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Daodejing, the book that defines the « Dao »

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Lao Zi was the first to define precisely the Tao, the Way and the De, the manifestation of the Way. This path is rooted in the ancient China and the message of this teaching is found in many similar traditions even though they are geographically distant. There is a shamanic aspect in the original Taoism, a non-dual vision that is far from the popular religious movement that we know today. Therefore we’ll see similar spiritual messages in the Shaiva Tantra of Cashmere, in some shamanism of North American Indians, or in some kabbalistic teachings. Lao Zi will describe the essence of the Tao and the ways to touch it, live it, without really ever reaching it: we can not achieve perfection, we can only get close and perceive its manifestations (De) . Changes in the Tao are described and they are in fact the essence of the Yi Jing, the books of changes, a treaty of the evolution of things in the world of perceptions, a work of internal alchemy : the Yi Jing is therefore the study of the changes of the world which are the expression of the Dao, the changes of the world are the “De” . In its most manifested form, the most Yin, the Tao is at the origin of the creation of “things” and in its most yang form, it is not conceptualizable by our mind, too yang in regard to the absolute yang of the Tao. In addition, there is a difference between the Way of Heaven, the set of phenomena that are beyond the understanding of man, but that are the search of the Taoist sage, and the way of Man, which is an expression of the discomfort of humans with themselves, fueled by competition, power and conflict . You should know that the chapters are not part of the original text and the punctuation was also added well after it was written. Therefore, anything is possible with this text, nothing is wrong,  everything can be said… almost. There are two fundamental concepts in the book of Lao Zi :
  • The Taoist cosmology, the understanding of the world, of its creation and its Changes
  • the practice of “Returning” to the Natural / Spontaneous
The only interest of a cosmology is to answer questions that our mind lays on the world. Through an understanding of the world, useless, but necessary, we will be able to relax in a practice that goes beyond the conceptual mind, which complicates our lives with its compulsive thoughts. By an intellectualization, so reassuring, we let ourselves fearlessly dive into the Practice, in the acceptance of our non-choice and non-resistance that goes without saying. As understood here, the cosmology does nothing but helps us to practice, it gives us no answer apart from those which we do not care of, she decorates our universe of morbid thoughts, but it does not resolves our problem, a little… like a bouquet of flowers in a hospital room: it is useless, but it’s nice; the drug drip, that is essential, but we do not think about it… as it should be of the Practice. In this relative relaxation, we go to the Practice which is the one of  Returning (to the Natural). The Return is the regression to our nature that is buried under layers of acquired reflexes, conditioned interpretations of a non-existing truth, of a mundane and trivial life that has distanced us from ourselves. In addition, our ego and the importance that we give it will rebel against the teaching: we can not stand not being the center of the world and we prefer to flee the Way, rather than discovering ourselves in the horrible Truth. By a “teaching in action”, we will relax and make silence to listen to the world. In this listening, the changes and phenomena will no longer be strangers to us and we will recognize them. This recognition, while maintaining our cognition, enables us to return to a vital flow which brings us back to the spontaneous and the natural. We are in the Way which unites us to the Way of Heaven, dear to Lao Zi. It is obvious that all the book speaks of the Tao, but chapters 1, 4, 6 and 25 are the most expressive about the Essence thereof. In Chinese, the Tao is a word that means “Way” or “Road”, a person who follows the concepts of Taoism is a Practitioner, but only he who is Initiated is a Taoist . Initiation is mandatory for being a “Taoist “, but being a Taoist linked to a lineage does not change one’s practice… the initiation does not improve one’s qualities. But to be Taoist, one must be initiated and accepted by a lineage, otherwise, you are a practionner more or less engaged. We can deduce that in ancient China , before Lao Zi , the “Tao” was a way of life, a course of action . For Lao Zi, it is much deeper, thus he names the origin, all of which is visible and the rest. Here we find an attempt to puts in concepts this possibility to conceive and merge in the changes and phenomena of the world, the return to the spontaneous and the natural. We know this state, it is our origin. Before we were born, but after our creation, we know that total union to the world through intrauterine life : after our arrival in the world, we continue to live in this “totality” during the first weeks. After that we enter in a judgmental, discriminating and compulsive cognition that separates us more and more from the world, gradually but surely. The “unique” image of ourselves that our immediate circle will impose us, will become our source of attachment, defended by our mind as a system of defense: the ego. The acquired will replace the innate and the conditioned will replace the spontaneous, we will do everything to be this image of ourselves that lives in our minds, but not the reality. Compulsive thoughts will try to distract us, even to see us drown, in a flood that reassures us… that binds us to our image. This attachment will give birth to the unique emotion that is the source of the others, the fear of disappearing, dissolving and not be “unique.” The state of peace and silence that is originally the “Te” from ” Tao Te Ching “, this manifestation of the Tao, will be submerged by our worldly conditioning. We can roughly define the essence of the Tao:
