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 forms,
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)
I hope I didn’t lose too many of you with my commentary on yesterday’s chapter. I got into some theoretical physics on that one. And it was totally unintended. I wasn’t expecting things to go the way they went; but I just kept going with the flow, until I was done. Anyway, I understand that was a lot to chew on. Thinking of the reality we perceive with our senses as an illusion, a hologram our minds project for us, is a completely new way for many of us to think. But, it is so important that we see the self in a whole new way, to realize that the self we project “out there”, not just for others to see, but for ourselves to see, is not our real self. Our real self, what we are in the core of our being, is one with the Tao, and by extension, one with the world. That is why Lao Tzu challenges us to see the world as self.
Remember the purpose of Lao Tzu’s teaching. He is wanting us to learn how to be content; or, as he says it in today’s chapter, to be at ease in our own lives. True contentment can’t be found on that ladder Lao Tzu was talking about, yesterday. The ways in which we define success and failure are equally dangerous. Our hopes and fears are mere phantoms. They aren’t based on reality, because they aren’t based in the always present. And, as long as we continue to see the self as self, we will never be at ease. We will always be comparing and competing with others. And that only further alienates us from our true selves.
Today, Lao Tzu provides us with the key to being at ease in our own lives. He calls it the essence of wisdom to realize it. But first, he offers us a riddle. The riddle is all about our struggle to know true contentment, to be at ease, when we are defining ourselves in a limited and limiting reality.
That reality we project, what we can see, what we can hear, what we can reach for and grasp, none of that has the power to set us free from the illusion competing with the infinite and eternal reality. Why? Because true contentment isn’t something out there. You can’t see it, or hear it, or grasp it. What the ladder promises, that above it will be bright, and only below is it dark, is a lie. Anyone who has spent time on that ladder knows this is true, if they can admit it to themselves. True contentment is in a whole other realm from that of the illusory ladder. It is infinite, eternal, seamless, unnameable. And it always (and this is important) returns to the realm of nothing. What is it we have been saying for oh so very long about the value of nothing? It has a form which includes all forms. It is an image without an image. It is subtle, oh so subtle. It is beyond all conception.
What is Lao Tzu saying? You can’t know it! It can’t be conceived. When you think you might be approaching it, you will find it has no beginning. And if you want to try to follow it, you will see there is no end. Stop trying to know it! Give that up! You can’t know it. But, you can be it.
You can be at ease in your own life. You just can’t get there by dwelling on the past, or pinning your hopes on some imagined future. There is only one way to do it. And that is to be it. Realize where you come from. Where you come from? That is dealing with the always present. It isn’t a matter of where you came from. It isn’t based on who your family was. Or your country of origin. Ethnicity, race, gender, none of these things matter in the always present. These are only ways we separate our selves from the world. But where you come from, that is right now. The always present. Realize this, the essence of wisdom, and you, too, will be at ease in your own life.
Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will show us more of this “where you come from” to be at ease in our own lives.