“Does your cup runneth over?” – Tao Te Ching – Verse 9

Cup overflow

The bible mentions this cup, but how very different are its meanings in Psalm 23 and the Tao Verse 9.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Psalm 23 V5 (Link to NIV Commentary)

The cup here symbolizes salvation and the abundant blessings of the believer, even in times of trouble. Now read about the cup in the Tao, which was written 600 years before the bible. (The second and third translations mention the cup literally.)

Three Translations of Verse 9

9

To take all you want
Is never as good
As to stop when you should.
Scheme and be sharp
And you’ll not keep it long.
One never can guard
His home when it’s full
Of jade and fine gold:
Wealth, power and pride
Bequeath their own doom.
When fame and success
Come to you, then retire.
This is the ordained Way.

Tao Te Ching, the Classic Translation. Robert B. Blakney, 1955

Tao Te Ching translated by Robert b. Blakney, Link to book

 

 

Verse 9 Overfulfillment

Keep filling your bowl,
and it will spill over.

Keep sharpening your knife,
and it will be blunt.

Keep hoarding gold in our house,
and you will be robbed.

Keep seeking approval,
and you will be chained.

The Great Integrity leads to actualization,
never overfulfillment.

Tao Te Ching, a New Translation and Commentary. Ralph Alan Dale, 2002.  Link to book.

IMG_1239

Chapter 9

Holding a cup and overfilling it
Cannot be as good as stopping short
Pounding a blade and sharpening it
Cannot be kept for long

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

When achievement is completed, fame is attained
Withdraw oneself
This is the Tao of Heaven

www.taoism.net. Derek Lin Translation, 2006.  (tagged as “Accurate Translation of the Tao’)

Commentary

The translations show us the same verse from different perspectives. The reference to a cup and knife is not mentioned in the first; the next two are more literal.

Overfilling the cup is a metaphor for excess and the accumulation of more than we need. The knife cannot be sharpened for long and the gold requires protection. Symbols for power and wealth and fame, these bring arrogance and ultimately downfall. The approval game which we see celebrities and politicians play, does little but ‘chain’ them to disaster, to the mundane. And we play this game ourselves.

Lao Tzu closes with the example to do the work, to withdraw and observe, to recognize the evils of excess for what they are. Then, when we see clearly, we are on the path, the ordained Way.

Tao Te Ching

Over 2500 years ago, Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching. A work of just 5000 characters, the Tao consists of 81 verses or poems which offer insight on life and the path to be in harmony with others, with the world, and with oneself.

It’s an ancient text and a eastern classic which has influenced the sacred scriptures of many religions.

Jan 15, 2016

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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