Tao Te Ching Part I 道德经英文版

The way that can be spoken of Is not the constant way;

The name that can be named Is not the constant name.

The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth;

The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.

Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;

But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.

These two are the same

But diverge in name as they issue forth.

Being the same they are called mysteries,

Mystery upon mystery –

The gateway of the manifold secrets.

The purpose of the Tao Te Ching is to assist the reader in moving towards a more enlightened state of mind. The opening passage, as with the rest of the work, serves this purpose.

To a person in an ordinary state of mind, the passage seems confusing. An ordinary state of mind is not an enlightened state of mind, and the passage is a tool to move the reader away from ordinary thoughts, perhaps initially into a state of confusion, but not confusion without purpose.

The opening passage sows seeds in the mind of the reader, to a greater extent than may be initially apparent. Ideas are suggested which are unusual, yet central to the Taoist way of thinking. These ideas are returned to and built upon later in the work.

To begin with Lao Tzu speaks of the way. The character for “way” is the character “Tao”, these are the same. A Taoist studies and follows the way. The way can be studied from an academic viewpoint, books can be read and classes can be attended. In ancient China whole schools developed and flourished with the purpose of studying the Tao.

The Tao can also be studied and experienced through observation, introspection and meditation on the natural world. Before there were books and schools of Taoism, the original masters had no choice but to find connection with the Tao through experience of the world, introspection on the nature of things, and meditation.

This still doesn’t explain what the Tao is. What is this “way” that Taoists are concerned with? The answer to this question is not straightforward. A person who is enlightened lives in harmony with the Tao, their actions are motivated by the Tao and are given effectiveness through connection with the Tao.

However, the Tao exists even when no person is aware of it. The Tao has been described as nothing and everything. Perhaps the easiest way to think of the Tao initially is to consider the Universe as being the Tao. The Universe is by definition everything that exists, and if the Tao is everything then the Tao is the Universe.

So what is the most effective method for studying the Tao, the best path to enlightenment? This is the very issue this passage is concerned with.

The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way.

The name that can be named is not the constant name.

As soon as a person speaks or uses language, they distance themselves from the constant, universal truth of the Tao. The act of using language moves a person away from an enlightened state of mind. A person can be enlightened, but a person cannot remain enlightened and at the same time use language.

So it follows that whenever a person speaks to you, directly or through writing, that person is not, at that moment, enlightened. Nor will you be enlightened so long as your mind is focused on the words communicated. So then what point can there be in using language to convey Taoist concepts?

The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth;

The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.

The Tao, the way, the universe is nameless. Any name given to it is arbitrary and inevitably insufficient. However, even without a name, it was the beginning of all things and will always contain everything that is. How is it that the many living creatures and objects in this world can exist? In our own mind at least, they exist and are separated from each other through the use of language, concepts of “categories of things”, methods of dividing experience up into “things that are represented by names”.

Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;

But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.

You cannot desire a thing unless that thing exists in your mind. In a state of mind without language, where no categories exist and nothing is separate from anything else, where the entire universe is perceived as a connected whole, you can be rid of desires and observe the secrets of the Tao. In such a state of meditation, removed from desires and language, a person can find the path to enlightenment. This concept can be found in Buddhism as well.

So is language without use or purpose? If the author of the Tao Te Ching believed this he would never have created his work. If I believed this then I would stop writing, and speaking. The purpose of language, categories and names is to describe and provide insight into the manifestations and workings of events in the world. Therefore language has use and purpose, even if you need to remove yourself from a state of profound meditation to make use of it.

These two are the same but diverge in name as they issue forth.

Being the same they are called mysteries,

Mystery upon mystery – the gateway of the manifold secrets.

There are not two universes – one which is perceived when in deep meditation and one which we perceive in everyday life. There is one universe, one Tao, one way. We may not think of the everyday world as being very profound, containing mysteries and secrets, but it is the Tao just as much as the world we would perceive when experiencing a moment of deep insight, after much calm reflection and meditation on the nature of the universe.

To understand that we live in a world which is infinitely complex and also infinitely simple depending on our viewpoint, a world that can be perceived through language as being divided into numbers of “things” beyond counting, all interacting and moving in relation to each other – yet which can also be perceived from a calm and centred state of mind as being completely connected, a whole and undivided thing – this realisation is the gateway of the manifold secrets.

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