|1.||To recognize ignorance comes first;|
|2.||Not to know to know this will cause harm:|
|3.||Harm that the wise are spared|
|4.||Because they recognize it.|
|5.||Only by recognizing the harm|
|6.||Can one be spared. 1|
COMMENT There are a number of Warring States references to the opening lines of this stanza, and the majority of commentators and translators follow an elaboration in the Lüshi chunqiu, “Bielei” chapter: “To know [that one] does not know is best / Not to know but to assume that one knows causes harm. ” There is no reason, however, to restrict Laozi's formula here with a pronoun. It is as important to recognize another's ignorance as it is to recognize one's own.
Many commentaries make a connection to Analects 2.17: “Let knowing it be taken for knowing it, ignorance for ignorance. ” Many commentaries and translations of this stanza have been influenced by the verb-wei-verb grammar of Analects 2.17 and thus present Laozi as talking about knowledge taken for ignorance and vice versa. Laozi seems to be playing with Confucius's formula by inverting it verbally, though arriving at a similar conclusion. In the Analects, knowledge (zhi) is something valuable to be gained by learning (xue). Laozi opposes knowledge as no more than a qualification for bureaucratic recruitment. In this stanza, however, a positive value for knowledge—suggesting knowledge of the Way—is suggested by the previous and succeeding stanzas.
The grammar of the opening line—zhi buzhi (literally, “know, not know, ” translated here as “to recognize ignorance”)—leaves room for many interpretations. If we compare the grammar of yu