Chapter 46 – Contentment (All the Brave Horses)
When the world follows the Tao,
horses run free to fertilize the fields.
When the world does not follow the Tao,
war horses are bred outside the cities.
There is no greater transgression
than condoning people’s selfish desires,
no greater disaster than being discontent,
and no greater retribution than for greed.
Whoever knows contentment will be at peace forever.
Translation by J. H. McDonald (1996)
Horses are but one example of how the natural world may be used to destroy or to bring forth life. Of the horses I have known in my time,* every one of them would prefer grazing tranquilly and contentedly to fighting and facing death. Unfortunately, in this world it is not the horses that make the choices. The choices are made by humans.
What could cause a human to choose to fight when every horse would advise against it? Lao Tzu mentions several causes here – selfish desires, discontent and greed. He also tells us the antidote for such thinking. It is contentment which will bring peace forever.
Since great minds think alike, echoes of these sentiments may be heard across the centuries:
Socrates is reported to have said: “Contentment is natural wealth; luxury is artificial poverty.”
Herman Hesse wrote: “This happiness consisted of nothing else but the harmony of the few things around me with my own existence, a feeling of contentment and well-being that needed no changes and no intensification.”
The Dali Lama has said: “When you are discontent, you always want more, more, more. Your desire can never be satisfied. But when you practice contentment, you can say to yourself, ‘Oh yes – I already have everything that I really need.’”
And I think I will be content to leave this comment at that. I want to listen to John Stewart singing “All the Brave Horses.” If you would like, you can click here for the YouTube version.
*I am writing this in the Year of the Horse and I have mentioned a horse or two that I have known in my essay discussing what to expect during this year. You can click here to read those thoughts.