Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 70

This is a beautiful chapter that acknowledges how elusive something so simple can be.

My words are very easy to know
Very easy to put into practice
Yet under heaven no one is able to know them
No one can put them into practice

When people ask me to explain Tao to them, or ask me what they need to do to live according to the Tao, I’m always a bit stumped. As we’ve known ever since the very first lines of the Tao Te Ching, the Tao that can be understood or explained is not the eternal Tao. So no matter what I say, I will fail to answer the question. My aim is, then, as one teacher says, to fail well.

I was asked a few months ago to give a presentation on Taoism to a group of people who were studying a book comparing major “religions.” I put that word in quotes because my first hurdle was to figure out how Tao can be neatly packaged into a religion. I’m pretty sure it can’t be. It is, as the Tao Te Ching teaches, without form, without name, without substance. It has no creed, no doctrine, no structure, no ritual (although the Taoist religion, as it has developed over millennia, has pretty much all of these things). It is, to use Bruce Lee’s description of his approach to martial arts, the way of no way.

Why is it so easy? Almost a thousand years ago, Li Hsi-Chai explained it best: “It is easy because there is no Tao to discuss, no knowledge to learn, no effort to make, no deeds to perform.” (translated by Red Pine)

It is, as I explained to the study group, as easy and natural as breathing. In fact, breathing is our best model of Tao in action. Breathe in, breathe out. Manifesting into form, returning to formlessness. Fluid like water. Natural. The only breath that matters is the one right now. Now this one. I cannot hoard or store my breath, or borrow future breath on credit. I cannot hold on to it (for very long) but must release it to allow the next breath. Everything we need to know is not in a book or in the words of a teacher. Everything we need to know is in the breath.

So why is it so hard? Finishing Li Hsi-Chai’s quote: “It is hard because the Tao cannot be discussed, because all words are wrong, because it can’t be learned, and because the mind only leads us astray.”

That made me laugh out loud. I know. I have a strange sense of humor. But didn’t Li Hsi-Chia perfectly capture the human brain’s frustration with not being able to name, classify, anazlyze, evaluate, and attain intellectual clarity and moral conviction? “I think, therefore I am” gives us the great mental pleasure of certainty. “Don’t believe everything you think” throws us right back into the terrifying (to the brain) unknown.

Most of us are thinking, okay great, I get this, sort of, but what do I do? What does this look like?

It looks like this: breathe in, breathe out.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. ~Jesus

10 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching – Chapter 70”

  1. I love this post, Galen. It's exactly what I needed to ingest as I begin a new day, and I am feeling the peace that comes when life becomes a focus on the breath. Thank you for continuing to write these lovely and insightful pieces. 🙂

  2. Well, I think that this was a wonderful explanation of Tao. Taking it to the level of how we breathe does make more sense to me.
    Of course, I love the quote from the Savior.
    Blessings and hugs for you!

  3. In this time of covid-19 struggle (on so many levels) the breath metaphor prompts me to ask, for those that struggle to know the Tao. is there the equivalent of a Tao ventilator?

  4. Interesting question, Bruce. Perhaps the answer is in the question, especially the word "struggle."

    The word "struggle" always catches my attention. We struggle; then we struggle not to struggle. So what happens if instead, we get curious about that struggle? What is the nature of that struggle? What thoughts or judgments arise? What stories are we telling ourselves? What is the fear? Where do we feel it in our bodies?

    Struggle is an opportunity to explore where we are hooked, where we are out of alignment, where we are afraid, where we are not at peace. It is an opportunity to practice awareness, compassion, release.

    And that practice is, I think, the answer to your question. Practice is the ventilator.

    And one of the things it teaches is that "knowing" the Tao (the other word in your question that caught my attention) is not a result of intellectual analysis, but rather something that is experienced. Like learning how to swim or ride a bike — no amount of thinking will substitute for the feeling of our bodies in the water, or finding our balance on the bike.

    So practice, my friend. And breathe free. Thanks for commenting and I look forward to continuing the conversation.

  5. Trying to explain Tao is like trying to define God. When we attempt to define Tao/God we put conceptual limits on it. The phenomena we call Tao/God is undefinable. If we think we know God or Tao we have a wrong concept of what God or Tao really is. The more we know about this subject the more we realize ….we know nothing. Nobody knows what God/Tao is, really. Spirit is not definable. Thanks Galen

  6. As St Augustine said, if you understand it, it's not God. I love that quote — makes me laugh every time. Thanks for commenting, Brian.

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