I’m not Jewish, Taoist or Buddhist. God knows what I am. And so do I after some experiences of the last few years. I know that what I am is a space in the non-history of the world. A friend gave me a copy of the Tao Te Ching. I believe it is the foundation document of Chinese Taoist philosophy dating from 600 – 400BC; like myself, what it is is likely unimportant or unsuspected. What matters is that it concerns the space that I am. Following is a commentary on selected verses based on a translation by S. Mitchell.
Verse 1, Tao Te Ching
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realise the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
The word “tao” translates as way or path, which doesn’t help much. It can be replaced, just as unhelpfully, with the word God or source or origin.
This unhelpfulness is exactly as it should be otherwise we would be discussing an imposter: “The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.” If there were a name, a helpful name, a right name, it wouldn’t be the name of what we are attempting to name. What we are attempting to name can have no name, only signs – tao, God, source, origin – that point away from it as fruitlessly as they point to it.
No wonder the Jewish scholars of long ago used a blank to signify it. Or the sign “Ywh”.
If it must be given a name, for handling purposes, as it were, I’d choose Love. It was the word that occurred to me during the experience. “Oh, it’s Love that’s there,” the recognition arose. Only we run straight into the morass of every sentimental misunderstanding that’s ever existed about the L word. Our minds, weaned in a romantic junkshop, hear the word “love” and picture affection, tenderness, anxiety or lust. And all the while there is this Love, an immensity that subsumes these emotions and others, and everything that is not emotion.
So, back it is to the tao that cannot be told, the name that cannot be named and the pressing question: why speak of it if it cannot be told? For the reason Henry Miller gives:
Everything else is a lie – everything I ever did or said which did not bear upon this.
The fact of the tao and its nature cannot be communicated. It can only be discovered. Speaking of it will make no difference to one who has not yet discovered it. Yet in the face of its incommunicability, like Miller I am compelled to speak of it. Why? Because everything else is a lie, a mirage.
This is the first paradox in the Hall of Paradox. One can speak of the tao only if one has experienced it, and once one has experienced it, one cannot speak of it. Then, once one has experienced it and cannot speak of it, one is compelled to speak of it.
To be continued …
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