He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know.
Fill up its apertures, close its doors, dull its edges, untie its tangles, soften its light, submerge its turmoil–this is the Mystic Unity.
Then love and hatred cannot touch him.
Profit and loss cannot reach him.
Honor and disgrace cannot affect him.
Therefore is he always the honored one of the world.
(Tao Teh King 56)
In this section of the Tao Teh King we are given a description of the worthy seeker of the Tao.
He who knows does not speak; he who speaks does not know. There is an old proverb: “He who knows tells it not; he who tells knows it not.” The Kena Upanishads says: “If you think that you have understood Brahman well, you know it but slightly, whether it refers to you [the individual Self] or to the gods. So then is it to be investigated by you [the pupil] [even though] I think it is known. I do not think that I know it well; nor do I think that I do not know it. He who among us knows it, knows it and he, too, does not know that he does not know. To whomsoever it is not known, to him it is known: to whomsoever it is known, he does not know. It is not understood by those who understand it; it is understood by those who do not understand it” (2.1-3).
This is often true of lesser things when a wise person does not want to get entangled in exposition of unresolvable ideas or situations. But it is supremely true in relation to the Tao. The Absolute is beyond words and concepts. Therefore to say anything about It is to speak nonsense. Also by speaking we can find ourselves drawn into useless talk, especially by those that love to contradict and argue.
Sri Ramakrishna said: “What Brahman is cannot be described in words. Everything has been polluted, like food that has touched the tongue–that is, everything has been described in words. But no one has been able to describe Brahman. It is therefore unpolluted.” Being beyond the reach of ignorant human mind and speech, the Tao is pure and should be left in peace. So the worthy seeker does not babble on about the Tao, but abides in interior silence where alone the Tao can be found and experienced.
Fill up its apertures. Mabry: “So shut your mouth.” Byrn: “Stop talking.” In relation to the Unspeakable, silence alone is wisdom and speaking is folly. Silence is absolutely necessary for those who are seeking to know and become one with the Tao.
Close its doors. Mabry: “Guard your senses.” Why? “The troubling senses forcibly carry away the mind of even the striving man of wisdom. Restraining all these senses, he should sit in yoga, intent on me. Surely, he whose senses are controlled–his consciousness stands steadfast and firm” (Bhagavad Gita 2:60-61). The senses draw us outward while the Reality, the Tao is inward. Certainly when we attain the perfect vision we will find the Tao is both inside and outside because It is everything. But until then we must guard ourselves because: “When the mind is led about by the wandering senses, it carries away the understanding like the wind carries away a ship on the waters” (Bhagavad Gita 2:67).
Dull its edges. Mabry: “Blunt your sharpness.” Feng and English: “Temper your sharpness.” We have all acquired a lot of sharp edges and points in past lives and now is the time to blunt them lest we hurt ourselves and others. Interaction with others must be both sparing and of a calm and peaceful character. Not only should there be no conflict, there should be no drawing out of ourselves into useless communication and interchange.
Untie its tangles. Mabry: “Untangle your affairs.” “As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4-6). Unless our minds, hearts and lives are not made straight and unencumbered by things of earthly experiences, as well as the ups and downs that reflect a consciousness dominated by the ever-changing material cosmos, perception of the Tao will elude us.
Soften its light. Mabry: “Soften your glare.” Mildness is a trait in complete compatibility with the Tao. A Taoist in a very real sense subscribes to the philosophy of Goldilocks: not Too Much, not Too Little, but Just Right. This sentence advocates the principle, not of mere “moderation” but of exact balance which renders something more effective than any other “measure.”
Submerge its turmoil. Wu: “Unite the world into one whole.” Feng and English: “Be at one with the dust of the Earth.” These are rather different translations, but both are wisdom. Certainly unity implies union with the least as well as the greatest of the universe. Nothing can be left out, and certainly nothing should be disdained.
This is the Mystic Unity. Wu: “This is called the Mysterious Whole.” The state of Wholeness is both an interior and exterior condition, as the Tao embraces both inside and outside.
Then love and hatred cannot touch him. Chan: “Therefore it is impossible either to be intimate and close to him or to be distant and indifferent to him.” The real idea is that nothing can really be “in relation” to him since he has transcended “thingness” and there is no longer an ego to think “they like me” or “they dislike me.” For the Me of one who is united with the Tao is beyond the possibilities of any such mental states. Which is why, returning to the first statement, a knower of the Tao keeps silent.
Profit and loss cannot reach him. Since nothing is either “mine” or “not mine” to a knower of the Tao, the concept of profit and loss or gaining and losing just does not apply. Freedom from all anxiety over gaining and keeping possessions is his.
Honor and disgrace cannot affect him. Neither the opinion of those ignorant of the Tao nor their treatment of the perfected Taoist can have any meaning for him. Again, the ego being dissolved there is no one to react to opinion or actions on the part of others.
Therefore is he always the honored one of the world. Feng and English: “This therefore is the highest state of man.” Byrn: “This makes them the most noble of all under the heavens.” All three are certainly true. The knower of the Tao may be seen on the earth, but he never “walks on the earth” in his consciousness. In India there is a devotional song that says: “When I take refuge in Thee, the world vanishes.” So it is with the knower of the Tao. He lives and moves in the Tao, mere appearances being of no import to him.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: The Art of Government