“The Tao is always nameless” – Lao Tzu
Around the same time I was struggling in my CCD bible study classes (around age ten) I was excelling in elementary school. I enjoyed learning and loved the subjects in particular in which my teachers created open and welcoming environments to grow and learn in (specifically Art, Reading, English, and Social Studies). In 5th grade I remember doing a report on Taoism (my first ever exploration in comparative religion and philosophy). At that age, and still today, I found Eastern Philosophy to be fascinating. Everything about it was enticing, the foreign names, pronunciations, symbols and images and even the geography of the continent of Asia intrigued me. Studying Taoism then may have opened a window to a new world of possibilities. At that point I had been influenced only by the beliefs of my parents and perspectives of a very small group of similar minded people in South Central Pennsylvania.
From my small my backyard of Dillsburg Pennsylvania, there was a beautiful view but it was definitely limited. I could only see so far and it wasn’t enough for me even at a young age. I found the Taoist artwork, customs and ways of life refreshing and almost magical. I wanted to know more. Even the symbols were otherworldly and attracted me. I tagged my school notebooks and folders incessantly with Chinese character writing and the yin-yang symbol. There was something satisfying about making that drawing; the circle divided by a wavy line with equal areas of darkness and light. I just thought it was “so cool” then. Little did I know that the “cool” symbol I was doodling really was the “visual depiction of the intertwined duality of all things in nature”
I remember reading voraciously trying to soak up as much information about this other universe that I could. I always came away from my readings slightly confused and mostly baffled but in a satiated way as if I had consumed a very delicious meal that I didn’t know any of the ingredients to. How or why did it taste so good to me or make me feel so full? I guess, I blamed the confusion on my youthful brain for not entirely comprehending the philosophy but after reading the same text almost 20 years later I am having the same sensations.
mmm….what was that? Oooh that sure was tasty! Can I have some more please?
After digging through the Bible’s dense teachings and trying to translate meaning from metaphor and myth, I found this week’s reading, the Tao Te Ching, to be refreshing – thirst quenching to be precise. In one short airplane flight last week , I sucked it down like a fruit smoothie quickly, but did not get a brain freeze in the process.
Like the Bible, I left the text’s pages with many unanswered questions and a lack of clear understanding. However, in the case of the Tao, I am much happier for it and have realized that the not knowing is fine. In fact it is important if not more important than the knowing itself. To me this is one of the essential messages coming through in this text. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is the nature of constant questioning and contradiction. This lesson can be found on the very first page.
The Tao that can be followed 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. While naming is the origin of the myriad things. Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery Ever desiring, you see the manifestations These two are the same- When they appear they are named differently. The sameness is the mystery, Mystery within mystery: The door to all marvels. – Chapter 1 “The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao”
I believe there is a shared intention that we all hold (if we are honest with ourselves) in the seeking of these ideas, answers, and tools that binds even the most opposed characters together in a way that is difficult to deny. It’s in the naming of things, the act of possession, and our righteousness only that makes us believe and feel that we are separate and different from one another. We really are the same. The intro of the Tao Te Ching describes this notion.
“those who claim to know the Way, who claim to be able to categorize it relative to other named entities, are ignorant of its true greatness – and thus their attempts to realize the truth will be frustrated and futile”.
And the teaching of this lesson through Lao Tzu’s words is done in a way that embodies this message. There is no judging of what is right or wrong only a subtle nudging and request to be aware of the path itself and of others on the path along the way with you.
I highly recommend the experience of reading the Tao Te Ching yourself. You may glean other messages that will help guide you along your way. Below are some excerpts that revealed lessons that feel important to me.
The Tao is always nameless. And even though a sapling might be small No one can make it be his subject. If rulers could embody this principle The myriad things would follow on their own. Heaven and Earth would be in perfect accord And rain sweet dew. People unable to deal with It on its own terms Make adjustments: And so you have the beginning of division of names. Since there are already plenty of names You should know where to stop. Knowing where to stop, you can avoid danger. The Tao’s existence in the world Is like valley streams running into the rivers and seas
– Chapter 32 The Tao is always nameless…I do not force my way and the people transform themselves. I enjoy my serenity and the people correct themselves. I do not interfere and the people enrich themselves. I have no desires And the people find their original mind.
– Chatper 57 Use fairness in governing the state
One who knows does not speak. One who speaks does not know. Close your holes, shut your doors, Soften your sharpness, loosen your knots. Soften your glare and merge with the everyday
– Chapter 56 One who does not speak