Tao Te Ching – Chapter 56


The wise ones who really understand do not babble. Conversely, those who babble on are unwise and show how little they understand. Therefore, one would do well to shut the mouth and close the door on temptations and distractions.

Also, one should maintain the sharpness of one’s thoughts internally, rather than externally against others. Focus on unraveling the complex knots of life by simplifying everything and minimizing disputes. Use the brightness of your mind to illuminate, rather than to blind others with your glare. Be involved with the world without becoming attached to it. All of this together is what we call Mystic Oneness.

Those who possess Mystic Oneness are self-sufficient, so you cannot influence them by getting closer to them or more distant from them. They have no greed, so you cannot influence them with promises of profit or threats of loss. They have no need for external approval, so you cannot influence them with honor and flattery, or dishonor and criticism. Such individuals are rare indeed, and many of them become recognized for their greatness by the entire world.

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Translation Notes

In this chapter, 玄同 is the most important term. 玄 usually means mysterious, but in the spiritual context here, it means mystic or mystical; 同 means togetherness, unity or oneness. Thus, the best way to translate 玄同 is Mystic Oneness — the transcendent state of harmonious oneness with everyone and everything.

Most attempts to translate 玄同 fall short of the above standard. The most distorted ones also tend to be the most puzzling (and perhaps the most entertaining):

  • The Mysterious Agreement
  • The Secret Embrace
  • The Primal Identity
  • Profound Identification

In English, these terms seem to have little to do with one another, and yet they all claim to be the authoritative and definitive rendition of 玄同. Some of them actually have a bit of conspiracy flavor to them — probably not what Lao Tzu had in mind!

Derek Lin
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