In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.
To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.
If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.
Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Who Doesn’t Like Going on a Quest?
Human beings have probably always been quite fascinated with origin stories. “Where did I come from?” was probably the first philosophical question asked by each of us, early in our development. Later, we started wondering about the origins of our universe. And, for many thousands of years we have come up with stories to tell of our origins. I am a big fan of origin stories. I have always found them fascinating; even if they always left me with more questions than answers. For some time now, I have been a lover of science documentaries; particularly the ones on physics. I recently watched one on Netflix: “Einstein’s Biggest Blunder”. I won’t go into its details. The formula for all these documentaries are quite the same. They ask the questions which we have been asking for eons, and offer a short history of the various incomplete answers we have entertained. I doubt I will ever grow weary of watching them. I really do love them. They are like a suspense thriller. Are we going to finally get the one definitive answer to life’s greatest questions? Well, no, of course we won’t. Because, in all likelihood, we never were supposed to know that. It never was supposed to be about the answers, it was about the quest for knowledge. And, tell me, “Who doesn’t like going on a quest?”
Today’s chapter is about going on a quest. And, it too, is interested in finding our origin. And, it does so very much like science makes the quest. Let’s start with a theory. “In the beginning was the Tao. All things issue from it; all things return to it.” I happen to subscribe to this theory regarding the origin our universe. No matter how many different documentaries on Netflix I watch, I have never found science to disagree with it.
“To find the origin, trace back the manifestations.” That is exactly what scientists do. “When you recognize the children, and find the mother, you will be free of sorrow.” For scientists, I suppose, the problem of sorrow relates to not-knowing. If I can only know, then I will be free of sorrow.
Hence the need for this quest for knowledge. But, of course, Lao Tzu has already covered this before. “In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped.” And, right here, we might think that the practice of the Tao parts ways with science. But, wait! In the aforementioned documentary, Einstein’s biggest blunder was the name Einstein ascribed to his theory of a universal constant he called Lambda. As a scientist, when he was presented with evidence from a fellow scientist, Hubble, that perhaps his universal constant, “Lambda”, wasn’t necessary, after all, Einstein, along with all other physicists, dropped this idea of a universal constant. The dropping of something coincided with the accumulation of knowledge. They went hand in hand.
And, I don’t really want to spoil the documentary. But, apparently physicists, today, are revisiting, or picking back up, the need for this universal constant to explain the universe. But, what Einstein called Lambda, I would call the Tao.
And, so, we see the need for both the pursuit of knowledge and the practice of the Tao. If we aren’t free of sorrow, it is only because we close our minds in judgments, and traffic with desires. That is why our hearts are troubled. But, if we keep our minds from judging and aren’t led by the senses, our hearts will find peace. I have already said this doesn’t disagree with science. Daily, scientific evidence pours in proving the root of our heart problems are this very thing. The pursuit of knowledge and the practice of the Tao continue on, together.
However, I will go back to something I alluded to earlier in today’s commentary. Perhaps, we aren’t supposed to know all the answers. Perhaps, the quest, the journey, should be enough.
In the practice of the Tao, seeing into darkness is clarity; and knowing how to yield is strength. Use your own light to return to the source of light. Of course we are interested in these eternal questions. And, we should continue to pursue the answers to our questions, scientifically. But, where science leaves us with still unanswered questions, because there is always more to learn, we can practice eternity, now.