Study Guide

Tao Te Ching Greed

By Lao Tzu

Greed

Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations (1.5-6)

To the TTC, being full of greedy desire is about the worst thing there is. It leads to all kinds of problems in our lives and, worst of all, it distances us from the Tao. If we're mega-desirous, all we can see is the Tao's "manifestations," or the physical world. But if we're greed-free, we can see the "essence," or spirit, of the Tao. Is the TTC right in saying that greed and desire are the worst things? Can you think of something worse?

Do not treasure goods that are hard to obtain
So the people will not become thieves (3.3-4)

Wow, so our entire society totally ignores this, doesn't it? We totally value things that are rare. Gold, emeralds, trash bags full of cash—these things are valuable to us because they're hard to get. What would our society look like if one day we suddenly decided that these things weren't worth anything anymore? After all, they're only worth something because we decided they were.

Let the people have no cunning and no greed (3.12)

Once again, Taoism is reminding us a whole lot of Christianity. Ever heard the saying "Money is the root of all evil"? Yeah, that's Timothy 6:10 coming 'atcha. Taoism might not throw around the word evil quite as much, but Taoists would definitely agree that money and our greedy desire for it cause a whole bunch of the problems in our society.

Gold and jade fill up the room
No one is able to protect them
Wealth and position bring arrogance
And leave disasters upon oneself (9.5-8)

This one takes the anti-greed warning to a whole new level. It's actually dangerous for you to be rich. Having a lot of stuff can make you a target for thieves, etc. What other kinds of disasters can having a lot of money bring?

Thirty spokes join in one hub
In its emptiness, there is the function of a vehicle
Mix clay to create a container
In its emptiness, there is the function of a container
Cut open doors and windows to create a room
In its emptiness, there is the function of a room (11.1-6)

This one shows how important emptiness is to basic things like containers and even the room you're sitting in right now. But can we also apply this to our bank accounts? How could having a pretty empty account actually improve our lives? Would it at all?

End cunning; discard profit
Bandits and thieves no longer exist (19.5-6)

There you have it, Shmoopers. The TTC has the whole crime problem solved. If we're not greedy and scheming for profit all the time, then our whole society will be crime-free. It definitely makes sense in theory. If none of us place value on money and stuff, then no one would want to steal money and stuff. What do you think? Is a society like this even possible?

Fame or the self, which is dearer?
The self or wealth, which is greater?
Gain or loss, which is more painful?
Thus excessive love must lead to great spending
Excessive hoarding must lead to heavy loss (44.1-5)

Being rich and famous—it's a lot people's dream, right? This quote seems to be saying that it's the worst dream a person could have. Anybody who's ever watched a VH1 special on a forgotten pop star can say how awful it is to lose fame and fortune. What's your opinion? Is the struggle worth it, even if you might lose it eventually? Or is the TTC right in saying that no matter what, it'll ruin your life?

There is no crime greater than greed
No disaster greater than discontentment
No fault greater than avarice
Thus the satisfaction of contentment
is the lasting satisfaction (46.5-9)

According to the TTC, getting stuff only makes us want more stuff. So what's the point in getting anything? What do you think? Could you ever be content with no material possessions at all?

Therefore, sages desire not to desire
They do not value goods that are hard to acquire (64.21-22)

This one's echoing a lot of the ideas that we've already talked about. Here's a question for you to think about, though. Is there such a thing as being greedy for non-greediness? Is it possible for a person to desire not having desire so much that it becomes unhealthy?

Therefore the sage holds the left part of the contract
But does not demand payment from the other person
Those who have virtue hold the contract
Those without virtue hold the collections
The Heavenly Tao has no favorites
It constantly gives to the kind people (79.4-9)

Again, the TTC takes a lesson from the Tao, which gives to every living thing without expecting anything back. We're all in debt to the Tao, but it's a debt we're not expected to pay. Is it possible to have a society without debt? Or is this just an idealistic dream?

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