One who seeks knowledge
learns something new each day.
One who seeks the Tao
unlearns something new each day.
The practise of the Tao consists of daily diminishing;
less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.
True mastery is achieved
by letting things take their natural course.
It cannot be gained by interfering.
Often people talk about the things they’ve learned in life, whether it’s information, knowledge or experience. The Tao Te Ching asks us to consider that perhaps the real key is ‘unlearning’ things. It’s often the case that more we think we know, the less we actually do know. And so rather than continually accumulating more and more knowledge, Lao Tzu is asking us to substitute our practise of daily accumulating for daily diminishing. Instead of continually adding to ourselves and our supposed knowledge of the world, we are actually subtracting from ourselves and letting go of all the things we think we know. Only in this state of complete openness – of not-knowing – can we approach the Tao, in much the same way that only an empty vessel can be filled.
From the moment we’re born, we are conditioned, socialised and indoctrinated into the ‘ways of the world’ or, rather the ways of the particular society we’re born into. As children we’re like sponges, continually soaking in new information and knowledge, a lot of it useful and necessary, but much of it erroneous and harmful. There comes a point in our lives when we have to challenge the conditioning of our formative years, particularly if it is of a dysfunctional nature. This is where it becomes especially helpful to take on the practise of daily diminishing; consciously letting go of old thoughts, beliefs, habits, world-views and conditioned ways of seeing things and responding to life.
The less encumbered we are with the viewpoints, opinions and belief systems instilled in us during childhood and beyond, the freer we are and the easier it is to have a direct experience of reality as it is, without having our view of everything distorted by our various mental filters. The practise of daily diminishing makes it easier to enter the flow of life, to allow all things to be as they are, bestowing life the freedom to be what it is...and to recognise that we are not separate from any aspect of it.