Monday, September 11, 2017
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 32
I recently wrote a post about the effect of naming on our direct experience of the present moment, and now I turn to the next chapter in the Tao Te Ching and guess what it’s about. Naming! Cosmic synchronicity. I promise I didn’t plan it this way.
Tao is forever without name
Though its natural state is small
Nothing under heaven can rule it
The character for “natural state” is 朴, used throughout the Tao Te Ching to describe the simple, pure, limitless potential of Tao. It literally means an uncarved block of wood. Once it is carved into something, that something has a name. The name identifies a specific form. It becomes this and not that. It becomes limited. That’s not a bad thing. After all, Michelangelo took uncarved blocks of marble and turned them into beauty.
The Bible creation story begins “Now the earth was formless and empty.... Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” Speaking a name brought into existence what was named. There is an inherent connection between naming and creation.
Tao is without name. It is forever limitless and unknowable, and therefore beyond our control. And yet....
If princes and kings could abide by it (or in it)
All creation would follow
The text can be interpreted as referring to actual leaders, or to ruling our inner self. If the ruler in either context is in harmony with the natural order, all else falls into place without the need of external enforcement.
As a lawyer, I find this fascinating. In our society, we hold high the “rule of law.” As a contracts lawyer, my job was to negotiate the private “rule of law” between the parties. In other words, I helped them “name” and agree to the rules that would govern their contractual relationship. In the United States, this process has evolved into ever more detailed and cumbersome agreements, as all of us can appreciate when we have to sign something too long to read and too complex to understand.
I shake my head in wonder at the prescience of the author of this ancient text who said over two thousand years ago:
To make order, names arise
Names lead to more names
Know when to stop
Thus avoid harm
We continue to solve perceived problems by more rules. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not an anarchist. I appreciate the need for rules and the good intentions of sincere rule makers. I certainly had a few rules in my own household that brought moments of order out of the chaos of so many kids. But I also tried to keep in mind that there was a tipping point beyond which too many rules were counterproductive. As always, there is a middle road of balance, and a sense of ease when we align ourselves with the natural order of the universe.
Tao’s manifestation under heaven
Is like a river flowing home to the sea
Naming creates existence which reflects the perfection of the nameless. The destiny of all creation is ultimately to return to the Source, as naturally as water effortlessly flows to join with itself.
So we might give some thought in our own lives to the rules we have set up for ourselves. Do they foster or block our journey home? Do they connect us to a sense of oneness or isolate us from the sea of common existence?
In the beginning was the Word. ~John 1:1