Tao Te Ching (Chapter 19)
Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,
And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.
Give up kindness, renounce morality,
And men will rediscover filial piety and love.
Give up ingenuity, renounce profit,
And bandits and thieves will disappear.
These three are outward forms alone;
They are not sufficient in themselves.
It is more important
To see the simplicity,
To realize one’s true nature,
To cast off selfishness
And temper desire.
(By Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English)
Give up Sainthood
“Give up sainthood” is wise advice on multiple levels. If you pursue sainthood, you can make people jealous. And since envy is one of the seven deadly sins, you could be held responsible for contributing to make someone sin. If you were tried by a jury of your peers (other saints), then you may well be convicted.
Another reason to “give up sainthood” is because it’s boring. You can only do good deeds. All the bad, fun things are off limits. However, it may be fun to count the pennies in your coin drawer before giving them to the poor.
A third reason to “give up sainthood” is that once you are considered “good”, people expect you to remain good and to keep giving, especially to them. Then you will be asked questions like “Can I borrow your checkbook for two weeks?” and “I like the clothes you’re wearing. Can I have them . . . right now?”
The moral of the story is that if you’re pursuing sainthood, it’s wise to keep a low profile. Wait a minute, Terry! The next precept says to “renounce wisdom.” So wouldn’t it be a contradiction to say it’s wise to give up sainthood? Good point. However, I choose to ignore it. All I’m saying is don’t be a dumb saint.
On a more serious note, the Tao Te Ching is full of paradoxes. The line “renounce wisdom” is inherently paradoxical. Since wisdom is a positive quality, to renounce it goes against common sense. You could as easily say, “It is wise to renounce wisdom.” The way around this apparent paradox is to differentiate between collective or societal wisdom and real wisdom. If you renounce collective wisdom to achieve real wisdom, then the paradox disappears. You might even say that renouncing collective wisdom is a necessary step in reaching real wisdom. This chapter is about letting go of collective thinking in order “to realize one’s true nature.”
You have to let go of the idea of winning in order to win. You need to not worry about losing in order to not lose. You need to forget that you’re a trader in order to trade. Give up the idea of being a “saintly trader” (a “good” trader who always obeys the rules) or you may lose the clothes on your back.