A friend of mine, Louis, has in his words “irregularly studied the Tao Te Ching for nearly 50 years.” He seems to be none the worse for it. Truth be told, I suspect he is much the better for it…
Recently Louis sent me a heads up that a writer named Amy Putkonen had invited him to participate in a project commenting on one chapter of the Tao Te Ching each week. The blog is entitled Tao Te Ching Daily and the “challenge” can be found at: http://taotechingdaily.com/a-new-challenge/.
Louis is more than up to the task, having just recently faithfully completed his commitment to complete 65 posts in 65 days on his blog, one post for each year of his life. Louis’s own blog is at http://ralstoncreekreview.com/.
I actively participated during “65 in 65”, and enjoyed it. If you decide to explore the blog, you will also find a moving and life-affirming account of the experience Louis, his brother Lonny, and their families shared after Lonny was diagnosed with a rare bone marrow disorder known as myelofibrosis. It’s a remarkable account, inspiring and well worth reading.
I have committed myself to at least one post to the Tao Te Ching Challenge. I am a lazy fellow, I wander a lot and am easily distracted as well, so I can’t in good conscience commit to more than that.
Here, then, is my contribution to the cause, and Week One.
Chapter One of the Tao Te Ching
The Tao that can be told is not the Eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the Eternal Name.
Nothingness is the Origin of Heaven and Earth.
Beingness is the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.
When you are free of desire, you will understand the Essence of your life.
When you identify with your desires, you will observe the manifestations of your life.
Both contain the deepest secrets arising from the dark unknown, the Doorway to the Mysteries of Life.
When I read ancient texts I find it helpful to first restate them in my own idiom, according to my own understanding. It brings the lesson closer to me. I’ve found that, over time and across cultures, translation and interpretation can obscure and complicate the message.
In so far as I am able I prefer to work within the scope of my own experience and understanding. In order to do that it’s helpful to start at the beginning of the conversation and reflect back what I have heard, so I do.
Chapter One of the Tao Te Ching (Reflected)
No-Thing. The sum of No-Thing is less than One and more than infinite. Mind can not locate it, eye can not see it, voice can not speak or name it. No-Thing is nowhere, before the beginning and now and after the end.
Can the mind think of something so complete and whole that the total sum of it is not even One?
No-Thing is the Origin and Essence. Here is the end of saying that which can not be said.
Here is the beginning of saying that which can be said.
In the Beginning is One. And One creates Being, and in Being there is Two, and Two holds Ten Thousand Things.
In the beginning was God. And God created Heaven and Earth and Being and Light and Darkness and Ten Thousand shades of gray.
Now you are here, where Desire and Self separate and join and separate again and rejoin again and again in the Tao, the Path of One to Two to Ten Thousand to One.
When you are One, you understand. When you are Ten Thousand you are One, yet you do not understand.
When you are one of Ten Thousand Things you have Identity, and Self, and Desire. When you are Self you will walk the Tao. Manifestations of Self will go out from the Self and return to the Self.
In the Tao deep secrets rise from the unknown dark. In the Tao you find the Doorway into the Mystery of Life.
And then you Live, Understanding the Essence of your Life.
Another thing I do for my own understanding is to reflect what I have heard as if it were being explained by a contemporary, anonymous, lazy sage who I would marginalize and ignore if it weren’t for the fact that I know he is a sage, and my Master. This imaginary Teacher might say it something like this:
“Look. There’s something you’re never going to find standing where you are. It’s everything, and so much everything that the mind you’re thinking with can’t begin to get a grip on it, because it’s so much everything there’s nothing left to grab hold of it with.
“So forget about that something. Work with what you’ve got. What you’ve got here is a predicament. A place full of a bunch of stuff spread across time where your mind tells you, yeah, there’s all that, but somehow your mind is thinking that it all must just be the parts of something bigger that’s not so fractured. So your mind wants to spend some time figuring out what that bigger thing is. You start thinking it’s not a place, and there’s not a bunch of stuff in it, and there’s not even any time in it.
“Let me repeat myself. Forget about what that big thing is and work with what you’ve got.”