Sep 05 2012

Lu Tung Pin – What is Tao?

Published by at 8:33 am under Poetry

What is Tao?
by Lu Tung Pin

English version by T. C. Lai

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

/ Photo by legends2k /

What is Tao?
It is just this.

I remember the first time I tried to find my way 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!

Lu Tung Pin, Lu Tung Pin poetry, Taoist poetry Lu Tung Pin

China (755 – 805) Timeline

Lu Tung Pin (Lu Dong Bin, sometimes referred to as Immortal Lu) was one of the Eight Immortals of Taoist folk tales. It is difficult to separate out legendary tales that have accumulated around him from possible historical fact, or whether the poems attributed to him were written by the historical person or attributed to him later.

Lu Tung Pin is said to have been born in 755 in Shansi province of China. As Lu grew up, he trained to be a scholar at the Imperial Court, but he did not pass the required examination until late in life.

He met his teacher Chung-Li Chuan in a marketplace where the Taoist master was scrawling a poem on the wall. Impressed by the poem, Lu Tung Pin invited the old man to his home where they cooked some millet. As the millet was cooking Lu dozed and dreamed that he had passed the court examination, had a large family, and eventually rose to a prominent rank at the court — only to lose it all in a political fall. When he awoke, Chung-Li Chuan said:

“Before the millet was cooked,
The dream has brought you to the Capital.”

Lu Tung Pin was stunned that the old man had known his dream. Chung-Li Chuan replied that he had understood the nature of life, we rise and we fall, and it all fades in a moment, like a dream.

Lu asked to become the old man’s student, but Chung-Li Chuan said Lu had many years to go before he was ready to study the Way. Determined, Lu abandoned everything and lived a simple life in order to prepare himself to study the Great Tao. Many tales are told of how Chung-Li Chuan tested Lu Tung Pin until Lu had abandoned all worldly desires and was ready for instruction.

He learned the arts of swordsmanship, outer and inner alchemy and attained the immortality of enlightenment.

Lu Tung Pin considered compassion to be the essential element of realizing the Tao. He is greatly revered as a physician who served the poor.

More poetry by Lu Tung Pin

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Lu Tung Pin – What is Tao?”

  1. Bob Corbinon 05 Sep 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Thank you!!

    Tao cannot be rendered into speech.
    No, but i must speak of it.

    Yes, speak, but do not chide.
    speak but do not insist.
    speak but do not argue
    speak but do not preach.

    Those who will understand it will understand it
    when they no longer understand
    what is meant by “understanding.”

  2. SeanScott Suekeron 05 Sep 2012 at 6:25 pm

    I contacted a Taoist in Hawaii about finding Taoists in MN. I told him I was so full of Tao I did not have a name. “The name that can be named is not the name the name.” He wrote back that that was too bad cuz if I had a name he would introduce me to some folks.
    I contacted the author of 365 Tao and wrote. “I am Tao”
    He wrote back, “Now say “I am”, and now say “I” and now say __________________. And keep saying _______________________Then you will be filled with Tao.

  3. tajon 05 Sep 2012 at 8:45 pm

    its nice thoughts of you ,,, i like it and respect these above lines in my whole life.
    take care ,,,,

  4. Joanon 06 Sep 2012 at 12:50 am

    You too! 🙂 have a vaguely defined day. That sums it all up.
    That grew an instant smile on my face.. and it stays.
    Thank you.

  5. jim carlinon 06 Sep 2012 at 8:29 am

    i struggled for years to find anything to share with my mom
    (preachers wife-2nd generation preachers kid)
    when i found a tao bible from gideons in a hotel i called mom
    her response
    “you can’t turn your back on Christianity!”
    i was crushed-she taught an adult world religions course

    i learned i had to walk alone

  6. Peter Mountainon 06 Sep 2012 at 1:37 pm

    “This means this”. ~ But, but… “this” never means “this”. It always meant “that” & “then” and then most of the time “the other” and well, sometimes~ “not yet” or “not enough”.

  7. Carol Burnson 06 Sep 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    Thanks for sharing this poem. I never know what I will like most in your offerings,
    but this time your closing ‘Have a beautiful vaguely defined day’ brought a laugh
    out loud chuckle, what a blessing! Thank you.

  8. Betty Speroon 07 Sep 2012 at 2:10 am

    Dear Ivan,
    Carol Burns said it before I could so I’ll just ditto that. Am attempting to send you my gratitude without defining it – can you feel it? Hope you’re feeling stronger each day.

  9. Nollaig O'Maoldomhnaighon 11 Sep 2012 at 2:11 am

    ‘have a beautiful vaguely defined day’ was definitely laughing territory…….with a beautiful vaguely defined life providing immense happiness! maybe!

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