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the Tao = the Dhamma = God?

JasonJason God EmperorArrakis Moderator

Just happened to read this first chapter of Ursula Le Guin's translation of the Tao Te Ching, which is as follows:

The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.

Le Guin's Notes:

A satisfactory translation of this chapter is, I believe, perfectly impossible. It contains the book. I think of it as the Aleph, in Borges’s story: if you see it rightly, it contains everything.

The first thing I thought of while reading this was the juxtaposition of a mind seeking out of craving and desire and attachment vs. a mind characterized by non-attachment in the Buddhist sense (AN 4.10), with the parts about 'name' reminding me of how name and form (nama-rupa) — our tainted conceptual understanding of our experience of mentality-physicality (or mind and body) and the sense of self we construct around it — arise through the process of dependent co-arising (SN 12.67). And, conversely, the seeing of the truth of 'things as they are' and the nature of the unconditioned, nibbana, arises from its cessation and the unfolding of transcendental co-arising (AN 11.2, SN 12.23).

In other words, you can't condition the unconditioned, but you can condition an end to conditioning, thereby opening up to the experience of the unconditioned already present, hidden in plain sight. Hence, the unwanting soul sees the hidden, i.e.:

"For a person who knows & sees things as they actually are, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I feel disenchantment.' It is in the nature of things that a person who knows & sees things as they actually are feels disenchantment.

"For a person who feels disenchantment, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I grow dispassionate.' It is in the nature of things that a person who feels disenchantment grows dispassionate.

"For a dispassionate person, there is no need for an act of will, 'May I realize the knowledge & vision of release.' It is in the nature of things that a dispassionate person realizes the knowledge & vision of release. (AN 11.2, Thanissaro)

And I think Le Guin is right that this chapter contains everything, much like how the footprint of the elephant encompasses all others. And in the same vein, I'm a perennialist in the sense that I see all of our various religious traditions as smaller footprints encompassed by a larger, universal truth we're all struggling to apprehend. Just different fingers all pointing towards the same moon (i.e., the Tao = the Dhamma = God, etc.).

What do you think, am I on to something or just an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill heretic?

JeroenDavidrocala

Comments

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    It’s funny, I’ve just been listening to Alan Watts talking about the Tao and getting a feel for it, and then I came across your post. I wasn’t even aware that Ursula K. Le Guin had done a translation of the Tao Te Ching, its immediately gone to the top of my reading list. Looks really promising.

    I very much like how on the first page she has spelled out that ‘the Tao that can be told is not the tao’ but also ‘the way you can go is not the real way’. Of course if no one can tell you the true Tao you cannot follow it, but even if you follow the finger and look to the moon, the Tao is not something that can be followed, at most you can try to live it.

    In terms of ‘the Tao = the Dhamma = God’, I can see a small issue with God. Perhaps Spinoza’s God, or the God of Meister Eckhart, but perhaps not the God of the popes, their vision may not reach that far.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited February 1

    the Tao = the Buddha = God?
    In the sense of The Buddha as Awake
    If using Dharma in the sense of The Word then …

    The Word = Jesus = Buddha = God = Tao = Nothing

    for me this would be more accurate:
    the Tao = Nibbana = Cod … Eh … God

    all a little fishy …
    Further, Sun and Holy Coast

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    From my POV, Tao is the Way and also the nature of things as they are. This, I think, is akin to the Dhamma, which is also the Way and the nature of things as they are. God, nature, or whatever else you want to call it from the Western POV is synonymous, as it is all-encompassing.

    The morality of kamma = the will of God. And words like nibbana, the unconditioned, etc. are simply ways we characterize the underlying nature of reality. When we remove ignorance and see the world without attachment, we are awakened. Our darkness has been enlightened. We step through the door to the hidden and perceive the oneness that lies on the other side.

    But people have a habit of getting stuck on the words and concepts and grasping them as the true reality. They see the finger and its ornaments and focus on that, missing the moon that we all are able to see when our eyes are not shrouded and we are looking in the direction.

    lobster
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @Jason said:
    What do you think, am I on to something or just an uninstructed, run-of-the-mill heretic?

    This is irrelevant to your post, it just reminded me of something a funny radio personality I used to listen to would say. "Am I on to something, or am I on something?"

    More to the point, I like what you say about getting fixated on the words and the truth is what lies beyond that (finger->moon). So I certainly think it is possible, maybe even likely that the worlds spiritual traditions are talking about the same thing, much like my profile pic.

    That said I think its also possible that all roads don't in fact lead to the same place. In Buddhism there is the idea that there are very refined meditative states that don't lead to liberation. Maybe some traditions lead there? Or maybe Buddhism is mistaken, those states are the ultimate and nirvana is the side track?

    lobster
  • Talking of possibilities @person, we should also consider impossibilities. This is the finger pointing that @Jason mentions.

    Whether the mooning points out 'the finger' or the point of expression is useless, at best an approximation … The Word will set us making mole hills out of mountains already climbing.

