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"Pounding an edge to sharpness will not make it last."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 9

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


9

Filling all the way to the brim

Is not as good as halting in time.

Pounding an edge to sharpness

Will not make it last.

Keeping plenty of gold and jade in the palace

Makes no one able to defend it.

Displaying riches and titles with pride

Brings about one's downfall.


To retreat after a work well done is Heaven's Way.



Moderation in All

Lao Tzu ends this chapter with the expression Heaven's Way, T'ien chih Tao, instead of just Tao, the Way. Still, the two expressions are definitely meant to be synonymous. I discuss this more in chapter 73, where Heaven's Way also appears.

       The modesty and moderation suggested in this chapter are at the core of Lao Tzu's teaching. This he concludes from observing the discreet and yet omnipotent workings of Tao, the Way, as the ruling law of nature. Mankind should behave in the same manner. That means moderation in all.

       The life he recommends is hardly spectacular, at least not on the surface. Any excess is sure to cause trouble. People should live their lives humbly, sort of discreetly. This goes for kings, too. Don't rock the boat.

       The reward lies in peace and harmony of the mind, and a life lived with ease.

       Lao Tzu finds concrete examples showing the necessity of his ideal. If you fill the cup to the brim, you just risk spilling. It's a waste. In the Bible, this is called gluttony. Sometimes we are like children, biting off more than we can chew. It will not only wear us down, but it will also make everything taste more bland than it would if we consumed it with some restrain.

       If you hammer a blade it may get sharp, but also fragile. It breaks easily, and then what good is its sharpness? In life, this is pushing things. It happens easily when we try to make something more out of what we have at our disposal. Whether this is driving a car faster than it's manufactured to manage, or forcing our own bodies and minds to feats beyond their capacity, the outcome is likely to be very unfortunate.


Money Costs

If you assemble riches, you will certainly attract people who want to take them away from you. Either they succeed, and you have nothing, or you spend your life struggling to protect your fortune. Then you have little time to enjoy it. That's just as true today as it was thousands of years ago. If anything, holding on to one's wealth has become increasingly complicated.

       Present day society is obsessed with money, and it's taken for granted that being rich guarantees happiness. We assume that it must be fortunate to have a big fortune. But upon scrutiny we rarely find this to be the case. Instead, life becomes a kind of imprisonment, slavery under the obsession. The more money you have, the more it dominates your life.

       A poor man's dream about getting rich is much more pleasant than a rich man's fear of becoming poor. Money is seductive, but a steep price must be paid for it. Actually, it costs you the joy that money was supposed to bring.


Fame Brings Envy

Titles and elevated positions in society are just as deceptive as money. They cause envy and animosity. Others want to bring you down, either to replace you or just so they don't have to look up to you.

       Lately, fame has become the great quest. People think that if they just get famous, their lives will be splendid like the lives of celebrities, as seen in magazines and on TV shows. But that's just entertainment. It's a gilded version of reality. Under its shiny surface there is not much that separates the celebrities from the rest of us – except the fear of losing their fame.

       Yes, fame is like money: It's much more of a torment to fear losing it, than it is to dream about reaching it.


Undisclosed Benevolence

In the last sentence, Lao Tzu states what is repeated many times in the Tao Te Ching: Do good without demanding praise for it. Then you act according to the highest ideals. So does Tao in ruling the world discretely by its laws. Nature obeys without being aware of any rules for its behavior. The mightiest force is the least visible.

       This discretion of the laws of the universe is evident in the perspective of quantum physics, where the very smallest components are said to contain the rules by which all the stars and galaxies of the cosmos abide. There is no struggle involved in it. The world behaves according to its attributes, which are carried by particles too small to be seen in any microscope.

       So, every human being should work with the same modesty. Also, when you don't demand any praise for your deeds, there is no reason for others to question them.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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Tao Te Ching Explained


James Legge's Tao Te Ching


Aleister Crowley's Tao Te Ching


The 1st Chapter of Tao Te Ching in 76 Versions


Lao Tzu - Legendary Author of Tao Te Ching





My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.


Tao Quotes - the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. 389 quotes from the foremost Taoist classic, divided into 51 prominent topics. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.



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Other Books by Stefan Stenudd:


Cosmos of the Ancients. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Cosmos of the Ancients

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Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd


About me

I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.

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