Tao Te Ching - 1

Here is a free translation in English for chapter one of Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu. I had written earlier about Lao Tzu. He was a philosopher who lived in China in the 6th century B.C. Of those books which greatly influenced the Chinese culture, Tao Te Ching and The Analects of Confucius, were important. Tao Te Ching is a text written in mystic language, based on which, many philosophical thought trends, martial arts like Tai chi and some occult sciences also have come into existence.

Tao Te Ching – One

If Tao is explained, it is not Tao

If named, it is not the real name

The one without name alone is the eternal

From the named, everything got a beginning

You will know the secret, if no craving exists

If stuck in craving, you can only see this creation

Both Secret and Universe

Emerge from single source

This source is the Pitch darkness

The darkness in this darkness

Is the abode of all surprises

Sri Ramakrishna says “Brahman is the only thing that has not been defiled”, which means that it is beyond description. If anything is describable, then it is defiled, because it has been uttered by the tongue. Brahman alone is indescribable. And that is verily the source of the universe. Vedas described this as something beyond description. The same is called Tao by Lao Tzu, Brahman by Vedanta, God by Purana and Siva by Tantra. This state is indefinable and beyond the reach of our mind, it can only be experienced.

The moment we give it a name, it becomes defiled. Then, it is not the real Tao. When it comes down to the level of speech, it means it has come one step down from its original nature. So, that too is not real Tao. This is why Sages preached through silence. When Buddha was asked about God, he was silent. Ramana Maharshi too did the same. Even Sri Ramakrishna did the same on many occasions when he saw that the questioner is not fit enough to receive his teaching.

Desire is the driving force behind a definition. It is the eagerness to do something. Once this awakens, one gets caught in various ideas. The desire to define and understand everything arises. But Being is beyond desire. That is why creation started with a Desire. If all desires cease to exist, one can become aware of the source of creation.

However, this state of ‘beyondness’ and creation have both emerged from the same darkness. If creation exists, then the non-existence of creation (which is nothingness) also invariably exists as it’s shadow. Pitch darkness is the source of both these states. Ultimate Darkness, which is the source of this pitch darkness, encompasses everything. All surprises exist there, in a perfect harmony. It is the abode of all wonders.

This reminds me of Srishti Suktam from the Vedas which contains similar ideas. Putting that aside, the symbol of Taiji too originated from this poem. It is portrayed as Yin and Yang in Taoism. Yang represents the male energy and Yin, the female energy. Yang is the white portion of the symbol, and Yin, the black portion. The entire universe is a combination of these two energies. The source of this is Wuji. This is indicated by an empty circle. All these are similar to the yantras from our Tantra Shastra. Every line has a meaning. From this idea, emerged a martial art called Tai chi.

Modern physics too, came close to this philosophy. It states that the universe has both matter and antimatter, which can be called Yang and Yin, respectively, and that their source may be referred to as dark matter. Lao Tzu called the same as pitch darkness. Darkness, which is the source of this darkness means, that which is the source of dark matter, he says, is the storehouse of all wonders.

Since it is the source of the universe, it is the place of all wonders. Isn’t this vacuum, which contains such an incredibly diversified universe in its seed state, a great wonder?

Tantra referred to this as Shiva and Shakti. It calls the state beyond these two as Parameswara or the Supreme Divine. And the state higher than this, cannot be given a name. That state cannot even be called Silence, because, the moment it is named as silence, it gets pulled down.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Ranganath D, which was originally posted in on April 12, 2009. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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