Lao Tzu “Abandon learning and there will be no sorrow” meaning

The quote “Abandon learning and there will be no sorrow” is often attributed to Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher and reputed author of the “Tao Te Ching,” a foundational text of Taoism. This saying can be interpreted in multiple ways, and its meaning can be somewhat elusive, which is a common characteristic of Taoist teachings.

One interpretation could be that the pursuit of traditional learning or formal knowledge often brings with it worries, stresses, and sorrows because it sets up certain expectations for success and societal approval. Abandoning such learning could mean a move towards a more intuitive, spontaneous approach to life, as advocated in Taoist philosophy.

Another interpretation could be that the sorrow emerges from the complexity and clutter that formal “learning” or “knowledge” can introduce into one’s life. According to Taoist principles, simplicity and naturalness are keys to a fulfilling, harmonious life. From this perspective, to “abandon learning” might mean to embrace a simpler, more immediate understanding of the world, one that is not mediated by conceptual thinking, and thus be free from the “sorrows” that come with over-complication.

Yet another reading might be that “learning” here refers to dogmatic or moralistic types of learning that instill in us rigid notions of right and wrong, good and bad, should and shouldn’t, thereby causing us mental or emotional suffering (“sorrow”). Abandoning such learning could mean adopting a more open, flexible approach to life, thereby alleviating sorrow.

It’s worth noting that this quote may make more sense in the larger context of the “Tao Te Ching” and Taoist philosophy, which often stresses the importance of natural wisdom over conventional wisdom, the simplicity of the uncarved block over the complexity of the carved artifact, and so forth.

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