Prefatory remarks: It's been years since I last read the Tao Te Ching, and I have no desire to read it again at this time, not for lack of interest, but simply because I'm in the middle of reading other things; so I cannot give this topic my full attention. I only brought it up because I recently read on another blog an interpretation of this line that I did not agree with, and wanted to give my two cents on the matter. I did so in the previous post, but wanted to add a few more comments here before moving on.
"Those who speak do not know; those who know do not speak." --Laozi, Tao Te Ching
I've been thinking about this line the past few days now, wondering what it means. As I suggested in the previous post, I argued that rather than being a direct admonishment against speaking or the sharing of knowledge in general, as others have suggested, I proposed two alternative interpretations:
1) That it may be alluding to the guarding of esoteric knowledge.
2) That it could be referring to an intuitive knowledge that is completely outside the sphere of human language, that try as you may, even if you have firsthand knowledge of it, it couldn't be put into words even if you wanted to. Kind of like attempting to describe color to a blind man, or sound to a deaf man, speaking about it will never fully convey the truth of what it is, without the person actually experiencing it for themselves.
3) Brandon, a reader, also agreed that this line isn't a rule against speaking, but his take on it was that it's more of a warning against egotistical posturing, or against speaking solely for the purposes of winning popularity or approval; you know, like the difference between someone devoted to the truth and dissemination of knowledge for knowledge's sake, and someone else who is only interested in getting credit for it, that if it wasn't for the fame and the fortune they wouldn't do it. He also see's contained within this short line, and put into his own words: "a description of someone who is enlightened. They are free to share whatever truth they've found (such as they can with the faulty vehicle of language) but they aren't driven to prove themselves to anyone."
4) Baroness Radon, another reader, who knows much more about Taoism than I do, agrees with Brandon's interpretation, but also adds that in her opinion this line can be interpreted to mean: "Those who NEED to speak, do not know; those who know, do not NEED to speak. The idea being, that once you are at a certain point, you understand the unnecessity of yammering and choose to speak only if it will add to the debate."
It is quite possible that all three of us may be correct to some extent in our interpretation of this line.
What concerns me though is the uncertainty of it all, the ambiguity of the language; of it meaning different things to different people. While there may be more than one interpretation, is there really any way to ever know what Laozi really intended?
Could it really be that such a simple and somewhat vague and obtuse line, means much more than what it literally says? I mean if you interpret it literally, it really does seem to be an admonishment against speaking. And if on the other hand it is an admonishment against egotistical speaking, why doesn't it say that? If it really does mean "Those who NEED to speak, do not know; those who know, do not NEED to speak" why wasn't it worded that way to begin with?
How can you really be certain that any other interpretation that you read into this line is true, if you must fill in the blanks adding different words to make it comprehensible? Depending on which words you add or omit you could completely alter the meaning of the message. So if it doesn't actually literally say what you interpret it to say, how can you ever be certain that is what Laozi really meant?
"Those who speak [speak of what, to who, in what manner, or for what purpose?] do not know; those who know [know what?] do not speak."
Until we can figure out what specifically Laozi means by knowing and speaking, we have no way of accurately interpreting this line.
It is this cryptic use of language that neither says what it means or means what it says, but can be interpreted in several different ways, which to me is more of a source of confusion and misunderstanding, than a source of enlightenment. This seems to be the case in most if not all religious texts, this lack of clarity and objectivity, of not getting to the point, of not saying exactly what you mean. I don't like it. I'm kind of irritated by it. If I ever invent a philosophy, I will be sure to spell it out as clearly and specifically as I can, defining the words that I use, and providing an extensive commentary to it; so that there is never a shadow of doubt or any confusion whatsoever as to what I mean.
Why do people use cryptic language? Usually it is because they are hiding something; which can be for both good and bad reasons.
1) It could be used to protect information from falling into the wrong hands, from people who would either misunderstand it or abuse it or misuse it. Where people have to prove their worth, to work for it, to prove that they are capable of understanding it, are dependable and can be trusted not to misuse this information in a way that it was intended. In other words, cryptic language can sometimes be used as a sort of lock, or safeguard protecting precious knowledge from being desecrated or destroyed; basically helping to weed out the unworthy from the worthy.
2) Or it could be used to gain power over people through deception. Wherein the less you say, the more you may appear to know. There is power in silence, and in being mysterious. There is a natural power in mystery, but also one that can be usurped. Where a person may actually not know shit, but they speak cryptically, using koans and riddles, but it's all just a front, a pretense, to appear wiser than they actually are. In other words, the classic fake guru syndrome.
As far as the Tao Te Ching goes, I'm tending to see it as being an esoteric manual that cannot be clearly deciphered outside the context of the secret society for which it was intended. Sure a person can read it on their own, interpret it in their own way, and arrive at some measure of knowledge and understanding from it, but as to what Laozi REALLY meant, I think you would have to find a still existing Taoist lineage that traces back to him, to get the real intended message of it.
Otherwise, it's all just conjecture, like reaching for shadows in the dark.