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 one, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
And, so we begin anew. For many of my followers this may be a little old hat. I go through the eighty-one chapters, one chapter at a time, each day. I don’t even know how many times I have been doing this. But, for some of you, I know, this is the first time that you are looking at chapter one with me. To all of you, I say, welcome to my journey. I have a special bond with Lao Tzu, which has been forged over the course of many cycles of moons and seasons. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on philosophical Taoism. I think of myself only as an apprentice; with Lao Tzu as the Master. But, I am learning so very much. And I hope to share a little of what I am learning along the way. Join me as a fellow apprentice, and find where this journey will take us.
Let’s get the rules out of the way first. Actually, I can only think of one rule. I don’t have any problem with reblogs. I know some of you like to reblog just the quote without my commentary. That is also no problem. The only thing that I ask is that you give Stephen Mitchell the proper recognition as the translator of Lao Tzu’s work. There are a bazillion different translations of the Tao Te Ching. Yes, I counted them all. But Stephen Mitchell’s is my favorite one, by far. I don’t know Stephen; but, I appreciate his work on translating, almost as much as I appreciate Lao Tzu for originally writing it. He deserves to be cited for his work. Oh, and if you don’t mind mentioning that you got it from me, I wouldn’t mind a little promotion, either.
Okay, with that out of the way, where to begin… Today, Lao Tzu introduces the Tao. He begins with a warning that anything that can be told about it isn’t actually it. This is just Lao Tzu saying, what I am talking about is infinite and eternal. My words are finite and temporal. I can point at it. I can use metaphors to give you an approximation of what it is. But the real, eternal Tao is shrouded in mystery. You can’t really know it. Even the name which I give it, the Tao, is just a name that I am giving it. The name isn’t important. It isn’t the eternal name.
But, maybe I already need to back up. What is this thing that Lao Tzu is ascribing with the name the Tao? It could be translated as the Way, or the Path. I like to think of it as the way things are. What gives order and balance to the Universe which we inhabit. It is the Source from which everything springs into existence. I will often refer to it as the Natural Law. And, even the Invisible Hand. But all of these are just manifestations of what the Tao is. They aren’t the eternal Tao.
Because we immediately have problems when we start to talk about the Tao. We have to differentiate between the mystery, which is the eternal Tao; and, the manifestations of the Tao in the Universe. The mystery is what we can only hint at. Lao Tzu tells us that is because we are caught in desire. Free from desire, we can realize the mystery. Caught in desire, we can only see its manifestations.
Don’t let that discourage you. Whether we are talking about mystery or manifestations, they arise from the same Source. Today is only day one of the eighty-one day journey ahead of us. Most of the time we will only be able to see the manifestations. And, that will have to be okay. Why? Because those manifestations do reveal to us a whole lot about ourselves and the Universe in which we find ourselves. Along the way we will have plenty of opportunities to peer into the Darkness within darkness. And, that is good, too. Because that is the gateway to all understanding.
We have lots to understand. Come join me. I post this at approximately 7 am central standard time each and every day. And, I always love to get messages from you with your thoughts and your questions. One final note: Some of my newer followers may be wondering what’s up with the “libertarian” in “libertariantaoist” Continue on with me and you will find that Lao Tzu was the original libertarian.