“Those who know don’t talk
those who talk don’t know
seal the opening
close the gate
dull the edge
untie the tangle
soften the light
and join the dust
this is called the Dark Union
it can’t be embraced
it can’t be abandoned
it can’t be helped
it can’t be harmed
it can’t be exalted
it can’t be debased
thus does the world exalt it”
(Taoteching, verse 56, translation by Red Pine)
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “”Those who know, value deeds not words. A team of horses can’t overtake the tongue. More talk means more problems.”
TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Those who grasp the truth forget about words. Those who don’t practice what they talk about are no different from those who don’t know.”
SU CH’E says, “The Tao isn’t talk, but it doesn’t exclude talk. Those who know don’t necessarily talk. Those who talk don’t necessarily know.”
HUANG YUAN-CHI says, “We seal the opening and close the gate to nourish the breath. We dull the edge and untie the tangle to still the spirit. We soften the light and join the dust to adapt to the times and get along with the world.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “By sealing the opening, we guard the exit. By closing the gate, we bar the entrance. By dulling the edge, we adjust the inside. By untying the tangle, we straighten the outside. By softening the light, we focus on ourselves. By joining the dust, we adapt to others. What is devoid of exit and entrance, inside and outside, self and other, we call the Dark Union.”
WANG TAO says, “The Dark Union unites all things but leaves no visible trace.”
WANG PI says, “If something can be embraced, it can be abandoned. If something can be helped, it can be harmed. If something can be exalted, it can be debased.”
TE-CH’ING says, “Those who know transcend the mundane and the superficial, hence they cannot be embraced. Their utter honesty enables others to see. Hence, they cannot be abandoned. They are content and free of desires. Hence, they cannot be helped. They dwell beyond life and death. Hence, they cannot be harmed. They view high position as so much dust. Hence, they cannot be exalted. Beneath their rags they harbor jade. Hence, they cannot be debased. Those who know walk in the world, yet their minds transcend the material realm. Hence, they are exalted by the world.”
WEI YUAN says, “Those who seal the opening and close the gate neither love nor hate. Hence, they don’t embrace or abandon anything. Those who dull the edge and untie the tangle don’t seek help. Thus, they suffer no harm. Those who soften the light and join the dust don’t exalt themselves. Thus, they aren’t debased by others. Forgetting self and other, they experience Dark Union with the Tao. Those who have not yet experienced this Dark Union unite with ‘this’ and separate from ‘that.’ To unite means to embrace, to help, and to exalt. To separate means to abandon, to harm, and to debase. Those who experience Dark Union unite with nothing. From what, then, could they separate?”
And RED PINE adds, “Knowing comes before talking. And the Dark Union comes before knowing. It’s called the Dark Union because it precedes the division into subject and object.”
In our verses this week, we have been talking a lot about the need for balance, for the practice of doing nothing. And today’s verse is a nice culmination, a nice verse for us to end the week on.
What does Lao-tzu mean by balance? And what does doing nothing have to do with it?
Well, those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know. That is somewhat similar to saying, If I told you, I would have to kill you.
No, seriously, how do we put this balance, this doing nothing into practice?
Seal the opening. Close the gate. That really does mean exactly what it sounds like it means. It means stop talking. And stop going out doing things. Dull the edge. Untie the tangle. We really need to stop, and take all the time it will take to get all the tangles unraveled. Because all our prior interventions have made a fine mess of things. Soften the light. Join the dust. Dust, to me, symbolizes disuse. Dust settles on things that aren’t being regularly employed.
This is what Lao-tzu calls Dark Union, this joining with the dust. Being still. Refraining from action. Letting the dust settle. Being one with the dust.
When everywhere around you, you are hearing a call to action, Lao-tzu is calling you to inaction.
Why? Because anything that can be embraced, can be abandoned. And anything that can be helped, can be harmed. And anything that can be exalted, can be debased. Our interventions have unintended consequences. We want to help, and we end up harming.
But, inaction, the practice of doing nothing, brings about a whole different balance. What can’t be embraced, can’t be abandoned. What can’t be helped, can’t be harmed. What can’t be exalted, can’t be debased.
This is what “the world” would exalt, if we only put it into practice in our lives.