Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.
Its rising brings no dawn,
its setting no darkness;
it goes on and on, unnameable,
returning into nothingness.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.
Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can’t know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realise where you came from:
this is the essence of wisdom.
Try describing the indescribable! Where do you even begin? Here Lao Tzu again provides some pointers to that which he has labelled “the Tao”, but which he again stresses is actually nameless and beyond all conception and grasping.
Like the Buddha, who often used negative terminology in order to prevent people from projecting concepts onto that which is far beyond conceptualisation, Lao Tzu demonstrates that the ultimate truth is far beyond our ability to ‘capture’ with thoughts and beliefs. To even try would be like trying to catch water in a sieve; the two just don’t – and can’t – mesh.
The words of this verse will be meaningless, perhaps even ‘stupid’ and ‘pointless’ unless the perceiver has a certain degree of openness and has the ability to step beyond the mind-stream, if only for a few seconds. Because, as this verse states, you can’t understand it, you can only be it.
Being goes far beyond thought. Awareness of the vast and intangible realm of the Tao can only happen when we are able to step beyond the surface ripples of thought and immerse ourselves in the still, deep river of being – even if only for a few seconds before the gravity of thought pulls us to the surface again. Even then, we can ask ourselves “what is the source of these thoughts?” What is the source of our attention, our awareness? What is this consciousness in which all external phenomena are made manifest? What is it? Where did it originate?
No words or concepts can provide us with these answers. They can only be known by being the knowing. The “essence of wisdom” is knowing “where you came from”.
No one can answer that for you. Can you sit in silence and find the answer for yourself...and then resist the urge to conceptualise it? This is the “returning” that later verses speak of.