Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Real Life Tao - The Peril

Today I thought I'd share a little tidbit from The Essential Chuang Tzu by Sam Hamill and JP Seaton. This passage comes from the first paragraph of chapter 3 of the Book of Chuang Tzu.
Life has a limit; knowledge has none. To seek what is limitless through what is limited is perilous. It is even more perilous to pursue knowledge with full knowledge of this fact.
As with many passages of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, here we find yet another that seems to indicate that the pursuit of knowledge, in and of itself, is a bad thing. It almost sounds like the great Taoist sages of old viewed ignorance as a virtue.

However, on a closer reading, that's not the point I think they are driving at.

To live in this world, we each need to be ever learning. We need to learn about ourselves, our family members, the community and the laws of nature. If we don't, then it would be impossible to form relationships, succeed in school, obtain and maintain a job, and find any modicum of happiness.

The pursuit of knowledge -- in all its forms -- is also an end unto itself. It deepens who we are and allows us to connect with people, other beings and ideas throughout the world. In fact, were it not for knowledge, no one could ever gain self-awareness, inspiration, experience, insight or wisdom. Put another way, where there is no knowledge, there is no life!

The problem we each run into time and time again is mistaking a sliver of knowledge for the whole enchilada. We humans have a penchant for becoming too full of ourselves!! And this is where the peril lies.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


  1. I've never seen that exact translation and it does leave an open end. Ultimately we don't know and can't know so any Religion or Science fact is a smelly fish.

    As long as we get by with ideas that are open and that make no grand claims. As noted in the HHC 'to lean on one thing for long enough it will soon crumble'.

    If you say to a religious person that their story contains holes they complain. If you point out to a scientist that their theory is just that and has no real facts. It sounds to them (at least from the reaction I get) as if you are saying you know better. And what I'd take from Chuang here is that the only 'knowing better' is this fact that we can never in this form know it all. Nothing absolute.

    Isn't it often referred to as a cup attempting to hold the ocean or something? Better as you noted with the post recently to just open up, empty the bowl and see a grater unity.

    Anyway I hope you post more Chuang.

  2. Wow my reply was badly worded, I wrote it on the way out of the door to my exam this morning.

    On the walk I remembered the famous Einstein quote

    "Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world"

    Contradicting the quote in the Chaung Tzu translation but making a similar point. The issue it seems is in word choice not ultimate meaning.

  3. I will try to work in more Chuang Tzu in the coming weeks.


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