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Aug. 28, 2022

Wisdom of the Mystics: Lao Tzu


In this episode, The Bearded Mystic Podcast discusses the wisdom of the Chinese Sage Lao Tzu.  I go through the first two verses of the Tao Te Ching that are attributed to Lao Tzu.

Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher credited with founding the philosophical system of Taoism. He is best known as the author of the Laozi (later retitled the Tao-Te-Ching translated as “The Way of Virtue” or “The Classic of the Way and Virtue”) the work which exemplifies his thought.

The name by which he is known is not a personal name but an honorific title meaning 'Old Man' or 'Old Master' and the debate continues as to whether an individual by that name ever existed or whether Lao Tzu is an amalgam of many different philosophers.


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Transcript

Rahul N Singh:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Bearded Mystic Podcast and I'm your host Rahul N Singh. Thank you for taking out the time today to either watch or listen to this podcast episode. Today, we will be continuing on with the Wisdom of the Mystics. And before we do that, if you would like to support the Bearded Mystic Podcast, you can sign up to the podcast's Patreon page, which is in the video description and show notes below. Also you can sign up to our monthly subscription available on apple podcasts, and that is on the podcast app itself. You get seven days for free, so do check that out. Every Saturday there is a free meditation class, if you would like to join please find the details in the show notes and video description below. Last month we looked at the teachings of the Christian Mystic Meister Eckhart. In today's episode, we'll be looking at the teachings of the greatest Chinese Sage Lao Tzu. I'll be looking at the first two verses of the legendary text titled Tao Te Ching and if you would like me to revisit Lao Tzu do let me know, write in the comments in this YouTube video, or let me know on social media that you would like to hear more about Lao Tzu. Before I do begin, I want to apologize for not being able to record an episode last week. I caught COVID because of that, I didn't have the energy to really record an episode or edit an episode. I was literally away from looking at the screen for around a week. So I do apologize and with your good wishes, I'm a lot better. And with that, let's begin today's episode.

