The Art of Living: What is Enough?

A Modern Reading of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: Sections 44–49

Erik Schön
Jan 1 · 5 min read
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Photo: Henley Design Studio/Unsplash

What is the meaning of life? Why is this important? How do you live your life to make it more meaningful? The Art of Living provides timeless answers to these eternal questions including new perspectives on the world, people and their behaviours; practical tools for avoiding and handling conflicts, and, actionable advice on how to lead effectively and make a difference. “This is powerful, this is for practical people struggling with business goals, lacking time with family … feeling stressed.” (All parts)

44. Knowing What is Enough

Lao Tzu

Reputation or person: which is dearer?
Person or possessions: which means more?
Gain or loss: which hurts more?

Thrift comes at great cost.
Hoarding leads to heavy losses.

Know what is enough —
avoid abuse.
Know when to stop —
avoid harm.

This is how to endure.

Ames & Hall

Wealth and reputation are familiar preoccupations, and are frequently sought at the expense of one’s own personal well-being … Satisfaction with what you have … is neither the attainment of some subjective state of mind nor the acquisition of some objective standard of property, but rather an ongoing attunement of the relationships that locate one within one’s natural, social, and cultural environments.

45. Flawed Perfection

Lao Tzu

The most perfect seems flawed
yet its use is continuous.

The most full seems empty
yet in use is inexhaustible.

The most straight seems crooked;
the most skilful seems clumsy;
the most eloquent seems mute.

Movement overcomes cold;
stillness overcomes heat.

Pure stillness brings order to the world.

Ames & Hall

The provisional nature of experience gives the quite appropriate impression that nothing is perfect or complete. That is, something is missing and has yet to come.

46. Knowing That Enough is Enough

Lao Tzu

With ultimate purpose in the world
stray horses fertilise the fields.
Without an ultimate purpose in the world
warhorses are bred at the frontier.

The greatest evil: greed.
The greatest fault: discontent.

Therefore,
knowing that enough is enough
is always
satisfying.

Ames & Hall

Not only are we unable to find satisfaction in what we have gotten, but in direct proportion to our increase in getting our satisfaction becomes increasingly elusive … Perhaps what is most satisfying is getting the most out of what we already have.

47. Succeed Without Extraordinary Action

Lao Tzu

Without going out the door,
know the world.
Without looking out the window,
understand ultimate purpose.

The further you go,
the less you know.

This is why skilled leaders
know without moving;
understand without looking;
succeed without coercive action.

Le Guin

A Roman poet remarked that travellers change their sky but not their soul. Other poets, untraveled and inexperienced, Emily Brontë and Emily Dickinson, prove Lao Tzu’s point: it’s the inner eye that really sees the world.

Sun Tzu

Skilled leaders prepare by cultivating purpose and doctrine;
this governs success or failure.

Jullien

If one restrains oneself from taking coercive action, it is so as to allow things to happen and to allow the world to “change” of its own accord; an implicit transformation takes the place of direct action. This rejection of planned action is a valuable ploy, particularly in politics. The more rules and prescriptions proliferate, the worse the state of the world becomes, precisely because they constitute an exacerbated expression of political “doing”.

48. Unlearning

Lao Tzu

Pursue knowledge,
gain daily.
Pursue ultimate purpose,
lose daily.
Lose and again lose,
arrive at doing without coercion.

Doing without coercion — and everything gets done.

When leading the world,
always avoid interfering,
since when interfering the world escapes you.

Yuen

As far as Lao Tzu is concerned, “learning” is unable to lead an individual closer to the ultimate purpose (tao) because it involves learning and employing simplified forms and models (usually in the form of experience and knowledge) in order to grasp reality, thereby preventing reality from being grasped as it actually is. In order to avoid using these mental constructs, Lao Tzu suggests that individuals should actively try to “lose” them each day, which is the way to pursue ultimate purpose (tao) vis-a-vis “learning”. “Direct observation” (i.e. without the interference of mental constructs/models) can then be used to arrive at the true face of reality.

Ames & Hall

The most productive activities … are a function of optimally productive relations. And since coercion as either aggressor or victim diminishes the creative possibilities of a situation, optimally productive relations are the outcome of deferential dispositions in which all members of a social and natural nexus are able to express themselves fully in their relationships. It is under such conditions that a thriving community can accomplish the most, where “the most” is defined as the unique and productively diverse character of the community itself.

Jullien

Acting without coercion is promoted solely in the expectation of tangible benefits purely on the grounds of its effectiveness … it is by refraining from action that we can best bring about what we want to accomplish.

49. Integrity is Compassion and Trust

Lao Tzu

Skilled leaders think and feel immediately
They make people’s thoughts and feelings
their own.

People who are good
they treat well.
People who are bad
they also treat well.
Integrity is compassion.

Trustworthy people
they trust.
Untrustworthy people
they also trust.
Integrity is trust.

Skilled leaders create harmony in the world
blending their hearts with the world.
People fix their eyes and ears on them,
and leaders become the world’s children.

Duyvendak

Taoists have no fixed views … They admit both Good and Evil equally, and maintain the same conduct towards all people. Their hearts and minds are completely free from prejudice.

Le Guin

The truly wise are looked after (or looked upon) like children because they’re trusting, unprejudiced, and don’t hold themselves above or apart from ordinary life.

The Art of Living: All Parts

Contents: A very short summary of each part
Introduction: How to make life more meaningful

Glossary: Explanation of key terms
Acknowledgements: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Sources: Where to learn more

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

Everything Begins With An Idea

Erik Schön

Written by

Executive and strategist who has successfully developed and deployed strategy for over 20 years in small, medium and large organizations.

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

Erik Schön

Written by

Executive and strategist who has successfully developed and deployed strategy for over 20 years in small, medium and large organizations.

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

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