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Lao Tzu for Everyone
Students, Scholars,
& Seekers
Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.

A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 47

'Knowing' the

Whole world.


(彳step with left foot 亍 step with right)

go, walk, move

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Without going

out the door,

you can know

the whole world.

不bù   出chū  於yú 戶hù  

  not     go out      (prep.)    door


以yǐ     知zhī   天tiān 下xià

by means    know        heaven      under

Not going out from the door,

by this means know under heaven.

      We have a “daily self,” an historical self, that goes with us wherever we go. It is personal.  This is the self that we see it in the mirror each morning; and we can, to a degree of accuracy, recite the history of our daily self, and even imagine a future for it. But our profound self--our 自zì 然rán self-so-ness, is not obvious to the senses. Nor does it live on an historical timeline. 

     To discover one's profound self, one's self-so-ness, is to also discover the timeless ground of all things.  This is to "know the whole world." *


*See also Lesson 16: “Knowing what is 常cháng timeless is to be all-embracing in one’s knowledge.” [Note that the characters  恆héng and 常cháng are synonymous, and are used interchangeably in Lao Tzu’s lessons to mean “timeless” or “eternal.”]

. . . . . .

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Without even looking

out the window,

you can know

heaven's Way.

​​​​ 不bù  規guī  (窺kuī)   於yú   牖yǒu

not      regulation  peer out     (prep.)   window

以yú  知zhī  天tiān 道tào

use     know*  heaven     way**

 Not peeking through the window,

by this means know heaven’s way.

     Looking out the window, we view the external world as objects to us.  This is important, of course, for navigating our way through the day.  Lao Tzu is certainly not discounting the importance of perceiving with all our senses. He is merely pointing out that the senses cannot detect the timeless Way itself. I can only sense the physical expressions of the Way.  

​     In the same way, our senses cannot detect our underlying and profound self, our 自zì 然rán self-so-ness, because our self-so-ness is not an object "out there" that can be sensed. We won't find it in the mirror or in our heads, and yet it is closer than hands and feet.

    But what if we do “look out the window?”  When done thoughtfully it may actually be a good start, because through the 10,000 things that we see, we may easily infer the presence of the Way as we contemplate the wonder of how each thing is steered inwardly by its own self-so-ness, its own individual way.***  


*The standard text reads 見jiàn “to see,” rather than 知zhī to kjow


**While the term 道tào Way is used frequently,  天tiān 道tào, or  “heaven’s Way,” is found only in the two Ma Wang Tui editions. See also in Lesson 73 where it is presented a bit differently, with the inclusoin of the preposition 之zhī:  天tiān 之zhī 道tào, or, the Way of Heaven.


***See Lessons 17, 21, 24, 25, 51, 54, 57, and 64, for example, where Lao Tzu exclaims the self-so-ness or spontaneity of the Way operating within and as each thing, including ourselves. 

   See also Lesson 51: “While all things respect the Way and value it’s Power, it does not influence them. Rather, each thing is 恆héng 自zì  然rán 也yě  timelessly what it is in itself.

      . . . . . .


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The farther you go

the less you know.

  亓qí    出zhū   也yě   壐xǐ  (彌mí) s遠yuǎn

 (pron.)   go out     (pause*)  ruler’s seal    full     distance

 He goes out to the full distance,

he knows fully less.

        In knowing only the world of things, our self-so-ness remains concealed from us. 


 *也yě, here, seems to serve as a pause marker, with no verbal meaning.

. . . . . 


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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.

   是shì  以yǐ  聖shèng 人rén   

    (for this reason)      sage          person  

不bù  行xíng  而ér 知zhī

not    walk/move   and     know

不bù 見jiàn 而ér 名míng 

 not       see      and      name 

弗fú  爲wéi 而ér 成chéng

not it*    do      and     complete.

For this reason the sagely person

doesn’t walk and yet knows;

Does not see and yet names;

does not do it and yet completes.

    The sage vacuums the floor, changes the diapers, and gets the kids off to school. The sage’s “daily self” is no different from anyone else’s.  

    Yet at the same instant the sage 知zhī knows his or her profound self, or self-so-ness, as an expression of the timeless Way which undergirds his or her “daily self.” The sages spontaneous activity in his or her self-so-ness, is what Lao Tzu call 无wú not 為wéi doing, or, not doing anything of oneself. 


*The standard editions have 不bù as the negative in "not do." In place of the negative 不bù, the MWT editions have a different negative, 弗fú, which always takes an object. Therefore, rather than "not do," it reads "(弗fú) not do anything."

​​​​. . . . . .


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