If you can understand it, it’s not God. ~St. Augustine
This quotation, to me, best represents the analysis-defying beauty of Chapter 14. The Sanskrit expression “neti, neti,” meaning “not this, not this,” says even more simply that truth can’t be organized, labeled, described, or sensed. Indeed, the Chinese negating character 不 , meaning no or not, appears nine times in this chapter.
The unfathomable mystery of Tao is revealed in this chapter not only by the language used, but also by the fluid lack of structure. There is no separation of distinct thoughts. Lines of characters can be grouped in different combinations to give different meanings, as evidenced in various translations.
It is, as one commentator noted, the language of the mystics. Despite eluding understanding, or rather because of it, we are invited by the rhythm and swirling symmetry of the Chinese poetry to let go of solid ground and enter the mists of the infinite.
You can look at your own translation, if you have one, or look online for several to compare, but here are some key lines (out of order in places):
Look! It cannot be seen; it is invisible
Listen! It cannot be heard; it is soundless
Grasp! It cannot be held; it is intangible
Above it is not bright
Below it is not dark
In front you cannot see its face
Behind you cannot see its back
Returning to non-being, it is the form of the formless
Indefinable and beyond imagination
Knowing the ancient origin
Is the essence of Tao
Lovely. But what does this mean to us in our daily lives? In one sense, nothing. The nature of mystery is that it doesn’t take form in some concrete, practical way. No, it calls us to transcend the practical. To enter, as the 14th century anonymous mystic called it, the cloud of unknowing. From there, our lives become less about in”form”ation, and more about in”spir(it)”ation. And that, my friends, means everything.
For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. ~2 Corinthians 4:18