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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.

1200px-Dao-character.svg.png

Tao

the Way

            第 四 十

Line 1  不出於戶以知天下

Line 2  規(窺)於牖以知天道

 

          

 

Line 3  亓出也彌遠亓知彌少

Line 4  是以聖人不行而知

      不見而名

      弗爲而成

          

likely scribal error, loan character or corrupted character

 

 

LESSON 47

The 3rd Way

of Knowing

       Lao Tzu opens this short lesson with another breathtaking statement.

Without going out the door

you can 知zhī know the whole world.

 

This could be yet another of Lao Tzu's seemingly preposterous statements, such as when he told us to “give up learning,” to  “curl and be straight,” and that the sage acts by “not doing.” But at least for now, let us accept as a hypothesis that we can “知zhī know the whole world” and that Lao Tzu is inviting us to become acquainted with this special kind of knowledge. Then we can better ask how it might be so.

     We all know the sensation of what is me and what is not-me. This is because  human consciousness is binary: there is always a 1) me--the person who is right here thinking, sensing and perceiving, and 2) a not-me, which includes all the things "out there"--trees and boats and TVs and porcupines. 

 

     Because consciousness always sees in "twos," there appears to always be a boundary between my "me" and the rest of the world.  

I also have the helpful ability to think about my self.  In fact, I can, in a manner of speaking, stand outside myself and reflect upon my "self". And in doing so I become aware of my organism as one among many other organisms in the world.  This ability to reflect on my existence is different from the ability of other things in our natural world which don't seem to have the same acute sense of themselves that we have.

 

 

 boundary

        But this "twoness" of consciousness also provides us with a potential problem. In knowing myself only in my conscious thoughts about myself,  I may never actually meet myself directly.  That's because any conscious thoughts I have about my self can only present me with a second-hand experience of my self.  We know that the reflection in the mirror is not "me," but we often don't note that that my reflection upon my self is not "me" either, not really. 

     My reflections upon myself are always a split second removed from my real self who is doing the reflecting. So, just as I can't spin around from my reflection in the mirror and find myself there, so too I can't reflect, in consciousness, the self who is reflecting. Why I try, there appears to be no one there. 

 

     The "me" that I know in consciousness is not my real self at all. It doesn't exist outside my head. And yet this "me" in my head is the one for whom I have the most concern.  It is this "me" that worries, is bashful, vulnerable, and may feel insulted, embarrassed or afraid; or on the flip side, my "me" can a be proud of itself, pleased with itself, delighted with itself, and so one. My "me" seems to rule over my day, seeking all kinds of satisfaction and approval for itself whereas while my direct self, what we can call my "I," is quite content to just be.  My "I,' my actual existence, doesn't give a hoot about any of that other stuff.

      My direct self, what we are calling my "I," is what Lao Tzu calls 自zì 然rán, or my “self-so-ness.”  This is my direct and spontaneous self, my real and only self. It is not the "me" in my head about whom I have so much concern. That is why Lao Tzu tells us, in Lesson 13:

Why do I say,

"I regard honor and

great suffering

as my 'me?'"

 Because the reason I have

 great suffering in the first place

is because I have a "me."

  If I didn't have a "me,"

  then how could I suffer.

 

     My "I," or my self-so-ness," doesn't change. But my "me" is not so lucky. In fact, my "me" which seems always to be in flux; happy, sad, bored, exuberant, angry, disgusted.  

     Now to Lao Tzu's point, that we can "知zhī know the whole world."  While consciousness is an essential resource and one that distinguishes us from others in the natural world, xxxxthe , the world, including ourselves, are a series of objects.  And, there always seems to be a boundary between my "me" and that which I am thinking about and sensing. When I look up at a rainbow, for example, I see the spectrum of colors along with the blue-sky background. As I then reflect on my experience, these colors appear to be "out there" at some distance with my "me" down here as the experiencer of it all.

     But if I search my head for an actual "me" who is experiencing the rainbow, I come up empty. The fact is that there is only the direct and spontaneous experiencing of the rainbow. But then my "me" steps in a split-second afterward and I reflect upon the experience of the rainbow; I find myself considering how pretty the colors are,  how I can't wait to tell others about it, how I wish I had brought my my camera, how I hope to see many more rainbows; or perhaps I  find myself compare this rainbow to other rainbows I've seen. 

 

     What have I done? In consciousness I have missed out on the rainbow. What was a direct and immediate "not-two" (self/rainbow) has now becomes two (self and rainbow.)

 

     

I cannot meet myself directly  in consciousness.  

 But because consciousness only knows in "twos," it also provides  the occasion for me mistake what is "not-me" as in opposition to me.  

 

 

  It is in this me/not-me divide that our problems, or what seems to be problems, have their genesis. 

Lessons 2 and 20

     It is in this me/not-me divide that our problems, or what seems to be problems, have their genesis. 

War of opposites.

