Tao de Ching – #1

The first thing to understand about Tao is that it cannot be understood, not exactly.

The opening poem of the Tao de Ching is defining, such as any definition of Tao can be. It lets the reader know that there is not any possible way to describe it with words, but implies it will try, and in this and the following 80 poems attempt. How, then, can we understand something that is undefinable? This first stanza is somewhat cryptic as well in that it also gives an overview of what Tao is capable.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding

Because so much of what characterizes Tao and its use is contained in this introductory poem, it might be best to go through it stanza by stanza and get a sense of what each is trying to say.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

This perplexing opening is actually about as succinct as you can get in describing Tao. It implies an elusively that prepares the the reader for the exploration. That is a good start.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Particular things is often translated as “myriad creatures” or “10,000 creatures”. As Adam and Eve gave names to all the creatures in the garden, so does language separate what is not separable in nature. We only recognize “things” due to their practical use in our lives, and to streamline this practicality, we separate. From a standpoint of quiescence, that is often the desired experience of meditation or of spirituality to feel a unity of all things, to free ourselves from the “desire” of separate things and what they can do for us.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding

In order to feel infinite unity, we must understand that how things present themselves to us as “things” are a matter of how we look at them. Both infinite unity and the elements of experience are one and the same. The paradox is nothing is everything. From infinite darkness comes eternal light.  To understand Tao, we must realize there is a dimension of understanding beyond our practical day-to-day mode of being in the world.

 

Author: Sevilla King

Sharing my enthusiasm as I discover how great ideas in psychology, philosophy, art and religion can inform and improve psychotherapy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s