Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.
Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.
Be like the Tao.
It can’t be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu pictured harmony with the Tao by describing certain familiar aspects of a newborn child. He said that the Master’s power is like this. But Lao Tzu obviously doesn’t expect us to reenter our mother’s womb and experience rebirth. Or, does he? Well, not physically, of course. But there is a sense in which we can return to our primal identity. And it does involve returning to our beginning, the Source. We can’t be a newborn again. But we can, in each new present moment return to our primal identity. The newborn child is a metaphor for it. There is much to learn from newborn children. And perhaps, the first thing we can learn is not to talk. I am convinced that newborns have a knowledge that we have forgotten over many years of talking.
Lao Tzu puts it quite bluntly: Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know. This isn’t something we haven’t heard before. We even guffaw at it. For we know of plenty of examples of people who so willingly share their vast knowledge, only to end up displaying their great ignorance. Watching the presidential debates is a prime example of this. Various candidates will complain that they didn’t get their fair share of time to talk. What? If only they realized how much better it is that people don’t know them better. The more they talk, the more evident it is that they should sit down and shut up. If I was inclined to vote for anyone, all I have to do is wait for each candidate to speak up. Then, I decide, no, not that one. They try so hard to be noticed. Jumping up and down, waving their arms in the air, “pick me, pick me.” No, thank you. But Lao Tzu’s words aren’t for the circus freaks. It is for those of us with the good sense to close our mouths. Maybe we will learn something.
If we want to return to the primal identity, in this present moment, closing our mouths is the first step. But it isn’t the only one. We need to block off all of our senses. Why? Because people who are led by their senses aren’t being led by the Tao. This is another one of the advantages of being a newborn. Not only are they not talking, none of their senses are very well-developed. So, they don’t rely on them. We shouldn’t rely on them, either. Let Mother, who gave birth to us, nourish us. Let Mother maintain us and care for us. Let Mother comfort us and protect us. Let Mother take us back to itself. That is what the newborn does. We could learn a lot from a newborn.
Over the years we have been trained to rely on our senses. And, we have forgotten the Tao. Mother is long ago, left alone. We have become so sharp. Our presumed knowledge is quite acute. We are independent! We don’t need Mother any more. There have been so many milestones that have come and gone. We tied a knot with each one. Here is where I began to crawl, to sit, to stand up, to walk, to talk. Here is where I went to school. Here is where I graduated from school. Here is where I got my own job. Here is where I got married. It goes on and on. All these knots along the way. Over the course of many years, our glare has gotten harder and harder. No matter how many times we are knocked down, we will get right back up again, only to do the very same things that got us knocked down, in the first place. And we are always on the move. Busy, busy, busy. Never a moment when we aren’t doing something. Our dust never settles. This is so unlike the Tao. We live each day in denial of what we are, an expression of the Tao. This is no way to live our lives. We must return to the primal identity.
That means close your mouth. Block off your senses. Blunt your sharpness. Untie those knots. Soften your glare. And, please, please, stay still long enough for your dust to settle. This is the primal identity. It is a return to what we were in the beginning, what we are now, if only we will let ourselves be it, an expression of the Tao. It is to be like the Tao.
Be like the Tao. That is what Lao Tzu is getting at. It isn’t something that can be approached or withdrawn from. It can’t be benefited or harmed. It can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. I think of the shell that we construct around ourselves in the hopes that we can be protected, that we can be safe. We think we are safe in our shell. But that shell is a lot more fragile than we dare realize. We are in grave danger. I don’t want to give myself up! That is what we are afraid of. But, the Tao gives itself up continually; and, far from being lost, that is why it endures.