Another Taoist riddle?

“Those who work at their studies increase day after day.
Those who have heard the Tao decrease day after day.
They decrease and decrease till they get to the point where they
do nothing.
They do nothing and yet there’s nothing left undone.”

So what do we have here? More eastern-mystic nonsense? How could you possibly do nothing and get everything done? And what is with this decreasing stuff? I can’t get through the day without adding some sort of knowledge, can I? What are these people talking about???



“Those who work at their studies increase day after day.
Those who have heard the Tao decrease day after day.
They decrease and decrease till they get to the point where they
do nothing.
They do nothing and yet there’s nothing left undone.”


to me it says:

why strive to become more when becoming more and knowing more does not mean that you are following the way. as you know the tao and hear the tao and see the tao you decrease your reliance on outside knowledge. you decrease what you do to study.

you have done nothing to understand because you know the tao.

you have left nothing undone in the world because you understand the tao.

I see this as…

Any credit one takes for understanding the way will jusitfy a lacking in work and understanding. This perception builds into ego where one may increasingly feel entiteled and decreasingly feel responsible.

Im not really sure any other message is needed… I have to think about it some more.

To me it’s all goal oriented. I don’t disagree with anything this lesson says, it’s just a matter of appeals to you: The fruits of study, or the fruits of the Tao. They aren’t the same thing.

Well, before this thread gets out of hand., I’ll take my best shot at it.

Those who work at their studies increase day after day.

This line suggest’s that our studies, our acquisition of ‘knowledge’, bring’s new and ever-increasing pre-conceived ideas, which in turn, color’s our experience. -ie- instead of experiencing directly, our ‘knowing’ becomes an ever-increasingly dark pair of glasses.

Those who have heard the Tao decrease day after day.

The Taoist recognizes that ‘knowing’ is conditional. It isn’t a turning away from knowledge toward ignorance as so many misinterpret, but simply putting our knowledge in proper perspective.

They decrease and decrease till they get to the point where they
do nothing.

Becoming detached from our ‘knowing’ is a gradual process, but is the ultimate goal. It isn’t “do nothing” in the literal sense, but that we experience and act out of spontaneous, genuine sincerity without those pre-conceived ideas obscuring our ability to see directly.

They do nothing yet nothing is left undone.

TheTaoist performs daily as before, utilizing knowledge as before, but without attachment to their knowing. In short, nothing changes outwardly, but everything has changed within.

Historically, this segment was a direct challenge to confusianism, which put knowledge foremost. There is almost a direct correlation with the early christian church and the gnostic movements. Which takes pre-immanence, knowing or understanding?


Direct challenge to Confusianism!

Now I know why I didnt get it.

I have always seen Taoist ways as inferior to the more Confusianist inspired ways.

I should listen more and speak less about taoist topics… i tend to read them through a different light.

It is in “being” not in “knowing” or “doing” that one returns to the beginning for the first time.

Actual gaining of knowledge

The mind becomes still - slowly slowly…because the mind is tuning into Tao.

This is not simply nothing. It is no-thing. Pure potential - the source of all. In Tao it’s referred to as Wu Wei - void. So it is not really nothing, it is all things. Just as in the previous verse it says “no need to leave your door to know the whole world” - knowing the Tao means knowing all things.

Tuning into Tao means tuning into this nothingness. When tuned into nothingness there is no calcuating, nothing to do and nowhere to go but into the heart. The heart then does everything.

Confucius was actually very much aware of the Tao. There is no conflict in the teachings of Lau Tse and Confucius. Lau Tse taught the Way of Heaven whereas Confucius taught a very practical way of approaching the Heavenly Tao from a human perspective. He taught us how to align with Tao in our every day mundane reality. They each taught the same truths but with different timing, they were flexible so as to express the Tao to people so that it could be understood according to what was needed at the time. A Tao practictioner always finds the right way to approach Truth and teaching it and will always use whatever is in front of him to express it. The Way is flexible - there are a myriad ways of expressing it. There is no conflict.

Meister Eckhart:

Doing nothing in the spiritual sense to me means initially realizing your nothingness so that you really cannot do anything. This really is a major revelation.

The difficulty of all the great teachings seems to me to be the unenviable task of somehow making making something from nothing or, as is said, a silk purse out of a sow’s ear even though the The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. 2002 says ": “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.”

The major obstacle is that the sow’s ear does not know it is a sow’s ear and believes itself already to be a silk purse so fights in the most ingenious ways to retain its supremacy.

