Friday, October 30, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 1, Part II

from Verse One
The natural constant Way gives birth to beings but does not possess them, it produces evolution but does not rule it. All beings are born depending on it, yet none know to thank it, all die because of it, yet none can resent it. It is not enriched by storage and accumulation, nor is it impoverished by disbursement and enjoyment.

It is so ungraspable and undefinable that it cannot be imagined, yet while it is undefinable and ungraspable, its function is unlimited. Profound and mysterious, it responds to evolution without form, successful and effective, it does not act in vain. It rolls up and rolls out with firmness and flexibility, it contracts and expands with darkness and light.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
In reading these various ancient Taoist tracts, it's immediately apparent that the eastern view of the grand mystery is far different than the one proffered in the west via the Abrahamic religions. While the latter advance the notion that we can unlock some of the mystery by entering into a relationship with a specific entity, the creator, the Taoist sages of old see nothing to form such a relationship with!

As is written in the first verse of the Tao Te Ching, the Tao that can be named is not the Tao itself for Tao is "ungraspable and undefinable." We can't begin to comprehend it and, even to attempt to, is foolish because, however we describe it, will be so far off base as to make your head spin.

The best we can hope for is to learn from Tao's manifestations -- the beings, forms and pattens that surround and envelop us moment to moment. By watching the natural world, we can get a sense of the flow and rhythm of the universe. By looking within, we can see a microcosm of how everything else is.

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


  1. It's a very nice verse. More reason for me to get a copy of the book myself.

    Wouldn't it be great to know Chinese? as I'm sure that the words such as 'evolution' that carry such stereotypes in English really are painted much more beautifully and deeply in Chinese and that the translator is just stuck and has to use these limited words.

  2. I've read that Cleary is an excellent translator, but some of the words strike me as odd. As you mention, "evolution" seems like an odd choice and, in verse 2, he uses the word, "car". It's hard for me to imagine either Lao Tzu or a 4th century Taoist using that particular word, though I realize it does have one archaic meaning.

  3. Well, here's one dude still trying (perhaps foolishly) to have a foot in both worlds... :)

    I'm really impressed by what you've quoted from this book so far! I'm still waiting to get my hard copy of the Tao Te Ching in the post, I think this one might be next on my list.

  4. C & M,
    I strongly encourage you (and anyone else, for that matter) to get a hold of a copy of the Wen Tzu. It puts some meat on the Tao Te Ching.


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