The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
The unnameable 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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 1, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today, we start from the very beginning; a very good place to start. Because this is an introduction of sorts to my blog, as well, it is good to get a few things out of the way, up front.
I named my blog libertariantaoist way back in the beginning of it, that would be July of 2012. Back then, I identified as a libertarian, politically. The 2012 U.S. Presidential election season was in full swing, and I would go on to vote for Gary Johnson (the Libertarian party candidate) in the November election. However, over the course of the first few months of being on Tumblr, I became quite disillusioned with the whole political process; by the day after the November election, I now identified as an anarchist, with no intention of ever taking part in any future presidential elections. To this day, I still view the whole political process as a giant farce. And the 2016 presidential election season has certainly done nothing, but confirm that conclusion for me. You may wonder what kind of anarchist I believe I am, and that leads me to point out my blog’s icon (crafted by Anarchei, kudos to him). You will notice that A for anarchism in the center, and the surrounding circle, of the Tai Chi symbol, is multi-colored. That, for me, represents my anarchism. I follow blogs representing every color of the spectrum of anarchism. I have something in common with them all; and, I learn something from them all.
Then, there is the taoist part. Which, of course, is why I blog a chapter from the Tao Te Ching each day, adding my own commentary to it. I have identified as a philosophical Taoist for a number of years now, since becoming disenchanted with Christianity, and religion. Lao Tzu helped me to come to this conclusion. In his philosophy, I found all the answers I needed, without needing to be bogged down with rituals and rules. The strongest factor in drawing me to philosophical Taoism wasn’t my disenchantment with religion, however. It was how very libertarian Lao Tzu’s teachings were. Murray Rothbard, among others, consider Lao Tzu to be the very first libertarian. You will notice I always tag each chapter’s post as both philosophical Taoism and libertarian, to highlight that connection. I use Stephen Mitchell’s excellent translation each day. It is more of an interpretation than a translation; but that is okay with me, his interpretation is one with which I intuitively agree. I will have more to say in future chapters about Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation; so, I won’t say anything more about it today.
But enough with introductions to my blog. I really want to get on with today’s chapter. Today’s commentary is also an introduction to philosophical Taoism. I don’t claim to be a master, just a fellow apprentice; but, I believe I am learning and unlearning a lot from the Master, Lao Tzu. I welcome any questions and observations you have related to philosophical Taoism. I love dialogue. Let’s see what we can learn, or unlearn, together; so message me.
Where to begin, where to begin? I imagine Lao Tzu thought very much the same thing, when he sat down to write these teachings. What can be said about the Tao? Anything I can say about it, isn’t really the Tao. The Tao is eternal, but we are temporal. How can I express eternity? It is infinite, but we are finite. How can I express infinity? Just naming it presents its own problems. All particular things have their origin in being named. But the Tao isn’t a particular thing. It is the eternally real, and thus is unnameable.
This is all a great mystery. But how can anyone realize the mystery as long as they are caught in desire? If they are free from desire, then they can realize the mystery. But desire is not something which can easily be overcome. You must be free; but, you are caught. How to be free? Maybe it would be best to begin, by simply acknowledging we are caught.
But where does that leave us? What can be done? Though we are caught in desire, we still can see the manifestations of the Tao. Ah, the manifestations of the Tao. What are they? They, are all particular things. Everything which we can name. And, both the mystery, and the manifestations, arise from the same source.
Just when I think I am beginning to see the light at the end of a very long tunnel, I see the source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness. Yet, this is the gateway to all understanding.
We will be spending the next several days, tracing the manifestations back to the source.
Yes, as far as introductions are concerned, chapter one is full of the mystery. But, I promise, hang in there with me, and the manifestations will become plain to see.