Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 56

One who knows does not speak
One who speaks does not know

Upon reading these opening lines, our first instinct might be to be quiet, to show that, or at least hope that, we are among those who know. But then, after a while, we want to talk about it, either to share what we think we know, or to question whether we know anything at all. Even Lao Zi, the purported author of the Tao Te Ching, acknowledges in the opening lines of the first chapter that the Tao is beyond understanding and identification . . . and then proceeds to use roughly 5,000 characters to describe it!

Our minds operate in the realm of thought, and we communicate using language. Yet these two functions by their very nature take us a step away from the direct and unfiltered experience of reality, of truth. That doesn’t make thinking and speaking bad. It just means that they, like Moses, will inevitably fail to take us into the promised land they point to. With that in mind, our aim in thinking and speaking might be, as Adyashanti says, to fail well.

Two sections follow these opening lines, each with a repeating pattern. The first section sets forth what might be practices for finding entry to the mystery.

Seal the openings
Close the door
Blunt the point
Unravel the tangles
Soften the brightness
Become one with the dust
This is called mysterious union

These lines highlight the idea that entering the promised land, so to speak, is not achieved by effort or force. In fact, it is not “achieved” at all, but rather “allowed” or “released” into. The nature of the universe, as described in the Tao Te Ching, is to manifest into form, and return to the formlessness of Tao. It is a natural process, one that we neither create nor control.

The last section follows a pattern of transcending opposites, a theme throughout the entire text.

Thus it is beyond attachment
Beyond aversion
Beyond gain
Beyond loss
Beyond honor
Beyond disgrace
Thus harmonized with everything under heaven

Our brains seek to understand, to know, to categorize and file away. Negative or apophatic theology teaches us that that is all well and good, but it is not how we enter into the mystery of divine relationship or union. “Not this, not this” is the refrain of those who know truth.

Or, as St. Augustine said, “If you can understand it, it’s not God.”

18 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching – Chapter 56”

  1. It's very hard to leave a comment on this one, Galen. Pondering the words and realizing that there is nothing to say. Except maybe thanks for the meditation.

  2. Wow, this was an interesting one for sure. I ‘m back into reading blog posts but not as much anymore. It’s always fun to drop by and see what the Tao thoughts are.
    I believe that we can know the truth of all things as we seek to know God and develop a relationship with Him and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Through the gift of the Holy Ghost we can be enlightened with truth and I believe eventually to know the mysteries of God.
    It’s always fun to know and follow you and your unique posts.
    Blessings and hugs! .

  3. Hey, LeAnn. Nice to hear from you. I need to get over to your blog and catch up. Will do that this morning!

    There are different ways of knowing, don't you think? We can know something with our thinking mind, and we can know something with our intuition or nonrational heart-mind. The message of the Tao Te Ching, and of many Christian writers, is that we cannot know the mystery of truth or the divine through our rational minds, but that we can directly access it through our intuitive heart-mind. At least that's the way I understand it. And I think that is what St. Augustine meant.

  4. 'The nature of the universe, as described in the Tao Te Ching, is to manifest into form, and return to the formlessness of Tao. It is a natural process, one that we neither create nor control.'

    I like the way you wrote this. Its a natural process of life manifesting into form and returning to the formless Tao. We have no control over it, we can only observe it all in awe and wonder. Can we trust in this nature of the universe without an underlying need or attempt to control and create outcome in our daily lives? Can we trust the isness of life?

  5. '…we enter into the mystery of divine relationship or union. “Not this, not this” is the refrain of those who know truth'

    Galen another great post.

    This chapter seems to point to a way, an approach to the mystery of life and the unknowable divine presence, where we rely less on the senses, less on thought, and talk. We enter into the stillness of being and an inner knowing. Meditation and contemplative prayer allows us to still the thinking mind and we become absorbed into the divine mystery of stillness which is always Now.

  6. Einstein said that a fundamental question to ask ourselves is whether we see the universe as hostile or friendly. Trust comes easier if we are aligned with the natural process rather than in an adversarial stance. Thanks as always, Brian, for adding to the conversation.

  7. Letting go of our thoughts is so difficult, isn't it? I was with someone with autism the other day and she was saying how her anxiety is caused by unwanted thoughts taking over and getting in the way of her 'now' so much that she freezes up. It is in fact very difficult to have a conversation with her and ironically made me very aware of how much talking and asking questions that I was doing! She’d asked me how I was, what had been happening for me, and out gushed a whole list to which she couldn’t respond. Kind of funny though! I thought, enough, enough! Then I tried to explain mindfulness as a route to letting go – like a mid stage towards it. It is so much more peaceful and centred to be in a zone of no thinking even for just a few seconds – like a release that takes you to a place of truth somehow…anyway, Galen, this is what your post triggered in me just now, and I and no idea it was going to! (seems to be a recurring pattern when reading your posts!)

  8. That recurring pattern reminds me of something someone said in our No Way Cafe group I lead twice a month. We were discussing how to approach a particular issue, and she said, "Let's just see what happens." Perfect.

    That place of truth you reach in a few seconds of no thinking is called the "gap" in Shambhala training. We can sometimes be aware of it in that nanosecond between an experience and when we start thinking about it, that moment of direct and unfiltered experience.

    By the way, I have a son and a foster son both with autism, so I was interested in your friend's description of her own experience. Thanks for sharing that.

  9. I'm not sure if I should comment in knowing or know simply in silence. haha great post although I find this extremely hard to do 🙂 This sounds like it requires surrender, letting go and letting things be .

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