Dao De Jing 71 – Knowing one knows nothing

Dao De Jing 71 – Knowing one knows nothing

Knowing one knows nothing, is sane; not knowing but claim one knows, is sickness.

-> The limited self, with its limited perception and bias, is not capable to see the whole picture in this unlimited universe.  Having some understanding and opinions and proceed to claim that one knows, is arrogance out of ignorance.

When one knows sickness is sickness, one will not be sick.

-> On the other hand, when one become honest and admit one’s limitation and bias, i.e. the self is limited and cannot know the universal wisdom, one is integrous and return to sanity.  I.e. a limited but sane person.

Saints are not sick, as they see sickness as sickness, and therefore not sick.

-> By admitting our limitations, we become true to what we are, and therefore do not fall into the temptation of self inflation and ignorance.  Saints are no difference, they do not claim their “self”s to be perfect and all knowing, but attribute that divine perfection to the universe and the Dao.

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Chapter 71 Discussion:

If claiming to know is sick, then are we all sick?  Yes, if we are unaware; and we become sane again when we become aware of it.

If our knowing is temporary and limited, how then should we view the knowing of the self then?  Should we stop trying to understand and know all together and claim that all knowledge and knowing are limited?  No, because if we do that we fall into another extreme of concluding all understanding as temporary.  Laozi said that, knowing the limitation of the self is adequate.  With this intuitive understanding, one can continue life with the self, in the natural rhythm of the universe, yet not fall into the sickness of self-inflation and ignorance.  Sanity returns.

Bilingual version of Ch71: http://www.lisiming.net/chinese-philosophy/daoist/daoist-philosophy/dao-de-jing-core-33-chapters/ddj55-79/


5 responses to “Dao De Jing 71 – Knowing one knows nothing”

  1. sight Avatar

    My father used to always ask me ‘what do you know that is not brainwashed or conditioned’ ?
    This used to annoy me. but years after his passing I understand what he was proposing. I feel it is best to be mindful about what we speak about as if we know to be truth. It can be seen readily in the dogma of religion, even those of the east. Things even like reincarnation and states of awareness, death, etc. While the elders have left us information about these things, we walk around repeating them as we know it ourselves. The truth is that we don’t. Unless one has died then how can reincarnation be known. Maybe I am mistaken but I feel that only firsthand experience can show the truth, otherwise it is just knowledge. Knowledge can be learned form a book, or heard from a teacher, friend, or other source. Even states of awareness can be generated, if indeed life manifests from a thought, or idea, or vibration, which in turn again are all just concepts I have heard. This is such a great post that really get’s to the heart of a major obstruction in human consciousness. I am interested to know how you treat concepts and ideas (even and perhaps most importantly spiritual one’s) you read about or have heard along the path ?

    1. derek Avatar

      I treat them as temporary, relevant and potentially useful for the time being. In my experience, information came and served their purpose for awhile, then when awareness progress, same information may become obsolete and then i would have to let them go. There are different levels of truth and different information/concept/idea which come to serve different purposes in life. I would welcome them but not attached to them, just as the Diamond Sutra stated “All self-based phenomena is temporary, like dreams and bubbles, like dews and lightnings, should perceived as such”.

  2. Becoming aware of our “not knowing”, don’t we become insecure? If it relates to not knowing the ultimate truth, we accept and feel sane. But in our everyday temporary lives, not knowing, makes us live in self-doubt? and it does not feel “sane”. So, it must depend on what it is that we do not know…

    1. derek Avatar

      Not knowing does not means oblivion. It means knowing while intuitively understand one’s knowing is limited as subjected to one’s limited perception.

      You can temporary look at our mind as working in 2 ways: knowing by the self, versus, knowing without the self. Knowing by the self is limited, while knowing without the self is original, humble, impartial, and holistic.

      Therefore, what seem insecure to the self open the doors to higher wisdom and truth. Try letting go of the habit of claiming one knows, humble the self, and notice how our life is always arranged perfectly by the universe in accordance to our choice and development.

  3. […] out that no “one” actually know any “thing” (see earlier blog discussion on Daodejing Chapter 71).  At the more ordinary and worldly level, Confucius said knowledge is:  when you know something, […]

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