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)
Yesterday, the challenge before us was seeing through all fear. It is the only way to always be safe. Today, Lao Tzu wonders what we are going to be doing with this new-found freedom from fear. What we want is to open our hearts to the world and see the essence of the Tao. There is so much that we want to learn. The pursuit of knowledge awaits us. We can’t wait to get out there and start learning.
But Lao Tzu catches me eying the window as I rush to the door in my hurry to get out and start exploring. “Hold on, there. Where are you going in such a hurry?”
“I’m sorry, Master, I was just thinking it was time to get going. So very much out there to see and do.”
“Oh? What exactly is out there, that isn’t in here?” Lao Tzu asks, pointing with his bony finger at my heart.
We don’t have to go anywhere to open our hearts to what is. The essence of the Tao is not outside of us, it is within us. Of course, I am not thinking about my heart, at all. I am thinking that my brain doesn’t have enough knowledge. There is still, so much to learn. I don’t know enough. And, living in the town of Podunk, in the middle of Nowhere, means I have some traveling to do.
Lao Tzu will have none of it. We think so highly of the pursuit of knowledge. So very highly, in fact, that we will go many thousands of dollars in debt, just so we can say that we acquired a little more knowledge. But Lao Tzu wonders what exactly we have gotten for all of that. You know so much, and understand so little. And you remedy your lack of understanding with still more knowledge. Only to find you understand even less.
Does that sound anti-knowledge to you? I don’t think Lao Tzu is anti-knowledge. I just think he wishes that we valued understanding a little more. Maybe we do; but we don’t understand that understanding isn’t gained in the same way that knowledge is gained.
In tomorrow’s chapter, Lao Tzu will better explain the differences between the pursuit of knowledge and the practice of the Tao. There is a stark difference between knowledge and understanding. Today, is something of a teaser.
Today, Lao Tzu teases us with the example of the Master, who arrives without ever leaving, sees the light without looking for it, and achieves without doing anything. That isn’t something I need to know. It is something I need to understand.