30 October 2010

The Principles for Greatness: #3 Contented Yet Be Better

Continue from the previous post The Principles for Greatness: #2 Influencing Others & Controlling Self, we discuss the 3rd pair of phrases:
Contentment is richness (abundance).  知足者富。
Striving forward is commitment (determination, ambition). 強行者有志
Contentment is Richness

The common Chinese saying related to this is “知足常乐” contentment is constant happiness.  A big cause of unhappiness and stress for man is the insatiable appetite for more.  Some religion will tell you that man has a spiritual hole inside that only God can fill. Things and people cannot fill this void.  Christianity wants you to fill this void with Jesus Christ. Some other religion will teach you methods to kill the desires.  In the Bible, the book Ecclesiastes calls this the chasing of the winds and names it vanity and meaninglessness. This emptiness is also taught in other religions. Lao Zi emphasize this issue many other verses such as
44 … 知足不辱。知止不殆。可以長久。Contentment prevents shame. Knowing our limits and stopping prevent death.  We are live a long time.
46 …禍莫大於不知足。咎莫大於欲得。故知足之足 常足矣。Discontentment is greater than disaster! Wanting more and more is a greater sin. Hence we must always be contented with what we have. Be contented always.
Interesting, the Bible has almost exactly the same description as Lao Zi’s “Contentment is Richness”.  In 1Timothy 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.  The Bible added Godliness. One can only have peace and contentment when we do the right thing and there be no regrets or a guilty conscience.

Going back the original wordings, contentment not just bring happiness, but richness, or abundances or great gains. A contented person does not use up all his resources and cry for more. He lives within his means and have much left over to give and invest.

There is the interesting story of the rich man wanting to help his poorer neighbor 严遵 in this ancient Chinese book 高士传 (Legends of the Heroes) 3.29 严遵. 严遵 lived in a small house and made a living by giving advice (ancient fortune telling) and writing books. The rich man wanted to give money to 严遵 to help get a better job. But 严遵 said that there was no need because he was richer than the rich man. He said the rich man’s workers had to worked hard through the night to make a living but for himself the customers called upon him and he still had money left over that he still did not know what to do with them!

Contentment creates resources for other uses. This links up well with the next phase for striving forward with determination and ambition to be better.

Contentment is Not Laziness
The next phase about striving forward reminded us that being satisfied and contented with the present do not mean that we keep still and be lazy.  In the spirit of i-Ching, we always keep two poles in balance. On the one hand we have contentment, and the other hand we have ambition to improve and be better. Going for more does not mean we are not happy with the present. This means that we know our purpose and mission in life and at the same time strive forward to achieve more. But in the meantime, throughout this journey, we are contented all the way. In the pursuit of our goals, many people miss out in enjoying the journey. Our life is a journey towards a destination. The journey and the destination are both important. If the present journey is not important, as I have told some fellow believers, then God would just take us to heaven the moment we receive Jesus as our Savior.

Contentment with the Present and Even more Satisfied with the Mission of building for a Better Future

The key of greatness is to enjoy the present and at the same time build for the future.  We are happy with the present and also with the hope of improving the situation, for ourselves and others too. Knowing that we are building for a better future now is also a very satisfying pursuit.  Lao Zi encouraged us to exert ourselves fully to the pursuit and don’t give up.  But it is not a pursuit under stress but a pursuit of contentment and confidence. It is only that we are contented at each step of the journey that we have the energy and clarify of mind to take another step boldly into the future. Stress and unhappiness in the journey will cause us to give up without completing it.

Most people fail to understand Lao Zi’s 无为 (No Effort) . Most think it means not to  do anything, or just to sit back and relax and let nature take its course. But he is actually talking about Performance, Accomplishing Objectives effortlessly. It is effortless performance and not a lack of performance. The secret to effortlessness lies in discovering the natural order, the way or “Dao” of the universe, and follow them.

Have a worthy goal, pursue it whole-heartedly. But the secret to success is to be contented in every step and stage all the way to the end.

note: Many thanks to Isaac Teo for correcting the errors and polishing up my  English.

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Update: 11 Feb 15

According to Contentment is richness (abundance).  知足者富。
Striving forward is commitment (determination, ambition). 強行者有志,

Poverty is defined as the gap between one's desire and the actual.
A person having a salary of $2000pm and is contented with it, even having saving for retirement, is rich ---- there is remainer and no lack.
A person earning $10,000 pm, wishing to have $20,000 pm, and living on credit, is actually poor. There is the lack of about $10,000pm.

Then 2nd part of v3 tells us that contentment does not conflict with having aspiration ... working hard to build oneself up and doing greater things, ever improving.

A contented person can be working very hard to be better.
A hard working person need not be an unhappy poor fellow.

Richness is not defined by how much you have, but by how much you spent on others.

Lim Liat (c) 11 Feb 2015

The Four Principles for Greatness
  1. The Principles for Greatness: #1 Know Others & Self 
  2. The Principles for Greatness: #2 Influencing Others & Controlling Self
  3. The Principles for Greatness: #3 Contented Yet Be Better 
  4. The Principles for Greatness: #4 Be Yourself & Leaving a Legacy
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