The Tao is like a well;
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void;
filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 4, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
It is just Day Four of our journey through the Tao Te Ching; and I feel like we have already covered so much ground.
Lao Tzu introduced the Tao as the eternal reality, back in chapter one. That chapter was full of mystery. And, why wouldn’t it be? After all, trying to tell of the eternal reality, something that Lao Tzu admittedly says is shrouded in darkness, has to be couched in metaphorical language. Our desire is what prevents us from realizing the mystery. Caught in desire, we can still see the manifestations of the Tao; and, that my friends, is good news. We can trace those manifestations back to the Source. That is the gateway to all understanding.
In chapter two, we talked about this mystery some more. Lao Tzu explained the way things are, the very nature of our Universe, everything that is. He said that yin and yang explain how the Tao brings about balance and harmony – in the Universe, and in our lives. Yin and yang seem to be opposites; but, they really are complements of each other. Their function is to make everything that is, complete.
It was also in chapter two, that Lao Tzu introduced the Master, our example for how to be in harmony with the Tao. The Master leads by following the Tao. Acting without doing anything; that is, not interfering with the way things are; and instead, working with nature.
In chapter three, we got our introduction to the emergent order. I believe that is the eternal reality. Things arise and disappear without any effort on our part. If we will practice not-doing, that is, let things come and go without interfering with them, everything will fall into place. That is the emergent order. It is spontaneous. We can’t begin to realize the mystery of how everything falls into place. Our desire impedes us. But, if we will go with the flow, and let things happen as they happen, we will see how the Tao manifests in our world. Tracing back those manifestations, will ultimately lead us right to the Source. There, we will be free from desire and able to realize the mystery.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu once again, opens with metaphorical language to tell us what the Tao is like. I said, back in chapter one, that what Lao Tzu was doing is like pointing at the moon. Let’s not get distracted by his finger. The Tao is like a well. He didn’t say it is a well. But it is like one. It can be used. It is meant to be used. But, it can’t be used up.
After saying the Tao is like a well, he then says that it is like the eternal void. We tend to think of the void as being a vast emptiness. But in the case of the Tao, this vast emptiness is filled with infinite possibilities.
Lao Tzu is telling us more than we may at first realize. He has been talking of the Tao as something that is eternal, all along. It is the eternal reality. But up until today’s chapter, he has only hinted at the infinite nature of the Tao. Now, that truth is revealed to us. It seems to be empty; but it is filled, filled with infinite possibilities. And, it is meant to be used.
In the next few days, we will let our imaginations roam, untethered, for a little while; imagining, with our finite minds, the infinite possibilities; and, how we can use the Tao in our lives. But not just yet. Right now, there is something else that I want to point out. Lao Tzu has been using mysterious and metaphorical language to speak of the Tao. And, I certainly hope you didn’t miss the yin and yang references to how the Tao manifests in our Universe. But, did you notice how this kind of language is something we normally reserve to speak of God? I did. Infinite. Eternal. Hidden, but always present.
What exactly is the Tao? Where did it come from? Who gave birth to it? Is the Tao, God? I know there are many people that like to think of the Tao in just that way. I don’t. I don’t mean to discourage anyone that does. If that is useful to you, that is fine with me. I used to think of the Universe as needing some kind of divine direction. It wasn’t enough for me to imagine an invisible hand, I wanted to attach a face to it, as well. But then there is the tongue-in-cheek response, Lao Tzu gives, to the question of who gave birth to the Tao. He could have come right out and said, The Tao is God. But he doesn’t. Instead he says, I don’t know. If there was ever a reason for me to love Lao Tzu, that “I don’t know” does it for me. We, too often, don’t want to admit what we don’t know, that we don’t know. But admitting you don’t know is the beginning of wisdom. It means you have opened yourself to the infinite possibilities. I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God. And, that is enough for me. If it is older than God, then it isn’t God. You can still have your God. But, realize that the Tao precedes God.
I better stop here; since I have, no doubt, stepped on quite a few toes. I hope you will hang in there with me, as we discover the infinite possibilities that await us.