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Beyond Honor and Disgrace

Part 56 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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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

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Introduction to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Chapters of The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Preface to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

  1. On the Absolute Tao
  2. The Rise of Relative Opposites
  3. Action Without Deeds
  4. The Character of Tao
  5. Nature
  6. The Spirit of the Valley
  7. Living for Others
  8. Water
  9. The Danger of Overweening Success
  10. Embracing the One
  11. The Utility of Not-Being
  12. The Senses
  13. Praise and Blame
  14. Prehistoric Origins
  15. The Wise Ones of Old
  16. Knowing the Eternal Law
  17. Rulers
  18. The Decline of Tao
  19. Realize the Simple Self
  20. The World and I
  21. Manifestations of Tao
  22. Futility of Contention
  23. Identification with Tao
  24. The Dregs and Tumors of Virtue
  25. The Four Eternal Models
  26. Heaviness and Lightness
  27. On Stealing the Light
  28. Keeping to the Female
  29. Warning Against Interference
  30. Warning Against the Use of Force
  31. Weapons of Evil
  32. Tao is Like the Sea
  33. Knowing Oneself
  34. The Great Tao Flows Everywhere
  35. The Peace of Tao
  36. The Rhythm of Life
  37. World Peace
  38. Degeneration
  39. Unity Through Complements
  40. The Principle of Reversion
  41. Qualities of the Taoist
  42. The Violent Man
  43. The Softest Substance
  44. Be Content
  45. Calm Quietude
  46. Racing Horses
  47. Pursuit of Knowledge
  48. Conquering the World by Inaction
  49. The People’s Hearts
  50. The Preserving of Life
  51. The Mystic Virtue
  52. Stealing the Absolute
  53. Brigandage
  54. The Individual and the State
  55. The Character of the Child
  56. Beyond Honor and Disgrace
  57. The Art of Government
  58. Unobtrusive Government
  59. Be Sparing
  60. Governing a Big Country
  61. Big and Small Countries
  62. The Good Man’s Treasure
  63. Difficult and Easy
  64. Beginning and End
  65. The Grand Harmony
  66. The Lords of the Ravines
  67. The Three Treasures
  68. The Virtue of Not-Contending
  69. Camouflage
  70. They Know Me Not
  71. Sick-Mindedness
  72. On Punishment (1)
  73. On Punishment (2)
  74. On Punishment (3)
  75. On Punishment (4)
  76. Hard and Soft
  77. Bending the Bow
  78. Nothing Weaker than Water
  79. Peace Settlements
  80. The Small Utopia
  81. The Way of Heaven

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