     It is in me/not-me consciousness that I know the TV is across the room, the market is across town, and China is across the world. But there is another important function of consciousness. Because consciousness sees in "twos," I can also think about my self.  In fact, I can, in a manner of speaking stand outside myself and reflect upon my "self". And, in doing so I become aware of my organism as one among many other organisms in the world.  This ability to reflect on my existence is different from the ability of other things in our natural world, which don't seem to have the same acute sense of themselves that we have.  

     Consciousness also provides us with a potential problem. 

     But because consciousness only knows in "twos," in opposites, it also provides  the occasion for me mistake what is "not-me" as in opposition to me.  

the "me-I-think-about-in-my head" for my actual self. It is not.  Like the image of my body in the mirror is not my body, so to the "me" that I think in my head about has no existence but in my head. Just as I can't spin around from the mirror and find my body there, so too I can't search my mind and find this separate "me" anywhere.  It doesn't exist, not really.  It is a fraud. The me-in-my-head is not a living and thriving organism. It is merely a presentiment to myself.  It is not my immediate and profound self, what we might call "I", or what Lao Tzu calls 自zì 然rán, or “self-so-ness.”

      "I," my self-so-ness," doesn't change. But the me-in-my-head is not so lucky. In fact, my "me" seems always to be in flux; happy, sad, bored, exuberant, angry, disgusted.  It is my "me" that worries, is bashful, vulnerable, and may feel insulted, embarrassed or afraid; or on the flip side, my "me" can a be proud of itself,  pleased, delighted, calm, or maybe needs calming down. My "me" seems to reign over my day, seeking all kinds of satisfaction and approval for itself whereas my "I" is quite content to just be.  My "I' doesn't give a hoot about any of that other stuff.

     Now to Lao Tzu's point, that we can "知zhī know the whole world."  In consciousness I experience a kind of boundary between the "me" who is thinking and sensing, and the world outside my "me" about which I am thinking and sensing.  When I look up at a rainbow, for example, I see the spectrum of colors along with the blue-sky background. As I reflect on my experience, these colors appear to be "out there" at some distance with my "me" down here as the experiencer of it all.

buying selling One event.

     But if I search my head for an actual "me" who is experiencing the rainbow, I come up empty.  The fact is that there is only the experiencing of the rainbow. But then my "me" steps in a split-second afterward as I reflect upon the experience of the rainbow; I consider how pretty the colors are, how I can't wait to tell others about it, how I wish I had brought my my camera, or perhaps compare this rainbow to other rainbows I've seen--it is only then that there are two.  In conscious I have now drawn a boundary between myself and the experience.  What was a a direct and immediate "not-two" becomes two. 

      Consciousness is our gift and when must cherish it. And the fact is there are "two." 

Boundaries unite. 

Nature has lines but no boundaries.  Where the tree branch ends empty space begins. And where that empty space ends, another tree begins, or perhaps a house, a hill or a cow.  Nature ha , no big and samlle, not good and bad.  Those are our discernments. .

me-not me is in conflict.

buying and selling are One event 

   Actually, that's fine.  Consciousness is our gift that allows us to become aware of our experiences. .  Note that there is not a "one" here, but a "not-two."  The world is  At this point I have a choice. I can experience the rainbow directly, or I can think about my experiencing the rainbow. And, if I think about my experiencing the rainbow, I'll  see myself there on the ground doing the experiencing.  inprobably feel elated compare it to other rainbows

But are the colors in fact "out there."  They are present to me right here, aren't they?  

 

Are there really two? 

inventof me-not me, I have formed a kind of boundary around myself. M

 

 

 

    But are the colors in fact "out there."  Aren't they actually present to me right here, right now?

My "me" experiences itself as a kind of island in the world, opposed to all the other things in the world--with all as "out there" But if the "me in my head" is a fraud, then who is experiencing the world?  Answer: The who that 知zhī "knows the whole world" is non other than the Way itself, having come forth as this particular organism, this "I" existence, this 自zì 然rán.   And what does this "I" existence want? Nothing at all.  What does it want to accomplish?  Nothing at all. What is it afraid of?  Nothing at all.  

    Each I existence is an unprecedented and thriving event possessing specific qualities and potentials. That means that I can either go about my day concerned for the "me" in the mirror who is just an object to myself, or I can go about my day, , free from the "me" in the mirror, identifying with what I experience, that which is presently occuring. experiencing. My choice. 

___________

Or, is there only the experience of the world with no rainbow. world

When I look up at a rainbow, for example, I see the spectrum of colors along with the blue-sky background. These appear to be "out there" at some distance, and my "me" is down here being the experiencer of it all. But are the colors in fact "out there."  They are present to me right here, aren't they?  

    To "know the whole world," as Lao Tzu puts it, is to recognize that 1) what my

"me" calls the experiencer of the rainbow and 2) my very experience of seeing the rainbow, is a single experience. What we take to be two is actually one. And, to take it a step further, who am I at that moment but the experiencer of the rainbow.  In fact, who am I other than the flow of sensations and thoughts that go with me throughout my day?  

