Saturday, February 17, 2018

Tao Teh Ching Chapter I: What is the Tao? (老子道德經)

Chapter I: What is the Tao? (老子道德經)

 Traditional Chinese: 道可道,非常道。名可名,非常名。無名天地之始;有名萬物之母。故常無欲,以觀其妙;常有欲,以觀其徼。此兩者,同出而異名,同謂之玄。玄之又玄,衆妙之門。

English Translation: 

The Tao which one can explain is not the unchanging Tao。The name which can one name is not the unchanging name。Nothingness is the name of the beginning of Heaven and Earth。Existence is the name of mother of all things。

Therefore one should always emphasize nothingness, if one desires to observe the marvelousness of the Tao; one should always emphasize existence if one desires to observe the limits of the Tao。

These two have the same origin but different names; one could call both of them profound。More profound than profound, they are the gate of all marvelous things 。

Elementary Commentary/Understanding:

The key concepts of what Lao Tsu is teaching us here from the beginning is that Tao is eternal, the nameless, the source and substance of all things as we know it. Concepts of the "named" and the "unchanging name" or even better the "nameless" are emphasized here. In East Asian Spiritual Studies the concept of a name is common throughout the land, but the revelations's of Lao Tsu's thoughts on life is unique in this respect. Many traditions thrust upon it's followers a correspondence of  names, individuals and actualities; to accept them as necessary as a pathway to goodness. Lao Tsu clearly in his writings rejects names, individuals in favor of the "nameless". This shows a radical departure from common tradition even in his ancient time when he wrote these statements out. 

Lao Tsu teaches us that "Tao" is the "unchanging nameless" origin of heaven and earth, and all creatures great and small. The simplicity message of "without names"; is to understand that when tagged "names, titles, etc" arises the oneness of Tao is split up into individual things with "names" which is for sure is a red flag - time to stop and check out, or  better yet get away from those kind of dis-empowering ideas.

Lao Tsu introduces ideas of "nothingness and existence", sometimes taught as "being and non being" which are important here, for in Lao Tsu's teaching's "Wu Ming" (無名: nameless, literally the nothingness name) is equivalent to non being and the named "You Ming/Yu Ming": (有名 the existence name) is commonly accepted as being. Followers of East Asian Studies are very familiar of "being and non being", or sometimes taught as "nothingness and existence". These are omni present in the melting pot of East Asian Thought Schools. Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian all share these ideas in their teachings for thousands of years. In some modern traditions it might read like " always be of no desires" and "always be of desires". The scholar who was responsible for the organization of the Tao Teh Ching, Wang Pi wrote based on his studies with Taoist of the Lao Tsu lineage that "all beings originated in "non being before being".

The term "Tao" (道) is used by Lao Tsu cautiously knowing that it's not entirely correct. The teachings of Wen Tsu the famous student of Lao Tsu ( 文子) explains it best:

Lao Tsu taught that "There is something, an undifferentiated whole, that was created before heaven and Earth. It has only abstract images, no solid form. It is deep, dark, silent and undefined, I donot hear it's voice! Assigning a name provisionally I call it "Tao".

***More updates to come on this entry; Meditate and ponder on the subtle treasures of the Tao ***