"The longer you travel, the less you know."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 47
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Without stepping out the door,
You can know the world.
Without looking through the window,
You can see Heaven's Way.
The longer you travel, the less you know.
The sage knows without traveling,
Perceives without looking,
Completes without acting.
Understanding without Exploring
Immanuel Kant, who lived in the 18th century, was one
of the foremost of Western philosophers. He was born in
the town Königsberg, and stayed there all his life. He had
profound thoughts on god, life, peace, and just about
everything else. As his philosophy got known around the
world, everyone was amazed that so much could come out of
a man who never in his life traveled more than ten miles
from his home town.
Lao Tzu would have applauded his lifestyle. There is
no need to explore every little corner of the world in order
to understand how it works. There is not even a need to
glare at it much. Its essence is obvious to anyone who is open
You have it in yourself, too, so why go any
further? Those who insist on searching it elsewhere are most
likely to get lost.
We live in an era where science progresses by
experimenting on things around us, as if our own beings and
our own minds had nothing to do with it. But what is
our world, without our presence in it? What does it look
like through other eyes than ours?
Truly, whatever we discover about the universe and
its mechanisms, it's still bound by how we experience it.
Without our experience, we would not even be aware of
the world around us.
In the time of Lao Tzu, and many centuries on, man
was not removed from the world as if he were a mere
observer of it. That makes sense. We are part of it, even when we
observe it. So, our observations and conclusions depend
on what we are, what we can see, and what we want
everything to be. Science is completely objective only where
its findings are of no importance to us.
So, Lao Tzu joins with Immanuel Kant, exploring
the world through his mind and admitting it. Therefore,
extensive travel is uncalled for. Wherever you travel, your
mind follows. Actually, it's doing the traveling, so it leads. If
you forget that, you flee from it. Then, what can you ever
hope to understand?
This exploration, taking place inside instead of
outside of us, is indeed another way of completing without
acting. We find the truth by contemplation, not by chasing it
with our instruments. Our present science will reach a
point when this is again realized to be necessary.
Some scientific paradoxes, like those in Einstein's
relativity and quantum physics, suggest that we have
already gotten there.
As for Lao Tzu's use of the expression Heaven's
Way instead of just the Way, see my comments on chapter 73.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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