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It can’t be approached or withdrawn from,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)
Why It Endures
Is Lao Tzu still talking about newborns? “Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.” It might seem like it. But, what I think he is actually talking about is returning to our primal identity. We can’t go back into our mother’s womb, and be born again; so, what is this primal identity?
I think it is a state of being very much like that of a newborn. If you know, you don’t talk about it. If you are talking about it, you must not really know. That should be enough for me to stop writing right here, and let it be. But, Lao Tzu didn’t stop writing. He went on to explain it better for us.
And, it isn’t enough just to close your mouth, anyway. You have to be willing to block off all your senses. Say what? What I think Lao Tzu is describing is a meditative state. One, where your heart is opened, and nothing which is outside of you can distract. Close your eyes. Stop your ears. Stop looking and listening. Blunt your sharpness, the acuteness of your senses. Untie your knots. Soften your glare. Stop. Breathe. In. Out. Allow your dust to settle.
Every time Lao Tzu enjoins us to do our work, and then, stop, and take a step back, this is what he has in mind. What is the primal identity? It is embracing what we have always been. It is remembering. Remembering, what we all too easily have forgotten.
It is to be like the Tao. It can’t be approached or withdrawn from. It is always present. It can’t be benefited or harmed, honored or brought into disgrace. Can you see how these distinctions have no place in the primal identity?
The primal identity is the nothing you return to, the source of everything. It gives itself up continually, and thus, it endures forever.