Tuesday, February 22, 2011
It's All Real - the World According to the Tao Te Ching
The Way that can be walked is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of all things.
Free from desire you see the mystery.
Full of desire you see the manifestations.
These two have the same origin but differ in name.
That is the secret,
The secret of secrets,
The gate to all mysteries.
It’s All Real
Lao Tzu begins his writing about Tao, the Way, by stating that the written word cannot fully encompass the real thing. The workings of the Way are hidden behind what we can observe. It was present at the dawn of time and the birth of the universe, but it’s visible only through what has been created out of it, in accordance with it: the whole world and all its creatures. Tao is the Way the universe works.
But that also means it can be understood by observing what can be observed: the manifestations. When we indulge in the world as we perceive it, we might be blinded by the splendor and magnitude of it all, but we do witness the workings of the Way, which is the principle behind it. We don’t see the interior, but the surface. Still, its shape reveals a lot about what it covers.
If we want to see beneath the surface, into what really makes up the world, we have to detach ourselves from the attraction of that surface. When we distance ourselves from the world as if we are not at all part of it, then we can see through it. The mystery of its true nature becomes evident.
This is like an echo of Buddhism, although preceding it. Truth is revealed to the one who detaches himself from the world, not tempted by anything in it and not distracted by any of its phenomena.
Because we allow ourselves to be consumed by the world, we can’t see it clearly. If we cease to look at the world for what we hope or fear that it will be to us, then we can see what it really is – its true nature, which is the Way.
But we don’t have to see through the world to manage living in it. The manifestation is an expression of the Way, so it’s as real and essential as the Way itself. Like the two sides of a coin. The world can be understood from its surface as well as from its interior. The descriptive words will differ, but the world and its workings remain the same.
The surface is just as real as what lies beneath it. They reveal one another. None exists without the other, so none is superior or inferior.
We tend to think in opposites – light or dark, high or low, hot or cold, and so on. That’s fine as a method of getting acquainted with the world and beginning to understand how it works. But when we make judgments, calling one opposite good and the other bad, we are mistaken. They complement and depend on each other. Even when one of them seems obviously superior, neglecting the other is unwise.
Many belief systems praise the spirit and condemn the body, but the latter is the vessel of the former. They depend on each other. A spirit without a body cannot act, nor can a body without spirit. The Taoist treats each according to its nature. Both of them need concern and nourishment. Whichever one is neglected, both will suffer.
The unity of surface and interior also tells us that we should not make them contradict. If you pretend to be something that you are not, then your outside and inside are in conflict. Somewhere along the way you will break. They don’t need to be exactly the same. They cannot, since they differ in nature. But they are companions on one and the same path. A human being is a whole, walking one way. If this whole is divided, for whatever reason, you will halt. You get nowhere.
When we accept that the mystery and the manifestations mirror each other, the secret is revealed. We can understand all. What you see is what you get, but you have to truly see it for what it is.
The manifestations become clear when you observe them with delight. The mystery appears when you detach yourself from the world and empty your mind. You will discover their unity: something and nothing embrace, and become all.
(The image above is the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching in Chinese, the Wang Pi version.)
Tao Te Ching – The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained
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Tao Te Ching on Amazon
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Tao Te Ching – Kindle ebook
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