In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.
True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
On the Practice of the Tao
Though I haven’t given it a mention in the last two days of commentary, we are still talking about being in harmony with the Tao. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu talked about the role of knowledge. But, when he said, “The more you know, the less you understand”, it did sound quite a bit anti-knowledge. At least it did to me, when I was first learning about philosophical Taoism. But, Lao Tzu isn’t being anti-knowledge. There are plenty of things of which we should gain more and more knowledge. As he says in today’s chapter, “In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added.” It has to be; for, there is no end to the amount of knowledge which can be gained. But, as necessary as the gaining of knowledge is, it simply isn’t the way to open your heart to the world, or see the essence of the Tao. Instead, it is a hindrance: The more you know, the less you understand.
For being in harmony with the Tao, in other words, for opening your heart to the world, and seeing the essence of the Tao, a completely different practice than the pursuit of knowledge is called for. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu calls it, the practice of the Tao.
The pursuit of knowledge is all about addition. The practice of the Tao is about subtraction. Every day something is dropped. Less and less do you rely on what you think you know. Less and less do you need to force things, until you arrive at non-action. Yes, you guessed it; the practice of the Tao is doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. And, when nothing is known, nothing is left unknown.
If we are to truly master being in harmony with the Tao, we must let things go their own way. It will never be gained by interfering.
This, of course, makes it a libertarian approach to living. And, governing. This is what made philosophical Taoism so appealing to me. But, I also perceive the inherent problem with it. For, as a libertarian, I know the kinds of arguments I am constantly running up against. “What are you going to do? You have to do something.” I understand the problems plaguing the Johnson/Weld (Libertarian) presidential ticket. Every time I see Gary Johnson tripping up, it is because he has tried to answer that question. I feel his pain. Though I still think he could do a better job of saying his not interfering is easily preferable to the interfering we are certain to get with either of his challengers.
But, alas, the majority of people are not libertarians. Most people will always find something or somewhere they want to interfere. And, we wonder why we aren’t in harmony?