The first verse is:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The Tao is both named and nameless. As nameless it is the origin of all things; as named it is the mother of 10,000 things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery; ever desiring, one sees only the manifestations. And the mystery itself is the doorway to all understanding. Let's explain this verse. In the very first line, the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao, in that the moment you speak about the Ultimate Reality is the moment you lose it due to its subtlety. And that's the great thing about this text in the first line, it talks about how, if you can describe it, that's okay, but it's not IT. The moment we describe It as something, we lose It, the moment we try to detail It, we lose It. The moment we try to add descriptions to It, we lose It. How can we experience that Ultimate Reality? It's just by being It. So once we understand this direct teaching, because it is a direct pointer to the Tao, to the Formless Awareness, we can then understand it. We be It. So the moment you say the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao is the moment you can directly experience its nature without it being described in any way. So that's the beauty of this. Also that this Ultimate Reality really doesn't have a name. This Formless Awareness, this Pure Consciousness does not have a name. The moment you name It is the moment you can make It into a commodity and the moment you make it into a commodity is the moment it loses its value. This is why it's really important that we do not name this. Yes, we can have names. That's fine. In the beginning, we may need a name to associate with It, to create a relationship and a bond with It. That's fine. But we must always remember in the back of our mind that this reality has no name. Therefore if you're fighting over a name like Ram or Allah or God or anything like that, even Dao then we are literally misunderstanding this Reality. Then we are not in this reality. We are not operating as Pure Consciousness. We have gone back into name and form, and that's the important thing to remember here is that we are not to go back to name and form. It's really important that we do not get dogmatic over a name. This type of philosophy can get you out of the trappings of dogma and doctrine. That's the beauty of this. Within the first few lines, we cannot make a dogma or doctrine outta this. If we do, then we miss the whole point of the Tao. The other thing that we can remember is that whatever you may name it, this name will not last for eternity because only Itself is eternal. It's nature is eternal. Therefore naming It will only be until we have human species or even artificial intelligence, if we must. But after that, it cannot last, in the nature of existence, in this vast universe, it does not need a name and it does not require a name. We must embrace the temporary nature of a name and see it as that. So, for example, in this regard, Lao Tzu does use the name Tao, but to highlight a particular point that this cannot be named. So when he does that, that's just a technique to get us to go beyond the name and form and to go straight to the Formless Tao That's what it's trying to do. The name is just a pointer. Therefore, we must understand the temporary nature of a name and that's all we must see it as. We must also mostly remember in our heart and mind that it, this Tao, this Nirguna Brahman is beyond the name as it is nameless. So we need to make that rest in our heart. We need to allow that to deepen into our heart. The more we remember that, the better we can understand these teachings. So due to it being nameless and therefore Formless, it is the origin of all things. It is the beginning of everything. So that's how we can understand when it says as nameless, It is the origin of all things. Only from the nameless can names exist, only from the Formless can forms exist. And Let me use an analogy of a piece of paper, just like you have a piece of paper, the only time it has a form of a letter is when you write on it. Likewise, the Tao is that blank piece of paper and all things that we perceive, the 10,000 things are the letters that we write on it. Essentially the blank piece of paper is still blank, regardless of what is written on it, it is ink that is on the paper. The paper remains blank and that's the way to see It ( Tao). That's the origin for that ink to even set it needs that piece of paper. Likewise, the Tao is required for the 10,000 things. It is the origin of those 10,000 things. Now, when it says 10,000 things, let's remember that it's talking about infinity, not necessarily that there's literally 10,000 things on the planet or in the whole universe. Lao Tzu is just using an arbitrary number to highlight infinity because maybe back then, there wasn't a word for infinity or maybe the nature of the Tao is infinite and therefore to look at existence, he says 10,000 things. So That could be the case. In fact, if you think about it, the essential nature of everything is empty space. Without space, nothing can exist. Even though form appears it is empty or contentless, it doesn't have any content in it. Even when you look at an atom, apparently it's 99.99999999% empty space. The essential nature of everything is empty space. Whenever we name a thing and wonder where it is from, we say the Tao is the mother of the 10,000 things. Now the mother meaning the Shared Being or Saguna Brahma or even Shakti or Maya. We can use those words as well. Basically what's interesting is that it uses the feminine to describe it. And why I find that really interesting is because when we say the mother, when we use the feminine, it shows that the birth of creation, which is the most Supreme. If you think about it without the mother, there is no creation. There is no birth. This is also giving great importance to the feminine principle. We must always respect women, and that is imperative here. Now if one is without the pull of desires, meaning we are not at the beck and call of every desire, we can see this mystery, this Tao directly, we can understand It. We can directly perceive this mystery, this Formless Awareness. We are not at the pull of desires. We literally are not dragged wherever our desires take us. We know that desire has a limited lifespan. Therefore we don't need to be attached to it. We don't need to see it as everything. No problem with having desire. And there's no problem with being aware of the pull