In the book (Sovereignty, The Tao Principle of Self-Management), section three is devoted to the concept of “working on the self-first”. This is the concept and practice of cultivating ‘self’ discipline as a mandatory first step in setting goals and taking action. Sovereignty is the spiritual discipline whose foundation is laid upon self-awareness and mindfulness. With self-discipline, you can keep the ego from sabotaging your efforts in achieving goals. Being aware of ego distractions and its various traps can go a long way in helping you stay on course to reach your goal. Every new year, people make resolutions to improve their plight in life. Yet by spring, those goals have been forgotten. The discipline to stay on the right path is “working on the self, first”. By being self-aware and mindful of ego distractions and it’s various coping mechanisms, we can avoid the traps of failure. (See chapter 4 of the book.) Making fewer unnecessary mistakes will bring more success and boost your quality of life. However, while cultivating discipline can boost your success in life (like careers, relationships and job performance etc.), it is very difficult to do this in everyday life. Working on the self means that you are working on controlling the effects of the ego on the choices that affect your destiny (your goals). (Chapter 26).
We all want to get the most out of life yet only about 1 in 10 people consciously cultivate it. Chapter 50 is comprised of two sections. Those who do not (9 out of 10 people), and those who do (1 in 10). Chapter 50 of the Tao Te Ching holds a powerful lesson on developing sovereignty and getting the most out of life.
Chapter 50, Tao Te Ching
Coming into life, entering into death
The followers of life, three in ten
The followers of death, three in ten
Those whose lives are moved toward death
Also, three in ten
Why? Because they live lives of excess.
I’ve heard of those who are good at cultivating life
Traveling on the road, they do not encounter rhinos or tigers
Entering into an army, they are not harmed by weapons
Rhinos have nowhere to thrust their horns
Tigers have nowhere to clasp their claws
Soldiers have nowhere to lodge their blades
Why? Because they have no place for death
The lesson of not being extreme in its many perspectives is found throughout the Tao Te Ching. This Chapter is the focus of three extreme behaviors that lead to failure in life.
Section One describes three main groups where most people go wrong and the one group where people successfully cultivate life. The three failure groups make up the majority which is 9 out of 10 who experience some type of serious failure. This leaves just 1 out of every 10 people who have highly actualized successful lives.
Section two focuses on the one in ten. It indicates the how and why they thrive and endure longer successful lives of happiness and well-being. These are the 1 in 10 who achieve sovereignty.
As you read and process these insights, remember that moderation is the key to understanding and applying wisdom. People differ in the degree of suffering. Some more extreme than others. This group of people is not living their life in accordance with the Tao. The more extreme a person is the more out of balance they are. Balance leads to harmony, and harmony opens the way for joy and well-being. The more self-aware and moderate in your approach to life determines how happy and successful you are. As you evaluate yourself, try to be honest. You will probably have a different percentage of each of the four groups. Start with a true assessment.
Verse 1 Coming into life, entering into death
Verse one “Coming into life and entering into death” is speaking of how people live in their lifetime.
The Followers of Life -Verse 2
2 The followers of life, three in ten
The Keyword: living in fear and worry
“The Followers of Life” describes the first group that makes up 3 out of ten people. Here followers of life are those who live with the extreme of fear and worry. Moderation is arguably the best way to cultivate life. When a person becomes extreme in their views, they are no longer following the Tao. It is said that “Followers of life” are people whose choices are directed by seeking security and avoiding risk as a way of life. Extreme fears are personal but not necessarily unique. Fears limit us because it deteriorates the willingness to try. “Followers of life” always play it safe. The life of always playing it safe is one that can lack innovation. It is difficult to find inspiration when you are always running away from the things that you fear. This kind of life can become dull and stagnant. The followers of life are weakened by dullness and lack of challenge. Always playing it safe to the extreme is not the way of a full and successful life.
