Understanding is for fools. To comprehend is to classify, to label, and to reduce a concept to its name. A name quantifies a value and worth, it allows us to measure and compare, to reject or accept as we see fit. We live in a world of carved boxes. We travel on the named paths. We do not see the way, it cannot be seen, just as it cannot be defined or specified. Its intangibility is what makes it tangible yet leaves it just beyond our reach.
I am speaking of the Tao, better known as the way, which is one third of the tripartite title of a famous Chinese book of philosophy attributed to Lao Tzu, the Tao Te Ching. When literally translated those three words mean ‘The Canon of the Way and the Virtue.’
The first time I honestly gave the Tao the time of day was a week before an exam which would test me on all of my readings including Tzu’s compendium of confusing yet consistent wisps of wisdom. It wasn’t that I felt that there was nothing to gain from reading the Tao it was more that I believed it to be a book one should be incapable of reading all in one sitting. I thought that like a good meal all of the platters or in this case, pages, should be sampled sparingly in order to savour their delectable flavour.
I was of the opinion that the Tao was to be read only in snippets and stolen free moments, however, I was wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. The Tao is not a grand feast to pick at rather it is like an expresso, meant to be taken in one shot and only after it has been processed do you realize its true force and power.
“He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk,” (Book One XXIV 54) This phrase was earmarked in my copy of theTao, for what purpose I cannot recall, however, I can say that it strikes a cord within me.
To tiptoe is to be hesitant, to doubt, and to second guess oneself but to stride is to be confident, purposeful, and at least seem efficient. Or that’s what I thought, now I am unsure. To be fair, Tzu’s text often places one in a state of liminality where one feels as if two worlds are being straddled but not entered. You are an observer, a non-participant.
Now, back to striding. What’s wrong with having a purpose you may be wondering? It’s not as if the translation said strutting, which implies more of a peacock like arrogance than a mode of getting from Point A to Point B.
“He who strides cannot walk.” In essence, that’s absolutely true. If you’re striding you are obviously not walking, but does that mean you are incapable of walking? Perhaps it is the routine of life that we callously and casually throw ourselves into that Tzu is referencing. By always striding or selecting striding over walking you are limiting your future options. If you start walking you may feel slow and even sluggish so striding will become your method of setting one foot in front of the other. What do you think?
Can you ever truly decode the reasoning behind the contradictory ideals of the great philosophers? Is life itself even supposed to make sense?
From my readings of the Tao I’m tempted to say no. Life, as we call this adventure of twists, turns, and loops has been limited by us. We have actually limited ourselves. We are responsible for placing ourselves inside this tiny snow globe we call life. Our need to name, to claim, and to possess has placed us at the mercy of our own appetites.
The more we try to understand the less we can comprehend. Each new discovery covers up millions of other mysteries. The workings of our world are not made to be grasped by our human minds – they are part of something much larger in the whole cosmic order of the universe.
We are all fools. We know nothing. Cheers to Lao Tzu who has now given all of us an existential crisis for the ages. To life, to the un-carved block, and to The Way I say, “Cheers!”