For a long time lately, I’ve been pondering the nature of Truth.
Man has wrestled with this subject ever since he has been able to think. We have profound meditations on this subject from every imaginable region inhabited by homo sapiens, several of which, due to their inaccessibility to the mere intellect, have been turned into systems of religion, complete with their own sets of rites and rituals.
This endeavour has branched into three primary areas (which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive):
- Metaphysics: On what is and what isn’t, what being entails, and the structure and interaction of everything that is.
- Ethics: On the right way to be.
- Epistemology: On the nature and limits of knowledge.
Tao Te Ching is an ancient Chinese religious text written by Lao Tzu. (For more information, go here.) It focuses primarily on the former two areas above.
The text is said to be extremely ambiguous and hence, difficult to translate and interpret. It is my humble project to try to interpret the text, following the well-known translation by James Legge. (I’m able to include the translation here, thanks to the fact that it is in the public domain.)
A separate post will be reserved for each chapter (of which there are 81 in all), and we shall include the translation of the chapter, followed by my (modest) commentary on it.
Let’s start with the first chapter.
The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
(Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.
Always without desire we must be found,
If its deep mystery we would sound;
But if desire always within us be,
Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.
Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.
The word ‘Tao’ literally means ‘way,’ which is to be taken as the way (or nature or essence) of all that is. It stands for what is popularly known as Truth (or Ultimate Truth).
Truth may not be expressed in words (i.e. by a name) nor may It be conquered through action (i.e. following a path). It is formless, silent, without smell, tasteless, subtler than the subtlest and beyond description or analysis. Thus, It is absolutely simple and without existence, and therefore, not possibly a subject of knowledge.
Conceived strictly thus, it is the Originator of all that is. But if It were to be given a name, it would be apt to call It, The Mother (of all things).
This identity of the Non-Existent and the Existent is called The Mystery, which is the gate of bewilderment.
The only way to enter this gate is to be free of desire (and thus, see one’s own true nature). This is called Total Surrender. In the presence of the subtlest desire, all that will be seen is things born of It (viz. the subject and the object of desire), and never Itself.
The branch of Hindu philosophy known as Sankhya is conceptually similar. The Nameless Tao is referred to as Purusha, while The Mother, as Prakrti.
Entering the gate is popularly known as enlightenment (and many other names such as Moksha and Nirvana).
A temporary glimpse of Truth is termed as Manolaya (lit. mind in unison), but true enlightenment is only achieved with Manonasa (lit. annihilation of mind). (For more, go here.)
Manolaya is the same as the state of Satori in Zen, and was called Peak Experience by Maslow.