    To put it another way; wherever you go, there you are …

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @lobster said:
    Talking of possibilities @person, we should also consider impossibilities. This is the finger pointing that @Jason mentions.

    Whether the mooning points out 'the finger' or the point of expression is useless, at best an approximation … The Word will set us making mole hills out of mountains already climbing.

    To put it another way; wherever you go, there you are …

    It feels like you're making an important point, but I don't know exactly what it is and since I don't really have a good starting point I'm not understanding. Mind trying to explain in less poetic terms?

  • Sure @person

    We assume that union with the god field, awakening to reality or nirvana or the many ways people experience a breakthrough consciousness is something new, greater, better. In one sense it is. It is also very ordinary. So it is in its nature both natural and even super-natural.

    Hope that is a little more straight forward … :)

    person
  • FleaMarketFleaMarket Newbie, not Veteran
    edited February 12

    @Jason said:
    I see all of our various religious traditions as smaller footprints encompassed by a larger, universal truth we're all struggling to apprehend. Just different fingers all pointing towards the same moon (i.e., the Tao = the Dhamma = God, etc.).

    I felt this reading the New Testament John, where it speaks of John the baptist spreading The Word but people could only see him. He implored them to not see or worship him but The Word he shared and instead they called him The Word. They called him Christ.
    I interpreted it as..
    Jesus = Christ = The Word = The Path = The Dharma = The Message.
    Buddha = John the Baptist = the enlightened messengers = The fingers pointing to The Message.
    God = One-ness = the Universe = All of life and matter combined.

    Then again this is my own dusty eyes trying to see...

    @person said:
    I think its also possible that all roads don't in fact lead to the same place. In Buddhism there is the idea that there are very refined meditative states that don't lead to liberation. Maybe some traditions lead there? Or maybe Buddhism is mistaken, those states are the ultimate and nirvana is the side track?

    If body death recycles us back into the universe and every step forward along the path toward one-ness we take provides some sort of enhanced harmony and assistance for either our essence's next iteration or the universe as a whole, would it follow that doing any good brings us all closer to Nirvana regardless of belief or understanding?

    I am feeling clumsy with my word choice. I hope this makes sense.

  • FleaMarketFleaMarket Newbie, not Veteran

    @lobster said:
    We assume that union with the god field, awakening to reality or nirvana or the many ways people experience a breakthrough consciousness is something new, greater, better. In one sense it is. It is also very ordinary. So it is in its nature both natural and even super-natural.

    I have fun imagining a world where everything but humans has already awoken. They've merely returned to their natural state of being with awareness while they watch us run around trying to make sense of it all while they wait patiently for us to clear our dust.

    I think I'm finally sleepy enough for bed :sweat:

    Bunks
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @FleaMarket said:

    @person said:
    I think its also possible that all roads don't in fact lead to the same place. In Buddhism there is the idea that there are very refined meditative states that don't lead to liberation. Maybe some traditions lead there? Or maybe Buddhism is mistaken, those states are the ultimate and nirvana is the side track?

    If body death recycles us back into the universe and every step forward along the path toward one-ness we take provides some sort of enhanced harmony and assistance for either our essence's next iteration or the universe as a whole, would it follow that doing any good brings us all closer to Nirvana regardless of belief or understanding?

    I am feeling clumsy with my word choice. I hope this makes sense.

    I don't know that it necessarily has to follow. Maybe the path towards liberation is specific and narrow. Maybe an analogy would be exercise, if the goal is to be able to run a marathon but you spent most of your exercise lifting weights would that get you to the goal of being a long distance runner? It would make you more fit but there are different kinds of fitness.

    David
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran
    edited February 12

    There are so many ways to see it.

    It often feels to me like sentient beings are as close to awareness as the Tao could have. For some reason I don't see a primordial deity or personality beyond what the sentient being brings to the table.

    That is not to say we only conjure it up but that we are the Tao becoming self aware which is the Buddhist process.

    I would not want to make that into a solid view or hang my hat on it though.

    At one time I was fixated on how we cannot divide one into even thirds. There is a little, tiny bit left over and that little bit is an infinite stream or set. 1 /3= .3333.... Made me picture Brahman and the Hindu Trimurti of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. The many avatars of Vishnu being the infinite stream which would include Buddha and the rest of us. At the time if you had asked me, I would have said these lives that are reborn or reincarnated are all Vishnu which in turn is Brahman.

    And I was raised in and Anglican family.

    So many ways to see how it all could be.

  • I would not want to make that into a solid view or hang my hat on it though.

    If everyone has a slightly differing take on reality … how reliable is individual 'insight'? This is the difference between a working model and a super-model. In other words we may have a working structure that furthers our commitments/discipline/focus. In time and experience this changes and hopefully is transformed/transfigured/let go of/dissolved like a recycled hat.

    personJasonDavid
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran

    @Lobster " If everyone has a slightly differing take on reality"

    That's part of what makes it all so wondrous.

    If two heads are better than one, we've hit the jackpot.

