Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.
Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.
It returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all form.
Image without an image.
Subtle, beyond all conception.
Approach it, and there is no beginning.
Follow it, and there is no end.
You can’t know it, but you can be it.
At ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from;
this is the essence of wisdom.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 14, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Happy New Year to all my friends. And, here is riddle to begin your new year. Lao Tzu has been talking about the need to detach ourselves from all the things that prop up the illusion. Detachment will result in our being attached to reality. We were talking yesterday about the illusion that we are separate from the rest of the Universe. We feel alone. Lost. And, confused. We are looking for answers. Lao Tzu would say, in all the wrong places. That is the allure of that ladder he was talking about yesterday. We want a life of ease. And the ladder promises that.
But Lao Tzu has told us that the ladder’s promises are all an illusion. The life of ease it promises will always elude us. That life of ease isn’t something we can know. That is what today’s riddle is about. If you look for it, it can’t be seen If you listen for it, it can’t be heard. If you reach for it, it can’t be grasped.
While on that ladder you will find that above, it isn’t so bright. And below, it isn’t so dark. But most people feel trapped on that ladder. They don’t see a way out. What Lao Tzu is offering to us, whether we feel trapped on the ladder or not, is a big heaping dose of reality. The ladder is not the gateway to what you are seeking. What you are seeking is not something which can be found by seeking.
What Lao Tzu is talking about comes back to the reason he keeps talking about the importance of non-being. It all returns to the realm of nothing. It is why, in this past year, I have come to really find joy in the subtle. It is something I have discussed before with my friend who I meet each week for tea. All the teas he serves are so subtle. He worries that they are bland. No! They aren’t bland. They are subtle. And it is in that subtlety that I am able to appreciate all the nuance the tea has to offer. The foods that I eat. The activities that I enjoy. They all embrace that subtlety.
But that is coming from someone who has been off the ladder for a couple of years now. It is still yet hard for me to explain. It is something you can only appreciate as you experience it for yourself. As you approach it, you find it has no beginning. As you follow it, you find it has no end. No, you can’t know it. But good news! You can be it.
You can be at ease in your own life. No, it doesn’t have to be something far off in the distant future. You can experience it right now. Once you realize where you come from. That, my friends, is the essence of wisdom. And, it is something that Lao Tzu will talk about more and more as we continue this journey.