The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born;
thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.
The Master stays behind;
that is why she is ahead.
She is detached from all things;
that is why she is one with them.
Because she has let go of herself,
she is perfectly fulfilled.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 7, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we really started to try wrapping our minds around the infinite. It wasn’t an easy thing, was it? Today, we are going to expand on the eternal and infinite nature of the Tao. Eternal seems to be the easier of the two. Why is it eternal? Because it was never born. Thus, it can never die. I don’t know why this is easier for me to wrap my mind around. It just is. Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Because the Tao has no beginning, it has no end.
But what of its infinite nature? That is a lot harder to wrap my mind around. Thankfully, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu helps us with that. Why is it infinite? And here, Lao Tzu’s answer is not like anything that I ever imagined. It is infinite because it has no desires for itself. Thus, it is present for all beings. In all my attempts to explain infinite, all I could ever come up with is what it is not. It is not finite. But that isn’t really helpful at all. Lao Tzu frees me of my limitations by changing how I look at the thing.
Being infinite is having no desires for itself. Being infinite is being present for all beings. Of course, this isn’t anything that Lao Tzu hasn’t already said about the Tao. But it still is important for us to understand, if we are ever going to realize the mystery. And, we will.
Having no desires for itself. Being present for all beings. It would be nice if we could have some way of fleshing that out. And once again, Lao Tzu doesn’t let us down. Here is the Master. The Master is the one who is one with the Tao. In harmonious accord with it. The Master will flesh this infiniteness out for us.
The Master is going to be helpful to us because any of us can be the Master. We keep talking about the Tao as eternal and infinite; and it seems so beyond anything related to any of us. How can I put the Tao to use in temporary, finite me? Because that is what I am. I am limited by space and time. The Tao is limitless. How can the Tao in me, be of any use to me? The Master shows us how.
Lao Tzu uses the Master to illustrate for us what is the eternal reality as opposed to the illusion we spend most of our lives experiencing. I look at myself and I see myself as bounded by space and time. But Lao Tzu says the eternal and infinite is always present within me. All that remains for me is to realize that paradox and accept the reality.
The Master is ahead because she stays behind. That is paradox. Because she is detached from all things, she is one with them. That is paradox. She is perfectly fulfilled because she has let go of herself. That is paradox.
Bounded by space and time I fear that I will always be behind. I will always be attached to things. I will never be perfectly fulfilled. But the Master doesn’t fret that she is always behind. She gladly stays behind and that is why she is ahead. Her focus was never on getting ahead. She simply stayed behind.
This is good news for all of us. Are you behind? Good. You are right where you need to be. Now stay there. That is how the Master is ahead. Why am I so attached to things? What does this attachment accomplish in my life? The Master has let go of all things. She is completely detached from them. This only sounds difficult because you don’t realize how strong a position you are in when you consciously choose to stay behind. All these things you have been so attached to? They are only means you have been holding onto in order to get ahead. But once we have given up that, the attachment to things is loosened.
Remember, we are fleshing out the eternal and infinite nature of the Tao. It is eternal because it was never born; and thus, will never die. It is infinite because it has no desires for itself; and is therefore, present for all beings. The Master stays behind. The Master is detached from all things. All desires melt away. The Master is perfectly fulfilled because she has let go of every thing, even her own self.
What can the Tao do for you? What will perfect fulfillment look like for you? I can’t begin to describe it for you. There are infinite ways that it might play out in your life. A life of detachment? Whether or not that sounds good to you, may just be a measure of how attached to things you are. Perhaps, it just sounds like a pipe dream.
We are so bound by space and time that we find it difficult to embrace the eternal reality, which is the infinite and eternal Tao, always present within us. The illusion of our limits is a whole lot easier for us to see and believe. But the Tao is infinite and eternal; and it is always present within us. That is the reality, if only we can realize the mystery.