    Bunkslobster
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 13

    Le Guin's translation is very good. I think I might have a little language trivium that could shed a new light on another subtly different reading of the opening stanzas, or at least open up another dimension in the meaning. Going to Stanza 2, we read

    2
    無名天地之始﹔
    有名萬物之母。
    The unnamed is the wellspring of heaven and earth;
    The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

    which the Le Guin translation does a fine job of. The verse is very terse here and details like "the named" versus the "name is" (as in Le Guin's rendering) are really quite ambiguous. The two terms I want to draw attention to are "heaven and earth" (天地 "tiāndì") and "ten thousand things" (萬物 "wànwù"). These can both be read as euphemisms for "everything" or "all there is (in the world)." "Ten thousand" here can be read as standing in for "all" or "many" or "the many" (as in "the many things"). This reading is still around in modern Chinese, and you can see it attested on this Wiktionary page:

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/萬#Definitions

    Similarly, "heaven and earth" can mean "everything" in a very literal sense, just like "all things" can. "All on the earth and everything above it" is how it comes to mean "everything." When reading ancient Chinese texts, what is translated as "heaven" is very fluid. Sometimes "heaven" is the material sky made up of the many airs and winds. Sometimes "heaven" is the celestial realm beyond the air. Sometimes "heaven" is a particular great conjunction of the stars. Sometimes "heaven" is a high God of all the cosmos. All of these senses ideally should be there in the mind when reading about "heaven" in a Daoist, Confucian, or even Chinese Buddhist text.

    Obviously, it's not going to mean "up in the air" every time you read it. It generally has a deeper sense than that, but also having the mundane worldly sense of "the heavens" is important, such as when "heaven and earth" comes to mean "everything that is," figuratively speaking. If you also have this sense of "heaven" as "the airs" or even "the atmosphere," then the connection between "heaven and earth" (天地) and the notion of "this very world and everything in it" becomes more intuitive.

    So the line is quite mysterious. It is effectively saying, on one level:

    The unnamed is the wellspring of everything;
    The named is the mother of everything.

    "Wellspring" (始) and "mother" (母) are both functionally synonymous here. They are both "origins." Le Guin translates 始 as "begin" with a verbal sense. I don't really agree with this, but it would be much too much language jargon to go into deep detail on that. Suffice to say, the translation given in the OP is functionally fine. It does a few things like interpolate "soul" into the text, but even then the meaning is largely preserved.

    This all might put a new spin on the ending:

    4
    此兩者同出,而異名。
    同謂之玄。
    玄之又玄,眾妙之門。
    These two realities are the same in source, yet differ in name.
    Their sameness is a secret.
    It is the secret of all secrets, the door to all mysteries.

  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 13

    Sorry, double post!

    lobster
  • @Vimalajāti said:
    Sorry, double post!

    Me too.

    From a zen encounter:

    Question: “Does a post have Buddha Nature?”

    Answer: “Mu!”

    https://brightwayzen.org/beings-buddha-nature/

    BunksVimalajāti
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran

    I choose to take "mu" as a soft suggestion that, actually, only cows have buddha-nature.

    FleaMarketlobsterBunks
  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I’m sure the Hindu nation would agree.

    Vimalajāti
  • DavidDavid A human residing in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Ancestral territory of the Erie, Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat, Mississauga and Neutral First Nations Veteran

    @lobster said:

    I would not want to make that into a solid view or hang my hat on it though.

    If everyone has a slightly differing take on reality … how reliable is individual 'insight'? This is the difference between a working model and a super-model. In other words we may have a working structure that furthers our commitments/discipline/focus. In time and experience this changes and hopefully is transformed/transfigured/let go of/dissolved like a recycled hat.

    That's also a very good reason not to cling to views or have faith in beliefs.

    lobster
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran
    edited February 15

    I was watching Venerable Dhammadipa's talk at the Tsadra Foundation and found him speaking about both Daoism and God, which might be interesting for the OP.

    At one point in the talk, he speaks of how words are "just imposed" on reality and that reality is "un-seizable" (he's Czech, so sometimes his English is idiosyncratic). It reminded me of parallelisms that run through the DDJ.

    "no name" originates "heaven and earth"
    "name" originates "all things"

    in a state of desire, you see the mystery
    in a state of non-desire, you see the surfaces

    lobster
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran

    @Vimalajāti said:
    in a state of desire, you see the mystery
    in a state of non-desire, you see the surfaces

    Trust me to get something backwards!

  • Or maybe Buddhism is mistaken, those states are the ultimate and nirvana is the side track?

    Maybe.

    Maybe not knot. In other words No-State is stateless.
    My name is Lobster and I am Stateless or maybe just born on the wrong side of the tracks … ;)

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I am reminded of this book I came across today called The Love of Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving For Perfection, by Haemin Sunim. It was beautifully written, I only read the table of contents but that was enough. The author is a proponent of Korean Zen, but there seemed to be a lot of Taoism in his thinking.

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