Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 46
Enough

When wisdom rules,
Horses manure fields instead of roads.
When the world lacks wisdom,
War horses are raised on the commons.

The greatest evil: always wanting more.
The biggest mistake: always chasing desires.
The cruelest curse: always getting what we want.

Only when we know what is enough
Will we always have enough.
To know enough’s enough
Is enough to know.

Commentary

“There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change.”

Euripides 480 – 406 BCE
Ancient humanitarian influence continuing today

Themes: Change Paradox

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“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

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

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“If you don't get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don't want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can't hold on to it forever.”

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

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“By desiring little, a poor man makes himself rich.”

Democritus Dēmókritos 460 – 370 BCE
Father of modern science and greatest of ancient philosophers

Themes: Desire

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“The greatest wealth is to live content with little.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE

Themes: Wealth

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“If things do not turn out as we wish, we should wish for them as they turn out.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Letting Go Desire

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“The wise of old thought nothing about loving life or hating death... They accepted what was given with delight and when it was gone, gave it no more thought.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE
(Zhuangzi)

Themes: Letting Go

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“There are 3 dangers in the world: To have many privileges but few virtues… To be high in rank but low on ability… To receive a large salary without personally accomplishing much… So ‘people may gain by loss and may lose by gain.”

Liú Ān 劉安 c. 179–122 BCE via Thomas Cleary
(Huainanzi)
from Huainanzi

Themes: Virtue Integrity

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“Every desire degrades us, and renders us slaves of what we desire.”

Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος 55 – 135 CE
from Discourses of Epictetus, Ἐπικτήτου διατριβαί

Themes: Slavery

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“When the Tao is present, contentment reigns. People don’t seek external things but cultivate themselves instead.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE

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“People scorn the poor who have no wealth. They also criticize the rich who have it. What pleasure can derive from keeping company with people such as these, so difficult to please?”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།། 685 – 763 CE
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)
from Bodhisattva Way of Life, Bodhicaryavatara

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“When the ruler possesses the Tao, soldiers become farmers. When the ruler does not possess the Tao, farmers become soldiers.”

Li Xizhai 12th century CE via Red Pine
(Li Hsi-Chai)
from Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh

Themes: Agriculture War

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“A short cut to riches is to subtract from our desires.”

Petrarch 1304 – 1374 CE

Themes: Desire Wealth

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“I am more afraid of people terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself.”

Teresa of Avila 1515 – 1582 CE
from Way of Perfection

Themes: Evil

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“He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears.”

Montaigne 1533 – 1592 CE

Themes: Suffering

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“… any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

John Donne 1572 – 1631 CE

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“As Lao-tzu says: ‘Know your limits and you’ll suffer no disgrace, know when to stop and you’ll be in no danger.’ Let no man take too much.”

Kāngxī 康熙帝 1654 – 1722 CE via Jonathan D. Spence
from Emperor of China, Self-Portrait of K'ang-hsi

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“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet 1694 – 1778 CE

Themes: Wealth

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“Must it ever be thus-that the source of our happiness must also be the fountain of our misery?”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE

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“You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

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“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

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

Themes: Letting Go Wealth

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“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

Themes: Desire

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“It is easy to get everything you want, provided you first learn to do without the things you cannot get.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

Themes: Letting Go

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“Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident… they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.”

G. K. Chesterton 1874 – 1936 CE

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“When you get a thing the way you want it, leave it alone.”

Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 CE

Themes: Letting Go

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“All things we possess are taken from others, and others in their turn await with outstretched hands to seize them.”

Inayat Khan 1882 – 1927 CE

Themes: Materialism

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“There are no roots of heaven in pleasure, there are only roots of indifference and pain.”

Krishnamurti 1895 – 1986 CE
(Jiddu Krishnamurti)
from Awakening of Intelligence

Themes: Pleasure

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“The only truly affluent are those who do not want more than they have.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

Themes: Wealth

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“Every American wants MORE MORE of the world… But the mistake made in America is persons accumulate more more dead matter… at the expense of what really counts… You own twice as much rug if you're twice as aware of the rug.”

Allen Ginsberg 1926 – 1997 CE

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“What could be more superstitious than the idea that money brings forth food?”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

Themes: Money

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“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

Themes: Paradox

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“Relaxing with the present moment, relaxing with hopelessness, relaxing with death, not resisting the fact that things end, that things pass, that things have no lasting substance, that everything is changing all the time—that is the basic message.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun

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“the warrior’s journey is based on resting in the state of warriorship rather than struggling to take the next step.. which is not based on ego-centered concerns but on resting in unconditional confidence, free from aggression.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Themes: Warriors

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“Money doesn't talk, it swears.”

Bob Dylan 1941 CE –

Themes: Money Economics

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“A wealthy upbringing compounds stupidity while a hardscrabble childhood dilutes it.”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from The Bone Clocks

Themes: Wealth

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Comments (2)

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  1. Shan Dao
    “To know enough’s enough, Is enough to know” comes from another one of Ursula Le Guin’s insightful interpretations.
  2. Shan Dao
    Our translation, “The cruelest curse: always getting what we want” is a paraphrase of the famous “Gypsy curse — May you get what you want.”