Greater Than the Sky: Reflections on the Classic Sayings of Laozi

A portion of the painting, "Confucius meets Lao Tzu". (Shih K'ang / Wikipedia)
A portion of the painting, "Confucius meets Lao Tzu". (Shih K'ang / Wikipedia)

1. An old saying inspires me

Laozi said: “Those who persevere have willpower.” (Chapter 33)

This has become my motto. Every night, I force myself to read for 10 minutes before going to bed; every weekend, I force myself to read for an hour; every winter and summer vacation, I force myself to read for several days.

During the process of “forcing myself,” I have come to understand another sentence: “Those who overcome themselves need strength.” (Chapter 33) In my life, I just want to defeat myself, making progress every day—while having no intention of competing with others.


“Laozi image” by Zhao Mengfu in Yuan dynasty. (Screenshot from

2. Excellent life experiences

Laozi said: “Promising more leads to trusting less.” (Chapter 63)

Those who promise too much mean nothing. When I was young, I thought I was an outspoken and upright man who should be loyal to his friends. This was a shortcoming I had at the time. Although I did not often break promises, I suffered much for keeping them.

Laozi said: “Those who know others are wise. Those who know themselves are enlightened.” (Chapter 33)

We all think we understand others, but what really matters is to know ourselves. The words “Know yourself” are engraved on the Apollo Temple in the Greek town of Delphi. This is still a first suggestion given to patients by Western psychiatrists to this day.


“Laozi riding an ox” by Zhang Lu in Ming dynasty. (Screenshot from

Laozi said: “To have little is to have more; to have much is to be confused.” (Chapter 22)

If one only focuses on learning one technique, one may become an expert in that field; but if all techniques are learned together, one will be confused—and fail to master any of them.

Laozi said: “The more he does for others, the more he has himself; the more he gives to others, the more his own bounty increases.” (Chapter 81)

It seems obvious that what Laozi refers to are not material things or money, but another perspective. An example might be that when I help others, I contribute money and effort to others, but pleasure enriches my own heart.

I’ve come to realize that what Laozi refers to is mind energy and a spiritual realm.


“Laozi image” by Wen Zhengming in Ming dynasty. (Screenshot from

3. The greatness of mankind

Laozi said: “The Way is boundless, so nature is boundless, so the world is boundless, and so I am boundless.” (Chapter 25)

This saying, which refers to the life value of mankind, inspires me more than any other. It’s easy to understand that nature and the world are endless. The Way (or Tao) is the root of all things, and is therefore gigantic. But our bodies are even smaller than those of horse and cattle, so how can Laozi say we are boundless?

The answer is that when you ask how large a cup is, it depends on its capacity. French writer Victor Hugo said that we see the land as enormous, but the ocean is more enormous than the land. The sky is more immense than the ocean, while the human heart can be greater than the sky. When faced with this dilemma, Laozi would say that the human heart can achieve enlightenment of the Tao, and so can be as great as the Tao.

Therefore, if one attains enlightenment, cannot all the world’s tiny grace, resentment, benefits, harm, success and failure be taken lightly?


“Laozi riding an ox” by Chao Buzhi in Song dynasty. (Screenshot from

Ancient Chinese Secret: The 8 Trigrams of Bagua
Winter Tea Tonics to Stay Healthy During Flu Season