The two-- the "me" that I expericne and the "I" doing the experiences are one. 

Tzu ran is our natural state, not mymisideing of myself.   It is an immeidate and nonverbal awareness. 

We have constructed the boundary between me the thinker and feeler and the not me.  which is all outside my thinking and feeling me.

Know the whold world is to be at once and spontaneiously aware that my self and what I previouslyh thought to be not self as One. 

Now, what if I try to find the self who is experiencing the rainbow?  Where is this self?  Or, is there only the experiencing of the rainbow. (?)?

The sensation I have of the world "out there" and the sensation I have of "me" over here is one and the same sensation. (because there is no knowing of "out there" without an "in here."  ) My experince and what I experinc is one.  When I hear a robin outside my window, are there three here--the sound of the robin, me hearing it, and me the hearer? Or, is the just a haring of the sound. 

But my "I," my 自zì 然rán or “self-so-ness does not.  

       

That's why myh "me" can be afraid. And that why my "me" seeks approval and safety.

 

peering out that the many things of the world.

dI appeseand not as and "I" or 自zì 然rán,“self-so-ness.” I not only cut myself off from my sp 

     In splitting myself like this, I also split myself off from the world.  slalw 

    This spit between my "I" as subject and my "me" as object

 

As if I can someohow stand apart and look at myself.

misinterpret myself and the world this limited. 

 

t can only see in twos-- What if, in consciousness, I am misinterpreting it all?  What if there is no separated "me," at all, but only the experiencing.    

     I look up at a rainbow, for example, and I see the spectrum of colors along with the blue-sky background and the landscape I note out of my peripheral vision. These appear to be "out there" at some distance. What we overlook in consciousness, though, is that what I call my "me," the seer of the rainbow, and the experience of seeing the rainbow, is a single experience.  So, what I take to be 1) "me," the seer of who is seeing the rainbow, and 2) the seen rainbow, is one event.  Where there appears to be "two" is actually one.

     In fact the colors are not "out there" at allThey are present to me right here, aren't they? 

I am both.

    Who is my "me" other than the flow of sensations and thoughts which go with me throughout my day?  Of course my  consciousness, which again, can only see in "twos," interprets these sensation as belonging to the person in the mirror--my "me."  But can I find this me minus the flow of sensations? 

     To "know the whole world," as Lao Tzu puts it, is to recognize that 1) what my "me" calls the experiencer of the rainbow and 2) my experience of seeing the rainbow, is a single experience. What we take to be two is actually one. And, to take it a step further, who am I at that moment but the experiencer of the rainbow.  In fact, who am I other than the flow of sensations and thoughts that go with me throughout my day?  

     

     The 知zhī “knowing” of which Lao Tzu speaks in this lesson, is not the helpful knowledge we acquire through our daily experiences and reasonings.  This 知zhī “knowing” is a realization.  This realization is that the sensation I experience as my "me" does not exist apart from the world it senses.  It takes two.  And yet, the two are one.  

      This 知zhī knowing, or realization, of which Lao Tzu refers here is synonomous with the what he elsewhere refers to as  知zhī knowing of one’s 自zì 然rán “self-so-ness.” Our 自zì 然rán is always here with us, or better yet, here as us—utterly present, closer to us than even our own breathing. That's why we can't see it, feel it, or taste it. It has no face in the mirror. 'In fact, it is this self-so-ness, rather than "me" that I see in the mirror, which is experiencing the world around me including the "me" in the mirror.  

     To "know the whole world" is to experience the world directly, that flow of events that come upon me throughout my day. There is no buffer here. There is no intrusion by my "me" with all its read-made notions, beliefs and sentiments. Our own self-so-ness is our touchstone with the timeless Way. And through it, we discover the self-so-ness of all other things.  This is to "know the whole world."

________

** In Lesson 2, for example, Lao Tzu refers to  知zhī knowing what is attractive to us, and unattractive; and what is good and not good.

** In Lesson 10 he asks us, “With all your insight into the world, can you keep from becoming 知zhī clever?” And, in Lesson 18 he warns us, “When  知zhī clever and quick-wittedness appear, then there is deceit.” In Lesson 65 he counsels the ruler that one who, “…uses 知zhī cunning to govern the state, is a thief to the state; but that by not using 知zhī cunning, the ruler is a benefactor of the state.”

Click on each line number

 for Chinese-English interlinear

& commentary

1.

Without going

out the door,

you can know

the whole world.

2.

Without even looking

out the window

you can know

heaven's Way.

 

 

 

 

​​​​​​​​​​​3.

The farther you go

the less you know.

 

 

4.

That's how the sage

knows without

travelling about;

names things

without seeing them;

and completes his or her

work without

doing anything at all.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​.  .  .  .  .  .

 

 

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