Absolute Zero

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Absolute Zero

Yesterday’s chapter, I acknowledged, had a certain anti-knowledge feel to it. Of course, I said, that was only on the surface. The problem is when we are looking outside ourselves, trying to acquire more knowledge, we run the danger of understanding less. To avoid that danger, Lao Tzu would have us know when to stop. He wants us to practice not-knowing, also known as knowing without knowing. Not knowing means not relying on external things. But, of course, there is still the knowing part. That is intuitive and spontaneous, and comes from within us.

I promised, yesterday, that Lao Tzu would contrast the pursuit of knowledge with the practice of the Tao. It is the simple difference between adding and subtracting, between increasing and diminishing.

The pursuit of knowledge, and the practice of the Tao, is an ongoing, a daily, thing. With the pursuit of knowledge, every day something must be added. But, with the practice of the Tao, every day something has to be dropped.

The practice of the Tao is very different, in this respect, from the pursuit of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge requires you do more and more. The practice of the Tao requires you do less and less.

Less and less do you need to force things. Less and less do you need to try to control. Less and less do you need to intervene. Less and less do you need to interfere.

While you are doing more and more, there is always more left to be done. But when you do less and less, there comes a time when you finally arrive at non-action. This reminds me a lot of a physics lesson I was teaching a couple of days ago. You can keep adding heat; there is apparently no limit with respect to increasing temperatures. But, there is a limit to how much heat that can be lost. Scientists call that coldest temperature, absolute zero.

Absolute zero is where I want to be when it comes to interference, to intervention, to forcing things, to trying to control. I want to arrive, finally, at non-action.

When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

Now, I know that is anathema to those with the will to power. But, their will to power has blinded them to the truth.

The truth is that true mastery can never be gained by interfering. It can only be gained by letting things go their own way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *