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 begin again the journey through the Tao Te Ching. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu introduces the Tao. He starts out by saying that anything that can be told about it is really not the eternal Tao. Even the act of naming it, leaves us far from the mark. What is eternally real is unnameable. That seems like a discouraging way to start the journey. But Lao Tzu isn’t trying to discourage us. He is trying to inform us of what we are dealing with in undertaking this journey.
In a later chapter, Lao Tzu will say that he only calls this eternal reality, the Tao, for lack of a better name. He is going to point at it. He will talk about it using lots of metaphors. The eternal Tao is shrouded in mystery and darkness. Whenever we talk about the eternal Tao we will be referring to it as mystery. It will be as if we are peering at it through darkness within darkness.
But, in the Tao Te Ching we won’t just be talking about the mystery of the eternal Tao. We will also spend a great deal of our time talking about its manifestations. This is good news; because this means there will be plenty of practical advice on how to go about the art of living, which is the practice of true contentment.
So, don’t be discouraged right from the start. Be encouraged. We have an 81 day journey before us, and I always find it a rewarding one, even after making this journey again and again.
Let’s take a closer look at what Lao Tzu says we can know about the Tao in today’s chapter. The eternal Tao is unnameable. Yet, we dare to name it. Why? Because naming is the origin of all particular things. And if we are going to get down to particulars, we will need to start naming things.
Our goal is to be free from desire. Because free from desire we will realize the mystery. Now, I am going to be particularly honest here. I have been at this for awhile; and I have still not rid myself of all desires. I am further along in my journey than I was the last time I started chapter one. But I still have a long way to go. Still, as I advance in freedom, I am beginning to realize the mystery which is the eternal Tao. I think of it as just scratching the surface still. Something like only seeing the tip of the iceberg. But I see no reason why I won’t get more free as I go through the journey again.
As long as we are caught in desire, all we are able to see are its manifestations. That is why we will spend a great deal of time talking about them. Mystery and manifestations. They arise from the same Source. We want to realize the mystery, but for now we will settle for seeing the manifestations.
The Source. That is really where our journey is taking us. And that is darkness. Darkness within darkness. That is very mysterious language, indeed. But, I always like a good mystery. So, I am not discouraged. After all, there really is a point to this journey. This peering into darkness within darkness. And that is that this Source, this darkness, is the gateway to all understanding.
If we are going to be able to understand all things. The eternal reality behind all the workings of the Universe. The way things are. Then that Source is our destination. Come along with me. Always feel free to send me messages asking me questions. And enjoy our journey together.