The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.
The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.
-Lao Tzu – (Tao Te Ching, chapter 7, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
These early chapters in the Tao Te Ching have been devoted to laying the groundwork for everything Lao Tzu wants us to understand about the Tao. Beginning in chapter one, Lao Tzu referred to the Tao as eternal. And then, beginning in chapter four he started including the word infinite to describe the Tao. Thanks to some of my readers messaging me with questions, I have been going into greater and greater detail about these abstract concepts. It is understandable these concepts are not readily comprehended and understood. We are talking about something which is shrouded in mystery. Our minds, as much as we might desire it to be otherwise, are simply not equipped for the undertaking. All Lao Tzu can do is point at it, as if from a distance. He can use metaphors to tell about it. But, he acknowledged, right there in the first chapter, as long as we are caught in desire, we can’t realize the mystery. We must be free from desire to comprehend, to understand, to realize. The good news in all of this is that, with all of Lao Tzu’s pointing, we have gained a whole lot of help toward our goal. Just knowing where he is pointing is of help. And where is that? Where is the Tao? It is inside you. The answers, my friends, aren’t out there; they are inside you. We need to look deeply inside of our very selves, the core of our being, to be able to comprehend, understand, and realize the mystery of the Tao.
The mystery is the infinite and eternal Tao. And today’s chapter, I think, will go a long way toward setting us free from desire.
We talked yesterday about how the problem of our desire prevents us from realizing the mystery. I said then, if we are going to be set free from our desire, it will involve emptying our minds and filling our cores, weakening our ambition and toughening our resolve. And then I said, you can’t make your mind empty. Not as long as you desire to know and understand these things with your mind. We have to let go of that desire. We have to let our minds empty, by not resisting thoughts as they come, and not entertaining them so they can go.
So, just a few more words from Lao Tzu on why the Tao is eternal, and why the Tao is infinite; then, we will begin to talk about how we let go of our desire.
Eternity is a concept that I long ago thought I completely understood. Growing up in a Christian home, and never missing a Sunday School class, I understood eternity by imagining a time line which stretched forever into the past and forever into the future. My concept of eternity related to that time line, which was, incidentally, infinitely long. But Lao Tzu doesn’t want us thinking of eternity in this way. Eternity for Lao Tzu is beyond time. It is timeless. Forget the time line. There is no time line. Why is the Tao eternal? Because it was never born. Thus, it can never die. What makes the Tao eternal, is that it has no beginning. And, thus, it has no end.
What makes us (our minds and our bodies) temporal, is that we were born. And we will die. We have a beginning. And, for our minds and our bodies, there will very definitely be an end. Remember, as I said before, our minds and our bodies are only one part of our nature. They are related to the outer nature.
But, we have also talked about the core of our being. This, I said is our true selves. It is our inner nature. That, I believe, is eternal and infinite, just like the Tao. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to have the Tao within us.
We have been talking a bit the last three days about the infinite nature of the Tao. And Lao Tzu has one final answer, today, to the question, “Why is the Tao infinite?” And this answer speaks volumes. Oh, we thought we understood what infinite meant. We think of it as endless. We can talk about it being empty yet inexhaustible, because the more you use it, the more it produces. But what really makes the Tao infinite, is that it has no desires for itself. Now, I will be completely honest here. Why not? I always am completely honest with you guys. I don’t know what it means that the Tao has no desires for itself. Oh, it isn’t that I disagree with the notion. But, I don’t understand how that works, in something I think of as an impersonal force or law, the way things are in our Universe. I mean, of course, the Tao has no desires for itself. It would have to be something very different from the Tao, for it to have desires for itself. My problem lies in not understanding how it COULD have desires for itself. And I could get really hung up here, if I chose to go down that rabbit trail. But I am not going to do that. The eternal reality is that it has no desires for itself. Just be thankful for that. Because, that means, it is present for you, for me, for all beings.
In spite of my qualms about the possibility the Tao could have desires for itself, I do understand Lao Tzu’s point. He is pointing out the need to be free from desire, if we want to be in perfect harmony with the Tao.
And, speaking of someone who is in perfect harmony with the Tao, here comes the Master. The Master will show us the way to be in perfect harmony with the Tao. That means looking deeply within the very core of our being, the eternal and infinite you and me. How do we become so free from desire, that we have no desires for ourselves; and thus, become fully present?
Someone acting in harmony with the Tao would be content to stay behind; instead of desiring to get ahead. The absolutely amazing reality that results, is that by staying behind, you are ahead.
Someone acting in harmony with the Tao would be detached from all things. Detachment is something we are going to have to explore, again, in more depth, later. Suffice it to say, the problem of our desire results in attachment to things. And that is something we will simply have to let go. And when you do, once again, the results are absolutely amazing. You are detached from all things and are now one with them.
Finally, what is it going to take for you to be perfectly fulfilled? As long as we are caught in desire, we might have a long list of things we will want to be ours, before we can be perfectly fulfilled. But someone acting in perfect harmony with the Tao lets go of their very self. This is the only way to be perfectly fulfilled. Those desires are simply going to have to go.