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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.



the Way

           第 四 十

Line 1  為學者日益


Line 2  云之有云以至於无爲

Line 3   無為而不為也



Line 3  取天下恆无事     

Line 4  及亓有事也



likely a scribal error, loan character or corrupted character




Decrease Upon




     This lesson follows nicely upon the previous one, where Lao Tzu told us that, “Without going anywhere, you can “know” the whole world.”


    Now he addresses “learning.” We are humans, after all, and the only species we know of which that asks questions. We are the only species with both a need and a desire to learn.  The rest of the natural seems to have all the learning it needs already built in r

    We should distinguish between what we might call our “outward” learning and our “inward” learning. “Outward” learning includes the functional knowledge (how to read, drive, cook a hamburger, and grow corn) that we need to support and sustain ourselves, just as Lao Tzu did. This also includes the technical or scientific knowledge that quenches our thirst for understating the workings of world around us (the social customs of Japan, the composition of the polyatomic ion, and the interactions of quantum systems.)  Nowhere does Lao Tzu disparage this kind of “outward” learning.

     But in addition, Lao Tzu also encourages us toward what we might call an “inward” learning. Such inward learning does not involve the “learning” which many current day psychologies advocate, such as delving deep into our personal motives and examining the reasons for our emotions, dreams, feelings, and our aspirations. For Lao Tzu, all of that is still “outward” learning because they are concerned with knowing more and more about the “me” we see in the mirror; the “me” which is, in the final analysis only an outward “me” in so far as it is only an object to myself. (See previous lesson.)

     Lao Tzu teachings are not concerned much with our “me.” Nor is he concerned with us becoming an improved and much better “me,” or an ever-more tolerant, more likeable, and more self-confident “me.” In fact, he calls into question our whole sense of having a separate “me” in the first place.

    Our real self is our 自zì 然rán, or self-so-ness. As explained in the previous lesson, this is not the "me" in the mirror or the "me" that I think about.  My self-so-ness is my direct and spontaneous self, my actual living, breathing, and sentient self. 

    How Is it possible to become fully aware of our authentic self, our self-so-ness?  That is what this lesson is about.




Click on each line number

 for Chinese-English interlinear

& commentary


Without going

out the door,

you can know

the whole world.


Without even looking

out the window

you can know

heaven's Way.






The farther you go

the less you know.




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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