The Door to All Beginnings

“The way that becomes a way
is not the Immortal Way
the name that becomes a name
is not the Immortal Name
no-name is the maiden of Heaven and Earth
name is the mother of all things
thus in innocence we see the beginning
in passion we see the end
two different names
for one and the same
the one we call dark
the dark beyond dark
the door to all beginnings”

(Taoteching, verse 1, translation by Red Pine)

TU ER-WEI says, “Tao originally meant ‘moon.’ The Yiching [see hexagrams 42 and 52] stresses the bright moon, while Lao-tzu stresses the dark moon” (Lao-tzu-te yueh-shen tsung-chiao, pp. ii-iii).

(See my introduction, posted yesterday, to see how deeply influenced Red Pine was by the thought of Tu Er-wei).

CONFUCIUS says, “The Tao is what we can never leave. What we can leave isn’t the Tao” (Chungyung:1).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “What we call a way is a moral or political code, while the Immortal Way takes care of the spirit without effort and brings peace to the world without struggle. It conceals its light and hides its tracks and can’t be called a way. As for the Immortal Name, it’s like a pearl inside an oyster, a piece of jade inside a rock: shiny on the inside, dull on the outside.”

CH’ENG CHU says, “Sages don’t reveal the Way because they keep it secret, but because it can’t be revealed. Thus their words are like footsteps that leave no tracks.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Things change but not the Tao. The Tao is immortal. It arrives without moving and comes without being called.”

SU CH’E says, “The ways of kindness and justice change but not the way of the Tao. No-name is its body. Name is its function. Sages embody the Tao and use it in the world. But while entering the myriad states of being, they remain in nonbeing.”

WANG PI says, “From the infinitesimal all things develop. From nothing all things are born. When we are free of desire, we can see the infinitesimal where things begin. When we are subject to desire, we can see where things end. ‘Two’ refers to ‘maiden’ and ‘mother.’”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “‘Two’ refers to ‘innocence’ and ‘passion,’ or in other words, stillness and movement. Stillness corresponds to nonexistence. Movement corresponds to existence. Provisionally different, they are ultimately the same. Both meet in darkness.”

THE SHUOWEN says, “Hsuan [dark] means ‘black with a dot of red in it.’” This is how the darker half of the yin-yang symbol was traditionally represented. In Shensi province, where the Taoteching was first written, doors were, until recently, painted black with a thin line of red trim. And every road begins with a door.

TE-CH’ING says, “Lao Tzu’s philosophy is all here. The remaining five thousand words only expand on this first verse.”

Finally, RED PINE says, “During Lao-tzu’s day, philosophers were concerned with the correspondence, or lack of it, between name and reality. The things we distinguish as real change, while their names do not. How then can reality be known through names?

I am going to keep my own commentary brief today. After all, these sages have already given us plenty to think about.

It would seem to me that Lao Tzu is stressing being, as opposed to becoming. Be what you are. Don’t worry so much about what you will become. All things change, but there is one thing which always remains the same. Because we are so worried about becoming, we struggle (passion), when we should simply remain still. We long for light, when we should be content with the dark. Let it be. Let all things be. It will sort itself out.

And now, let me introduce a little something different. I am including a glossary at the end, which I got straight out of Red Pine’s book. As he introduces sages, I will include (for the first time only) a little something explaining who these sages were. I found it interesting, and you may, as well. But, you can also feel free to skip over this last section.

TU ER-WEI (1913-1987). Scholar of Chinese religion and comparative mythology and proponent of the view that Taoism had its origin in the worship of the moon.

CONFUCIUS (551-479 B.C.). China’s most revered teacher of doctrines emphasizing the harmony of human relations. His teachings, along with those of certain disciples, were compiled into the Lunyu (Analects), the Chungyung (Doctrine of the Mean), and the Tahsueh (Great Learning) and until recently formed the basis of moral education in China.

HO-SHANG KUNG (D.CA. 159 B.C.). Taoist master who lived in a hut beside the Yellow River – hence his name, which means Master Riverside. His commentary emphasizes Taoist yoga and was reportedly composed at the request of Emperor Wen (r. 179-156 B.C.). It ranks next to Wang Pi’s in popularity. Some scholars think it was compiled as late as the third or fourth century A.D. by members of the Taoist lineage that included Ko Hung (283-343). There is at least one English translation: Eduard Erkes, Artibus Asiae (Switzerland), 1950.

CH’ENG CHU (1078-1144). Scholar-official and fearless critic of government policies.

LI HSI-CHAI (FL. 1167). Taoist master, practitioner of Taoist yoga, and noted Yiching (Book of Changes) scholar. His commentary extends Lao-tzu’s teachings to the state as well as the individual.

SU CH’E (1039-1112). He, his father, and his brother are counted among the eight great prose writers of the T’ang and Sung dynasties. Although his commentary reflects his own neo-Confucian sympathies, it is also treasured by Buddhists and Taoists.

WANG PI (226-249). Famous for the quickness of his mind as well as the breadth of his learning. He grew up with one of the best private libraries of his time. Although he died of a sudden illness at the age of twenty-four, he was among the first to discuss Taoism as metaphysics rather than religion. As a result, his commentary has been preferred over that of Ho-shang Kung by Confucian scholars. At least two English translations exist: Paul Lin, University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies, 1977; Ariane Rump, University of Hawaii Press, 1979.

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG (FL. SUNG DYNASTY: 960-1278). Taoist nun about whom I have found no other information.

SHUOWEN – Greatest of China’s early etymological dictionaries. It was compiled and first published by Hsu Shen in A.D. 121 and revised and updated with new materials in the T’ang, Sung, and Ch’ing dynasties.

TE-CH’ING (1546-1623). One of the greatest Buddhist writers of the Ming dynasty and responsible for revitalizing the practice of Zen in China. His commentaries on Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu are among the best ever written and are used by Taoists as well as Buddhists.

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