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The Dao de Jing

 

The dao that can be told
is not the eternal Dao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

I read those lines in a book a long time ago. Theyíre the first two sentences of a book called, Dao De Jing. A Chinese philosopher named Lao Tze wrote it over 2,000 years ago, just before riding off into the desert on his water buffalo, never to be seen again. Iím not making that up! I found that out later, while cycling through China, from Beijing to Kashgar. I even rode through the same gate Lao Tze did on his way into the desert, at Jiayuguan, at the edge of the mighty Taklamakan Desert.

When I first read the Dao De Jing, I was blown away, but I didnít have a clue what the author meant by Tau or Dayo, or however I pronounced it then. Everyone gets it wrong the first time. No matter how I said it, it resonated. I just couldnít get a handle on why.

I still donít. At least, not a firm grip. I look back over the years and see all kinds of progress towards understanding the Dao, but I look ahead and see a road without end, and the Dao nowhere in sight. Then I remember: one of the translations of "Dao" is "The Way." It makes sense that the road goes on forever. There is no destination, only The Way.

I canít really tell you whatís important about those opening lines. Not even old Lao Tze could. I mean, he says as much, doesnít he? "I can tell you truths, but I canít tell you The Truth." The Truth is left as an exercise. It is yours to discover, but even if you do, you canít tell it, you canít explain The Truth to someone else.

Iím not sure anything could be more alien to Western ways of thinking. The ways of empirical science seem diametrically opposed to the nature of Daoism, to the gentleness of old Lao Tze. Then again, we of the West seem poised for a shift back to that gentleness.

My personal experiences with Daoism heavily inflect the script of this play. In fact, youíll recognise some of this text in Prisoners when you come and see it. The rest of the first chapter goes like this.

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realise the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Itís a short book, the Dao De Jing, but every time I read it, I find something new. I think itís because every time I read it, I discover something about myself.

Patrick Jennings
August, 2000