  • All the laws of nature
  • Eternity in space and time
  • Essence of all things, it can be ” tasted ” by the De, its manifestations
  • Origin of all the changes and all the phenomena
  • Everything in the Tao is moving, changing
  • Everything comes from the Tao so everything is One
  • unimaginable is still possible to get an idea of it by the intellect
It is interesting to see that it’s a quest of the human being with himself, without Gods or Demons : we leave the traditional religious paths that give in this stifling duality (God Almighty and weak man), but we are entering a totality that gives the universe a unity. My teacher said that Tao had five faces :
  • The Tao is the Space and Chaos
  • The Tao is the Origin of All Changes
  • The Tao is the Raw Material of the World
  • The Tao is invisible to the Spirit, but sensible by the Body
  • The Tao governs the laws of all phenomena
In 1973, in a tomb of the Han Dynasty (206 – . 180 BC) at Mawangdui (near Changsha, capital of Hunan), two copies on silk of  Lao Zi’s text show differences and changes. Chang Tao (Constant Tao) later turns in Heng Tao (Eternal Tao), but the difference is minimal in Chinese. Whether it is “Chang” or “Heng”, this description of Tao gives him eternal qualities, indescribable, deep, subtle, irreplaceable and unforgettable . In the first chapter, there is in the first verse the whole doctrine of Lao Zi. The most important here is this “You should not be confused !”. It is important not to confuse what we are talking about, the concept, and what is. Only the Practice and the De, manifestation of the Tao, can be grasped and understood. In the text the Name is the Tao, in a more readable form, as a concept, the one we will discuss. It is possible to say that the difference between the Name and the Tao is the same as the difference between which doesn’t have a form, which is not, and which has a form, which is. Which takes a form takes it’s origin in what does not, all things come of Heaven and Earth. In the form and name, all things grows and “materialize” what did not have a form. The Tao is the source of what has no name or form, it is what can not even be explained. “Wu” and “You” have no possible translation. Some say “what has no form” and “what has a form”, others say “what is not” and ” what is” or “non-being” and “being”. We can use, in order to better understand it, the terms ” manifested” and ” unmanifested”… one is perceived by our senses, the other is a whole, a potential that is not in the world of human perceptions… or almost… “Wu”, in Lao Zi, is not the emptiness or the absence of things, it is the unlimited Space and Totality, which can not be grasped not our limited intellect. “Wu” is the domain of the Tao, the Way of Heaven, a totality which will include the world. “You” is the visible manifestation, by the senses, of things and their changes. These are two aspects of the Tao that can take the moments of Chaos of the Earth and Heaven before the creation of all things and the moment of creation itself. The Taoist world according to Lao Zi is a non-dual and united world, manifestation the changing totality that is the Tao. This way to Heaven can be “touched” by a practice that follows the Taoist teachings. In a subtle and fleeting Communion at first, the Sage guides his life. The flow of the Tao carries the practitioner in an  existence without resistance to the natural changes such as Zhouang Zi’s swimmer. The terms “Heaven and Earth” are used in Chinese to describe Nature and the Universe as a whole. One is the playground of the man and the other the immensity that surrounds him. The term “Wan”, “10,000 things” should be understood as “all things ,” “the myriad things.” In ancient texts, “10000” is the way to express what is huge, what can not be counted. It was a source of much misinterpretation, the Chinese scriptures are full of figures that are symbolic and non-descriptive. From the beginning of the text, Lao Zi does as Lu Dong Ping in its “hundred characters tablet” and says, ” Shh! , Shut up and practice !”. The first concept is that the Tao can not be understood or expressed, so, you might as well shut up and practice. A remark of more than 2500 years which tells us not to believe what is said or written, but find ourselves the source of all things. This understanding of silence leads to another error too often “new age”, this modern idea of a teaching without a master. The too present information, and work too rare, gives rise to intellectual and patched up arts that will strengthen the ego mind instead of dissolving it in a desirable silence. Without initiation, no Taoist, without master no disciple. Those who practice alone a way of Taoist inspiration are a “prospective student”, but are not yet “in” the Way. But what can not be named, 5000 ideograms will be traced by Lao Zi to make us understand it. There is a dynamic movement that emanates from the Tao, a “non- form” towards a “form”, a manifestation of the invisible towards the visible, from totality to Unity. The Absolute manifests itself in a sensible world to which we belong. We find in it the inner duality between our buried natural and our bright conditioning. The two faces of the same coin , “Wu” and “You” will interact as the name and its object or thought and action. Before Lao Zi, in the ancient shamanistic China, two terms could be at the origin of  the Tao:
  • Tian Tao (Celestial Tao)
  • Tian Ming (Celeste Destiny)
It’s fun to see how many philosophers try to understand the Tao. Writings can not advance the understanding of what can not be named, only the practice of the “De” can touch the Tao. But practitioners write too little, they are busy practicing.