As some of you may know, I have been making an effort to spend some time every morning practicing taiji, meditating, then reading about different perspectives on life. Simplistically, I am reading self-help books in the quest for being at peace with my living circumstances, finding happiness in the moment. Today I started a book that a good friend lent me; Change Your Thoughts- Change your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao, by Dr Wayne W. Dyer. I was skeptical based on how it was promoting itself- it seemed to be a classic “get rich quick” scheme (with happiness, success and healing being the currency), but I started it nonetheless. I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was an analysis of the Tao Te Ching, aimed at a Western audience. The Tao Te Ching is an ancient Chinese scripture on the nature of life and the universe, written by philosopher Lao Tzu. It might be translated as “The Way and its Virtue”, or the inherent truth and power of living the correct Way of life. It is to Taoists as the Bible is to Christians, except its message is older and arguably more universal. As a martial artist, it is a book I have always wanted to read: some martial arts (taiji and xingyi in particular) are based heavily, if not exclusively on the Tao Te Ching and its philosophy.
Dr Dyer spent a year reading ten different translations of the Tao Te Ching and synthesised them, drawing out his own interpretation and expressing it in a way Western audiences can more easily understand. I would like to do similarly. The Tao Te Ching is an amazing text- there are 81 short verses and I have read only the first, but I can already anticipate this is a mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting document that can very easily change the way one comes to know the universe. And so I would like to take this moment to deconstruct Dr Dyer’s translation and to transform it into my own expression of understanding: to learn, rather than be taught. I can’t imagine I’ll do this for every verse, but if I do I’ll keep it much briefer than this blog post. Please note that my interpretation is strictly personal, and is in no way better than anybody else’s interpretation.
First verse [original]
The Tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name.
The Tao is both named and nameless.
As nameless it is the origin of all things;
as named it is the Mother of 10,000 things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery;
ever desiring, one sees only the manifestations.
And the mystery itself is the doorway
to all understanding.
First Verse [My interpretation]
If you can tell another person what the Way is,
you have not understood it in its entirety.
If you can identify, label or name that vastness which we call the Way/God,
you are understanding only a shadow of its true nature.
The Way/God exists in ways we can label, and ways that are beyond the limitations of human language.
The unknowable side of it is the essence of the divine; the hidden mysteries of the universe that run behind the scenes; the cycles of nature that allow the world to exist.
The knowable side of it is the physical world we can see and touch and taste. It is the world of “10,000 things”.
By giving up desire you can start to perceive the hidden side of the Way: the true nature of this universe.
By attaching yourself to desire you can only experience the physical manifestation of God/the Way, never truly knowing the mystery that lies beneath.
And perceiving the unknowable vastness of the Way/God
is the path to knowing all truth.
[In a way, perceiving the Tao is like staring into the face of God, or reading the Elder Scrolls: their truth is so powerful that the reader becomes blinded by it. But ultimately, sight is a small price to pay for truth.]