Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

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  , 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

6 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching – Chapter 32”

  1. " uncarved block"- I remember that well from long ago reading The Tao Of Pooh. Which actually got me interested way back then, though I never followed up until I went through my "rune period".

  2. "Naming creates existence which reflects the perfection of the nameless."
    Once we are named, we are defined, are we not? But throughout our lives, we take on many variant names: Sister, wife, Gammie, teacher, daughter, friend, and the list goes on. Just as there are a myriad of names for God in the Bible, not one can pin Him down, nor hold Him in place. He is the Source, and we will, no matter by what name we are called, return to Him one day.
    And, too, more rules are so very often not the answer. If we can't understand and implement the forthright ones already in place, how can new ones improve upon our predicaments? I really think the answer, in the Bible and here in the Tao, is to get back to basics. We would be well served if we would do so.
    Blessings, Galen, and thank you for the enlightenment you have shared here!

  3. There is so much power in a name, isn't there, Martha? Different cultures and different families have traditions and rituals around naming children. And good point about rules. So true that adding more rules on top of ones that we already can't understand or implement will not help anything. Get back to basics. Always good advice! Thanks, Martha.

  4. I continue to be amazed at how much of Tao philosophy is very much in alignment with some of my own beliefs. I know that we have a loving Heavenly Father that sent us here to experience earth life. . We receive a name and He knows each of us by our name.
    We are here to gain a body, be tested, taught and prepared to come back into His Presence. He is the source. There are rules or commandments to follow in order to return to Him. We are like a block of wood that is slowly carved into what we can ultimately become by the choices we make each day. Agency is a big part of His plan for us.
    As always I love reading your posts and I find it inspiring in different ways!
    Blessings and hugs!

  5. It is amazing, isn't it, how there are common concepts or basic principles among so many teachings. I always appreciate your added dimension from your own tradition.

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