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)
The Gateway to All Understanding
Today, we begin another journey through the Tao Te Ching. And, thanks for letting me take a couple days off before beginning, again. It felt strange taking those two days off, not doing what had been quite routine; but, I got to go see “Rogue One” with my son (don’t worry, no spoilers), so I enjoyed my time off.
Now, to get back to it. Lao Tzu does have a couple of caveats before we get started, though. First off, the tao that can be told isn’t the eternal Tao. Even the name Lao Tzu gives it-the Tao-isn’t the eternal name.
The eternal Tao, the eternal reality, the way things are, is unnameable. But, hey, we have to begin somewhere. So, we begin, as all particular things begin, with a name: Tao.
The eternal Tao is a mystery, which we can’t realize as long as we are caught in desire. That might be the most troublesome of the caveats. How are we going to realize this mysterious Tao? But, until we are free from desire, we must be content with only seeing its manifestations.
Still, there is some good news; both the mystery, and the manifestations, arise from the same source. So, even though we are caught in desire, we will be able to trace back those manifestations straight to their source.
That source, Lao Tzu calls darkness, because it is shrouded in mystery. It is darkness within darkness, but it is the gateway to all understanding.
What does this mean? It means, as we go along in our journey, tracing back those manifestations we see, we will take the steps necessary to be free from desire. We are going to look inside ourselves, discover our own light, and use that light to return to the source of all understanding. We will see through the darkness, and find clarity.