Oct 13 2017

Lu Tung Pin – What is Tao?

Published by at 8:18 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.

/ Image by legends2k /

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 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.

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

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 Shanxi 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 the dream exposed the nature of life, that 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

4 responses so far

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

  1. Annaon 13 Oct 2017 at 11:33 am

    Get awake to

  2. jim carlinon 13 Oct 2017 at 1:16 pm

    “i have no words-that is why i dance”-a quote i found from a grand master ballerina who defected with his company from Russia after a performance here in the USA
    the drive to be free is instinctual and essential to our life

  3. Melissaon 14 Oct 2017 at 9:22 am

    Like Ivan, I first encountered Lao Tzu and the Tao as a teenager in the 1970’s. I was helped beyond words by the edition published by Jane English with black and white photographs – both the translation and the photos stand the test of time.

  4. Annaon 18 Oct 2017 at 6:51 am

    Hi Ivan,

    In my previous post about Tao,
    I forgot to express my appreciation
    of your beautiful photo you have put below the poem.

    Later I have visited the gallery of legends2k,
    Sundaram Ramaswamy,
    and I was amazed of the beauty,
    calmness and wisdom of such a young man.

    He wrote below the photo:

    “What is life. An illusion, a shadow, a story. And the greatest good is a little enough: for all life is a dream, and dreams themselves are only dreams”

    Could we consciously create our dreams and take responsibility for them?

    Have a calm, peaceful, coherent rhythm of the day with the beautiful hues of the autumn trees…it is the feeling of Tao…

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply