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 message behind this poem is essentially this: know what is enough. Any external desires you hold; that is, any desires you have that are unnatural — such as power, fame, extreme wealth, big muscles or more food than you need to satisfy hunger — are basically empty contracts with happiness: when you have these desires you’re saying to yourself “I don’t have these things and until I have them, I will not, and cannot, be truly happy.” Tony Robbins calls this “the worlds biggest lie;” true happiness lies not in these superfluous desires, but within. When you chase external desires, your basically deferring your happiness — because the very act of chasing can’t co-exist with peace, which is, it is hard to argue, what true happiness is. As long as you keep telling yourself this lie, you’re putting your happiness in a cage. Why do that?
Some say it is envy that makes-the-world-go-round, and envy, almost always, goes hand-in-hand with greed. The key to understanding Tao, which in this instance, refers to peace and serenity — both in self and in society — starts with knowing when enough is enough; and as Lao Tzu ends the poem, he tells you how enough is actually a lot less than you think.
With TAO under heaven
Stray horses fertilize the fields.
Without TAO under heaven
War horses are bred at the frontier.
There is no greater calamity
Than not knowing what is enough.
There is no greater fault
Than desire for success.
Knowing that enough is enough