Chapter Nine

持而盈之不盈其己;

揣而锐之不可长保;

金玉满堂莫之能守;

富贵而骄,自遗其咎。

功遂身退,天之道。

Hold to an excess of non-excessiveness, this is not about self.

Hide the sharpness that cannot last long.

When gold and jade fill the hall, nobody can guard them..

Fame and fortune makes for pride, to lose oneself is not blameworthy.

When the work is done, retire: that is the way of heaven.

COMMENTARY

The first line refers to abundance, excess, over-flowing . It advocates an abundance of non-abundance 盈之不盈. This is a very Taoistic sentiment. As can also mean excess or over-flow, some commentators relate this to the idea of filling a vessel too full so that it spills over. In any case, the moral is clearly about restraint and avoiding self-inflation: pride comes before a fall.

Some versions of the text have 持而盈之不若. This could be rendered as holding to what does not suggest abundance. Again the moral is similar.

The second line may imply a sexual double-entendre. The first character, , had the original meaning of concealing under one's clothes. What is sharp, concealed under one's clothes and cannot last too long? An erect penis. This, of course, can also symbolise pride, and ideas of one's own potency. Again, the moral is to avoid rating oneself too highly, but also that of concealing one's strength. It is a Taoistic maxim that strength is more sustainable and more effective if concealed. A good general does not tell the enemy about his most powerful weapons nor about his best troops. He saves them for the vital moment.

The third line makes the same point a different way: when you have too much all on display you cannot guard it. It will soon be taken away from you. The wise rich man hides his treasures and goes about looking like a pauper. In the same way, the person rich in virtues presents himself as just another foolish sinner.

The fourth line spells out the moral and the fifth gives practical instruction on how to implement it. This is the Taoist ideal: do what needs doing without fuss and without taking credit.

The whole verse, therefore, is consistent and in Chinese it rhymes. The first two lines imply a contrast: “As for holding forth... As for concealing...” Display modesty, conceal potency.

A loose interpretation of the whole verse could, therefore, be

Display modesty

Conceal potency

Much displayed is soon lost

Shun pride

Self-effacement is no sin

Act then retire

Such is the way of Heaven.

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Replies to This Discussion

This is a great learning. Please share more of such posts. Thank you very much for sharing this important teaching. 

According to one theory, the Tao Te Ching is a composite of earlier works. If this is the case then it is possible that they were brought together some time before 200BCE. There is some evidence, not totally conclusive, that if this was the case, then this chapter may well have been the final chapter of one of the earlier works. Certainly, the final line has the kind of resounding weight that might seem appropriate.

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