Of watched for, yet not seen is called smooth.
Of listened to, yet not heard is called rarefied.
Of handled yet not held is called minute.
These three are unfathomable, so they blend and serve as One.
Its upper part is not bright, its lowest part is not hazy,
Unending, it cannot be named, and returns again to nothing.
This is called the of without shape form, the of without substance shape,
This is called the suddenly trance-like.
Moving toward it, you will not see its head,
Following behind, you will not see its back.
Hold of the ancient way in order to manage today.
The ability to know the ancient beginning, this is called the way’s discipline.
1) look at (regard; inspect; watch) of no (not) see (not meet) name (fame; reputation; well-known) say (call; name) smooth (safe; exterminate). 视之不见名曰夷。(shì zhī bù jiàn míng yuē yí.)
2) listen (hear; obey / allow) of no (not) hear (news; story; smell) name (fame; reputation; well-known) say (call; name) hope (rare; scarce; uncommon). 听之不闻名曰希。(tīng zhī bù wén míng yuē xī.)
3) roll round with hand of no (not) get (obtain, gain) name (fame; reputation; well-known) say (call; name) minute (tiny). 抟之不得名曰微。(tuán zhī bù dé míng yuē wēi.)
4) this three (者) cannot (must not) send (extend; deliver; result in) closely question (interrogate), reason (cause; hence) mix (confuse; pass for) <conj.> and (yet, but) do (act; serve as; become; be; mean) one. 此三者不可致诘，故混而为一。(cĭ sān zhĕ bù kĕ zhì jié, gù hún ér wéi yī.)
5) his (its; they; that; such) upper (up; upward; higher; superior) no (not) white (bright, clear), his (its; they; that; such) below (down; under; underneath; lower; inferior) no (not) have hazy notions about (be ignorant of; hide; conceal), (neglect), 其上不皦，其下不昧，(qí shàng bù jiăo shōu qí xià bù mèi)
6) rope (restrict; unending) cannot (must not) name (fame; reputation; well-known), duplicate (turn over; answer; again) go back to (return) in (at, to, from, by, than, out of) nothing (nil; not have, without) thing (matter; the outside world). 绳绳不可名，复归于无物。(shéng shéng bù kĕ míng, fù guī yú wú wù.)
7) <grm> is (yes <frml> this; that) say (call; name; meaning; sense) nothing (nil; not have) form (shape; state; condition) of form (shape; state; condition), nothing (nil; not have, without) thing (matter; the outside world) of elephant (appearance; shape; image; be like; resemble), 是谓无状之状，无物之象，(shì wèi wú zhuàng zhī zhuàng, wú wù zhī xiàng,)
8) <grm> is (yes <frml> this; that) say (call; name; meaning; sense) suddenly (seem; as if) dim (in a trance; seemingly). 是谓惚恍。(shì wèi hū huăng.)
9) greet (welcome; receive; move towards) of no (not) see (not meet) his (its; they; that; such) head (first; leader; chief), 迎之不见其首，(shŏu zhī bù jiàn qí shŏu,)
10) to follow (to comply with / to allow) of no (not) see (not meet) his (its; they; that; such) back (behind; rear; after; afterwards). 随之不见其后。(suí zhī bù jiàn qí hòu.)
11) hold (grasp; manage) ancient (age-old) of road (way, speak; think) of use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) drive a carriage (resist, keep out) present-day (now) of have (there is; exist). 执古之道以御今之有。(zhí gŭ zhī dào yĭ yù jīn zhī yŏu.)
12) ability (skill <physics> energy; can) know (realize; notify; knowledge) ancient (age-old) beginning (start), <grm> is (yes <frml> this; that) say (call; name; meaning; sense) road (way, speak; think) discipline (put down in writing; record). 能知古始，是谓道纪。(néng zhī gŭ shĭ, shì wèi dào jì.)
Work in Progress
I’ve dropped some superfluous words and suffixes, which is always gratifying! There are a few larger changes too. I enjoy this because it means I’ve found my errors, but I also enjoy not making changes because it means I got it right… as far as I know anyway. I suppose I’ll stop bolding the changes. Who really cares that much? If you do, then you will recognize the changes anyway… right?
Notice that line 6 ends with the words no-thing. This is two characters, wú (无… nothing; nil; not have; without) and wù (物, thing; matter; the outside world as distinct from oneself). It is important to note the subtler connotation that easily gets lost when we say ‘nothing’. Nothing, in the ‘normal’ mind conveys unimportance; nothing in the Taoist mind conveys ‘deep and dark in which exists essence. Its essence is more than real‘.
I corrected the sloppy placement of “of” zhī (之) in line 7, where I had put the cart before the horse. This brings home the value of reading out load in order to proof what you write. Over the years, I’ve heard that was useful to do, but until recently didn’t. This is a clear case of understanding without knowing! (i.e., I understand, but do I know?) Oh well, better late than never.
Next, I swapped out suddenly trance-like for indistinct suddenly, which hits closer—hū (惚, indistinct) and huǎng (恍, all of a sudden; suddenly; flurried; indistinct, seem; as if). An alternative would be ‘indistinct indistinct‘. The idea here is almost the opposite of ‘enlightenment’—that illusory ideal which many seek. Rather than coming from darkness into clarity, the emphasis here is on the darkness, shadowy, and indistinct. This is what occurs when you peer into infinite mind space. Bits and pieces of enlightenment, if any, simply follow this catalyst—the stepping outside oneself .
