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"Those who defeat themselves are mighty."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 33

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


33

Those who understand others are clever,

Those who understand themselves are wise.

Those who defeat others are strong,

Those who defeat themselves are mighty.


Those who know when they have enough are rich.

Those who are unswerving have resolve.

Those who stay where they are will endure.

Those who die without being forgotten get longevity.



Longevity

The last line of this chapter has usually been understood as a hint to actual longevity, the possibility to escape death. It was interpreted as saying: "Those who die without perishing get longevity." This was also the Chinese understanding of the line.

       But in the 1970's, two Tao Te Ching manuscripts were found in Mawangdui, dating back to around the year 200 BC. They were hundreds of years older than the previously known versions of the text. Both of these manuscripts have the wording I use above, making much more sense.

       Lao Tzu has no faith in escaping death, but being remembered by one's fellow men is defeating it in a significant way.

       The misunderstanding of this line influenced Chinese Taoists of old substantially. There were many of them believing that a Taoist life could lead to extreme longevity, even immortality, and they experimented with potions to accomplish it. Some of these potions contained poisonous heavy metals, so they reached eternal life quicker than expected.

       Death is the monster that we have to fight in our minds, from childhood to old age. Coming to terms with it is probably the greatest of quests. Most religions have this dilemma at their core, presenting all kinds of solace.

       Many myths of antiquity describe death and the afterlife with horror. This is true for the oldest book we know, Gilgamesh, and for the beliefs of the ancient Egyptians. Death was seen as a passage into a dreadful world that anyone would want to avoid at all cost.

       So, the search for longevity was pursued in many cultures and in so many ways. We still search, with no less frenzy. We would be wiser to spend our energy on making the time we have meaningful.


Improving Life

If we learn to understand ourselves and improve by overcoming our personal limitations, then we have come a long way towards Lao Tzu's version of longevity. We will also benefit from halting our greed, holding on to our resolve, and doing the best of where we are, instead of hurrying elsewhere.

       Lao Tzu keeps repeating that happiness is not to be found anywhere but here and now. Chasing it elsewhere is just fleeing the possibility of finding it.

       That doesn't necessarily mean we should be content with whatever situation we are in. Change is sometimes needed, but we should begin by asking ourselves if that's really so, and to what the change we might plan will really lead.

       Lao Tzu would probably be the first to point out that we know what we have, but not what we might get. That's reason to be cautious.

       Returning to the last line of the chapter, its message has been stated also by others, in other times and other places. Havamal, the Old Norse collection of proverbs, states it more bluntly: "Animals die, friends die, so will you. I know one thing that never dies – the judgment on a dead man."

© 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.

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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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