Tao Te Ching —
The Classic about Ways And Instances
(Translated, with comments, by William P. Coleman)
Keeping on until it’s full is not as good as stopping.
Something hammered until sharp cannot stay sharp long.
If you fill a hall with gold and jade, no one can guard it.
Pride justified in wealth brings disaster.
With the work completed, a person steps back
— that is the way of heaven.
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The underlying meaning is closely related to the meaning in the last several chapters.
More is not necessarily better. Nor is less is necessarily better.
It’s not a competition — or any kind of compromise — between more and less — between how much you want and how much you can get away with. It’s not a compromise between selfishness and abnegation: neither of these is good, or even relevant.
It’s reality that’s necessarily better, whatever reality might be in a particular situation.
When is the right time to stop? When it’s “completed.” When it’s there. When it’s real.
For comparison, I’m including the translation by Lin Yutang, which I always love and respect, even when I disagree:
9. The Danger of Overweening Success
Stretch (a bow) to the very full,
And you will wish you had stopped in time.
Temper a (sword-edge) to its very sharpest,
And the edge will not last long.
When gold and jade fill your hall,
You will not be able to keep them safe.
To be proud with wealth and honor
Is to sow seeds of one’s own downfall.
Retire when your work is done,
Such is Heaven’s way.