The incredible ambiguity and consequent malleability of the Tao te Ching can be off-putting — or it can be instructive. Rather than being a static enunciation of 'truths', it becomes a kaleidoscopic mirror. As we interact with it, it reflects back meanings which neither it, nor we would have otherwise imagined.
Here is a translation of Chapter 1 with an emphasis I have not before seen. It is found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, Vol. 1 (de Bary, Chan, and Watson).
The Tao that can be told of is not the eternal Tao;I am probably sharing this because it says what I decided some time ago is what it intends to say. It speaks of two, but always in the context of One. The great mystery is that these two are the same. The two are Nameless Tao and all its named manifestations, the non-existent and the existent. Yet these are One and the same.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
Nameless, it is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
Named it is the mother of all things.
Always nonexistent, that we may apprehend its inner secret;
Always existent, that we may discern its outer manifestations.
These two are the same;
Only as they manifest themselves they receive different names.
That they are the same is the mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door of all subtleties!
This can be an interesting speculative metaphysics, or it can be a 'door'. How it can be the latter, I am hesitant to opine. Surely, it is not a question of faith. It can only be a door when it is something felt in the guts; when it is experienced. They are words, and somehow we have to find what gave them birth, and this cannot be done through words.
There is the mystical here. By mystical I mean these words suggest an experience of mystery and are not simply a pronunciation upon it. "Always non-existent, that we might apprehend its inner secret." (I have struck what seems to imply purpose.) Where might we experience this? We know. It is our innermost secret.
Experiencing our own non-existence we discover how existence and non-existence are the same. And thus we discover how wonderful and real existence really is, even when it is not.
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