China by Bicycle :: April - October, 1998

Subject: Following the Tao
Date: Thu, 02 Apr 1998 14:05:17 -0800

07:10 Chung King Mansions; Hong Kong :: 03 APR 98

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22:33 Abbotsford RV Park; Abbotsford, BC -- Canada :: 25 FEB 98

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 1,
trans. Stephen Mitchell

Just over a month from now will find me visiting the world's oldest continuously recorded culture. For 5,000 years or so, according to the Chinese, local history is a matter of written record. Scholarship indicates the first couple millenia or so of that period is well documented mythology.

10:49 Passport Office; Vancouver, BC -- Canada :: 11 MAR 98

The half millenia either side of Christ's death saw so many of modern society's canonical texts written. The New Testament, The Koran, the Buddhist Pali texts, Plato's Socratic Dialogues and Aristotle's early science, Confucius' Analects, the I Ching (Book of Changes) and the Tao Te Ching. This probably has more to do with the flourishing of the written word itself than any great leap of thought. In fact, most of these texts represent transcriptions of oral traditions. Jesus Christ, Siddhartha Goutama, Socrates: they never wrote so much as a sentence. The Analects and the I Ching were possibly collected some time after Confucius' death. And history reveals little to confirm Lao Tse wrote the Tao Te Ching (pronounced Dao De Jing) (551-479 BC).

But authorship means not too much when the words continue to compel us centuries later. Our most advanced, post-modern thoughts represent little more than reverberant echoes of history we only dimly remember.

Naming is the origin
of all particular things.
This thought is well over two thousand years old and yet this century has seen its philosophical re-emergence in constructivism and post-modernism: reality is less an external condition for our apprehension and more an internal model to be superimposed on those external conditions we believe we are apprehending. I am reminded of a high school psychology teacher who said, "What you see is your reality." Yes, and what we name, collectively, is our social reality.

These texts ring merrily with truth, and so they survive. In particular I am drawn most to the words of Christ, Buddha and Lao Tse for their elegance, compassion and peace of heart, and for their tendency to sidle up to truth from oblique angles, to challenge the righteously indignant, to quell fanaticism, to combat the politically correct in favour of simple human kindness.

07:00 Chung King Mansions; Hong Kong :: 03 APR 97

To be consistently kind is the most difficult human endeavour; you must first love yourself and everyone else. This is the Tao, "the Way", or what little of it can be told, what little of it can be named. And I fail miserably at this simple task every day; and cherish the few small successes.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth
While naming is the origin of the myriad things.
Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery
Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.
These two are the same--
When they appear they are named differently.

Their sameness is the mystery,
Mystery within mystery;

The door to all marvels.

  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 1,
trans. C. Muller