"They possess more than they can spend."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 53
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
If I have just an ounce of sense,
I follow the great Way,
And fear only to stray from it.
The great Way is very straight,
But people prefer to deviate.
When the palace is magnificent,
The fields are filled with weeds,
And the granaries are empty.
Some have lavish garments,
Carry sharp swords,
And feast on food and drink.
They possess more than they can spend.
This is called the vanity of robbers.
It is certainly not the Way.
Lao Tzu ends this chapter with what is also a joke.
Robber, tao, is pronounced the same as Tao, the Way. But
indeed, they are not the same. Lao Tzu deplores those who keep
to themselves much more than they could ever consume.
To him, that's robbery. Sadly, such robbers take pride in
In this respect, nothing has changed since the days
of Lao Tzu. There are still those who have much more
than they can spend, although they try hard with
meaningless luxury, while there are many others who don't have
even nearly enough. Those who follow the Way weep over this.
It must have been a daring statement by a man living
in ancient China, where those who were rich had all the
sharp swords at their command, and didn't hesitate to use them.
According to the legend, Lao Tzu wrote his book
upon leaving the country for good. That may have given him
the courage to be this outspoken. It's still impressive that
such hard words about the ruling classes were passed on
through the centuries.
Again, he speaks with a voice near that of Jesus,
who said that it's more difficult for the rich to enter the
kingdom of God than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of
a needle. Their sense of humor in dealing with the subject
is also related. But Jesus was not subsequently leaving
the country, so his fate was a different one.
Those in power are quite touchy when their wealth
and privileges are questioned.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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