He who knows others is clever;
He who knows himself has discernment.
He who overcomes others has force;
He who overcomes himself is strong.
He who knows himself has discernment is presented in other translations as a contrast between knowledge and enlightenment. The ability to grasp extensive knowledge depends on how intelligent I am. The ability to know myself is more a matter of how self-honest I am. Juggling ideals and expectations of how the world should be distracts attention from the self-serving nature of those very ideals. I end up fooling myself.
Distinguishing force from strength addresses a definition problem I’ve always had with REAL strength. For example, being able to force myself to withhold tears compared with the strength to cry if my feelings lead there. Force is used to control circumstances, while strength is the ability to allow circumstances to unfold naturally. Strength also allows me to influence circumstances, but with the least amount of wasted energy and stress.
To know and overcome myself is so profoundly an inward journey. It’s always been easier and more stimulating to know and overcome others. I think this outward meddling also gives me the illusion of superiority. I think meddling is also attractive because it feels like a short cut to overcoming ourselves; after all, if your problem is a priority, then mine is less important and will be a piece of cake when I get to it. We fool ourselves!
He who knows contentment is rich;
He who perseveres is a man of purpose;
He who does not lose his station will endure;
He who lives out his days has had a long life.
He who knows contentment is rich is echoed in what Thoreau said: ‘A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone’. The whole point in being wealthy is to afford what you want, but frankly, the less I want, the happier I am. And of course, the irony is that wealthy people don’t cease wanting, their wants just become less essential. It’s rice and beans versus champagne and caviar.
He who perseveres is a man of purpose depicts what I need to feel balanced. It’s easy to get sidetracked into thinking I need a particular thing or circumstance to be right with the world. However, it’s the sense of purpose that really works; and it doesn’t matter which purpose the perseverance is directed toward. Keeping mindful of this helps me make the first step… A journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath one’s feet [see ch. 64].
He who lives out his days has had a long life brings me back to how vital the moment is. I don’t feel I live out my day when I’m preoccupied by the ideals and expectations which my mind conjures up. Such thought carries me away from appreciation of today into the promise of tomorrow… but, of course, tomorrow never comes!
He who lives out his days has had a long life reminds me of the Bhagavad Gita: ‘And do thy duty, even if it be humble, rather than an other’s, even if it be great. To die in one’s duty is life: to live in another’s is death’ BG_3:35.
When I know himself, I’m able to discern each moment. I don’t get ahead of myself. The mind makes it easy to live in a virtual future, which causes me to rush past the moment, the day, the week, the year, the lifetime. I parse time into long and short. The other animals on earth don’t have long or short lives. Whether a moth or an elephant, they all just live out their days.
The whole concept of time is an imaginary creation of my mind. What is the real difference between a Long life and a short one? It is really how I experience any one moment of life that make life long or short. When I’m rushing ahead, life is short; I’m missing out on it, even if I live a 100 years according to the calender. On the other hand, one moment fully present is a long life. In that moment I feel eternity; the concept of quantity of moments is nonsensical. It’s only when I’m not living out my moment do I yearn for as much as I can get.