Tao-te ching Comments

The  Mysterious Agreement

Chapter 56 of Tao-te ching is said it concerns with the practice of meditation. This is because it talks about closing the portals and seemingly this would lead to the ideas of introversion and absence of interest for mundane world. Let's see what is about.

We follow James Legge's translation:

He who knows (the Tao) does not (care to) speak (about it); he
who is (ever ready to) speak about it does not know it.

He (who knows it) will keep his mouth shut and close the portals
(of his nostrils). He will blunt his sharp points and unravel the
complications of things; he will attemper his brightness, and bring
himself into agreement with the obscurity (of others). This is called
'the Mysterious Agreement.'

(Such an one) cannot be treated familiarly or distantly; he is
beyond all consideration of profit or injury; of nobility or
meanness:--he is the noblest man under heaven.


He who knows (the Tao) will close the portals, that is, he will be impassive, showing neither interest in nor concern for our outer world, he will level everything, avoid complications (disputes, arguments) and keep a low profile, as Lao-tzu teaches according to Ssu-ma Ch'ian.

Keeping a low profile, he is in agreement with people of low rank (petty). And this is called the "mysterious agreement".

Moreover, such a man is beyond of consideration of profit or injury, that is, he doesn't follow the path of common people who show interest in wealth and power. He even couldn't be ranked according to the common scale of values, namely, noble-meanness.

The expression "closing the portals" can be found in chapter 52 too:

Let him keep his mouth closed, and shut up the portals (of his
nostrils), and all his life he will be exempt from laborious exertion.
Let him keep his mouth open, and (spend his breath) in the promotion of his affairs, and all his life there will be no safety for him.

So closing the nostrils seems to mean avoiding hard labors as long as spending the breath means promoting one's business.

Ma Kou relates to portals with the organ senses. Thus we have to limit our human interaction as much as possible. This doesn't mean retreating from the world but keeping a low profile, avoiding judging people by cultivating a kind of benevolent indifference.

Commentary by Jhian



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