of desire and then traveling accordingly in awareness. But if we are literally dragged by our desires without any awareness, without being conscious of it, we will always be in suffering. So to really directly perceive this reality, this Formless Awareness, we have to remove ourselves from the pull of desires. That does not mean that desires will stop. We remove ourselves from the pull of it. We do not get dragged by it that's all. If one is always desiring, constantly attracted to our desires, then all we see is manifestation and the buck stops there for us. What truth is needed, when manifestation is all you see. What Lao Tzu is saying is ever desiring, one only sees the manifestations. One cannot see the mystery of Consciousness , of Pure Consciousness, of Formless Awareness. One is not aware of that awareness that is always present. One ends up being dragged by the manifestations and marveled at the manifestations alone, that is not right. What we need to do is put an end to the pull of desire, because if we're constantly desiring, that's all we are gonna be thinking about, how we can manifest our desires, how we can make our desires come to fruition And we constantly go into that cycle of thinking of how to manifest what we desire. Therefore, how can we focus on our internal awareness, if that is all we are thinking about, if we are being dragged by our senses and if you think about it, what truth do you need if you're constantly thinking about desires? You don't need any of the Truth. You're preoccupied by manifestation. And in fact, all you will see is that this physical world, matter is the only reality. Therefore missing what is the primacy, the primary nature of who you are, which is this Tao, which is this Formless Awareness. However, this mystery itself, this Tao is the doorway to all understanding of everything. Once we start becoming more aware of our desires and becoming aware of how it pulls us, how it drags us into situations, how it takes our attention, we end up losing hold of those desires. We end up becoming desireless. We end up becoming free from those desires because we understand the finite nature of those desires. Once we understand this Ultimate Reality, this Pure Awareness, then all is understood. Once we understand this Formless Awareness and we are It, we are this Tao, then everything is understood. If we understand this first verse of the Tao Te Ching, then much can be achieved in spirituality. That much I can guarantee. What we need to do with this verse is really think about it. Go back, listen to the verse, go back and listen to my commentary on this verse. Really absorb this message. Because if we can absorb this, we have tackled the aspect of spirituality completely. We will be eternally free, and that is the guarantee. So that is the first verse. Now we will look at verse two. Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty, only because there is ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil. Being and non being produce each other. The difficult is born in the easy. Long is defined by short, the high by the low. Before and after go along with each other. So the Sage lives openly with apparent duality and paradoxical unity. The Sage can act without effort and teach without words. Nurturing things without possessing them. He works, but not for rewards; he competes, but not for results. When the work is done, it is forgotten. That is why it lasts forever. A really important verse. Again, one that requires our contemplation, our full attention, and definitely something which we can imbibe in our personal life as well because now a practical example of a Sage is being utilized. Let's explain this verse. So first of all, heaven is to be understood as the enlightened state, therefore, everything is beautiful. Once we see everything as heaven. So using the metaphor of heaven, we must see beauty everywhere. And the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. Now, hidden behind beauty is ugliness, and this is really deep by Lao Tzu because it shows that whenever we label something beautiful, then there must be an opposite. So, if we say something is beautiful, like if we see a beautiful person, and we say that person is very beautiful, then whatever we see as the opposite of that beauty, we are gonna say that is ugly. That's what Lao Tzu is saying. In the same light, there is only good because there is evil. Both have to coexist. The opposite of good is evil and the opposite of evil is good. Both are required. So when we say that a certain thing is a good action. So for example, helping somebody eliminate their poverty is a good action. Therefore, bringing poverty to others is an evil action. The first stanza that leads to the second stanza that both being and non being produce each other, when there is being, there will also be non being when there is non being, there will be being, we can see this as Nirguna and Saguna or Formless and form. Nirakaar and Akaar. So they both produce each other. There's no duality between the two. For example, for existence, there needs to be non-existence prior. Difficulty is born in the easy, and this is true also that if you find something easy, then you're also gonna find something difficult. And likewise, even if you find something difficult, eventually you'll find it easy after practice. So even the difficulty becomes easy and sometimes what we found easy may end up becoming difficult. For example, if we get paralysis in the hands before when eating used to be easy with our right hand, now it becomes difficult. And then again Lao Tzu continues with long is defined by short and the high by low, these are self-explanatory, but emphasizing that the opposites of a thing require each other. You can't have one without the other when it comes to the nature of things. So the nature of opposites is the nature of existence. There's no need to feel any duality or have any resistance about it. It is the nature of things. Long is defined by short and the high by low. Before and after also go along with each other, this can mean two things that the past and future go alongside each other and they find their place in the present. The other aspect is that what we think is the past is really the future because the reactions of the past appear in the future. Or the future is really the past because the past decisions pave the way for the future. Then Lao Tzu talks about the Sage. Now, first of all, the Sage doesn't have to be some special spiritual person. It can be a totally