Chapter One of Daodejing
Updated: Aug 26, 2022
In each chapter of Daodejing (Tao Te Ching, 道德经) I'll include the Simplified Chinese characters, the pinyin, and my own translation. Finally, I'll include a brief commentary.
The path that can be walked is not the eternal Dao.
Names that can be spoken only point at what is named.
The nameless brought forth heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Therefore, stripped of desire, life's mysteries are revealed.
Full of desire, it's forms are experienced.
These two arose together, but have different names.
Spoken of as one, they're called a mystery; a mystery within another mystery, the doorway to a multitude of wonders.
A common term in Daodejing is "ten thousand things." In Chinese, the characters are 万物. This is a metaphor that represents all of the forms of existence. Laozi is saying that Dao is without substance, but brings forth substance out of substanceless. As strange as this sounds, this is what we know from quantum physics. Matter arises out of nowhere and then disappears just as quickly. That Laozi intuitively could perceive this is nothing short of astonishing.
It also implies that within the experience of humans lies the mysteries of the Universe if we look for them dispassionately. It makes sense that Dao would be within us and that if we align ourselves with Dao, we can understand and experience its mysteries. We are part of Dao so let's give up our human mind and attempt to let Dao work within us.
The contrasts between being empty of desire and full of desire point at the origin of Daoism's symbol of yin and yang ☯️. Sometimes we are full of desire and that state serves a purpose. Sometimes we are empty of desire and that state serves a purpose. Dao is both mysterious and erotic. Within its darkness upon darkness is the unifying force that attracts and relates everything to everything else.
The darkness is darkest inside ourselves. When we are caught up in the external world, we avoid examining the nature of our selves and our unconscious. Inside of ourselves is the mystery. Breaking through the barriers to our own infinitive creativity opens the door to the wonders of this life.
Our lives are an expression of Dao. But beyond our experience and the limitations of language, there are many more realms. We are Dao and also expressions of Dao, not the limitations bound up in our names and language.
Dao expresses itself through a human nervous system. It also expresses itself through the nervous systems and structures of the entire ecosystem. We are still related to everything else. It's this interpenetration where we see the erotic nature of Dao. Species arise from other species. Species survive by taking in and consuming other species. Dao feeds on itself and transforms itself in a continual act of infinite creativity.
Because the possible number of permutations that the human mind's neural network can produce is basically infinite, as far as we know, we are the most creative of Dao's manifestations. As a result, we have more capacity to understand more of the mystery. Are we willing to go as deep into the darkness as we can or should we just conform to superficial desires and live in that illusion of security?
A warning: our understanding and complexity is also a trap. We have become blinded by our reasoning and precise language that aims to control that which is uncontrollable. The more we refine our understanding and language, the more we cover up Dao and live in superficialities.