What Did Lao Tzu Mean? Part 4

What did Lao Tzu mean when he wrote in the Tao Te Ching, “Those who say, do not know. Those who know, do not say”?

In this series entitled What Did Lao Tzu Mean? are entertained some responses. You are welcome to include yours as a comment. This part is by several contributors:

Hi dear Jerry:

Re: Lao Tzu’s efforts to express the in-expressible — I would tend
to go with the first….”Those who say do not know” BEcause, !! ..what any one of us “knows” – is only valid for that “one – me- belief”. It isn’t valid for any other.

All us seekers are looking for a universal remedy (primarily) because of our own “need to fix/help/save/enlighten>>>>) others.
Usually meant in great kindness and love; yet…still “our” goal, or
essence… OUR “smell” … OUR “taste” etc. When time to exit comes, we still have to in-breath “our smell, our taste, our belief(s) …so humility has the last word. How can these ideas be expressed – or “given”?? Thus.. saying is empty, even when with great love.
Jenny/Center For Awareness

Don’t know what Lao meant but maybe something like: Knowing is seeing 256 million colors and saying is having a vocabulary that consists of only these 5 words: red, green, blue, black, and white.
Tom Allen

“Those”, who know do not say. Those who say, do not know.

Those who know do not say “those”; who say, do not know.

Perhaps the koan points to there being ‘no separate knower’ to ‘know anything’ and ‘therefore ‘can say’ no thing. Or in other words there was never a split of ‘knower’/’known’ to utter anything just as there is no split of ‘subject’/’object’, ‘dynamic’/’static’, ‘knowing’/’unknowing’, ‘dual’ / ‘nondual’ or any apparent ‘set of correlates’.

And maybe although inseparable of ‘This inescapable completeness’ notionally any split may seemingly ‘arise’ yet no apparent ‘arising’ actually ‘utters a word’.

4 thoughts on “What Did Lao Tzu Mean? Part 4

  1. Tim R.

    I would say that Lao Tzu’s meaning might be something like this: While a person feels able to express the inexpressible truth of a spiritual idea, they are still lost in self-consciousness and don’t actually grasp the true ineffable meaning of the idea. When that same individual has finally come to truly understand the spiritual idea at its true depth, they find that the journey that they took to enable them to learn the true meaning of the spiritual idea has carried them so far that they no longer have the words to express the spiritual idea to others who are still back at the previous level that they used to exist on when they began the search for the meaning. I used to wonder years ago why the truly wise wouldn’t just tell the world the wisdom they acquired on their spiritual journeys: why were they holding back? Now I believe I am beginning to understand that their spiritual growth has carried them so far from their initial starting point that they can’t put their current knowledge into words that have meaning for those who are still back at that spiritual vantage point they used to exist at.


  2. Anonymous

    Lao Tzu simply mean that God can not be expressed in words, concepts. Trying to will simply result in expressing something else. Saint Thomas Aquinas says it very well”the loftiest degree of the knowledge of God is to know him Tamquam Ignotum ie as unknowable” Kariz


  3. Anonymous

    You can attempt to try and describe “it, truth, experience” or whatever you want to call it with words, but the thing is, it doesn’t exist in our reality. Words, sound, light, darkness, the electromagnetic spectrum, matter, time, space, temperature — none of that exists in “its” realm of existence (that is to speculate that existence is even part of its existence).
    The thing is, when you experience it, you will know. You cannot describe what it is you know, because it cannot be described, so therefore if you try, you’ve already failed (like I have probably just done — lol).


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