I have decided to start a new segment based off of the philosophy I am closest to. I will be sharing segments of the Tao Te Ching and then adding my thoughts about them. For this project I will be quoting from the translation by Ralph Alan Dale. Though on particular verses I find other translations to be more accurate in their portrayal of Taoist thought, Dale’s translation has a more poetic nature that I wish to try to preserve some of on this blog.
I will be attempting to do this every wednesday until I go all the way through the Tao Te Ching. Why Wednesday? Because even though Taoist Tuesday or Taoist Thursday would be more catchy, Tao is about a balance between two halves, or the mid point. As Wednesday is the middle of the current standardized calendar week, I find it to be more fitting.
I now begin.
The Tao that can be told is not the universal Tao. The name that can be named is not the universal name.
In the infancy of the universe, there were no names. Naming fragments the mysteries of life into ten thousand things and their manifestations.
Yet mysteries and manifestations spring from the same source: The Great Integrity which is the mystery within manifestation, the manifestation within mystery, the naming of the unnamed, and the un-naming of the named.
When these interpretations are in full attendance, we will pass the gates of naming notions in our journey toward transcendence.
Ah names, something that seems to come so quickly to modern culture. We seem incapable of processing our encounters with things unless we can name them. At least, that’s the way it is in western culture.
When I was in South Korea, I had a slightly different experience. They have certainly been “modernizing” their culture, and in fact, an American can feel right at home in Seoul, if you simply ignore the language barrier, which is easy as most people in Seoul speak at least some English, enough for you to get by at any rate. However, some aspects of their own culture are thankfully still holding steady. Respect is a very important part of Korean culture. Respect for names was a particular thing I noticed being important. Asking an older person their name was a rude thing to do, and no, they didn’t usually get angry at you for it, you were just a foreigner, but they didn’t like giving them out either.
Of course, that meant that if you wanted to keep from offending people, you had to learn how to have a conversation without knowing the person’s name. It is actually very easy to do, and you get to know a person’s face, how they gesture when they talk, rather than simply trying to remember a name written haphazardly on a notebook. Oh sure, once they got to know you, they gave you their name if they wanted to meet again sometime, but you had to fight for it first.
Now, that isn’t meant to be an example of what it means to apply this verse from the Tao Te Ching, but only to serve as an example of how we can survive without names.
See, this verse isn’t really about names, or naming things, it is about limiting perception. One of the ways we do this is by locking things into a specific label and refusing to accept that it might grow out of this label. It means refusing to allow old concepts to teach us new things because we already have it described in a simple word.
“If you immediately know that the candlelight is fire, the meal was cooked long ago.” – Oma Desala, Stargate SG1
This quote actually brings more understanding of what it means to limit your perception. The best interpretation of this quote that I have heard describes it as meaning, that if you already are so sure that things are they way your expect them to be, than they won’t be any different for you, regardless of new evidence brought to your attention.
So don’t limit your perception, and find, instead, the ability to change your perspective as new information becomes available to you.