Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 25

Divided into two parts, this chapter first attempts to describe the indescribable Tao, and then moves to a description of humanity’s place in the grand scheme of the universe.

There is something mysteriously undifferentiated
Existing before the beginning of heaven and earth
Silent and formless, unimaginable
Alone unchanging

This opening passage reminds me of Genesis 1:2: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 

Throughout the Tao Te Ching, the image of water gives us a sense of the nature and power of Tao. In this passage, the character for undifferentiated is . The three little lines on the left side of the character form the root or radical for water. You might recall that in Chapter 4, the three characters used to describe Tao all have the water radical.

The description as unchanging can be misleading. The nature of Tao is not static, but dynamic, pregnant with limitless potential. However, as the primordial source of all creation, it is unchanging in its dynamic nature, as the vessel that is empty but inexhaustible.

This creative potential is revealed in the dynamic cycle of manifestation and return.

Tao is great
Its greatness flows everywhere 
It flows far away
And returns

We see this cycle of manifestation and return reflected in everything – our breath, birth and death, the seasons, day and night. Science tells us that the universe is expanding. I wonder if at some point it will cycle back and return, like a giant breath spanning a gazillion millennia.

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. In my early thirties, I was lucky enough to live in Bangkok, Thailand, for three years. I was fascinated by the culture, the climate, the language, everything that was so different from where I came from. (As Dorothy said to Toto in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”) At some point I realized that geographically, I was almost exactly on the opposite side of the globe from Memphis. I had traveled west to go to Thailand. If I kept moving in the same direction, I would literally be returning home.

After a total of seven years living in three different countries, I did eventually return home, not to Memphis, but to the United States. T. S. Eliot said it best: And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.

The chapter now turns to humanity’s place in the cosmos as one of the four great powers of the universe– Tao, heaven, earth, humanity. And it sets out the proper order of harmony.

Humans follow earth
Earth follows heaven
Heaven follows Tao
Tao follows its own nature

The character for follow is   , which also means law. Notice anything familiar? That’s right – the water radical on the left. So the natural order, or natural law, flows like water through the four powers of the universe. When we take our rightful place in the universe, in harmony with the natural law, we feel the power flow through us, as it was meant to. We realize that our true power comes not from imposing our ego will on nature, but from “following.” As Jesus taught, we “inherit the earth” through meekness, not through conquest.

I find this exhilarating...and sometimes a bit overwhelming. Fear keeps us grasping the weak illusion of control. But in doing so, we miss our natural inheritance. We are made in the image of the divine. We are magnificent, not in our isolated ego selves, but in our individual and collective roles as part of the perfect harmony of creation.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. ~Marianne Williamson


  1. I find that much of the Tao has connections to the pure essence of the Bible- how many places do you hear God described in terms like "Tao follows its own nature"? BTW, after our last convo, the phrase "Walk In Beauty" became part of a "self-help" poster at work that I look at daily to keep the wheels from flying off like they did that day. Thank you once again!

    1. That is so great, CW. I love that phrase too. And yes, I am amazed over and over that many wisdom teachings, including the Tao Te Ching and the Bible, are so similar.

  2. Hi, Galen:

    I read your recent comment on my "Christian Taoism" blog about letting you know if I ever started it up again, so I'm letting you know I'm starting it up again. (Different but the same.)

    Thanks for your comments, btw. I appreciate them.

    I'm also glad to discover what you're up to here at "No Way Cafe." It looks as though we may have trekked over some of the same spiritual ground.

    I'll check in again soon. In the meantime, I hope all is well in your world. Life here is good.

    H. K.

    1. Great news, HK! Thank you for following up with me. I look forward to reading your blog. Hope you'll stop by again. And yes, all is well in my world. Glad the same is true for you.

  3. Galen, I loved that quote from T. S. Eliot - it truly captures the essence of what our existence on earth is all about.
    And to quote another Wizard of Oz line that I think fits, Dorothy says, "I'll never go looking for my heart's desire again, because if it isn't in my own backyard, I never really lost it to begin with."

    1. I love that quote, too, Martha! In fact, I thought once that The Wizard of Oz is really a very profound movie. That gets missed in all the fun of the story line and Judy Garland's beautiful voice.

  4. As always i enjoy reading about Tao. It's foreign to me but interesting.
    I really liked your last paragraph and the quote.
    I guess I look at Tao really more like the Light of Christ which is part of all of us and which premeates the entire creations of God. The Light of Christ fills all the Universe and everything that God has created. We were created in the Imagine of God. We are Gods in Embryo. There is great power in that thoughts.
    Again, an enjoyable read and I love how it correlates to my own beliefs.
    Blessings for you dear friend!

    1. LeAnn, I am struck again and again by the similarities among wisdom teachings. The religions that grow out of these teachings can vary widely, which can lead to much conflict when the religions themselves become the focus of faith, rather than the essential teaching. People then become isolated from each other and fear grows from seeing others as different.

      I appreciate people like you, who are devout in their faith, and still seek to reach across superficial differences to find common ground. Like you, I find a lot of correlation between the wisdom of the Tao and the teachings of Jesus (and other wisdom teachings as well). You have characterized this beautifully in your comment.


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