Sunday, March 22, 2009

Words of Wisdom from Lao-tzu

Twenty-five centuries ago, Lao-tze said: “Existence is beyond the power of words to define.” He was adamant on this point, repeating again and again: “Existence is infinite, not to be defined.” Yet, if we want to explore the mysteries of life, of the universe we live in, what are we to do if what he says is true, that no matter how intense our scientific study, the universe will always elude our definitions and hence, our understanding? He gave us his answer:
There is no need to run outside
For better seeing,
Nor to peer from a window. Rather abide
At the center of your being;
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.

Lao-tzu’s words appear to be a criticism of academic undertakings, and he goes on to say:
Leave off fine learning! End the nuisance
Of saying yes to this and perhaps to that,
Distinctions with how little significance!
Categorical this, categorical that,
What slightest use are they!

His words seem to be apposed to scholarly learning, which goes against everything in Western society. He goes on to explain why:
People through finding something beautiful
Think something else unbeautiful,
Through finding one man fit
Judge another unfit.
Life and death, though stemming from each other,
Seem to conflict as stages of change,
Difficult and easy as phases of achievement,
Long and short as measures of cntrast,
High and low as degrees of relation;
But since the varying of tones gives music to a voice
And what is is the was of what shall be,
The sanest man
Sets up no deed,
Lays down no law,
Takes everything that happens as it comes…

I believe what he is saying above is that distinctions are a spider’s web, and if you approach the world through distinctions, you will never untangle yourself. Only accepting what comes without judgment, can you free yourself of the worlds pains.

The surest test if a man be sane
Is if he accepts life whole, as it is,
Without needing by measure or touch to understand
The measureless untouchable source
Of its images . . .

His teachings are antirational and anti-intellectual, but he is consistent with the teachings of the Buddha. And what the Buddha’s path promised was not understand or salvation, but of freeing oneself of worldly pain.


  1. It is a good posting. I like it. It's pretty much impressive.


  2. I love the Witter Byner translation... It is absolutely wonderful, I have a copy printed during WWII in the USA and it is pocket sized...