Knowledge Without Understanding

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)

Knowledge Without Understanding

Today, I think I am going to just stick with Stephen Mitchell’s translation.

What Lao Tzu is teaching in today’s chapter isn’t something new for him. Back when he was talking about the heavy being the root of the light (chapter 26), he talked about how the Master can travel all day, without ever leaving home. And, in that chapter, he made quite clear, home is a metaphor for your heart.

Today, he says we don’t even have to open our door to open our heart to all the world has to offer us. The essence of the Tao can be seen without any need of looking out our window.

We have enough, we all have enough, within us. We don’t have to look outside our homes, outside ourselves. The concern Lao Tzu addresses today is that by looking outside our homes, outside ourselves, the knowledge we may gain ends up being counterproductive. The more you know, the less you understand. Lao Tzu sees an inverse relationship between distance and understanding. The further we roam, the less we understand.

Therefore, the Master doesn’t leave, and yet arrives; doesn’t look, but sees the light, doesn’t do a thing, yet achieves everything.

I know this chapter has a certain anti-knowledge feel to it. But, that is just on the surface. Look deeper. What Lao Tzu is really wanting us to understand is knowing without knowing. Not knowing means not relying on the external. But, he doesn’t leave us without knowledge. There is still knowing. A knowing that comes from inside of us.

He will talk more about this in tomorrow’s chapter, where he will contrast the pursuit of knowledge with the practice of the Tao.

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