The Followers of Death – Verse 3
3 The followers of death, three in ten
The Keyword: reckless behavior
“Followers of death” describe the second group. “Followers of Death” are the direct opposite of the followers of life. They live lives with recklessness abandon. They can be excitement junkies, always seeking that emotional rush and electrifying excitement. Without moderation, this sensation-seeking behavior creates a reckless and careless relationship with life. The probability for disaster and mayhem become very high. Individuals who take reckless and unnecessary changes have been known to end in failure and destruction.
Those Who Are Moved by Death – Verse 4
Those whose lives are moved toward death
Three out of ten people are in this category.
The Keyword: Over Indulgence
This is the life that is enslaved with desire. They overindulge in the way they live their life. “Those who are moved by death” don’t know when to stop. Enough is never enough. “Those who are moved by death” are similar in one way to “those who are followers of death” in that by living a life over-indulgence is living recklessly. Some easy to observe examples could be over-eating, over-spending, over-drinking, and over-doing anything without moderation. The ego is always hungry and rarely satisfied. For “those who are moved by death” more is always better.
Those Who Are Good At Cultivating Life – Verse 7
7 I’ve heard of those who are good at cultivating life
Most self-destructive behavior is rooted in ego. Sovereignty is the ability and discipline of managing the ego. Being self-aware and mindful of intention, the Sovereign can avoid the self-destructive problems of these three groups and be very successful in life. This brings us to the final group. Out of 10 people, 9 make up the way of failure. That leaves just one out of ten people who cultivate sovereignty.
On some level, we all know that we should not live in the three groups that bring failure and suffering. It is the lack of discipline that leads us to the poor choices that cause us to fail. It is not rocket science, it is just spiritual discipline. It is a spiritual discipline because to be sovereign, is to be self-aware and present as spirit. Only spirit can control ego. Through meditation, spirit (your higher consciousness), awakens and pays attention to the self-destructive ego. In each moment of choice, you can choose to turn away from fear, worry, desire and ignorance. You can and must choose the right action. The right action is the way of virtue and altruism.
Lao Tzu (author of the Tao Te Ching), uses metaphors to describe how the Tao takes care of those who follow wisdom and virtue.
Traveling the road (living life), They do not encounter rhinos or tigers,
Rhinos (those who gouge with sharply pointed words) have nowhere to thrust their horns. Tigers like Rhinos can hurt those on their level.
Sharp words do not affect the sovereign because the ego is not allowed to become offended. The sovereign does not engage in drama and ego driven gossip. They’re not often the target of ‘Rhino’ people. When sharp words come their way, sovereigns do not take comments personally nor over-react. That only happens with the ego. When the ego cannot get a response, it gives up. Aggression and bullying cannot stand up to true courage which is only demonstrated by spirit. Because sovereigns live a life of virtue and compassion, people like them a lot. They have many friends who care for them. Harsh people (Rhinos and Tigers) leave them alone.
Soldiers represent aggressive personalities and behaviors encountered in your social interaction. They are very competitive and must always win or be right. Victory is everything. They like to fight and are attracted to competition as a means of overpowering others. The Sovereign is impervious to the soldier’s blade because of their high level of integrity. They do not engage in judgmental gossip, blaming, antagonizing, and argumentative behavior. Their non-competitive posture gives the soldier no reason to use their blade. When you do not argue and contend with people, they have no need to cut you with their weapons. To understand this concept, try to think of someone in your life who lives with such a high integrity and virtue that it is hard to think negatively of them. If you can’t think of one, keep trying. They are always surrounded by people who love, and care for them.
The Sovereign person is the one in ten. The only one who consciously cultivates the life of virtue. It is never too late to take up the path and cultivate being the one in ten. Sovereignty is the mother principle of power (Chapter 59, Tao Te Ching) which requires practice and discipline. Can you become the one? You can learn how to cultivate sovereignty and become the one in ten by studying the lessons in the book.
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