The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders
Tao Te Ching is a unique book in the history of mankind. It’s not a collection of religious tenets but mysticism; undiluted, unfathomable and soothing. There are debates about its authorship but popularly it’s believed to have been written by Lao Tzu. Lao Tzu was a peculiar mystic in China in 3000 B.C. The story behind the creation of Tao Te Ching is also very amusing. It’s said that Lao Tzu stayed in the womb of his mother for 32 years. Some accounts say even more. He was born with full-grown beard and teeth and so on.
Lao Tzu became very popular in his vicinity despite being reticent, because his enlightenment was perfect. When great philosopher Confucius heard about him and wanted to meet him he found no match in him and despite his reputation he surrendered to Lao Tzu. It is said that upon exiting Lao Tzu’s humble abode Confucius was dumbfounded and said that he was the most dangerous man.
After a few years Lao Tzu became so troubled by people who kept coming with problems that he decided to leave the country. When he was crossing the border in the wee hours of morning, the toll tax officer recognized him and asked why he was fleeing. Lao Tzu told him the truth and officer asked him to pay the toll. Lao Tzu had no possessions so he soldier requested him to write down his teachings and thus these 81 gems of verses were born.
I love this story and I love Tao Te Ching’s pearls of wisdom. They are open to interpretation, like any true mystery. I have loved reading them for a long time. The meanings also seem to shift a bit as my understanding of life changes.
The first verse is such a beauty in itself and points to a great truth. Tao, which might be interpreted as The Law, can’t be spoken. It’s unspoken law. All man-made laws can be spoken but nature’s law are beyond being recorded and spoken. No matter how much you try you know scanty. Newton’s model is replaced by Einstein’s and then another model appears as man keeps expanding his horizons. But how much does he know? What is really his place in this vast cosmos?
Devotees chant holy names of god and these help them increase their love for the divine, but they are not true names. Mystics and sages have emphasized the importance of the true name which can’t be named. It’s a sound or a group of sounds–a primordial sound which is anti-sound. This sound is the root cause behind the creation and the positive force in the universe. All sounds manifest from this sound. Various religions and cultures address it with different names–logos, word, anahat nada, holy spirit, kalma, sargosha, music of spheres and naam are some of the names used for it.
The nameless name or the word is the source of heaven and earth. Named is thought or mind and it’s behind all of the creation. Vedanta and many similar philosophies clearly indicate that mind is what creates your universe. That’s why your universe changes so dramatically with the change in your feelings and thoughts.
When you are without desires you are in the Tao. Man is born in the Tao but similar to the fish who doesn’t know sea, man doesn’t know the Tao. You are connected to the source when you are without desires. With desires you can’t see the essence as mind takes over. You can see manifestations and world appears. You no longer remain established in the truth. With desires you are the world. Without them you are the source.
Essence and manifestation emerge together out of the Mystery. Mystery is mystery. Door to all wonders. Unfathomable!