The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
You can't express reality in words. You limit it that way. You squeeze it into nouns and verbs and adjectives, and the instant-by-instant Xow is cut oV. The tao that can be told isn't the eternal Tao, because trying to tell it brings it into time. It's stopped in time by the very attempt to name it. Once anything is named, it's no longer eternal. "Eternal" means free, without limit, without a position in time or space, lived without obstacle.
There's no name for what's sitting in this chair right now. I am the experience of the eternal. Even with the thought "God," it all stops and manifests in time, and as I create "God," I have created "not-God." You can substitute anything here--with the thought "tree," I create "tree" and "not-tree"; the mechanism is the same. Before you name anything, the world has no things in it, no meaning. There's nothing but peace in a wordless, questionless world. It's the space where everything is already answered, in joyful silence.
In this world before words, there is only the real--undivided, ungraspable, already present. Any apparently separate thing can't be real, since the mind has created it with its names. When we understand this, the unreal becomes beautiful, because there's nothing that can threaten the real. I don't ever see anything separate called "tree" or "you" or "I." These things are only imagination, believed or unbelieved.
Naming is the origin of all the particular things that make up the world of illusion, the dream world. To break oV part of the everything and name it "tree" is the Wrst dream. I call it "Wrst-generation thinking." Then thought begets thought, and we have "tall tree, beautiful tree, tree that I want to sit under, tree that would make good furniture, tree that I need to save," and the dream goes on and on. It takes a child just a moment to fall into the dream world, the dream of a world, when she Wrst connects word with thing. And it takes you just a moment to question it, to break the spell and be grateful for the Tao of everything--tree, no tree; world, no world.
When the mind believes what it thinks, it names what cannot be named and tries to make it real through a name. It believes that its names are real, that there's a world out there separate from itself. That's an illusion. The whole world is projected. When you're shut down and frightened, the world seems hostile; when you love what is, everything in the world becomes the beloved. Inside and outside always match--they're reXections of each other. The world is the mirror image of your mind.
Not believing your own thoughts, you're free from the primal desire: the thought that reality should be diVerent than it is. You realize the wordless, the unthinkable. You understand that any mystery is only what you yourself have created. In fact, there's no mystery. Everything is as clear as day. It's simple, because there really isn't anything. There's only the story appearing now. And not even that.
In the end, "mystery" is equal to "manifestations." You're just looking from a new perspective. The world is an optical illusion. It's just you, crazed and miserable, or you, delighted and at peace. In the end, "desire" is equal to "free from desire." Desire is a gift; it's about noticing. Everything happens for you, not to you.
I have questioned my thoughts, and I've seen that it's crazy to argue with what is. I don't ever want anything to happen except what's happening. For example, my ninety-year-old mother is dying of pancreatic cancer. I'm taking care of her, cooking and cleaning for her, sleeping beside her, living in her apartment twenty-three hours a day (my husband takes me out for a walk every morning). It has been a month now. It's as if her breath is the pulse of my life. I bathe her, I wash her in the most personal places, I medicate her, and I feel such a sense of gratitude. That's me over there, dying of cancer, spending my last few days sleeping and watching TV and talking, medicated with the most marvelous painkilling drugs. I am amazed at the beauty and intricacies of her body, my body. And the last day of her life, as I sit by her bedside, a shift takes place in her breathing, and I know: it's only a matter of minutes now. And then another shift takes place, and I know. Our eyes lock, and a few moments later she's gone. I look more deeply into the eyes that the mind has vacated, the mindless eyes, the eyes of the no-mind. I wait for a change to take place. I wait for the eyes to show me death, and nothing changes. She's as present as she ever was. I love my story about her. How else could she ever exist?
A man sticks a pistol into my stomach, pulls the hammer back, and says, "I'm going to kill you." I am shocked that he is taking his thoughts so seriously. To someone identiWed as an I, the thought of killing causes guilt that leads to a life of suVering, so I ask him, as kindly as I can, not to do it. I don't tell him that it's his suVering I'm thinking of. He says that he has to do it, and I understand; I remember believing that I had to do things in my old life. I thank him for doing the best he can, and I notice that I'm fascinated. Is this how she dies? Is this how the story ends? And as joy continues to Wll me, I Wnd it miraculous that the story is still going on. You can never know the ending, even as it ends. I am very moved at the sight of sky, clouds, and moonlit trees. I love that I don't miss one moment, one breath, of this amazing life. I wait. And wait. And in the end, he doesn't pull the trigger. He doesn't do that to himself.
What we call "bad" and what we call "good" both come from the same place. The Tao Te Ching says that the source of everything is called "darkness." What a beautiful name (if we must have a name)! Darkness is our source. In the end, it embraces everything. Its nature is love, and in our confusion we name it terror and ugliness, the unacceptable, the unbearable. All our stress results from what we imagine is in that darkness. We imagine darkness as separate from ourselves, and we project something terrible onto it. But in reality, the darkness is always benevolent.
What is the "darkness within darkness"? It's the mind that doesn't know a thing. This don't-know mind is the center of the universe--it is the universe--there's nothing outside it. The reason that darkness is the gateway to all understanding is that once the darkness is understood, you're clear that nothing is separate from you. No name, no thought, can possibly be true in an ultimate sense. It's all provisional; it's all changing. The dark, the nameless, the unthinkable--that is what you can absolutely trust. It doesn't change, and it's benevolent. When you realize this, you just have to laugh. There's nothing serious about life or death.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
When they believe their thoughts, people divide reality into opposites. They think that only certain things are beautiful. But to a clear mind, everything in the world is beautiful in its own way.
