Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 50
Claws and Swords

To look too hard for life
Is to find death.
3 out of 10 chase their passions,
3 out of 10 push away what they don’t like,
3 out of 10 ignore and sleep-walk.
These all hold on too hard to life.

Only 1 out of 10 understands how to live in ways
That they fear no weapons in battle,
That they cross wild lands without fear of danger.
Horns can find no place to gore,
Claws can find no place to tear,
Soldiers can find no place to thrust their swords.

They have nowhere in them for death to enter.

Commentary

“Danger arises when a man feels secure in his positon. Destruction threatens when a man seeks to preserve his worldly estate. Confusion develops when a man has put everything in order.”

Fu Xi 伏羲 via Richard Wilhelm, Hexagram 12
c. 2852–2737 BCE
Emperor/shaman progenitor of civilization symbol
from I Ching

Themes: Wealth

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“To go one thousand li without fear, go through unpeopled ground. To attack and surely take it, attack where they do not defend. To defend and surely hold firm, defend where they will surely attack.”

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

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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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“To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils.”

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

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“What a fool you are! You have the greatest treasure in the world inside you and yet you go around asking other people for help…”

Chuang Tzu 莊周
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Travel

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“There is nothing terrible in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs
341 – 270 BCE
from On Nature

Themes: Fear

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“Think to yourself that every day is your last; the hour to which you do not look forward will come as a welcome surprise.”

Horace
65 – 8 BCE

Themes: Death and Dying

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“Not death or pain is to be feared, only the fear of death or pain.”

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

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“I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.”

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

Themes: Death and Dying

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“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what's left and live it properly. What doesn't transmit light creates its own darkness.”

Marcus Aurelius
121 – 219 CE

Themes: Death and Dying

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“The Mind is no mind of conceptual thought and it is completely detached from form. So Buddhas and sentient beings do not differ at all.”

Huangbo Xiyun 黄檗希运
(Huangbo Xiyun, Huángbò Xīyùn, Obaku)
? - 850 CE

Themes: Mind

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“When the world is filled with seeming sin, all mishaps should be diverted into the path of bodhi.”

Atisha ཨ་ཏི་ཤ་མར་མེ་མཛད་དཔལ་ཡེ་ཤེས་
(Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna)
980 – 1054 CE

Themes: Magic

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“Among ten people, three seek life because they hate death, three seek death because they hate life, and three live as if they were dead.”

Wang Anshi 王安石
1021 – 1086 CE

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“We grow afraid but look again… an unreal, reflected image is all we find.”

Shyalipa ཥྱ་ལི་པ། via Keith Dowman
(Śyalipa, "The Jackal-Yogin")
1000 – 1100 CE
Mahasiddha #21
from Masters of Mahamudra

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“Like a rainbow dissolving into the sky, birth, life and death have no hold”

Kālapa ཀཱ་ལ་པ། via Keith Dowman
("The Handsome Madman")
12th century CE
Mahasiddha #27
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Desire

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“Then what should I fear? I have never become less from dying.”

Rumi مولانا جلال‌الدین محمد بلخی
(Rumi Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī)
1207 – 12783 CE
from Masnavi مثنوي معنوي‎‎) "Rhyming Couplets of Profound Spiritual Meaning”

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“Once we forget form, our self becomes empty. Once our self is empty, nothing can harm us. Once there is no self, there is no life. How then could there be any death?”

Deqing
(Te-Ch’ing)
1546 – 1623 CE

Themes: Forget

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“Everyone fears death and knows they will die but still continue to fool themselves into thinking there is plenty of time.”

Karma Chagme Rinpoche I ཀརྨ་ཆགས་མེད་རཱ་ག་ཨ་སྱས། via Shan Dao
1613 – 1678 CE

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“The most important decision you make is to be in a good mood.”

Voltaire, François-Marie Arouet
1694 – 1778 CE

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“The poor have little,
Beggars none;
The rich too much,
Enough not one.”

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

Themes: Equanimity

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“When a thief came to rob Ryokan, there was nothing to steel so Royokan offered him his clothes. When the thief slunk away, Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. ‘Poor fellow,’ he mused, ‘I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.’”

Ryokan 良寛大愚 via Paul Reps
(Ryōkan Taigu,“The Great Fool”)
1758 – 1758 CE
from Shasekishū (Sand and Pebbles)

Themes: Beauty Moon

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“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
1835 – 1910 CE

Themes: Death and Dying

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“Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,”

Robert Louis Stevenson
1850 – 1894 CE

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“Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”

Winston Churchill
1874 – 1965 CE

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“as long as one is in any way held by the domination of cupiditas, the veil is not lifted, and the heights of consciousness, empty of content and free of illusion, are not reached, nor can any trick nor any deceit bring it about.”

Carl Jung
1875 – 1961 CE

Themes: Desire

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“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

Kahlil Gibran
1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Death and Dying

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“How much more suffering is caused by the thought of death than by death itself.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant
1885 – 1981 CE

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“We don't actually fear death, we fear that no one will notice our absence, that we will disappear without a trace.”

T.S. Eliot
1888 – 1965 CE

Themes: Death and Dying

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“If we throw mother nature out the window, she comes back in the door with a pitchfork.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 via Korn
1913 – 2008 CE
from One Straw Revolution

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“It was more than dignity. Integrity? Wholeness? Like a block of wood not carved. The infinite possibility, the unlimited and unqualified wholeness of being of the uncommitted, the nonacting, the uncarved: the being who, being nothing but himself, is everything.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Integrity

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“I read this poem as saying that if you can take life as it comes, it doesn’t come at you as your enemy.”

Ursula Le Guin
1929 – 2018 CE

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“He lives as if he is never going to die and then dies having never really lived.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso
1935 CE –

Themes: Death and Dying

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“Everybody is a caricature of themselves… as well as everything having its own basic fullness. You represent yourself not by name but by being. So there is a sense of completion.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Illusion's Game

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“I'm not afraid of death because I don't believe in it. It's just getting out of one car, and into another.”

John Lennon
1940 – 1980 CE

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Comments (3)

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  1. Shan Dao
    Red Pine comments on the translations of this chapter “ ‘the phrase shih-yu-san’ has long puzzled commentators. Han Fei says it means 13 and refers to the four limbs and 9 orifices of the body… Tu Er Wei says the numerical significance of 13 here refers to the moon, which becomes full 13 days after it first appears and which disappears 13 days after it begins to wane… Wang Bi says ‘three in ten’ refers to the three basic attitudes people have toward life.”
  2. Shan Dao
    These 3 sets of 3 seem to correspond to the Buddhist teachings about the "Three Poisons:" ignorance, passion, and aggression.