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)
Lao Tzu has been kicking around this notion regarding the Tao being both infinite and eternal. Today is a good day to explain what he really means by those terms. Earlier, he said that he didn’t know who gave birth to it, saying it was older than God. Today, he comes to the logical conclusion that must then be drawn. If God didn’t give birth to it, since it predates God, then we can safely say that it was never born. It has no predecessor and no precursor. And, because it was never born, it can never die. This is what Lao Tzu means by eternal. That seems a reasonable definition to me. Everything that has a beginning, will have some ending. But something that has no beginning, can have no end.
His definition of infinite isn’t so obvious. When we think of infinite, we think of something that is immeasurably great; we think of something without limits, without boundaries; and, the Tao is definitely all that. But, Lao Tzu is wanting to stress something else about the Tao’s infinite nature in this chapter. Today, he wants us to see the Tao’s infinite presence.
And, I am reading along and he has been talking a lot about this, and I get it. Or, at least, I think I get it, the Tao is eternal and infinite. Why does he keep repeating himself? Maybe, it is because I don’t really get it. Maybe, I am still seeing myself as separate from the Tao. I mean, sure, the Tao is infinite and eternal; but, I am finite and temporal. How does any of this even apply to me?
And now, I am beginning to see why it is that Lao Tzu keeps repeating himself. I have been looking at me all wrong. I am seeing myself as separate; when Lao Tzu is wanting me to see myself as one with the Tao. How can I see myself as separate, as finite, as temporal, when the Tao is present within me, within you, within all things? We are all one. The entire Universe is one. All of nature is in an eternal, infinite dance. What separates me and you from this oneness, this unity and harmony, is desires which blind us to the reality, and keeps us trapped in the illusion of separateness.
It is that illusion from which we need to break free. As long as we are caught in desires, we see ahead and behind as two very different things. The Master gets it. She stays behind; and, that is why she is ahead. We can only see being ahead, or being behind. We want to be ahead and we fear to be behind. She is detached from all things. How very different is our attachment to all things. We aren’t one with them because of our attachment to them. It is only through detachment that we can become one with them.
So, how do we break free? From the illusion. From our attachment. From our fear of being behind. If it is perfect fulfillment that we seek, there is only one way. And, the Master understands it. She has let go of herself. She has let go of her separateness. She has let go of her fears. She has let go of her attachments. She has let go of her self. And, she is free to be one with the infinite and eternal, the Tao.
This is our journey. It is what Lao Tzu has been trying to teach us of the nature of yin and yang. Not their separateness, but their unity. Their oneness. Yin and yang are not two; they are one. And, we are one. I used to look at nature; and, I observed it all as separate creatures, separate things. Then, I started to realize that they were all one giant organism. The whole Universe, one giant organism. But, even then, I only saw the individual parts. We were all individual parts. But, Lao Tzu sees something a lot greater than that. We aren’t individual parts; we are all the whole. I am not some insignificant part. And, I am not even some integral part. I am the integral.