"The Way that can be walked is not the eternal Way."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 1
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
The Way that can be walked is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of all things.
Free from desire you see the mystery.
Full of desire you see the manifestations.
These two have the same origin but differ in name.
That is the secret,
The secret of secrets,
The gate to all mysteries.
It's All Real
Lao Tzu begins his writing about Tao, the Way, by
stating that the written word cannot fully encompass the real
thing. The workings of the Way are hidden behind what we
can observe. It was present at the dawn of time and the birth
of the universe, but it's visible only through what has
been created out of it, in accordance with it: the whole world
and all its creatures. Tao is the Way the universe works.
But that also means it can be understood by
observing what can be observed: the manifestations. When we
indulge in the world as we perceive it, we might be blinded by
the splendor and magnitude of it all, but we do witness
the workings of the Way, which is the principle behind it.
We don't see the interior, but the surface. Still, its shape
reveals a lot about what it covers.
If we want to see beneath the surface, into what
really makes up the world, we have to detach ourselves from
the attraction of that surface. When we distance ourselves
from the world as if we are not at all part of it, then we can
see through it. The mystery of its true nature becomes evident.
This is like an echo of Buddhism, although preceding
it. Truth is revealed to the one who detaches himself from
the world, not tempted by anything in it and not distracted
by any of its phenomena.
Because we allow ourselves to be consumed by
the world, we can't see it clearly. If we cease to look at the
world for what we hope or fear that it will be to us, then we
can see what it really is – its true nature, which is the Way.
But we don't have to see through the world to
manage living in it. The manifestation is an expression of the
Way, so it's as real and essential as the Way itself. Like the
two sides of a coin. The world can be understood from its
surface as well as from its interior. The descriptive words
will differ, but the world and its workings remain the same.
The surface is just as real as what lies beneath it.
They reveal one another. None exists without the other, so
none is superior or inferior.
We tend to think in opposites – light or dark, high or
low, hot or cold, and so on. That's fine as a method of
getting acquainted with the world and beginning to
understand how it works. But when we make judgments, calling
one opposite good and the other bad, we are mistaken.
They complement and depend on each other. Even when one
of them seems obviously superior, neglecting the other is
Many belief systems praise the spirit and condemn
the body, but the latter is the vessel of the former. They
depend on each other. A spirit without a body cannot act, nor can
a body without spirit. The Taoist treats each according to
its nature. Both of them need concern and
nourishment. Whichever one is neglected, both will suffer.
The unity of surface and interior also tells us that
we should not make them contradict. If you pretend to be
something that you are not, then your outside and inside are
in conflict. Somewhere along the way you will break.
They don't need to be exactly the same. They cannot, since
they differ in nature. But they are companions on one and
the same path. A human being is a whole, walking one way.
If this whole is divided, for whatever reason, you will
halt. You get nowhere.
When we accept that the mystery and the
manifestations mirror each other, the secret is revealed. We can
understand all. What you see is what you get, but you have
to truly see it for what it is.
The manifestations become clear when you
observe them with delight. The mystery appears when you
detach yourself from the world and empty your mind. You will
discover their unity: something and nothing embrace, and
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained.
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I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.