They say heaven is bliss. I don’t know? Being stuck with this problem, its residents must experience some equivilent form of indigestion.

They are not trying to make something from nothing, they are saying that nothing IS everything!

Is this a joke?

Hi Nick,

You really are making progress, you’re not quite as far as Tentative and liquidangel, but you’re trying hard.


Hello to all,

First and foremost, I need to apologize for venting my frustration in either or both the riddle threads. It was unkind and way unnecessary.

All in all, I think the threads have been quite useful in that they are literally primers pointing back to the original posts. If you look at each post you see that they divide into two general areas: those who seek understanding and those who quickly defend ‘knowing’.

The seekers are hesitant in their pronouncements and it is obvious that their intent focuses on attempting to understand.

Those who have chosen knowledge as their base quickly question the validity of eastern thought and just as quickly dismiss it because they see it as a threat. They dismiss anything not within their ‘knowledge’, particularly anything interpreted as ‘that mystical stuff’.

Of course, this is exactly what is addressed in the two Tao quotes. The Tao doesn’t deride knowledge, it simply put’s it in it’s proper place. The products of mind may be useful, but understanding ourselves is first and foremost. Self-knowing allow’s us to act out of intuitive understanding or, in Taoist language, our inner nature. Such action is then genuine and spontaneous. It isn’t ‘acting’ through the filter of ‘knowledge’ as if following the script of a play.

Finally, there is nothing profound in this understanding. It is of the most simple stuff, almost too simple. This thread bear’s testimony to that.


Hi A,

I was perhaps a bit unclear when speaking of the Taoist - Confucian split.
It wasn’t that Confucius didn’t attempt to incorporate the Way into his writings, but that many of the serious thinkers of his time already saw that the hierarchial structure and definitions he espoused could, and would be misused, leading away from and not toward self knowledge.

There are a number of stories by Chuang Tzu that illustrated how the ideas of Confucius produced un-intended results. The “split” was the same then as it is today. It was about knowing externally or intuitively.



However you did also say:

There is a difference then between “no-thing” which is pure potential for everything “and nothing” which lacks this potential.

So as I see it, the act of creation is making something from no-thing or diversity involving from no-thing and manifesting as “fractions” of no-thing at a lower level of being.

However us being “nothing” when seen as such by ourselves, is aided in our efforts to become something by help from above. This something in relation to our nothingness is a person’s evolution from diversity into unity and a higher level of being.

So for me, no-thing includes the potential of every-thing while nothing is just…well…“nothing” and void of any-thing.

Yes it was a humorous depiction of a quality of concern that I do believe exists to a certain extent and is beyond our comprehension.

Hi Bob

Hmmm…now how to take that? :slight_smile:

Hi JT,

Yes, I can see how that would and has happened (it happened right here on this forum!) I was referring to Confucius’ actual teachings and not the religion. The same with Tao. It is not Taoism that interests me, it is Tao. Of course there is always interpretation and mankind is so knowledgeable. I’m thinking right now that the real problem with only using knowledge is that it is never quite enough, it (knowledge) can’t seem to ‘see’ the whole picture, it is too limited because it comes from a limited world. The sixth patriarch of Zen Buddhism, Hui Neng said that we can never reach the ultimate by reciting Sutras. That’s not to say there is no value in reciting Sutras, it’s just to say that without practice we cannot attain.


Hi A,

Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have used historical reference, it just get’s in the way.

I would suggest that even with practice we only partially obtain. Even in my best of ‘moments’, the cursed ‘me’ hovers in the distance, waiting…


would a toaist go to college after finding toa? on a different note- iv noticed that toaism, zen, and self actualization, all say that once achieved the person becomes child like again. these three all seem to be ego reduced states. i think the problem isnt knowledge itself. but recieving knowledge,( taking it to be true) without fully understanding it. for example what good does it do to know that time changes speed around black holes. if i dont all the facts leading up to that knowledge do i really know that, or is it just a phrase clouding up my head.


You may be right. I feel for my own practice that it comes down to one thing, and one thing that I have not managed either. Sincerity. My attachments are simply too strong. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t try. One day…maybe today.


hmm, you may be right about knowledge possibly clouding our heads…

Of course a Taoist would go to college. There is much to learn and we all live in this world and we all need to eat and sleep. Knowing Tao is more about knowing how to live. The ART of living. When we know how to live then whatever we do, is enhanced. There is a Zen saying.

Before enlightenment, chopping wood carrying water,
after englightenment, chopping wood carrying water.