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Tao Te Ching, Chapter 56

One who knows does not speak.

One who speaks does not know.

Block up the openings.

Shut the doors,

Blunt the sharp:

Loose the knots:

Dim the glare:

Follow old tracks.

This is called mysterious oneness.

You can’t possess it but can’t escape it.

You can’t benefit it or harm it.

You can’t honour it or debase it.

So it’s valued throughout the realm.

Tao Te Ching from Poetry in Translation.
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.

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In the above translation, Chapter 56 has 13 lines. In my reading of those lines, I feel the lines can be given the following arrangement:

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

“Block up the openings.
“Shut the doors,
“Blunt the sharp:
“Loose the knots:
“Dim the glare:
“Follow old tracks.
“This is called mysterious oneness.

“You can’t possess it but can’t escape it.
“You can’t benefit it or harm it.
“You can’t honour it or debase it.
“So it’s valued throughout the realm.”

It is that arrangement that I will use in order to provide my commentary.

 
CH56L1-2 work as a couplet, setting the foundation for the chapter.
“One who knows does not speak.
“One who speaks does not know.

With these two lines Lao Tzu is setting the foundation for the ideas in this Chapter, by contrasting the one who knows against the one who doesn’t.

These two lines work as a chiasmus, the X-style of the pattern is found in:
    knows     speak
 
    speaks     know
draw a diagonal line from “knows” to “know” and a diagonal line from “speak” to “speaks” and therein is the X, thereby the foundational truth for this chapter is established.

 
CH56L3-9 work as a unit, building upon the foundation.
“Block up the openings.
“Shut the doors,
“Blunt the sharp:
“Loose the knots:
“Dim the glare:
“Follow old tracks.
“This is called mysterious oneness.

CH56L3-8 pronounced six different qualities, and each quality begins with a verb: block, shut, blunt, loose, dim, follow.

CH56L9 pronounces that the six qualities are mysterious oneness, in that from those six things, a unity is established or found.

Importantly the six qualities describe the one who knows. The one who knows does not speak. Therefore in the style of not speaking, the openings are not used to gain, the doors are not used to protect, the sharpness is not used to divide, the knots are not used to hold, the glare is not used to illuminate an issue. I interpret glare as the ancient method of casting light from a light source, perhaps sunlight is cast upon a piece of bronze where its reflection on the bronze shines down a darkened hallway.

But the above translation does not continue the motif of non-use because it appears that in CH56L8 the student of Tao is supposed to follow the old tracks, which insinuates use not non-use.

However, my book renders CH56L8 as “all dust smoothed” and has a reference to Chapter 4, where it has a footnote that says “Dust is the Taoist symbol for the noise and fuss of everyday life.” Knowing that then CH56L8 continues the style of not speaking, the “dust” is not used.

The one who knows does those things, finds mysterious oneness, oneness not just with Tao (the way), but also with nature and humans.

 
CH5610-13 work a unit, closing the thought of the chapter.
“You can’t possess it but can’t escape it.
“You can’t benefit it or harm it.
“You can’t honour it or debase it.
“So it’s valued throughout the realm.”

With CH56L10-12, Lao Tzu wants the student to know that the mysterious oneness cannot be possessed, nor escaped; neither can the student bring beneficial things to the mysterious oneness, nor can the student harm the mysterious oneness; nor can the student provide honor to the mysterious oneness or find a way to debase the mysterious oneness.

Because the mysterious oneness cannot be owned, yet the student cannot escape it, and because the student cannot make the mysterious oneness better, yet the student cannot harm it, and because the student cannot bequeath honor to the mysterious oneness, yet the student cannot devalue it, then the mysterious oneness stands alone, unique, valued for what it is throughout the realm, in the kingdom, in life, everywhere under heaven.

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