What is Tao?

by Lu Tung Pin

English version by T. C. Lai
Original Language Chinese

What is Tao?
It is just this.
It cannot be rendered into speech.
If you insist on an explanation,
This means exactly this.

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

What is Tao?
It is just this.


I remember the first time I tried to navigate through the Tao Te Ching as a teenager. There was undeniably something beautiful and poetic about it, but it was so infuriatingly vague! What is "the Tao"? Calling it the Way doesn't help. Are we talking about God? Something else? Other Taoist writings were the same: taunting me with endless non-definitions. (I was an Aries kid; I wanted clear goals I could aggressively pursue!)

It took me years to begin to appreciate this approach...

It cannot be rendered into speech.

There's a real dilemma at the heart of religion and spiritual endeavor. The Eternal, the Whole cannot be adequately held by such small containers as words. Yet we humans are instinctively communicators and word-makers. What are the sages and saints to do with what they witness? How do they render the Eternal comprehensible to others and inspire new seekers? Describe the profound love and bliss and unity, and we naturally name it Mother. Convey the immensity and power, we name it Father. Or we say Beloved. Or Friend. Or Child.

All of these are valid ways to begin to form a notion of the Eternal. Through these words we as individuals can form a relationship to this vast Reality. And through this relationship we can be drawn into deeper awareness, into deeper opening, and into our own direct encounter... at which point we realize how inadequate all words are.

The problem arises when the mystics are no longer heard or are relegated to history, when too few people have their own direct wordless encounter. Then we end up with entire religions stuck at the level of words. No matter how sacred and truth-filled those words may be, words are always incomplete. Words alone are soon taken literally, and then true knowledge is lost. Not knowing what is real, religion becomes embalmed, self-protective, sectarian, and sometimes violent.

The wounds of religion are healed through compassion and through direct perception. Instead of forcing meaning, we settle into ourselves and come to see things as they are.

If you insist on an explanation,
This means exactly this.



Have a beautiful, vaguely defined day!



Recommended Books: Lu Tung Pin

The Secret of the Golden Flower: The Classic Chinese Book of Life The Eight Immortals of Taoism: Legends and Fables of Popular Taoism Tales of the Taoist Immortals Tao of Health, Longevity, and Immortality: The Teachings of Immortals Chung and Lu





What is Tao?