Friday, March 24, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 21

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth
The named is the mother of ten thousand things
   ~Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ~John 1:1

This chapter is the counterpart to both Chapter 14, which described the unknowable nature of Tao, and Chapter 10, which described the concept of Te and how it manifests in our lives. Te has been loosely translated as primal virtue, but not in the moralistic sense. More like inner harmony, or integrity.

Here, in this chapter, we see the connection between Tao and Te, how Te emerges from Tao like the stars emerging from the star nursery in the photo above. This chapter is, an a sense, a creation story.

The nature of vast Te flows only from Tao
Tao’s manifesting is elusive and intangible
Elusive and intangible
Within is image
Intangible and elusive
Within is form
Hidden and obscure
Within is essence
Its essence is real
Within is truth
Its name is everlasting
The origin of all creation

In the Bible, God created by “naming.” When he said, “Let there be light,” there was light. And so on. Naming is a creative and powerful process. Many cultures have naming rituals for their children. We have seen that the Tao cannot be named. It is beyond concepts, and thus beyond language. But here, we are told that the name of Te is everlasting. It is the name of creation, the ten thousand things. It is not so much the things themselves, although it is that too, but it is the existence of the things, their very being. The being that emerges from nonbeing.

Like the stars that appear from a cloud of primordial star “stuff,” Te emerges from the brimming emptiness of Tao. And while we can’t know unlimited Tao with our limited minds, we can recognize the manifestation of Tao through the harmony and integrity of Te. Indeed, we are that manifestation.

Dancers come and go in the twinkling of an eye, but the dance lives on. ~Michael Jackson


  1. So then, Tao= God, and Te= Christ? Still God unknowable and beyond, but manifested in mortal flesh, and a connection between known and unknowable.

    1. That's one way to look at it! At one level, I think you can make that analogy. You said it well, CW.

  2. I love how the wisdom writing of one distinct culture can parallel another as you've shown here, Galen. For me, it makes the truth of God that much truer, much more real. Thank you for enlightening us!

    1. It's fascinating to me, Martha, that the more I learn of various wisdom teachings, the more they are essentially the same. Truth is truth. Like Tao, it is beyond words and thoughts, but like Te, it manifests in infinite ways.

  3. As I read your writings on Tao and now on Te; I see some things I haven't seen before. I'm not sure I can discribe my thoughts. I believe that there is truth in all religions and that there are similarities in all. That being said, I also see that many different truths exist around us that we sometimes can see and feel and sometimes not. There are some deep truths in Tao and now in Te. I see it because it is part of some eternal truths that are found in some of my own religious beliefs. God and His creations are so mirculous and us as His Spirit children even more. We all have the Light of Christ which can lead us to the Holy Ghost; which can teach us the truth of all things. The Savior is the way the truth and the light. I love reading your thoughts because it simulates some of my own.
    I hope your meeting with your previous student went well. Blessings and hugs!

    1. LeAnn, you described your thoughts very well. Like you, I believe that eternal truth can be expressed in many ways. I might not say that there are "different truths" as much as I would say that there is only truth, which can be expressed in different ways. I enjoy our continuing dialogue!

  4. As we are talking of how one belief has elements of other beliefs let me share...
    We live in the US and my son moved to Japan 12 years ago and eventually recently married a Japanese woman in a classic Shinto Wedding ceremony (her father is a Shinto priest).

    We attended the wedding which was religiously complex. When it was over I said "I'm glad we are Catholic as this ceremony was very familiar to me". It had many elements to where I could see parallels of a Catholic Wedding Mass. Prayers, blessings, music, ritual action, a communal sake drinking ritual that could be compared to the liturgical actions of the Mass.

    Shinto has a very different belief system than Christianity but yet this ceremony had similar ways to celebrate a wedding. Very different yet very familiar. I suspect the elements actually had very similar underlying meanings for the marriage.

    We need to find more ways we are similar than ways we are different.

    1. Bob, thanks for sharing your son's wedding story. I loved the Christian/Shinto comparisons.

      Isn't it fun having blended families?! I have a daughter who grew up in China and then married a man from China. I also have a Vietnamese son. And a daughter whose birth father is from Egypt. I love the richness of the cultural chaos when we all get together. From all these backgrounds, we are united as a family.

      May your last line be embraced by all who feel separated and divided.

  5. Yes, the expressions of "that which is beyond conceptualization" — the beauty of a flower as an expression of the earth or, one of countless waves dancing on the surface of the sea. Te from Tao, humankind from the Divine...

    1. Kuan-tu, thank you for your comment. I especially liked the last sentence--that says everything!


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