Our love of story over truth stems from our need to manage today. It is as though we have come into Act III of a play; we’re in the middle of the story. We don’t truly know what’s going on, so we (cultures) make up plausible stories (myths) that answer what we are anxious to know. The early creation myths are obvious examples, but science’s quest for answers also springs from this need to know. Indeed, this need to know is what makes realizing I don’t know so extremely difficult.
Granted, it is easy for most anyone to admit they don’t know much compared to the expert, or ____(you fill in the blank)____. However, true realization of ‘I don’t know’ pertains to the names and words themselves—the nuts and bolts of knowledge. That is where knowledge begins! For the serious student, correlations are the rigorous way to challenge what you think at the deepest name and word level. See, Using Yin and Yang to Pop Preconceptions, or perhaps, Couplets and the Co-generating Principle.
Ironically, the Tao Te Ching begins with the disclaimer, the name possible to express runs counter to the constant name, before it plunges into describing the way. This is quite novel; at least I’ve never run across such humble self-honesty in anything that purports to tell me the secrets of reality. Buddha, on the other hand, avoids the ‘superiority’ trap with a matter-of-fact observation of basic human nature, and leaving it to me to prove for myself—again humble and self-honest.
Museums also reflect our desperate need to have some tangible evidence of the ancient way in order to manage today. The value we place on our stories—political and religious especially—are symptomatic of the discomfort we feel with what is called the without of shape form, the without of matter shape. I now look back on the stories I grappled with earlier as stepping-stones to what is an increasingly indescribable teaching. No-thing actually answers the mystery I feel. I just make do with my stories when I lack the ability to know the ancient beginning; this is called the way’s discipline.
Of watched yet not seen, call smooth.
Of listened yet not heard, call rarified.
Of handled yet not held, call minute.
These three are unfathomable, hence blend and serve as One.
Its upper part is not taken in, its lowest part is not overlooked.
Unending, it cannot be named, and again returns to no-thing.
This is called the without of shape form, the without of matter shape,
This is called indistinct suddenly.
Of moving toward it, you will not see its head,
Of following behind it, you will not see its back.
Hold the ancient way in order to manage today.
The ability to know the ancient beginning; this is called the way’s discipline.
Chapter of the Week
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Tao Te Ching is how it attempts to speaks ‘subjectively’ to consciousness in various ways, e.g., know, watch, listen, seems, hear, discernment, think. As awareness slows down and my mind settles into its consciousness, the more unfathomable consciousness becomes. A profound tradeoff we make in having awareness preoccupied with the thinking side of consciousness is a declining awareness of the mysterious sameness side of consciousness.
I’m having a problem keeping rhythm on fast songs. People have given me advice on what to do, but I find nothing ‘works’. Perhaps the reason the advice never truly works is that we always attempt to name it. What does seem to work is being as conscious as possible of the smooth, rarified, minute… the unfathomable. That is to say, I find that I can manage this problem best by holding to the ancient way.
Now, that’s easy to say and easy to do, yet when I ‘try to do it’, it becomes impossible, i.e., whoever lays hold of it will ruin it; whoever lays hold of it will lose it. Not that I can cease ‘trying’ and ‘laying hold’, mind you. Happily though, I’ve found that ‘if you would have a thing weakened, you must first strengthen it‘. Know and giving into this, the way’s discipline, helps me manage today. That this is not widely valued may be because when we lay hold of it we lose it; thanks to biology, we don’t realize that only through loss do we gain. This makes for life’s greatest adventure – the adventure within.
Note: Sometimes there are differences between the two principle original versions of the Tao Te Ching, the standard Wang Bi 226-249 AC version and an earlier Mawangdui version (dating from 168 BC) Personally, I find little difference between them; what ever differences are seen lie in the eye of the translator / interpreter / reader, in my view. In other words, why leave a mole hill a mole hill when you can make a mountain out of it? Below, I’ll past in a short description of these two versions from Wikipedia.
Mawangdui Silk Texts
Some people believe that the silk texts of the Tao Te Ching are the real book, and that the texts that have come down to us generation by generation are wrong wherever they disagree with these two earlier versions. Other people point out that the silk texts are not particularly good — in the sense that people often would not be able to make sense of them unless they had access to the texts written with the full forms of the characters. They add that Wang Bi, and other very early scholars who edited the texts that are the ancestors of the ones that came down to us by tradition, had access to many early versions of the Tao Te Ching and so were able to correct many mistakes by comparing the several versions available to them.
Most of the time the received versions of the Tao Te Ching are in substantial agreement with each other, and most of the time the text is simple and straightforward. Occasionally, however, two received versions will write homonyms with entirely different meanings at some point in a chapter. In such cases, much help can be received from a silk text that gives a third character that has a different pronunciation but is a synonym for one of the two in the received text.
In recent years several scholars have made new translations of the Tao Te Ching that are based on the silk text and ignore the received texts entirely or almost entirely. These include works by D. C. Lau, and by Robert G. Henricks. Henricks’ translation does compare received versions of the Tao Te Ching with the text found in the tomb.