Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.
The more you know,
the less you understand.
The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 47, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
It would be easy to dismiss today’s chapter. Is Lao Tzu opposed to opening your door, or even looking out your window? Is he saying that being a hermit is the only way to live? Does it seem that Lao Tzu is anti-knowledge?
If we only read this one chapter, out of its context, perhaps we could come to that conclusion. But thankfully, we aren’t doing that.
No, Lao Tzu is only using extremes to make his point. We place a premium on gaining new knowledge. And we sometimes think that will mean leaving our homes and going some place else to do it. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But Lao Tzu means to remind of us of one very solid truth. You don’t have to go anywhere else to understand what you need to understand.
Every thing you need, you already have. Increasing knowledge, without increasing our understanding, is pointless. This is something that Lao Tzu really wants us to understand. Perhaps, that does sound anti-knowledge. I just think Lao Tzu expects that we already know everything we need to know. If there is a lack, it isn’t in our knowledge, it is in our understanding.
Wisdom doesn’t come from attaining greater knowledge. It comes from greater understanding. And so he describes how the Master arrives without ever leaving, sees the light without having to look for it, and achieves all things without doing a thing.
As I read those words, I remember a few chapters ago where Lao Tzu said that the superior man, when he hears of the Tao, immediately begins to embody it; while the fool, when he hears of the Tao, laughs out loud. In that chapter Lao Tzu also offered us the example of the average man, who, when he hears of the Tao, half believes it and half doubts it.
I can certainly see how a chapter like this one would elicit such varied responses. I think I am doing better, I more than half believe it, and only a little doubt it.