Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Chapter 9
Know When to Stop

If you don’t stop pouring,
The cup will spill over.
If you sharpen a blade too much,
It will soon dull.
If you keep accumulating wealth,
You won’t be able to protect it.

Fame, fortune, pleasure and power
All lead to their own downfall.
The vanity of success
Only brings to harvest
A crop of calamities.

The best recipe for a good life:
Know when to stop.

Commentary

“He advances yet does not seek fame,
He retreats yet does not avoid blame.
He seeks only to preserve the people.”

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

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“Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Happiness

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“The Master understands that there is nothing to understand.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周
(Zhuangzi)
369 – 286 BCE

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“Don’t spoil what you have by desiring what you don’t. Remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs
341 – 270 BCE
from On Nature

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“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.”

Koheleth
c. 330–180 BCE
from Ecclesiastes קֹהֶלֶת‎

Themes: Materialism

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“The rich should help the poor, and the powerful should aid the oppressed. If instead they flaunt their riches and power, they are sure to suffer disaster…When your work is done, if you do not step down, you will meet with harm.”

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

Themes: Wealth

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“You always own the option of having no opinion.”

Marcus Aurelius
121 – 219 CE

Themes: Opinion

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“If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.”

Jianzhi Sengcan 鑑智僧璨
(Jiànzhì Sēngcàn)
529 – 606 CE

Themes: Reality

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“Too strong a weapon will cut and destroy its own edge.”

Shen Kuo 沈括
(Mengxi)
1031 – 1095 CE
from Dream Pool Essays 梦溪笔谈

Themes: Technology

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“Leave your luck while still winning. A fine retreat is as good as a gallant attack…The higher the heap of luck, the greater the risk of a slip…Fortune pays you sometimes for the intensity of her favors by the shortness of their duration.”

Balthasar Gracian
1601 – 1658 CE

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“A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.”

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

Themes: Mistakes

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“competitiveness and desire for power are the beginnings of beckoning disaster in business and social relations.”

Liu Yiming 刘一明 via Thomas Cleary
(Liu I-ming)
1734 – 1821 CE
from Taoist I Ching, , Zhouyi chanzhen 周易闡真

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“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

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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“The only cure for vanity is laughter, and the only fault that is laughable is vanity.”

Henri-Louis Bergson
1859 – 1941 CE
from Laughter

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“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

Winston Churchill
1874 – 1965 CE

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“Surrounded by treasure, you lie ill at ease; proud beyond measure, you come to your knees”

Witter Bynner
(Emanuel Morgan)
1881 – 1968 CE

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“If, however, economic ambitions are good servants, they are bad masters.”

E. F. Schumacher
1911 – 1977 CE

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“There is no one so great as the one who does not try to accomplish anything more”

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

Themes: Success

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“To know when to stop is to know enough.”

Shan Dao 山道
1933 CE –

Themes: Less is More

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“The source of energy which need not be sought is… that you are rich rather than being enriched by something else.”

Chögyam Trungpa
1939 – 1987 CE
from Mudra

Themes: Wealth

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“There's room at the top they are telling you still, but first you must learn how to smile as you kill, if you want to be like the folks on the hill… A working class hero is something to be.”

John Lennon
1940 – 1980 CE

Themes: Conformity

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“This recipe for long life has been repeated in every civilized culture, and yet it has forever fallen on deaf ears.”

Red Pine or Bill Porter
1943 CE –

Themes: Culture

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“In the abundance of water only the fool is thirsty.”

Bob Marley
1945 – 1981 CE

Themes: Water

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“Power is crack cocaine for your ego and battery acid for your soul.”

David Mitchell
1969 CE –

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Comments (1)

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  1. Shan Dao
    Perhaps the best antidote to our rampant plague of consumerism, never having enough, and addiction to donkey-chasing carrots; this simple poem - if truly heard and understood - could create a social and economic revolution for society and a geyser of happiness for individuals.