It’s no big surprise that the Daodejing (道德經) holds a much stronger grasp over Western imaginations than the Analects. Mystical ambiguities are a lot more fun to mull over than the moral absolutes that Confucius espoused.
They also force us to stretch our thoughts in different ways that, to me at least, are a long way out of our usual comfort zone. How can we deal with the paradox that the more we want something, the less likely we are to get it? Or that the moment we try to label something by giving it a name, we lose our instinctive understanding of its essence?
I won’t pretend to have any answers to these and the many other questions that the first chapter of the Daodejing opens up. For now, at least, I’ll just let go and enjoy the mystery.
The Way that can be talked about is not the eternal Way;
The Name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
In its intangible state, the Way is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
In its tangible state, the Way is the mother of all things.
It is only when the Way is in its intangible state that its essence can be contemplated;
It is only when the Way is in its tangible state that its manifestations can be seen.
Both originate from the same source but have different names;
Together they are called subtle and profound;
The most subtle and the most profound;
The gateway to its whole essence.