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)
Here we go again. Back at the very beginning. Just like everything else in the Universe is cyclical, I like to be able to go through the Tao Te Ching a chapter a day. It takes us eighty-one days to make the journey. And then we get to start the journey all over again.
For my newer followers, it gives you an opportunity to see how Lao Tzu takes us through the journey from day one. But for those of you that have been with me for quite awhile now, I think it is an excellent opportunity to see how much we have already learned (or maybe unlearned is a better word for it); and see how much more we can this time through.
Right from the beginning Lao Tzu provides this warning. Maybe it is not just for his readers. Maybe he is wanting to keep it in mind, too. That is, that all that can be said about the Tao is not really the Tao at all. Oh, we can point a finger at it, from a distance. We can say, it is like this or that. But the Tao is beyond words.
Not that I am going to let a little thing like that stop me from trying to apply these teachings in a very practical way to my own life, and by extension yours, as well.
Still, it is something for us to always keep in mind. Even the name “Tao” is not really enough to name it. Lao Tzu just doesn’t have a better name for it, so he calls it the Tao.
The words we use and the names we use do serve a very useful purpose, though. Yes, words are limiting; but they do help us along our way. And naming is the origin of all particular things. Which Lao Tzu refers to as manifestations of the Tao.
Now that we have that caveat as we get started, Lao Tzu warns us that desires will hinder us in the journey. If we want to realize the mystery, which is the Tao, we will need to be free from desire. As long as we are caught in desire, we will only see the manifestations.
Don’t let that discourage you. Sure, we want to be able to see through the darkness. And it isn’t going to be easy. But that mystery that we long to unravel, but can’t see in the darkness yet, will be well worth the time spent becoming free from the desires that hinder us.
In the meantime, keep in mind, that just because we can only see the manifestations, and not the mystery, doesn’t mean we aren’t getting somewhere. After all, those manifestations arise from the same Source where the mystery may be found.
We will learn, along the way, how to trace back those manifestations to the Source, itself. The gateway to all understanding.
As always, I am using Stephen Mitchell’s excellent translation of the Tao Te Ching. There are lots and lots of translations and I encourage you to seek them out and enjoy them. But for my purposes, I haven’t found a better translation in its entirety with which to work.
One last thing: I have no problem with reblogs of my posts. Even those of you that delete out my long-winded commentary and just reblog the quote. All I ask is that you will give credit where credit is due. Please give Stephen Mitchell credit for the translation. Thanks so much. And we’ll meet up again tomorrow for chapter two.