normal person who acts just like you and me. So this is something we need to understand. There's a normality when it comes to the Sage, especially in Daoism. So don't think of the Sage as someone high up, you know, living in the mountains or someone who understands the scriptures completely, that's just not the definition of the Sage. That's one aspect of the Sage. The Sage is someone that truly imbibes the nature of reality. It's truly in the Formless Awareness and has completely understood itself as the Formless Awareness or the Tao. Now the Sage, the Rishi that is termed in sanskrit seems to live in these lives of the opposites yet, they're totally comfortable with the opposites. Some see the Sage do good and some say it's evil. Some say the Sage lives in the future. Some say the Sage lives in the past, but the Sage lives openly. They're an open book. They live freely and they're open to praise. They're open to criticism. They're not closed to anything. And even though they appear to act in duality, but in the next line, Lao Tzu says apparent duality and paradoxical unity. So despite what seems to be duality or the pair of opposites as the Sage lives their life and responds in the transactional or relative reality, there is unity in everything they're doing and everything that they perceive is that they can see that inherent oneness. While when we see two, they see only the Tao, they only see Formless Awareness and that is the paradoxical unity. We cannot understand the subtlety of this paradox. If we do not understand what the Tao is. So this also leads to that the Sage can act without any effort because their actions carry no burden of the past and no anxiety about the future. So they no longer think about the past and no longer think about the future. They spontaneously respond to life. What's really interesting here is the Sage can teach without words and that's true. Silence is the best language to communicate deep spiritual teachings. And you know, most of the time, you know, I reflect upon my relationship with my teacher. It was my Guru's warm and gentle silence coupled with the smile that taught me the most. And the silent acknowledgement of progress in spirituality was what really helped me more and sometimes it was a word with a hug that spoke more to me than reading scriptures because the Sage, the Guru has a quality, which is beyond measurement of any kind. And that's really true. Understand that silence can also be the teaching and never ignore the silence of the Sage. The Sage will always look after something. They will nurture it, take care of it like a disciple, but will never possess the disciple. They will always nurture the disciple. They will guide the disciple towards freedom, towards the disciple understanding their own true nature. They will never own the disciple. In fact, if the Sage is free, then so is the disciple as a natural byproduct. The disciple will end up becoming the Sage because of the Sage's nature to nurture and allow them to grow and prosper into their own self. If a Guru constantly just creates disciples, but does not turn them into gurus, then the whole teaching has been missed. The Sage works, but not for rewards. There is no reward that the Sage is looking for. There is nothing for the Sage to gain. What can the Sage gain that it does not already have. Once you have the Tao, there's nothing more to have. That is the Ultimate achievement. There's no reward and we can apply this to the Bhagavad Gita, where we've not anticipating the results for any actions we do. This is something that we can also understand when Lao Tzu says that he works, but not for rewards. There's no praise that the Sage is looking for. So the Sage competes, but not for results meaning the Sage has the determination to beat their own ego, but they don't do it just for the result of beating the ego. It's just a natural process and that's the way they see it. So the final stanza is very, very beautiful and that's the one that I think is just something to really think about. That when the work is done, it is forgotten. So once the Sage fulfills a task, when the disciple is nurtured and now a strong tree alongside the Sage stands tall, then the Sage forgets the disciple as the disciple forgets its former egoic self. Therefore, if the egoic self was just an illlusion and the ignorance was removed then what work can the Sage claim for itself? So understand when the work is done, it is forgotten. When the disciple is fully nurtured and becomes the Sage itself, becomes a tree right next to the Sage, as tall ,as majestic, the Sage forgets about its work. The Sage does not care because what has been done has been done. And the Ultimate last line, which is really important is this is why it lasts forever, doing something without return, so selflessly, it does stay forever and becomes woven into the fabric of the universe, into the fabric of the 10,000 things. So this verse really is about the harmony of the opposites and then how the Sage utilizes this harmony to rise above into non-dual action or into Karma Yoga. So imagine what we've learned today is literally Gyana Yoga and Karma Yoga and if we use Raja Yoga to meditate upon this, we will really excel. These two verses have shown us so much in terms of how to practice this wisdom. And that's why when we do something, when we commit to an action that frees ourselves from praise and criticism, that takes us away from feeling more like the identity of the name and form. We do actions, which last for an eternity, and that's the way we need to be. That is the way of the Dao. This is the end of the episode. Please do share this podcast with your friends and family who may enjoy this content. Do follow me on social media to keep getting updates, subscribe to the monthly the Bearded Mystic newsletter. Join the Bearded Mystic Podcast Discord server, the details for all those are in the show notes and video description below. If you would like to support the Bearded Mystic Podcast, do check out the podcast's Patreon page, or you can also, subscribe to the Apple Subscriptions on the podcast streaming app itself. The details are in the show notes and video description below. Please do rate and review the podcast on our website www.thebeardedmysticpodcast.com. Please do like, and comment on this video. If you're watching it on YouTube and do subscribe to this YouTube channel. Thank you very much for listening. We'll end with the Shanti mantra. Aum Shanti Shanti, Shanti, Aum, Peace, Peace, Peace. Namaste.