Standing Conventional Wisdom on Its Head

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 47, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Standing Conventional Wisdom on Its Head

Lao Tzu stands conventional wisdom on its head today, like he so often does. Conventional wisdom tells us, if we want to understand something, we must gain more knowledge about it. But, when it comes to understanding the way things really are, in our world, in our universe, the more we know, the less we understand.

That may be, because the more we know, the more questions arise in our minds. Certainly, that may be true in many cases. But, I think Lao Tzu is talking about things on a more primal level. What is real versus what we perceive with our senses. Knowledge, however much we may accumulate, can only inform us of the way things seem to be, the way things appear, the way they sound, the way they feel, or smell, or taste.

Here, we aren’t talking about the things we can read about in books, or on the internet, or learn in schools, colleges, and universities. That isn’t the knowledge Lao Tzu is warning against. What Lao Tzu is warning against is relying on our senses, when we should trust our intuition. Lao Tzu is specifically referring to how to be in harmony with the Tao.

Lao Tzu often points to nature for the perfect metaphors to describe what being in harmony is all about. And, that is only right, since being natural is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. But, he also tells us to look into the depths, rather than at the surface. Concern yourself with the fruit, rather than the flower. What he means by that is to not trust what your senses can perceive, to reveal the whole truth. You are going to have to look, listen, smell, taste, and feel on an entirely deeper level than the physical realm. You already know all you need to know, inside you, in the core of your being. That knowledge is innate. It may be hidden from you now, after years of conditioning. But, it is still there, in the core of your being, ready for you to tap into it.

You don’t need to step outside your door to understand the ways of the world. You don’t even need to so much as look outside your window to understand the essence of the Tao.

That is why the truly wise don’t go out, yet they know. Without seeing, they understand. And, without having to strive for it, they succeed in everything they do.

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