Of the tens of millions down the ages who have had read the Tao Te Ching or have heard of Tao, it could be fair to say that less than half would aspire to be scholars by trying to cultivate the Way. Of those who cultivate Tao, both the philosophical and mediocre scholars - those who tend to waver in their beliefs – would form the majority of these aspirants and who would either make little headway in the cultivation and/or drop out halfway.
This leaves the minority to persevere through thick and thin in the lengthy and demanding process to become top scholars of Tao. And of these first class scholars who travel on the magical far journey, only a relative few - the Zhen Ren or realized persons - could attain or have attained Tao to become Celestial Immortals or Buddhas.
Anyone who has had read Chapter One of the Tao Te Ching would be equally mystified on the one hand and on the other hand seemed to be able to grasp something of what Laozi had wanted to say. The first four verses of the chapter probably count among the most discussed online topics on Tao. What with the more than a hundred translations of Chapter One made available on the World Wide Web. So what is one more?
Tao Te Ching Chapter One
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao,
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
Nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth;
Named is the mother of myriad things.
Without desire observe the mysterious,
With desire contemplate the manifestations.
These two things are similar,
Only differing names for the profound.
Obscure and profound; (there will be) numerous mysterious gates.
[Translated by Allan Lian]
Since most readers of the ancient classic have already formed their own opinions on the first four verses, and to avoid endless contention, it would be better to discuss in brief the remaining five verses which deal with direct experiences obtainable through the diligent practice of the Circulation of the Light.
Many theories have also been propounded for these remaining five verses of Chapter One and especially on the Mysterious Gate(s).
Therefore what is to be discussed would differ much from those who had used their intellect – whether or not they are scholars, translators, Sinologists, or the deluded – to explain these particular verses.
In my translation of Chapter One, Wu - the pinyin for the Chinese – that appear in the fifth verse has been translated as ‘Without’. And You – the pinyin for another Chinese word - that appear in the sixth verse has been translated as ‘With’. Wu and You happen to be direct opposites; and have different connotations depending on the context and the chapters of the Tao Te Ching in which they are written or used.
For example, the whiz-kid Wang Bi of the late Han had had aptly determined that Wu means Non Being while You means Being in the context and particular chapter where they both have appeared; but these meanings do not apply to Chapter One. (Theorists and ardent followers of Wang Bi could do well to take note of this, lest they implicitly use these meanings in Chapter One and try to mislead others.)
To understand the Tao Te Ching is difficult, to penetrate (tong) this ancient classic would be nigh impossible without spiritual clarity (Shen Ming) and direct experiences.
To be continued.