Friday, October 23, 2009

Hua Hu Ching - Verse 30

Verse Thirty
Words can never convey the beauty of a tree; to understand it, you must see it with your own eyes. Language cannot capture the melody of a song; to understand it, you must hear it with your own ears. So it is with the Tao: the only way to understand it is to directly experience it. The subtle truth of the universe is unsayable and unthinkable. Therefore the highest teachings are wordless. My own words are not the medicine, but a prescription; not the destination, but a map to help you reach it. When you get there, quiet your mind and close your mouth. Don't analyze the Tao. Strive instead to live it: silently, undividedly, with your whole harmonious being.
~ Translated by Brian Walker ~
For a wordsmith like me, it's often hard to admit that words can be so limiting! If we could take ALL the languages of humankind and throw them into a huge barrel, there would be an almost infinite number of combinations. Even if we stuck to one modern language, the number of ways the words can be parsed together to form cogent ideas seems inexhaustible. Yet, for all this ability to pontificate, words only scratch the barest sheen of the surface of life.

How can a deep and enduring feeling of love be adequately expressed in words and sentences? How can the unbearable loss of a loved one be summed up in a paragraph or a song? How is it possible to explain the unexplainable so that it makes rational sense? The answer in each case points to the insufficiency of language.

We can describe aspects of a tree, sunset or child, but we can't delve into the essence of being for any of the three. About all that words can provide is a pale facsimile of the mystery.

So, while I'm happy that you have chosen to come here to read my words and thoughts, nothing I write can put YOU in touch with Tao. It doesn't matter how eloquently I describe things nor how poetically I may wax. It doesn't matter if you read the Tao Te Ching, Book of Chuang Tzu or the Hua Hu Ching or if you read each of them one thousand times.

If you wish to see Tao in your life, you must experience it for yourself.

This post is part of a "miniseries". For an introduction, go here.


  1. "The answer in each case points to the insufficiency of language."

    To say nothing of the difficulties of translating from Chinese to English!

    I love the saying of Rumi:

    "Language is a tailor shop where nothing fits."

    Which is just another way of interpreting Wittgenstein:

    "What we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence."

  2. HI R T

    96% of all communication is non verbal, thus, so too is understanding.

    Love Gail

  3. Baroness,
    Thank you so much for making that point! I had planned to mention it, but forgot to. The art of translation brings so much to bear when we read things written in a different tongue. A bad translation can destroy the meaning.

    Well, that means I'm screwed since interpreting nonverbal communication is almost impossible for me. :D


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