Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 33
Know Yourself

Those who know others are clever,
Those who know themselves are wise.
Those who conquer others are briefly powerful,
Those who conquer themselves are always strong.
Those who know they have enough are rich,
Ambition wanders blind.
Those who stay where they have found their true home flourish.
Our bodies disappear
But the eternal present goes on and on.

Commentary

“A seed that sprouts at the foot of its parent tree remains stunted until it is transplanted… Every human being, when the time comes, has to depart to seek his fulfillment in his own way.”

Vyasa व्यास c. 3000 BCE
Hindu immortals, Vishnu avatar, 5th incarnation of Brahma
from Mahābhārata महाभारतम्

Themes: Progress

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“Every man carries two bags about him, one in front and one behind, and both are full of faults. The bag in front contains his neighbors' faults, the one behind his own. Hence it is that men do not see their own faults, but never fail to see those of others.”

Aesop 620 – 546 BCE
Hero of the oppressed and downtrodden
from Aesop's Fables, the Aesopica

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“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

Buddha गौतम बुद्ध 563 – 483 BCE
(Siddhartha Shakyamuni Gautama)
Awakened Truth

Themes: Teachers

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“When in early antiquity Fu Xi ruled the world, he looked upward and contemplated the images in the heavens; he looked downward and contemplated the patterns on earth… He proceeded directly from himself and indirectly from objects. Thus he invented the eight trigrams”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE via Richard Wilhelm
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"
from Ta Chuan: The Great Treatise

Themes: Contemplation

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“Knowing the other and knowing oneself,
In one hundred battles no danger.
Not knowing the other and knowing oneself, one victory for one loss.
Not knowing the other an not knowing oneself, in every battle certain defeat.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist

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“know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves… The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Socrates 469 – 399 BCE
One of the most powerful influences on Western Civilization

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“The ten thousand things are all within us.”

Mencius 孟子 372 – 289 BCE
(Mengzi)
from Book of Mencius 孟子

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“If someone can conquer others, it is only by using force. If someone can conquer their own desires, no one in the world can compete with them. Hence we call them strong.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

Themes: Competition

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“The person who knows not himself, is poor in Spirit, for he is his own poverty.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE
from Gospel According to Thomas

Themes: Know Yourself

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“Search the Light within your souls, for there will you find the reality of all things.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE
from Gospel According to Thomas

Themes: Know Yourself

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“the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty.”

Jesus 3 BCE – 30 CE

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“Look within! The secret is inside you.”

Huineng 惠能 638 – 713 CE
(Huìnéng, Enō)
The Sutra of Hui Neng

Themes: Sacred World

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“O fool, know yourself. It is not a matter of meditation, or concentration… the diversity of existence is but a form of thought.”

Saraha 8th century CE

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“Attend to the nature of your mind.”

Catrapa ཙ་ཏྲ་པ། 750 – 850 CE via Keith Dowman
("The Lucky Beggar")
Mahasiddha #23
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Know Yourself

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“Perception means to distinguish. Wisdom means to remove obstructions. As long as our distinguishing mind is present, we can only know others, but not ourselves.”

Su Che 呂洞 1039 – 1112 CE via Red Pine
(Su Zhe)
Great writer of the Tang and Sung dynasties
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

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“Elsewhere, Lao-tzu extols simplemindedness and weakness over wisdom and strength. Why then does he extol wisdom and strength here? Wisdom and strength are for dealing with the inside. Simplemindedness and weakness are for dealing with the outside.”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 1249 – 1333 CE via Red Pine
"Mr. Grass Hut"
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

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“Amazed at the heights of mountains, the ocean’s wideness, the power of nature, and the distance of stars; ourselves we consider not.”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE

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“It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.”

Teresa of Avila 1515 – 1582 CE
from Way of Perfection

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“Let every foot have its own shoe.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE

Themes: Pluralism

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“Know your strongest quality and cultivate it. Everyone would have excelled at something if they had known their strongest qualities but most do violence to themselves trying to be someone else.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Shan Dao #34
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

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“The more clearly you understand yourself and your emotions, the more you become a lover of what is.”

