"The Eternal Tao of the Transcendent Mystery" (excerpt) THE TAO OF ABUNDANCE) by Laurence Boldt
In its eternal aspect, the Tao cannot be spoken of. Eternal means transcendent to time and space and, therefore, beyond the reach of the physical senses and the intellections of the mind. The Eternal Tao cannot be seen, tasted, or touched. It cannot be spoken of or reasoned about. It is a transcendent mystery.
The Tao that is spoken of is not the Eternal nature of the Tao.
In its eternal aspect, the Tao cannot be spoken of. Eternal means transcendent to time and space and, therefore, beyond the reach of the physical senses and the intellections of the mind. The Eternal Tao cannot be seen, tasted, or touched. It cannot be spoken of or reasoned about. It is a transcendent mystery. If we try to speak of it, we get jumbled up in words, and it comes out sounding like a paradox. We could say that the Eternal Tao exists, quite apart from existence, that It lives beyond life and death, or that It is and yet, both is and is not. Yet statements such as this communicate nothing unless one has experience of the transcendent, and if one has the experience, what point is there in talking about it?
Many are familiar with the saying attributed to Lao Tzu that "those who know do not speak, and those who speak do not know." Nevertheless Lao Tzu himself is purported to have written the five thousand characters we call the Tao Te Ching. We have as well, preserved in writing, the saying attributed to the Buddha, Jesus Christ, the Hebrew Prophets, Zarathustra Shiva, and Krishna, among others. Presumably, at least some of these "knew.” Or are we to think that all of these "teachers" were charlatans and all their"students" fools?
The fundamental difficulty lies, not with the veracity of the scriptures or the realization of the teachers', but with the limitations of language communicate or express Eternal Reality. As Lao Tzu put it, "The name that can be named is not the true name." Name, words, and language are on symbols of the Reality they seek to represent. This is an obvious point; know that the word dog is a not the living, breathing animal. Yet in practice, and especially in dealing with more abstract concepts, we forget the difference between the word and the reality it stands for. Why then do \ bother with the scriptures and the teachers? In Picasso's statement, "Art a lie that leads to truth," we find a clue. The scriptures, like all great art, are not to be thought of as "truth" but as "lies that lead to truth." So long as we cling to the literal meaning, the letter of what is being said, the Eternal Tao eludes us.
Yet if we can listen with an empty mind and open heart, we may hear the Word (Spirit, Tao) from which the words have originated. The words are gateways to the Mystery. Yet whether or not they swing open for us depend on how we approach them. Chuang Tzu described spiritual teachings and the words used to convey them as fishing baskets. "Fishing baskets are em ployed to catch fish; but when the fish are got, the men forget the baskets. .. Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are grasped, mei forget the words."4 The point is not to collect baskets but to catch fish.
The Eternal Tao by any other name is still the unutterable Eternal. Taoists have no particular claim on the Transcendent Reality that all spiritual traditions have pointed to. Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu were not members of any formal religion or philosophical school. Indeed, the chief articulator; of Taoist philosophy would not have thought of themselves as "Taoists.' They were simply enlightened individuals around whom students gathered and whose sayings were in some way preserved.5 It was only much later that they were classified as belonging to the "Tao Chia," or Taoist school of philosophy.
While there are elements unique to Chinese culture and history within the teachings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, these texts are better understood as representations of what has been termed "the perennial philosophy" than as the scriptures of a particular religion or culture. In many of the world's great spiritual traditions, we find alongside the popular religion an esoteric or mystic teaching, reserved for a rather more dedicated few. (For example, within Taoism, the "Tao Chiao," or what might be termed "popular Taoist religion and magic" developed alongside the esoteric Tao Chia, or Contemplative School of Taoist philosophy.)
The striking parallels and correspondences within the world's esoteric teachings—across cultures and historical eras—has led some scholars to view these teachings as local representations of a single universal, or perennial, philosophy. Like a single melody fashioned into numerous musical arrangements, the perennial philosophy takes on different inflections in different cultural contexts and historical periods, but is always recognizable as the same tune. As Thomas Aquinas put it, "All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said, has its origin in the Spirit." We could, for example, quite easily confuse the description of the Eternal, given by Jesus in the Gnostic text, The Secret Book of John, with Lao Tzu discoursing on the Tao:
I simply believe that some part of the human Self. . . is not subject to the laws of time and space.
It is the invisible Spirit. One should not think of it as a god or like a god.
It is greater than a god, because there is nothing over it and no lord
above it. It is unutterable, since nothing could comprehend it to utter it.
It is unnameable, since there was nothing before it to give it a name.
The Eternal Tao cannot properly be equated with the Western notion of God as interpreted by orthodox Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. Still, there are many parallels with the notion of God as understood in the Western esoteric tradition. There are Greek philosophers, Christian and Jewish mystics, and Islamic Sufis, who speak of God in ways not unlike those Lao Tzu might use to refer to the Tao. Yet the Eternal Tao most closely parallels the Hindu notion of "Brahman." Like the Tao, Brahman is recognized as transcendent and immanent, that is, as both prior to, or beyond, the realm of time and space, and manifest in it. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Brahman is described as "beginningless, supreme: beyond what is and is not."7 Chuang Tzu described the Tao as "the changing changeless and changeless change."
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