirt.

The neighboring king received the ambassadors and said, “Yes, indeed, I have everything anybody could possibly want. But at the same time I worry because I’ll have to die one day and leave it all. I can’t sleep at night for worrying about that!” The ambassadors thought it wiser to go home without this man’s shirt.

At his wit’s end, the king went hunting. He fired at a hare but only wounded it, and the hare scampered away on three legs. The king pursued it, leaving the hunting party far behind him. Out in the open field he heard a man singing a refrain. The king stopped in his tracks. “Whoever sings like that is bound to be happy!” The song led him into the vineyard, where he found a young man singing and pruning the vines.

“Good day, Majesty,” said the youth. “So early and already out in the country?”
“Bless you! Would you like me to take you to the capital? You will be my friend.”
“Much obliged, Majesty, but I wouldn’t even consider it. I wouldn’t even change places with the Pope.”
“Why not? Such a fine young man like you…”
“No, no, I tell you. I’m content with just what I have and want nothing more.”
“A happy man at last!” thought the king. “Listen, young man. Do me a favor.”
“With all my heart, Majesty, if I can.”
“Wait just a minute,” said the king, who, unable to contain his joy any longer, ran to get his retinue. “Come with me! My son is saved! My son is saved! And he took them to the young man. “My dear lad,” he began, “I’ll give you whatever you want! But give me… give me…”
“What, Majesty?”
“My son is dying! Only you can save him. Come here!”

The king grabbed him and started unbuttoning the youth’s jacket.

All of a sudden he stopped, and his arms fell to his sides.

The happy man had no shirt.

In economics there is a principle called The Law of Diminishing Returns. More is not better; often it is less. Those who can distinguish with Goldilocks between Too Little, Too Much, and Just Right and follow their insight, always holding to Just Right, will always be happy. All others will be tormented by Too Little or Too Much. This takes great wisdom, but only the wise are ever truly happy.

Those who persist will reach their goal. Those who keep their course have a strong will.

This is absolutely so. Jesus said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8). This is not a promise, it is the enunciation of a law. And not only will the persistent attain what they seek, in the seeking their wills become stronger, even invincible.

He who does not lose his center endures.

This is because our center is our own divine nature that is itself the Tao, and only the Tao endures.

Those who embrace death will not perish, but have life everlasting.

“Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it,” said Jesus (Luke 17:33). The death that Lao Tzu speaks of here is the death of the ego and of all limited, relative existence. Yogananda often said: “When the ‘I’ shall die, then shall I know ‘Who am I?’” Again, this is backwards because the world is running in reverse. Anyway, it is only those who die that learn they are really immortal and cannot die.

Death comes in many forms, as does life. Some forms of death lead to further, deadlier death. But some forms lead to life. Death of spiritual consciousness yields only more death, but death of the ego, the false self, is itself the gate of life.

We can see from this entire section that the wise not only see the world entirely differently from everyone else, they also experience it utterly differently.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: The Great Tao Flows Everywhere

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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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