Baruch Spinoza 1632 – 1677 CE

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“Good Sense is a thing all need, few have, and none think they lack.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

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“Know thyself? If I knew myself, I'd run away.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

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“Just trust yourself and you'll learn the art of living.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

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“Life must not be a novel that is given to us, but one that is made by us.”

Novalis 1772 – 1831 CE

Themes: Creativity

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803 – 1882 CE
Champion of individualism

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“The refuge of radiant awareness is closer, more profound, easier, and more wondrous than we can imagine.”

Jamgon Kongtrul the Great འཇམ་མགོན་ཀོང་སྤྲུལ་བློ་གྲོས་མཐའ་ཡས། 1813 – 1899 CE via Judith Hanson
(Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé)
from Torch of Certainty

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“be yourself- not your idea of what you think somebody else's idea of yourself should be.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

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“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”

Frederick Douglass 1818 – 1895 CE
International symbol of social justice

Themes: True Self

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“I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can't find anybody who can tell me what they want.”

Robert Louis Stevenson 1850 – 1894 CE

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“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

Themes: Strategy

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“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

W.B. (William Butler) Yeats 1865 – 1939 CE

Themes: Warriors

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“Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.”

G. I. Gurdjieff 1866 – 1949 CE

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“We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.”

Martin Buber מרטין בובר‎‎ 1878 – 1965 CE
from Ich und Du, I and Thou

Themes: Know Yourself

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“The things that make me different are the things that make me.”

A.A. Milne 1882 – 1956 CE
(Alan Alexander Milne)
from Waiting At The Window

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“Doubtless like all of us he was many men, turned on one or another of his selves as occasion required, and kept his real self a frightened secret from the world.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE

Themes: True Self

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“To see ourselves as others see us is a most salutary gift. Hardly less important is the capacity to see others as they see themselves.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Know Yourself

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“It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1900 – 1944 CE

Themes: Wisdom

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“When you are fooled by something else,the damage will not be so big. But when you are fooled by yourself, it is fatal.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi 1904 – 1971 CE
from Crooked Cucumber: the Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki

Themes: Know Yourself

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“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906 – 1945 CE

Themes: Evil

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“We eat reality sandwiches. But allegories are so much lettuce. Don't hide the madness.”

Allen Ginsberg 1926 – 1997 CE

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“It's such a relief to realize that we don't have to be anything.”

Toni Packer 1927 – 2013 CE
A Zen teacher minus the 'Zen' and minus the 'teacher.’
from Light of Discovery

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“Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it's from Neptune.”

Noam Chomsky 1928 CE –
from Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda

Themes: Crazy Wisdom

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“Always be a first-rate version of yourself.”

Audrey Hepburn 1929 – 1993 CE

Themes: True Self

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“Lao Tzu is not saying that immortality or even longevity is desirable. The religion called Taoism has spent much imagination on ways to prolong life interminably or gain immortality… but the Lao Tzu who wrote this had no truck with such notions.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Taoism Longevity

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“Spiritual practice is stepping out of the duality of me-ness and my-ness as opposed to otherness, of who is me and who is not me.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

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“Trying to please everybody is impossible - if you did that, you'd end up in the middle with nobody liking you. You've just got to make the decision about what you think is your best, and do it.”

John Lennon 1940 – 1980 CE

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“I'm so mean, I make medicine sick.”

Muhammad Ali 1942 – 2016 CE
(Cassius Clay)

Themes: Health Medicine

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Comments (1)

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  1. Shan Dao
    The last line here, “Our bodies disappear but the eternal present goes on and on” has some interesting translations. Lau and Le Guin are similar: “He who lives out his days has lived long enough.” And To live until you die is to live long enough” but both seem not quite deep enough to catch Lao Tzu’s meaning. Red Pine seems to go a little further: “those who aren’t affected by death live long” and Gia-Fu Feng more so: “To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.” (This was the inspiration for our “the eternal present.”) Bynner has a similar take, “ Vitality cleaves to the marrow leaving death behind.”