02020-08-06 | Uncategorized | 4 comments

I am fascinated by the idea that something can look very different depending on where we stand. There is the old story of freaking out in the middle of the night because one sees a snake in the bedroom, but after turning on a light one realizes immediately that it was just a rope. Then there is the Tao Te Ching, that 2,500 year old book by master Lao. (((Lao Tzu or Laozi… Tzu or zi means master… hence master Lao and master Chuang/Zhuang)))

I bought my first copy of the book in my early twenties and since then I have looked at many more. It has been translated so many times and all the translations are different! Some translations have been made by people who don’t speak Chinese, represented here by Ursula Le Guin and Stephen Mitchell, others by Chinese speaking folks who are not native English speakers. It seems that the text is some kind of diamond and the shape the diamond takes on depends on the angle of the light and the position of the eye that beholds it.

Are there equivalent works of art that you have looked at, or listened to, many times and which, over time, have changed for you?

Take a look at the first chapter as translated by four different authors.

The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.

Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.

So the unwanting soul
sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.

Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.

Ursula Le Guin

TAO called TAO is not TAO.
Names can name no lasting name.

Nameless: the origin of heaven and earth.
Naming: the mother of ten thousand things.

Empty of desire, perceive mystery.
Filled with desire, perceive manifestations.

These have the same source, but different names.
Call them both deep—
Deep and again deep:
The gateway to all mystery.

Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Stephen Mitchell

Tao may be spoken of, but it is not the Truthful Tao.
Names may be named, but they are not the Truthful Names.

At the beginning, the myriad things are undifferentiated;
After being born, the myriad things are differentiated.

In the Truthful Undifferentiated State,
we observe subtle appearance of the individual myriad things;
In the Truthful Differentiated State,
we also observe the fading of the boundaries between the myriad things.

Both states appear simultaneously,
as Different manifestations of the same (Tao).

Profound upon profound,
They are the gateways to all mysteries.
– Wayne L. Wang


  1. Melissa Madere

    The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.

    Everything in the Universe comes out of Nothing *

    Nothing – the nameless- is the beginning;
    While Heaven, the mother is the creatrix of all things.

    Follow the nothingness of the Tao,
    and you can be like it, not needing anything,
    seeing the wonder and the root of everything.

    And even if you cannot grasp this nothingness,
    you can still see something of the Tao in everything.

    These two are the same,
    only called by different names
    – and both are mysterious and wonderful.

    All mysteries are Tao, and Heaven is their mother.
    She is the gateway and the womb-door.

    Man-Ho Kwok
    Martin Palmer
    Jay Ramsay

    Ottmar, not only has your music changed for me over time, but it’s made a profound change within me over time (Slow, a life-giving experience I’ll remember the rest of my days.) Like the earth’s tectonic plates, I have sudden massive shifts of awareness after long periods of glacier-SLOW movement.

    I’ve always fought the notion of having a “teacher” believing that what I need to know can only be found within…twice in two years my tectonic shift has occured under your influence, and I find that I’m a better version of myself for the fact.

    Thank you.

  2. JaneParhamKatz

    Ottmar, dear soul/spirit brother.

    “Mystery of all mysteries!
    The door to the hidden.”

    Thank you for this today. I have not read Tao Te Ching for a while. I’m back in it. Can you read it in Chinese?

    Something is on my mind, a wonderful thing. About music. There you see the little black notes on paper, or the wood and strings of a guitar, or the ivory and black keys of a piano, or even 100 people sitting in front of a conductor, each with their instrument and sheet music. Mystery – how does music come out of all these things? – “The door to the hidden.” Music itself must reside in Spirit, intangible but deeply felt. An artist feels this and is able to master and persuade his chosen medium into an expression of this music.

    How many times have you listened to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? For me, hundreds of times. Well, I was at a London Symphony concert conducted by Georg Solti. I heard this music as if I had never heard it before. The audience felt it, too, because after the final, wonderful chord, we all screamed and leapt to our feet, no decision – just spontaneously. We clapped, screamed, bravo’ed for at least 10 minutes. Practically any performance of this work is enjoyable, beautiful, exciting, but what door had Mr. Solti taken us all through?

  3. JaneParhamKatz

    Now I’m seeing kitty outside your window. Is it a cat or a rock?

  4. Will

    I think music/albums always tie me to a time period and brings back memories, so no real evolution of lens with music for me.

    I think where I see most change in perspective is in books. You can read a book 3-4 times in your life and you will have a different lens each time.

    Paintings for me are tied to moods in which they elicit internal change (happy, sad, confusion, rebellion etc.) but do offer a different lens depending on my current state of mind.


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