I am using multiple translations of the Tao Te Ching in this study and one thing is certain, chapter 21 is like using water vapor to quench thirst after a marathon.
“Great Te appears, flowing from Tao. Tao in action- only vague and intangible.”TTC-Chp.21 version translated by Stephen Addiss & Stanley Lombard
The version by Addiss and Lombard is actually the only version I have found thus far that refers to Te as an entity in the Tao.
What I have learned of “Te” is that it is a word that most closely would mean, “the authentic nature of something.” I have pieced that together from multiple sources as I have come to understand it.
The other translation by Derek Lin takes the same sentence and says, “The appearance of great virtue follows only the Tao. The Tao, as a thing seem indistinct, seems unclear.” Chp. 21
Multiple times in this chapter the words, vague, indistinct, unclear, intangible, appear in description of the Tao.
Here is my take on this after many days spent in, what the Hellville.
I imagine a blank sheet of paper, the color of the paper is meaningless, and it could actually be any surface at all. I then imagine from this surface images start to emerge.
Lets say a pear tree. This pear tree comes to life on this surface, and begins to blossom and produce its delicious fruits, full of color and life.
The surface and even the image are the Tao. They are essence, intangible, vague things. If you were a person with no memory of what a pare tree is you would see only shape and color.
This is Tao, it is potential and essence.
“Intangible-Vague. Within it are images. Vague-intangible. Within it are entities. Shadowy-obscure. Within it there is life, Life so real that within it there is trust.”TTC- Chp 21. Addiss & Lombardo
The pear tree to the unknown observer has no purpose and has no true understanding, but that pear tree has it’s very own authentic nature unique and precise to it and it alone.
One would say it had its very own genius way of being. This is Te.
Chapter 21 to me embodies the mystery of the existence of all things and Lao Tzu gives such a beautiful depiction of that mystery with such uncertainty in their poetic writing.
The quoted text is from what I have found to be the most natural depiction of the original Chinese.
To speak of trust in the absolute unknown of the Tao is such a beautiful way of describing our relationship with this material world.
We have no way of truly knowing how we came to be, even the surface that we are created on (The Univerese) is a mystery to us, yet all that it holds is in it self our surest way of knowing the mystery. Of knowing that there is something behind it all.
I remember when I was a kid, maybe early high school, I would get into conversations with friends about God and the question would come up, “If God created us, who created God?” Everyone would stop, minds blown and think for a moment.
This is the uncertainty that we all deal with everyday in every moment. What I believe this chapter is pointing to is that, yes, we are all in wonder of what created any of this, but if you want to get close to understanding the mystery simply look at the nature of things.
Look at the genius of the tree, no one or thing can be a tree, like a tree can be a tree, I can trust that. I can feel secure in that.
“From the Beginning its name is not lost, but reappears through multiple origins. How do I know these origins?
Like this.TTC-Chp. 21 Addis & Lombardo
When Lao Tzu ends this chapter by saying, “Like this,” I believe he was pointing at himself. He knows the origin of things by going inward.
All any of us must do is go inward, close off our senses and experience the creation of the myriad things inside of us. From where do those originate?
One beautiful explanation, given for this chapter is that we are not beings that have suddenly become self aware to creation, but that we are consciousness that learned to manifest in this reality. (Paraphrasing Derek Lin, here)
The point of all of this is to get us closer to source, to wake us up, in a sense. To know the source of all things is to know ones self.
To live the Tao is to live in our “Te” way (Authentic nature).
I ask myself regularly, am I listening to my source or my fear? Many times I act in a way that is driven by irrational fear that takes me away from the natural way I am meant to be.
We are meant to be in harmony with all things, and the only time we are not is when we are not in harmony with ourselves.
To reach harmony with myself I must allow the natural way I am to flourish and the irrational way I have been to fall away.
This is part of living the Tao, and it is hard as hell at times. Especially, when I try and do it. If I am of no mind, it just happens. I do not react in ways that someone whose depth goes all the way to the root of creation.
Ask yourself, how would you react to some one treating you badly, if you had a deep connection to all that is and will be? In our depths we are all that will ever be and ever has been.
We are eternity in action. We have created for ourselves a game as real as one could make it to separate ourselves from this truth, and yet we are still pulled and called to it.
We still have the sense of IT, because we are IT. There is no getting away from IT, no matter how complicated we make our lives.
This is why so many people run so fast in life doing this and that, as a distraction from what we really are. Because if we knew truly what we are, there would be no more need for any of this. We would cease to need to make something of ourselves.
We are already ourselves, and there is nothing more to make. To connect with this source is to truly free ones self from all that holds us back. In pulling back, we see that we created the game, the rules and the difficulty level.
Once we see this, we can run the game how ever we see fit.
There are still parts of me that hold on to seeing the world as something to overcome, because my ego still needs to feel powerful and that’s ok, because I am here for my ego, it is actually the only reason I am here. It is “Te,” it is authentically me in motion.
“I” as source have created ego to live in this manifested reality. It is my avatar if you will, to jump over barrels and save the day from the evil Donkey Kong.
As we get closer to this understanding, more levels of delusion will pop up to distract us, because as the avatar maybe having a tough time jumping over all the barrels, the creator “I” see’s it as a fun game.
So to enjoy the game, connect to Source, to Self, to I AM and enjoy the game while you are here make it what you will.
It is the fruit of our uncertainty.
Did anyone else, get that from reading Chapter 21? Haha