End sagacity; abandon knowledge, the people benefit a hundred times.Tao Te Ching – Chp. 19
This passage, as I read through the Tao Te Ching, has stuck out to me many times. Mostly, because I had no idea what it was talking about. It seems incredibly counter intuitive to say that getting rid of knowledge would benefit people more than working to attain it.
However, reading multiple translations has helped to better understand what Lat Tzu was trying to say. Other translations use words like “banish” and “give up” saint hood and wisdom.
The pursuit of knowledge is an interesting one. We have been taught that knowledge is power and those with knowledge posses the keys to the kingdom. In many ways this was absolutely the case during times when only a small minority of people i.e. the ruling class could read and therefore would be able to take advantage of all those that could not.
But, I believe this is exactly Lao Tzu’s point when knowledge is leverage for power it becomes an arms race and we find ourselves arguing and lost in our own arrogance of what we know more of than another.
Like so much of the Tao Te Ching, chapter 19 serves as a lesson to live life more simply.
“End benevolence; abandon righteousness, the people return to piety and charity.”TTC -Chp. 19
I found myself trying to intellectualize the text while reading it and discovered the more I attempted to hold on to these ideas with my mind, the more difficult it became to understand.
Such is the way with simplicity, it is not about thinking to understand it is about coming to understand, in body.
Don’t try and be good and righteous forget about those things, and just be good and charitable. It is not a practice of the mind, where we can get lost in a game of perfection, the highest good, or the most righteous act wins.
Offering a drink of water to a thirsty person may not be solving the water crisis in the world, but it is solving this one person’s water crisis.
If I forget that this one person in front of me is thirsty because, 30,000 somewhere out there have no water, have I helped anything, or am I lost once more in an arms race for righteousness?
“End cunning; discard profit. Bandits and thieves no longer exist.TTC Chp. 19
Again when we let go of trying to make the most money, and accumulate the most, we stop getting chased by those that want to take what we have, as they know it is more than they have.
Simply put, being moderate in all things, being of action in body and not of nobility in mind can save us from our own undoing.
I see this as a lesson to live more simply.
It asks me, “when is it enough knowledge, before you act?”
“When is the problem big enough for you to do something?”
“When will you be satisfied with what you have, until everyone wants what you call yours?
“These three things are superficial and insufficient, thus this teaching has its place: Show plainness; hold simplicity. Reduce selfishness; decrease desire.TTC – Chp. 19
The last few lines of chapter 19 wrap up nicely a plan of action for all of us.
Spending a life time, thus far, trying to acquire, achieve, and have more, I have been taught this very lesson.
There is never enough to satisfy the itch of MORE. There was never enough and never will be. It is a self perpetuating cycle of insanity to believe that once I have this bit of knowledge or do this nice thing or have this material wealth I will finally be satisfied and I can rest.
I attest it can not be done. This is actually the same thing as being an addict. To think one more drink will do it and I will be good, one more drug and I will have reached my peak level and will require no more.
It is even true in the spiritual game, “I just need to do a thousand more prostrations and I will achieve enlightenment and will need to not do them any more.”
Keep it simple, right? Lao Tzu is saying to me, “Matt, one is too many and a thousand is never enough. Don’t live your life caught in this delusion, simply live your life. You are good enough as is, promise, and what you need will make its way to you. You need not struggle so much.”
Thanks, Lao Tzu
I can get down with that, as I have seen more times than not this to be true for me.