Derek, in your commentaries you seem quite certain about the meaning of the passages, but isn’t the Tao supposed to be mysterious and unknowable? Is it not true that the ancient sages embraced uncertainty and ambiguity to allow for many interpretations? How can you be so sure?


The Tao is indeed mysterious and unknowable, but that does not prevent Tao sages from expressing life principles with clarity. If this seems difficult to grasp, then consider that the Grand Unified Theory is still the great unsolved problem in physics, and yet scientists can still use Newtonian equations to deliver answers that are clear and precise enough to send astronauts to the Moon and back.

The truth is ancient sages saw great value in clarity. They observed how muddy water, if left undisturbed, would gradually become clear. This simple observation of nature informed them that clarity must be a natural state, and it must be linked to tranquility. What was true for a pool of muddy water would be just as true to a chaotic mind. Thus, the cultivators who attain higher levels of the Tao, the ones who have mastered peace and quietness, would think and express themselves far more clearly than most people.

It is also for this reason that the Tao Te Ching was in fact written to be a lucid, crystal clear expression of the Tao. The uncertainty and ambiguity we see today come not from the original text, but from the many wildly different translations out there. Most of them claim to be definitive, when in fact they only disturb the water, making it more muddy than ever.

It is important for us to realize that the image of the ancient sages speaking in riddles is only a stereotype. Those who assert that all interpretations of the Tao Te Ching are equally valid are really saying that they themselves are lacking in basic understanding. Unlike them, we have a task before us. We need to connect with the lucidity and clarity of the original. We, too, can be the muddy water settling down, gradually becoming clear… and gradually allowing the golden rays of the sun to shine through.


Derek Lin
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