He who knows men is clever;
He who knows himself has insight.
He who conquers men has force;
He who conquers himself is truly strong.
He who knows when he has got enough is rich,
And he who adheres assiduously to the path of Tao is a man of steady purpose.
He who stays where he has found his true home endures long,
And he who dies but perishes not enjoys real longevity.
This is one of those passages where every word resonates with truth. I read this short section three times and found it so perfect in its brevity and wisdom.
The second line really made me think about the word “insight” in a way I never really did before. To have insight is to see beneath the surface, to peer deep within yourself, and grasp the true nature of your being. To have real insight is a tremendous accomplishment. I feel like this word has become trivialized through overuse. If you stop and think about it, very few individuals gain a deep understanding of themselves, hence very few of us ever gains true insight.
The first line of the second stanza also struck me as profoundly true: “He who knows when he has got enough is rich.” We westerners, ensconced in our consumer society, never seem to feel we have enough. There is always something else to strive for, something better which we desire. But how much material stuff do we need, and is real wealth measured by how much stuff or money you have? I suspect that to be rich in the way Lao Tzu is describing is to be content with having your necessities met, and being fulfilled spiritually.
Finally, I thought about the last line a lot. What does it mean to die, but not perish? At first I considered that it may mean becoming one with the divine source after leaving this mortal world. And this is still a valid interpretation. But then I wondered if death here symbolizes something else, something that is connected with the rest of the passage. I began to suspect that maybe to die, as Lao Tzu suggests in this passage, means to end the constant materialistic striving which defines the lives of so many of us. Maybe dying is letting go of our grip on the material world and embracing the spiritual. Doing so will fill us with wisdom, a treasure which remains with us after we free ourselves from the body.
2 responses to ““Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 33” by Lao Tzu”
I love this passage too and agree with you. I think your interpretation is spot on. The first line of the second stanza struck me too for its wisdom. I was expecting the next line to contrast with that, something maybe like “he who feels like he never has enough is truly poor,” so that surprised me. But perhaps foiling our expectations is what gives the next few lines its increased significance. Thanks for continuing this series. I really enjoy it.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Deborah! You know, that’s something about this text–it constantly surprises you, no matter how many times you read it. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!