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Dao de Jing: The Book of the Way

By Laozi; Moss Roberts | Go to book overview

STANZA 48
1. To pursue learning, learn more day by day;
2. To pursue the Way, unlearn it day by day:
3. Unlearn and then unlearn again
4. Until there is nothing to pursue:
5. No end pursued, no end ungained.
6. Whoever means to win this world below
7. Never undertakes that task;
8. Whoever does make that his task
9. Is not fit to win this world below. 1

COMMENT Learning (xue) means striving to know the world beyond the door, the world that Laozi dismisses. The purpose of learning was expansion and extension, the acquiring of ever-wider bureaucratic, diplomatic, and technical expertise. Laozi opposes such learning because it leads to economic development, territorial expansion, and war. This is the theme of lines 1–5.

In the Guodian text, line 6 is the orphaned line that opens stanza 20 in the received text, but which modern editors have sometimes shifted to the end of stanza 19: jue xue wu you, “Reject the teaching of the young / And thereby suffer no distress. This four-word line (two lines in English) probably completes the present stanza as found in the Guodian manuscript. Note also the connection between this stanza and stanza 38 made in the Zhuangzi chapter “Zhibeiyou” (see notes to stanza 38). The famous line 5 of this stanza: wuwei er wubuwei, usually translated “By inaction nothing is left undone, could also be translated in the potential: “Not acting makes all action possible. The line is effaced in Mawangdui A and incomplete in Mawangdui B.

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