Greater Than the Sky: Reflections on the Classic Sayings of Laozi

A 16th century Ming Dynasty ink drawing of Laozi.

Laozi, the great ancient philosopher and founder of Taoism. 16th century Ming Dynasty Ink on paper. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

Laozi was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is known as the reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the founder of philosophical Taoism, and a deity in religious Taoism and traditional Chinese religions.

He once said: “Those who persevere have willpower.”

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This has become my motto. Every night, I force myself to read for 10 minutes before going to bed; every weekend, I force myself to read for an hour; every winter and summer vacation, I force myself to read for several days.

During the process of “forcing myself,” I have come to understand another sentence: “Those who overcome themselves need strength.” In my life, I just want to defeat myself, making progress every day — while having no intention of competing with others.

In my life, I just want to defeat myself, making progress every day — while having no intention of competing with others.
In my life, I just want to defeat myself, making progress every day — while having no intention of competing with others. (Image: via Pixabay)

Laozi on life experiences

Laozi said: “Promising more leads to trusting less.”

Those who promise too much mean nothing. When I was young, I thought I was an outspoken and upright man who should be loyal to his friends. This was a shortcoming I had at the time. Although I did not often break promises, I suffered much for keeping them.

Laozi said: “Those who know others are wise. Those who know themselves are enlightened.”

We all think we understand others, but what really matters is to know ourselves. The words “Know yourself” are engraved on the Apollo Temple in the Greek town of Delphi. This is still the first suggestion given to patients by Western psychiatrists to this day.

Laozi said: “To have little is to have more; to have much is to be confused.”

If one only focuses on learning one technique, one may become an expert in that field; but if all techniques are learned together, one will be confused — and fail to master any of them.

Laozi said: “The more he does for others, the more he has himself; the more he gives to others, the more his own bounty increases.”

It seems obvious that what Laozi refers to are not material things or money, but another perspective. An example might be that when I help others, I contribute money and effort to others, but pleasure enriches my own heart.

I’ve come to realize that what Laozi refers to is mind energy and a spiritual realm.

A man gazing up at the starry sky.
Laozi said: ‘The Way is boundless, so nature is boundless, so the world is boundless, and so I am boundless..’ (Image: via Pixabay)

Laozi on the greatness of mankind

Laozi said: “The Way is boundless, so nature is boundless, so the world is boundless, and so I am boundless.”

This saying, which refers to the life values of mankind, inspires me more than any other. It’s easy to understand that nature and the world are endless. The Way (or Tao) is the root of all things, so it is therefore gigantic. But with a body even smaller than that of a horse or a cow, how can Laozi say we are boundless?

The answer is that when you ask how large a cup is, it depends on its capacity. French writer Victor Hugo said that we see the land as enormous, but the ocean is more enormous than the land. The sky is more immense than the ocean, while the human heart can be greater than the sky. When faced with this dilemma, Laozi would say that the human heart can achieve enlightenment to the Tao, and so can be as great as the Tao.

Therefore, if you attain enlightenment, can’t all the world’s tiny graces, resentments, benefits, harms, successes, and failures be taken lightly?

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