The following poem is from the ancient book known as the Tao Te Ching (pronounced “Dow Duh Ching”), written by the mysterious figure Lao Tzu, over 2500 years ago. It is one of two foundational Daoist texts — the Zhuangzi being the other — and is regarded by some as one of the deepest, most wisdom-rich works ever written.
Because it is a book of poetry, the verses can be difficult to understand and comprehend; some are more obvious than others, but if you stick with the tough ones long enough, you’ll start to make connections and aha moments will arise. Some verses you may not fully understand for many years, perhaps never, and this is testament to a book which, even though written in the 6th Century BC, still survives today; and it survives for no other reason than it’s level of mystery, profundity and most importantly, seemingly perpetual relevance. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of my favourite poems.
The following poem is about control. We’re often told that we should only focus on the things that we can control, for it is only these things, that we ourselves can influence; and it is silly stressing and straining over external things that are out of our hands. Ever since Stephen Covey shared with the world his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it has been a cliche. However this advice is not the work of Covey; it can be found in many ancient texts, religious scriptures and age-old fables — like everything, there is nothing new under the sun. These may be clichés, but the cliché about clichés, is that they’re usually true.
Trying to control the world?
I see you won’t succeed.
The world is a spiritual vessel
And cannot be controlled.
Those who control, fail.
Those who grasp, lose.
Some go forth, some are led,
Some weep, some blow flutes.
Some become strong, some superfluous,
Some oppress, some are destroyed.
Therefore the Sage
Casts of extremes,
Casts of excess,
Casts of extravagance.