This Is the Thread of the Way

“We look but don’t see it
and call it indistinct
we listen but don’t hear it
and call it faint
we reach but don’t grasp it
and call it ethereal
three failed means to knowledge
I weave into one
with no light above
and no shadow below
too fine to be named
returning to nothing
this is the formless form
the immaterial image
the one that waxes and wanes
we meet without seeing its face
we follow without seeing its back
whoever upholds this very Way
can rule this very realm
and discover the ancient maiden
this is the thread of the Way”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 14, translation by Red Pine)

HO-SHANG KUNG entitles this verse “In Praise of the Dark” and says, “About what has no color, sound, or form, mouths can’t speak and books can’t teach. We can only discover it in stillness and search for it with our spirit. We cannot find it through investigation.”

LU TUNG-PIN says, “We can only see it inside us, hear it inside us, and grasp it inside us. When our essence becomes one, we can see it. When our breath becomes one, we can hear it. When our spirit becomes one, we can grasp it.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “What we don’t see is vital essence. What we don’t hear is spirit. What we don’t grasp is breath.”

SU CH’E says, “People see things constantly changing and conclude something is there. They don’t realize everything returns to nothing.”

CH’EN KU-YING says, “‘Nothing’ doesn’t mean nothing at all but simply no form or substance.”

WANG PI says, “If we try to claim it doesn’t exist, how do the myriad things come to be? And if we try to claim it exists, why don’t we see its form? Hence, we call it ‘the formless form.’ But although it has neither shape nor form, neither sound nor echo, there is nothing it cannot penetrate and nowhere it cannot go.”

LI YUEH says, “Everything is bright on top and dark on the bottom. But the Tao does not have a top or a bottom. Hence, it is neither bright nor dark. Likewise, we don’t see its face because it never appears. And we don’t see its back because it never leaves.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “‘This very realm’ refers to our body.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “The past isn’t different from today, because we know what began in the past. And today isn’t different from the past, because we know where today came from. What neither begins nor comes from anywhere else we call the thread that has no end. This is the thread of the Tao.”

CHANG TAO-LING says, “The sages who achieved long life and immortality in the past all succeeded by means of this Tao. Whoever can follow their example today has found the thread of the Tao.”

That which is not seen, that which is not heard, that which is not felt; together, these things elude inquiry. Indistinct. Faint. Ethereal. This thread which weaves its way through the very fabric of our Universe. It weaves its way through each one of us, uniting us, and making us one. Without beginning or end. Always returning to nothingness. Empty but inexhaustible. We can only discover it in stillness. We can only experience it inside of us.

What more can I say about today’s verse? Can I make what is intangible, tangible? Can I shine a light on this darkness? I would only reveal there is nothing there. The mystery can’t be explained.

In tomorrow’s verse, Lao-tzu will describe the great masters of ancient times. They focused on the indiscernible and penetrated the darkness. Perhaps, there is something we could learn from them. Perhaps, it will be that we, too, can discover and experience this thread of the Way inside of us.

Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:

CH’EN KU-YING (B. 1935). Classical scholar and philospher who has taught in Taipei and Beijing and annoyed authorities in both places with his outspokenness. Lao-tzu chu-yi chi-p’ing-chieh.

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