The Tao that can be understood 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
The named is the mother of ten thousand things
Desireless one can see the mystery
Desiring one can see the manifestations
~Tao Te Ching
These are the opening lines of the Tao Te Ching, and are the essence of all the 81 verses that follow. I have been studying the original Chinese of this wisdom teaching for several years now, one verse at a time (and have contemplated translations for decades), but I keep coming back to these lines.
What can I say about them? Like the shadow of a tree is not the tree, like the swaying of grass in the meadow is not the breeze, like a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon, words can only suggest deep truth, but are not truth. Even these lines I so love are not truth, not even in the original Chinese which has a rhythm and poetry lost in even the best translation.
St. Augustine said “If you can understand it, it’s not God.” There is a profound perfection beyond our mind’s ability to grasp it. Indeed, the only way to reach it is to open beyond our minds, into the space between our thoughts. And even then, it is beyond our reach, because it can’t be reached but only received. No, it can’t be received because it is already ours. No, it isn’t ours because it can’t be possessed. It possesses us. It is us.
It is us when there is no “us.” It is our face before our parents were born. It is the darkness over the face of the deep from Genesis. And Brahman of the Vedas.
It is everything and nothing. It is beautiful.
Don’t try to analyze these lines, but let them enter your spirit without words or thoughts. Don’t seek meaning, but rest in freedom from desire. Let them reveal to you what cannot be named. Enter the gateless gate of mystery.
Here are the lines in Chinese. Whether you read Chinese or not, you might appreciate the beauty and rhythm of the characters.