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Racing Horses

Part 46 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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When the world lives in accord with Tao, racing horses are turned back to haul refuse carts.

When the world lives not in accord with Tao, cavalry abounds in the countryside.

There is no greater curse than the lack of contentment.

No greater sin than the desire for possession.

Therefore he who is contented with contentment shall be always content.

(Tao Teh King 46)

When the world lives in accord with Tao, racing horses are turned back to haul refuse carts.

From this we certainly know what Lao Tzu thought of gambling and “sport.” It also illustrates the principle that things should be put to practical use and not exploited for the entertainment of people too idle or empty-headed to be living meaningful lives. Certainly Lao Tzu would subscribe to our early American maxim: “Eat it up; wear it out; make it do or do without.”

When the world lives not in accord with Tao, cavalry abounds in the countryside.

Unfortunately, when the Tao is ignored race horses are not the worst to be encountered: the game of war is rampant. Preparing for war, engaging in war and recovering from war are favorite pastimes of the morally insane rather than the sad necessities they often are in this skewed world. This statement also deplores the social aggression and coercion that abound everywhere, both passive and active. The willingness to exploit and even injure others for personal benefit is another form of madness quite acceptable in the minds of those who very contentedly aver: “It’s a dog-eat-dog world.” They do not realize they are calling themselves dogs if they plan to engage in the “eating”! Getting ahead at the price of other’s loss, and the loss of one’s own integrity, is considered hard-headed wisdom, bedrock practicality. No wonder Lao Tzu was on the road to escape “civilization” when he wrote down the Tao Teh King.

There is no greater curse than the lack of contentment.

Some years ago I met a woman whose life seemed to be perpetually miserable. Naturally I assumed it was from past karma, but a very wise man I consulted about the situation simply said: “She makes herself miserable wherever she is.” It is also tragic that we will not shake off the foolish delusion that contentment is derived from “stuff.” Gain, as the Tao Teh King says, is often nothing but loss.

Wu translates this: “There is no calamity like not knowing what is enough.” That is certainly the great calamity of the “developed” countries of the world.

Blackney has an interesting perspective on this. He renders it: “No sin can exceed incitement to envy.” It is true that many people strive for gain, not with the intention of enjoying it, but of making other people jealous of them.

I knew a brilliant man who did not pursue a career in physics, which he loved, but instead became a movie producer in Hollywood so the people that made fun of him in school and called him “the brain” would respect and envy him. The result was total misery. He perpetually smoked with trembling hands and hated everything in his life, including his wife and children.

One of my aunts absolutely could not enjoy having something (and she had a lot) unless she felt that it made someone jealous. She lived in a mansion made of imported Italian brick with a great staircase and stained glass window as in Gone With the Wind and a huge ballroom taking up the entire third floor. Her husband normally deposited tens of thousands of dollars in the bank at a single time. The family never spent a single evening at home in their fabulous home, but wandered around, shopping and driving far afield to eat in special restaurants. Finally she insisted they abandon the mansion and move back to her small home town so she could show off her money to those she had known in childhood and adolescence. But no one in the town cared about her wealth and they were completely indifferent to the things she did to provoke envy, so after two or three years she had to move back to the Big City and continue being discontent unless she could brag about how jealous someone was of her.

No greater sin than the desire for possession.

Just to get for the sake of getting is a major part of many people’s lives who really just exist rather than live. Empty lives, hearts and heads often motivate the getting and spending that Wordsworth laments in “The World Is Too Much With Us.”

Wu renders this: “There is no evil like covetousness.” I assume he means the drive to get everything that others have even if it is not really wanted. We have all seen that, too.

Mabry sums it all up: “Nothing breeds trouble like greed.” Chan: “There is no greater disaster than greed.”

Therefore he who is contented with contentment shall be always content.

This is the secret: to seek contentment within rather than to scramble after outer things and situations that only breed discontent. This is, I think, the best translation because it leads us back to the seat of the problem: our own minds and hearts.

However there is value in these three others: Wu: “Only he who knows what is enough will always have enough.” Mabry: “Only one who is content with what is enough will be content always.” Feng and English: “Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.”

The solution to the entire matter is within us.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Pursuit of Knowledge

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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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