My Reflections on Tao Te Ching #1

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The tao that can be told

is not the eternal Tao 

The name that can be named 

is not the eternal Name. 

The unnamable 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 #1, Stephen Mitchell Translation

I’ve been rereading the Tao Te Ching, something I do every year or two. It is not long. One can read the entire book in an hour or two. But its wisdom seems to be endless. I could pore over single lines and contemplate them for hours. So as a project, I thought I’d reflect and write on each passage of the Tao Te Ching. There are 81 passages in the Stephen Mitchell translation, so it will take me some time, maybe years. But I hoping it will be worthwhile for myself and for any readers I have out there. I am not a Taoist nor am I an expert in Taoist philosophy, but I do believe I can take my unique perspective on living and maybe add some insights.

Let’s start with the above, #1. In this passage, Lao Tzu, the writer of the Tao Te Ching, writes in paradoxes and plays against preconceived notions of spiritual understanding. For example, light isn’t the source of understanding, but darkness is. The reason for this, I believe, is to stun or perplex the reader. We think we know what a spiritual life looks like, but in actuality, we have no idea. It forces us to rest in Shoshin or Beginner’s Mind, a state with our preconceptions and filled with openness. That is the beginning of grasping what is ungraspable. 

The problem with any spiritual endeavor is mistaking the finger for the moon. Language is the finger. It names reality as a way to make sense of reality. The mistake is in the intellectualizing. Human culture has intellectualized everything. I am a psychotherapist, and I’ve read an insane amount of theory from Freudian to Jung to Beck to Maslow, and while much of it helps frame a patient’s problems, I can’t but help feel that so much of the theory is the finger and not the moon. Reality is ungraspable. It just is as is. Language helps to understand but at some point loses its usefulness. To really grasp the Tao, we must go beyond language. 

How do we do that? Well, I’ve written about some meditations that could be helpful elsewhere. But forget the meditations for now. Take a breath. Stay off your screens. Pay attention to the present moment. It is all happening now in the Eternal Now. It is free from names and language and is always present with us now. It is always available to you if need to see it. 

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