This post is about knowing others is wisdom knowing the self is enlightenment explanation in detained, together with related topics.
I am referring to the aphorism by Lao Tzu found in chapter 33 of the ancient classic Chinese text Tao Te Ching:
“Knowing others is wisdom; Knowing the self is enlightenment. Mastering others requires force; Mastering the self needs strength.” – Lao Tzu
(The Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English, New York: Vintage Books, 1989, 33) source
(The quote is also found in: Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated By Gia-fu Feng, Jane English, New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 1972, 33) source
There are various English translation of this line, but I find the above version is more accurate.
There is another quite similar translation by Arthur Waley:
“To understand others is to have knowledge; to understand oneself is to be illumined. To conquer others needs strength; to conquer oneself is harder still.”
(Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu, Translated With Notes By Arthur Waley, with Introduction By Robert Wilkinson, Wordsworth Editions, 1996, Ch.33, P. 34) source
Note: This is my own interpretation.
Knowing Others Is Wisdom Explanation
Let’s get down to it:
To understand this classical Chinese aphorism by Lao Tzu or Laozi, you need to know the meanings of these four key words: wisdom, enlightenment, force and strength.
And the meaning of each word has to be in context with the aphorism.
Wisdom here can mean the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement.
Enlightenment in the simplest definition is the understanding or awareness that brings change to oneself.
Force is about coercion or compulsion.
Strength means courage, fortitude and tenacity.
Now, let break it up and analyze:
When Lao Tzu said “Knowing others is wisdom”, he meant to understand other people is a wise move.
Each of us are different. We have own outlook of life, together our quirky traits, warts and all.
It’s only by having a good understanding of other people, then you can deal with them better and accept them as they are.
“Knowing the self is enlightenment” means understanding your own self can bring a deeper awareness or self-realization.
To be awake is an inner process of realizing that our thoughts and feelings are not who we are.
Most of us think we know who we are.
Just because we know our likes and dislikes, our motivations, pet peeves and all.
But there is more to it.
By having a keen self-awareness, then we can empowered to make the necessary changes to our life.
We would be able to identify the areas that need to be strengthened or improved.
Similarly, this was what Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote:
“Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.”
“Wer nach außen schaut, träumt. Wer nach innen blickt, erwacht.” (German)
(Letters of C. G. Jung: Volume I, 1906-1950 By C. G. Jung, Selected And Edited By Gerhard Adler, Translations From The German By R. F. C. Hull, Routledge, 2015, To Fanny Bowditch, 22 October 1916, P. 33) source
Note: You can get the free book here.
“Mastering others requires force” means handling or controlling other people, we need to use compulsion or coercion.
What Lao Tzu meant is when we want or need to control people, we must be stern and be firm.
We must let them know, we mean business. Only then we can get things done.
Of course, being tactful is also part of the act.
“Mastering the self needs strength” means controlling your own self, you need courage, tenacity, will-power and fortitude.
As you know very well, to discipline oneself is no walk in the park.
If you do not have the inner strength, your life will walk all over you and even walk out on you too.
One definitely must have the fortitude to keep your life to walk the straight and narrow path.
As I have mentioned in the past blog post, we are our worst enemy.
We have the amazing ability to self-denying, self-deluding and even self-destructing.
Beware. Your own life can get you down and out, if you let it be.
The problem is we know our own weakness and vulnerabilities, yet we still knowingly take advantage of them.
One major negative trait we all have is self-denial.
This is one of the worst enemy we have within all of us.
Self-denial is a inborn primitive defense mechanism we use when confronting with a personal problem, unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and behaviors or with reality.
According to psychologists, most defense mechanisms are fairly unconscious.
In other words, most of us don’t realize we’re using them in any given moment.
The four forms of denial responsibility are: blaming, justifying, minimizing and regression.
Ponder over this though-provoking quote by Charles Bradlaugh:
“The abuse dies in a day; but the denial slays the life of the people and entombs the hope of the race.”
Note: The attribution of the above quote is still unverified.
It is said to have taken from a speech delivered by an English political activist, Charles Bradlaugh at Hall of Science c.1880.
The earliest mention of this quote is found in “Annie Besant: An Autobiography” by Annie Wood Besant, a British writer-cum-activist.
(Annie Besant: An Autobiography, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1893, Ch. IX: The Knowlton Pamphlet, Address: We Seek For Truth, To D. M. Bennett, P. 236) source
(The quote is also found here.)
* Check our my collection of authentic Lao Tzu quotations with full citations.