taoing

The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Don’t know how often I’ve read the Tao Te Ching but Ursula K Le Guin’s is maybe my favorite, and probably for obvious reason, if you’re someone who visits this site often.

I’m not a Taoist and don’t consider myself one. I don’t even consider myself an amateur scholar of the Tao, but this text has probably been more fundamental to my understanding of the world than any other. Whether that matters to you or not is sort of inconsequential.

The meandering, opaque nature of the text is what drew me to it. Its meaning is, to put it mildly, obscure. Or at least difficult to parse, and your interpretation of the text likely says more about you than it does about the text itself.

It’s a bit of a Rorschach in that way.

And what it means to me isn’t especially important. What I find in this first poem is difficult to articulate, and I don’t even know that I can. Not sure I’ve ever even tried. But it’s lived in me for about fifteen years, and I’ve never even questioned what I find in this first poem. It’s something bigger and deeper than language, I suppose. Something that hits right in the meat of me. It’s like it took all the questions and uncertainties I had ever had and allowed me to sigh in relief, because the answer is all right here, in this first poem. The answer to so much.

And I think that’s part of it for me: that I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t looking for meaning or transcendance. I wasn’t looking for myself in a 2,500 year old text written by maybe a guy named Lao Tzu. I wasn’t looking for much of anything, but I found it here.

To me, that’s part of Taoism, and the part that’s always resonated most with me. It’s what resembles life most closely. At least in my experience. How we find without looking. How we say so much without opening our mouths. How we learn so much from observing those who aren’t trying to teach us. How life makes most sense when I stop putting it under a magnifying glass.

The Tao gives me peace, and I think that’s most what I need now. And so I’m coming back to the text for the second time in as many weeks, with no hopes or expectations. Just the desire to sit quietly with an old friend.

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