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)
Today’s chapter sounds like something of a riddle as we read through it. It is a continuation of yesterday’s chapter in which Lao Tzu warns us to stay off the ladder. And, it hearkens back to the first chapter where we are first introduced to the mysterious Tao.
You will be happy, I hope, to know that I am not going to try and go through it line by line and unravel the mystery. I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu intends for us to do.
But I do welcome the opportunity to continue where we left off yesterday. The question before us is, if we are supposed to avoid climbing the ladder, how are we ever going to know ease in our own lives? That is, after all, the lure of the ladder. If you will just climb that ladder and keep on climbing, you may eventually get to that elusive top rung where you will find ease. That is the lure. That is the promise. But Lao Tzu tells us it is all an illusion.
So what then? In this chapter Lao Tzu offers us this riddle. And the conclusion of the riddle is that you can never know it. At least that is the case, if you are pursuing it on that ladder.
But Lao Tzu does offer us a better way. You knew he would, right?
What you can’t know, you can be. And here is how. And this is the essence of wisdom: Just realize where you come from.
Now, how to explain that one? How do I put it into words? There came a time in my life. I can’t quite pinpoint the exact time and date. I just know that there came a time when I quit looking for it. I quit listening for it. I quit grasping at it. I think that it was when I recognized that reality was where I spotted paradox. Anytime I found that things were not what they seemed to be, then I realized that I had stumbled across what was real, hiding there, behind the mask of the illusion.
Is it still elusive? Oh, definitely. I get distracted by the illusion all the time. But I have learned something along my journey. And though I get distracted and wander off on side paths from time to time, I always return to the Source of reality. The Source of all being and non-being. My Source. Your Source.
I am living in the present moment. The only real moment. Things come and things go. I work with them as they do. I know where I have come from. I know where I am going. And the life of ease that I could never know, is who I am become.