the empty heart

The greatest power is the gift
of following the Way alone.
How the Way does things
is hard to grasp, elusive.
Elusive, yes, hard to grasp,
yet there are thoughts in it.
Hard to grasp, yes, elusive,
yet there are things in it.
Hard to make out, yes, and obscure,
yet there is spirit in it,
veritable spirit.
There is certainty in it.
From long, long ago till now
it has kept its name.
So it saw
the beginning of everything.

How do I know
anything about the beginning?
By this.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Le Guin’s commentary:

Mysticism rises from and returns to the irreducible, unsayable reality of “this.” “This” is the Way. This is the way.

It may seem that Le Guin is also trying to confound you here, and perhaps she is. The Tao is confounding and so it leads to a confounding text.

This confounding nature, I think, has to do with the simplicity of it. Because it uses such simple language, terms can ebb and flow in their specific meaning, but I think that sloshing quality of it is sort of the point. The way may be the Way, but it’s not necessarily the Way. Sometimes it’s just the way.

The repetitions in this poem do this, too. Elusive, hard to grasp, but certain, and absolutely there. The Tao is older than everything and saw the beginning, was there already. It is unchanged, though it’s constantly in flux.

Because things don’t lose themselves by changing. It takes strength to change and yet remain the same. This is what the Tao asks of us. To be fluid, like water. To change yet remain the same.

And so those who follow the Tao can know the beginning, because the beginning is still with us, in the Tao.

I think this, too, reminds me of science. The forces of the universe remain constant, even as they’re constantly changing. And we can understand the beginning of the universe by understanding the constancy of the universe as it is now. We can trace this back to the big bang.

It’s a beautiful idea, I think. To know that all is as it is, as it has to be. And it creates a model for us to live in. Because we live in the universe, with the earth. We’re not masters of either, but tiny motes of dust, trying to understand the system we drift in.

And that drifting may be the Way, the Tao.

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