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 seven, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
In talking about the various aspects of the Tao, Lao Tzu has said that the Tao is infinite and eternal. In today’s chapter, we are going to get a better understanding of what Lao Tzu means by these terms. What is infinite? What is eternal? These are hard things to define. Why? Because we are finite and temporal. We are limited in our ability to understand these things; they are too great. However, Lao Tzu made a bold claim in yesterday’s chapter: The infinite and eternal Tao resides within each one of us. That should encourage us. The infinite resides within the finite. The eternal resides within the temporal. So let’s begin by understanding what it means to be finite and temporal.
Temporal seems simple enough to define. Everything that has a beginning, has an end. We were born; therefore we will die. What makes the Tao eternal is that it doesn’t have any beginning. Thus, it can have no end. When Lao Tzu said back in chapter four, “It is older than God.” He was saying that nothing precedes it and nothing is a precursor for it. “I don’t know who gave birth to it.” That is how Lao Tzu very humbly says it was never born. Because the Tao was never born, it can never die. The significance that we have something eternal within us will become clearer to us in the days and weeks ahead. We get all hung up on our temporal life, desperate in our efforts to hold on to this fragile temporary existence. It is quite easy to think we know we have something eternal within each of us. It is quite a different matter to come to realize that we have eternity dwelling within each and every one of us.
What makes it difficult to move from thinking we know to realizing is that we are finite. That is where understanding infinity becomes important. That the infinite dwells within the finite. And defining infinite is not possible without first defining finite, since infinite means not finite. Then again, Lao Tzu doesn’t define finite in the same way that we might. We think of finite as limited. Therefore, we think of infinite as unlimited. That isn’t a bad starting point. But, Lao Tzu means so much more. When Lao Tzu talks about finite he is talking about desires and attachments. He talks about our struggles to get ahead and why we will never find true fulfillment.
It is our desires and attachments which limit us. That is what makes us finite. That is why we struggle. That is why we never get ahead. But we have the infinite within us. This is another thing that we can’t simply think we know. We must come to realize it, in order for it to make a bit of a difference in our lives. The Tao is infinite because it has no desires for itself. Our desires are limiting us. Lao Tzu told us this in the very first chapter. As long as we are caught in desire, we will never realize the mystery of the Tao. The Tao has no such limitations, thus, it is present for all beings. It is because it is infinite that it can be present within us.
Do you know the struggle of being present? Why are we always bothered by our past, and fearful of our future. We need to be present. Just like the Tao. This would be impossible for us. But, we have the infinite within us. That eternal presence is infinite in all of us.
I was talking with a friend today. He has been trying to keep up on my blog. And he asked the million dollar question. He said that he saw the value in what I have been saying. He knows he needs to let go of every thing that is limiting him. But, after a lifetime of bad habits he wants to know, how? How? Yeah, that is the million dollar question. So, I smiled. Because I understand all to well why we continue to struggle. It isn’t a lack of knowledge. That is why I told him that I know it is easier said than done.
Hey, I told you all from the start, I don’t consider myself a Master. I am only an apprentice. There is a big difference between knowing and realizing. We need to realize. And that is going to take mastering ourselves. I can master myself. But, I am not going to attempt mastering others. I can be an example to others. Show them the way. That is what I am about. But ultimately, it is on you to realize the infinite, eternal Tao in you. That is just mean of me to say, I know. I wish I had a magic wand. Really, I do. But there is no magic wand.
We have to master ourselves. The Master no longer struggles to get ahead. The Master is content to stay behind. That is why she is ahead. She has let go of all attachments. Guys, I know how real the struggle is. And, I promise you that if you will stick with this, you will find your way. Once you have mastered yourself, once you are detached from all things, you will find yourself one with them. I know, I know, this is all crazy talk. Stay behind to get ahead. Be detached from all things to become one with everything you have let go. Let go of yourself. Become perfectly fulfilled. Easier said than done? You bet. But only because we only think we know these things are true. Stick with it until you realize it. Knowing that you don’t know is the first step.