Only by believing your own thoughts can you make the real unreal. If you don't separate reality into categories by naming it and believing that your names are real, how can you reject anything or believe that one thing is of less value than another? The mind's job is to prove that what it thinks is true, and it does that by judging and comparing this to that. What good is a this to the mind if it can't prove it with a that? Without proof, how can a this or a that exist?
For example, if you think that only Mozart is beautiful, there's no room in your world for rap. You're entitled to your opinion, of course, but other people think that rap is where it's at. How do you react when you believe that rap is ugly? You grit your teeth when you hear it, and when you have to listen (maybe you're a parent or a grandparent), you're in a torture chamber. I love that when mind is understood, there's room for rap as well as for Mozart. I don't hear anything as noise. To me, a car alarm is as beautiful as a bird singing. It's all the sound of God. By its very nature, the mind is inWnite. Once it has questioned its beliefs, it can Wnd beauty in all things; it's that open and free. This is not a philosophy. This is how the world really is.
If you believe that anyone's action is bad, how can you see the good in it? How can you see the good that comes out of it, maybe years later? If you see anyone as bad, how can you understand that we are all created equal? We're all teachers by the way we live. A blind drunk can teach more about why not to drink than an abstinent man in all his piety. No one has more or less goodness. No one who ever lived is a better or a worse human being than you.
A mind that doesn't question its judgments makes the world very small and dangerous. It must continue to Wll the world with bad things and bad people, and in doing so it creates its own suVering. The worst thing that ever happened exists only in the past, which means that it doesn't exist at all. Right now, it's only a stressful thought in your mind.
Good things, bad things; good people, bad people. These opposites are valid only by contrast. Could it be that whatever seems bad to you is just something you haven't seen clearly enough yet? In reality--as it is in itself--every thing, every person, lies far beyond your capacity to judge.
Once you no longer believe your own thoughts, you act without doing anything, because there's no other possibility. You see that all thoughts of yourself as the doer are simply not true. I watch the hand that I call mine move toward the teacup. It has such intelligence, glides through the air so purposefully, arrives at the cup, Wngers close around the handle, hand lifts cup, brings it to the lips, tilts it, tea Xows into mouth, ahh. And all the time, no one is doing it. The doer is quite another, the one beyond the story of "I am."
Things seem to arise, and the Master lets them go because they're already gone. This apparent letting-go is not some saintly act of surrender. It's just that nothing ever belonged to her in the Wrst place. How could she not let go of what doesn't exist except as the story of a past or a future?
She has only what she believes herself to have, so she has nothing, she needs nothing. She acts and waits for the miracle of what is, expecting nothing that would spoil the surprise. When her work is done, she forgets it, because there's nothing to remember. It's done. It's gone. She can't see what doesn't exist. Was her work good or bad? How ridiculous! Did it penetrate deeply or have no eVect whatsoever? As if that were any of her business! Will it last forever? Did it last even for an instant?
and everything will fall into place.
If you overesteem great men, you can't recognize the greatness within yourself. Any quality that you esteem in others is what you see, after all, and what you see comes from you. You undervalue yourself when you displace it and separate it from its origin. Admire Jesus' compassion or the Buddha's wisdom all you want, but what good can their qualities do you until you Wnd them in yourself?
The mind is always looking for value. When it projects qualities away from itself, it robs itself of its own value. It starts traveling out of itself to Wnd what it thinks it lacks, and its travels are endless, and it can never Wnd its home.
The Master leads simply by being. "Being" looks like doing the dishes, answering the phone and the e-mail, shopping, going to work, driving the kids to school, feeding the dog, doing one thing at a time, without a past or future. She doesn't empty people's minds. She doesn't have to (even if that were possible). The way she helps people is by living out of don't-know, can't-know, no-need-to-know, not-possible-to-know, nothing-to-know. People are attracted to a life lived with such weightlessness, such lightness of heart. They begin to notice where they are, who they are, looking into the living mirror without their stressful thoughts.
I'm preparing a salad. I see Xashes of colors. My hands begin to reach for what calls out to me. Red! and I reach for the beets. Orange! and I reach for the carrots. Green! and my hands move to the spinach. I feel the textures, I feel the dirt. Purple! and I move to the cabbage. All of life is in my hands. There's nothing lovelier than preparing a salad, its greens, reds, oranges, purples, crisp and juicy, rich as blood and fragrant as the earth. I move to the countertop. I begin to slice.
Just when I think that life is so good that it can't get any better, the phone rings and life gets better. I love that music. As I walk toward the phone, there's a knock at the door. Who could it be? I walk toward the door, Wlled with the given, the fragrance of the vegetables, the sound of the phone, and I have done nothing for any of it. I trip and fall. The Xoor is so unfailingly there. I experience its texture, its security, its lack of complaint. In fact, the opposite: it gives its entire self to me. I feel its coolness as I lie on it. Obviously it was time for a little rest. The Xoor accepts me unconditionally and holds me without impatience. As I get up, it doesn't say, "Come back, come back, you're deserting me, you owe me, you didn't thank me, you're ungrateful." No, it's just like me. It does its job. It is what it is. The Wst knocks, the phone rings, the salad waits, the Xoor lets go of me--life is good.
From the Hardcover edition.