Tao Te Ching Chapter 1

The way that can be walked,

Is not the Eternal Way.

The name that can be named,

Is not the Eternal Name.

Tao is both Named and Nameless,

As Nameless, it is the hidden origin of all things,

As Named, it is the mother of of all things.

A mind free from Desire,

Can see the essence, the mystery of Tao,

A mind full of Desire,

Can see only the mere physical forms of this world.

The essence of Tao and the physical world seem different,

But in truth they are one and the same thing.

The only difference between them is in what we call them.

How deep and profound is this unity, how great!

It is the truth beyond truth,

The secret of all secrets,

The gate to the heart of everything.

WARNING LABEL!!!

Cryptic? Not really, the Tao Te Ching is a book so simple that you actually need to think about it to understand it. Most people are used to reading books that very literally tell you what to think. “The red house shared a white fence with the blue house next door.” Very literal, this sentence allows your mind to visualize what it is saying without having to imagine anything. When you get used to reading material that doesn’t require any in depth thought, like most fiction novels, then your ability to think critically takes a nose dive. The Tao Te Ching is a book that will require you to think.

What does it mean? I thought you’d never ask. Here’s my take on this chapter. It starts off with what has got to be the only warning label I’ve ever seen in any religious or philosophical work. “The name that can be named, is not the Eternal Name.” Here Lao-Tzu wants to make sure that we understand that mere words cannot really convey the sense of Tao; he wants to make sure that we do not confuse our thoughts and words about Tao with Tao itself.

It would be a lot like describing to someone, in great detail, about bell peppers. You can write and speak about the many different colors of bell peppers, about how they may be used in cooking, their taste and textures, but at some point you just have to experience a bell pepper. In this same way, we are warned, in the very beginning, that this book doesn’t count! You can read this book all day long, but unless you willingly and purposely search for meaning and think about the concepts in these pages, and then go out and actually live them and experience their effects, then none of it means anything and just reading will bring you no closer to truth.

IT’S ALL PART OF REALITY

“Tao is Named and Nameless, (It is BOTH of them) As Nameless, (which means we’re not sure what it is) it is the hidden origin of all things, as Named (which means we know what it is and can define it with a name) it is the (obvious) mother of all things.

There are many religious, mystic, and philosophical schools of thought that praise the spiritual and condemn the physical, like religious Christianity, or uplift the physical and give no importance to the spiritual, like philosophical Hedonism. The Tao Te Ching, is a book that seems to balance both sides of this by saying that Tao is all things seen and also all things unseen. The things you can see, like people, and mountains, and tables, and chairs, and stuff are the the physical Tao you can see, while the Tao you can’t see are the forces which cause those things to exist in the first place.

SEE BOTH SIDES

A mind free from Desire, (A mind still and quiet and at peace with itself, not solely focused on acquiring things or accomplishments)

Can see the essence, the mystery of Tao, (A still mind can intuitively grasp what cannot by physically seen)

A mind full of Desire, (A mind that is focused and concentrated on the acquisition of things or the rote accomplishment of goals)

Can see only the mere physical forms of this world. (A mind so concerned with physical things only, can only concern itself with physical things.)

This is where Lao-Tzu tells us to be balanced in our mental approaches to life. There are people who are focused solely making money and doing things that they pay no attention to their spiritual life, forsaking anything that they cannot see with their own eyes, or put in their pockets. On the other hand, there are people so absorbed in their spiritual pursuits, that they do not recognize the importance of their physical world. Some of these people practice their spirituality in an unhealthy way, and turn to forms of asceticism so extreme that they can’t be bothered to feed themselves for weeks on end and neglect their families.

This passage tells us that ‘when your mind is empty, it can think like this and perceive these things better, and when it is full, then it can think like this and perceive those things better.’ Neither is better than the other, and in fact we need both to navigate this life and it is in our best interest to cultivate both ways of thinking and to learn to be flexible in our ways of perceiving the world.

THE WORLD IS YOUR TEXTBOOK

The essence of Tao and the physical world seem different,

But in truth they are one and the same thing.

The only difference between them is in what we call them.

How deep and profound is this unity, how great!

It is the truth beyond truth,

The secret of all secrets,

The gate to the heart of everything.

The physical world and the spiritual world are two sides of the same coin. If you can learn from one you can understand the other, and what you learn from one side can basically be applied to the other side. Thus, if you want to learn about the hidden nature of Tao, a great place to start is by observing the world around you. It logically stands to reason that if all things are Tao, then the principles of Tao can be seen in all things. So watch grass grow and see what you can learn from it, observe the winds blowing clouds and think about it. What does a rivers flow tell you about the grander principles of the Universe? Do the behaviors of animals reflect the nature of the force that creates and sustains them?

This is the truth of everything you need to know. The very heart of all that is true is this: that which was created from the source can give you information about the source. In this way, nature can act as your teacher, your ‘finger pointing to the moon.’ This may seem confusing at the moment and you may not be ready to give these concepts much weight, but continue reading the Tao Te Ching, several correlations are made to nature’s way and the habits and patterns of life and man.

Back to preface

On to Chapter 2

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Categories: Ancient Classics, Character Development, Leadership, philosophy, Tao Te Ching, Taoism | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching Chapter 1

  1. Great commentary on Tao Te Ching 1!!

  2. taoyler

    Good stuff 🙂 Love the insight… I miss conversations over such topics! Especially this particular writing…

    • Thank you for your kind words. Rigt now my mind is preoccupied with other things, but eventually I will be returning to explore the Tao Te Ching further. Thanks for reading.

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