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  1. #1
    Senior Member Saslou's Avatar
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    Default 14th Verse of the Tao Te Ching

    What does the following verse make you think of? How does it make you feel?

    That which cannot be seen is called invisible
    That which cannot be heard is called inaudible
    That which cannot be held is called intangible
    These three cannot be defined;
    therefore, they are merged as one.

    Each of these three is subtle for description
    By intuition you can see it
    hear it,
    and feel it.
    Then the unseen,
    unheard,
    and untouched
    are present as one.

    Its rising brings no dawn,
    its setting no darkness;
    it goes on and on, unnameable,
    returning into nothingness.

    Approach it and there is no beginning;
    follow it and there is no end.
    You cannot know it, but you can be it,
    at ease in your own life.

    Discovering how things have always been
    brings one into harmony with the Way.


    Before even reading the authors opinion on this verse, i felt mildly at peace like i was coming into my own. I smiled like i had been let into some secret. Lol
    “I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower, you hung all your associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see—and I don't.”
    ― Georgia O'Keeffe

  2. #2
    ThatGirl
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    I associate this with the dynamics of life. The way everything plays off and interacts with another. Rising, falling, transitioning. No beginning, no end, because though it changes it comes from what led to it, and follows into what stems from it. Sort of like riding the ways of live. Universal flow or something.

    Its easy to do if you don't take any direct stance and follow momentum. Though in other passages you can see that you can have stance, and that subtle direction can change an entire ripple of dynamics.

  3. #3
    ThatGirl
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    *Waves of life. Can't edit from phone.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Tiltyred's Avatar
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    It makes me feel calm. It seems to me a magnificent perspective.

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    I recommend Stephen Mitchell's translation. It's much clearer.

    Look, and it can't be seen.
    Listen, and it can't be heard.
    Reach, and it can't be grasped.

    Above, it isn't bright.
    Below, it isn't dark.
    Seamless, unnamable,
    it returns to the realm of nothing.
    Form that includes all forms,
    image without an image,
    subtle, beyond all conception.

    Approach it and there is no beginning;
    follow it and there is no end.
    You can't know it, but you can be it,
    at ease in your own life.
    Just realize where you come from:
    this is the essence of wisdom.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Scott N Denver's Avatar
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    Hmm, personally I think its a bad or poor translation, quite poor actually. If nothing else its hard to understand what it is trying to get at. [Ok, isn't ALL of the tao te ching, and zen buddhism, hard to understand what its getting at? Point taken, but at least, imo, I can usually kinda tell what they are trying to get at, in particular the negation is clear.] I looked up in two of my books, R. L. Wing's "The Tao of Power", whose translation is pretty close to what is in the first post. I still disagree with the first two paragraphs ["Looked at but not seen, its name is formless. Listened to but not heard its name is soundless. Reached for but not obtained, its name is intangible. These three cannot be analyzed, therefore they mingle as one."] Here is my issue: the name is NOT formless, the name is NOT soundless, the name is NOT intangible. A name is a label, and people use labels because they need to standardize communication and meaning between individuals. What it SHOULD be saying, imo is: what is in chapter 1 "The name that can be named is not the name of the Absolute." That which is referred to ["lacking in attributes of its own, forced to give it a name I refer to it as the tao"]. The label is NOT formless, soundless, or intangible, that to which the label refers is, however, formless, soundless, and intangible. Bad referencing! Wing points out in his commentary on his translation that Lao Tzu hints at the nature of the Tao by referring to what it is not. This is a very standard approach to this subject, and is prevalent throughout Taoism, Zen/chan, and Buddhism in general.

    However, I prefer Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English's translation:
    Look, it cannot be seen-it is beyond form
    Listen, it can not be heard- it is beyond sound.
    Grasp, it can not be held- it is intangible.
    These three are indefinable;
    Therefore they are joined in one.

    From above it is not bright,
    From below it is not dark.
    An unbroken thread beyond description.
    It returns to nothingness.
    The form of the formless,
    The image of the imageless,
    It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.

    Stand before it and there is no beginning.
    Follow it and there is no end.
    Stay with the ancient Tao,
    Move with the present.

    Knowing the ancient beginning is the essence of the Tao.



    Yes, a FAR better translation in my opinion.
    There was a famed meeting beyond the 6th patriarch of chan/zen, Bodhidharma, and the chinese king of that time period. The king asked Bodhidharma: "what is enlightenment?", to which Bodhidharma very famously replied "lots of space, nothing holy." The king had lavished money upon the Buddhist sangha of his time, hoping to earn great merit [positive karma] in reward. When the king asked Bodhidharma: "what merit have I accrued from my giving and donations and support", Bodhidharma also famously replied "None at all."

    One of the biggest issues within Buddhism, and any similar tradition, is "how does one describe that which has not attributes?", by which is meant "the enlightened state". It is the assertion and experience of those who have gone before that, at the very deepest levels of our being, we are nothing other than radical, pure, empty, attributeless, open, formless consciousness. Shunyata is the usual sanskrit word that is given to provide a name so that people have some reference point when talking about this. But "Tao" would be another just as valid word, and in fact seems to be the usual preferred word of the taoists. So, once again facing the same question" how do we describe that which has no attributes", the approach taken is to negate descriptions, and THAT is what this passage of the Tao te ching is referring to. Again, I think the initial translation is extremely poor, and misappropriates the name given to something from what the something is. Names have form, and sound, and existence/tangibility, the experience/state being referred to here does not.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Blown Ghost's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by saslou View Post
    What does the following verse make you think of? How does it make you feel?
    [I]
    That which cannot be seen is called invisible
    That which cannot be heard is called inaudible
    That which cannot be held is called intangible
    These three cannot be defined;
    None of these things would necessarily exist at all. I'm inclined to believe this is the ultimate form of romanticism, that is, creating an illusion of beauty from nothing.

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