Knowing one-self is enlightenment.

Daodejing 33

When our heart is still, everything becomes clear.

Yin Xi the Gate Keeper


In verse 33 Lao Zi talks about self-knowledge. It is possible that this initially causes us to think of knowledge about our own person.

But in this verse the character 自for ‘oneself’ is used.

Subsequently, we now read:

He or she who knows his origin, is enlightened.

Our origin is often compared with a bright, radiant light, a spark of which lays in the center of the microcosm; in our heart. This origin is not part of the dual and temporary nature, for it is time-less and one. However, being omnipresent, this spark radiates right through the temporary nature. Yet, often we are not aware hereof because our temporary nature is dominating.                                                     

As was stipulated in the previous blog, Lao Zi and Yin Xi cooperated very closely. What is often described in a cryptic way by Lao Zi in the Daodejing, is in a practical way elucidated by Yin Xi in his book.

When Lao Zi states in verse 33:

‘He (she) who knows his origin, is enlightened’

then Yin Xi indicates what needs to happen beforehand:

When our heart is stirring, it is like running water.

By being still, it becomes a mirror:

reflecting everything as an echo.

At first, all is chaotic and invisible,

then comes the stillness and it all becomes clear.*


For the word ‘clear’ Yin Xi uses the character míng 明.

Lao Zi uses the same character to indicate ‘enlightenment’. This character is used in connection with a human being who puts the indescribable, the ineffable, in the central place and not him- or herself.

When reading Lao Zi and Yin Xi at the same time, we notice that first there is a quiet and clear heart; therefrom subsequently emanates enlightenment.

In the Taoist way of thinking, the word ‘heart’ not only refers to our emotions, but also to our thinking. A still heart entails that our thinking and feeling have become clear. It then functions as a crystal-clear mirror, in which we see the own original.

That is the highest form of self-knowledge, leading to enlightenment.

*  Quote from ‘Zhuangzi’ chapter. 33 VIII (translation: Kristofer Schipper)


However, our thinking and feeling usually are not quiet, because we cannot see the ten thousand things as a unity, having two sides. We keep dividing them in isolated things and events. For instance, when we say: ‘it is cold’, that is not a fixed quality, for it can also be hot. Warm and cold both are qualities of the weather.

We are not just dividing the ten thousand things, but we also assign judgments to them. Yet, since we refer to everything in our life in a personal way, those judgments merely have a personal meaning; others often have completely different opinions.

For instance, when we say: “psaw, it is cold, ugly weather’, someone else who wants to go skating today thinks the weather is perfect.

We divide everything in ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, holding on to our convictions and often emphatically defending them. This is the result of the anxiety in our heart.


Nonetheless, all things both have a positive and a negative side, which are in constant movement, while eventually changing everything in its opposite. For instance, we know the day as well as the night. When the day reaches its summit, the night gradually announces itself, and when the night is in its deepest dark, dawn again announces itself.

This might cause us to think that in fact there are indeed two separate things: day and night. However, we would then lose sight of the fact that together they form a unity: a natural day of 24 hours. We are inclined to see opposites everywhere. But in reality they are two interconnected polarities of one thing. Through this, we create duality, thus causing anxiety in our thinking and feeling.


The connectivity between the two aspects of one is very clearly expressed in the character míng明. As we saw before, this means ‘clear’ in the quote of Yin Xi and ‘enlightened’ in the quote of Lao Zi.

It consists of two characters: to the left, there is the character for sun: 日and to the right the character for moon:月.  The sun that radiates its light and warmth has a Yang quality; the receptive and reflecting moon has a Yin quality. Yin and Yang are connected as one.

Sun and moon still even have a deeper meaning: the sun symbolizes the spark of the original nature, and the moon symbolizes our temporary nature.

When our thinking and feeling have become still – free of personal projections and judgments – then the moon reflects the light of the sun in an undistorted way. Then, the two lights are one. From this unity, we recognize our origin. This is called ‘enlightened’.


Our cooperation is required for becoming still. This means that we are gaining insight in everything that is moving us. And this brings us back to the first meaning of the character zì自: self-knowledge.

If we wish to become aware of our original nature, it is necessary to realize that we ourselves are putting a veil over it.

However, we need to be careful now, for there is the threat of assuming that it is us who need to take away this veil. This would after all mean that we are acting based upon our personal and temporary nature. Surely we can remove a veil with that, but since everything in this nature turns into its opposite, in its place a different veil will appear after a certain period of time.

Our cooperation specifically consists of our awareness of the veils, but subsequently surrender to the power of the spirit spark, emanating from the heart.

Then, through the silenced heart, we observe as objectively as possible, however we do-not.

Then, space is created, in which the original nature acts. Our veils gradually dissolve in the omnipresent Light. This is the core principle of the universal, timeless wisdom.


The opportunity to become enlightened is present within every human being, for in each person’s center, the light spark is embedded. And our temporary nature always functions as a mirror. Yet, most of us are not yet enlightened.

Lao Zi states in verse 22 what thereto is needed: 

Therefore the wise embraces the one,

and sets an example to all.

He who doesn’t show himself much,

he therefore remains luminous and clear.

Yin Xi words paint the grace that is given to us:

Regard the clear image of your origin.

This clearness will heal you from your injury.

In a rather confronting way, Yin Xi describes in his book all kinds of things that are obstacles in our lives on the path towards enlightenment. This will be the subject of the next blogs.

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