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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.

Line 1  視之而弗見名之曰微

Line 2  聽之而弗聞名之曰希     Line 3  㨉之而弗得名之曰夷

Line 4  三者不可至計


Line 5  一者其上不收其下不忽

Line 6  尋尋呵不可名也


Line 7   是胃无狀之狀


Line 8   隋而不見其後


Line 9  執今之道以御今之有

Line 10 以知古始是胃道紀


What is


     We've all heard someone refer to the “Oneness of all things.” It is a common enough phrase in Eastern traditions as well as some newer Western religious movements and self-help teachings. When we hear it, we may nod our agreement. It is a comforting thought.

     But is it so?  When we look out  the window we see the world as many separate things—people, trees, animals, blades of grass—what Lao Tzu calls the “10,000 things.”


     So where is this Oneness that we hear about?

     The fact is that no one has ever seen Oneness. Or felt it, tasted it, heard it, or smelled it. It is obvious why: Our senses only operate in “two's,” in duality: There is always 1) a person who is sensing something and 2) the thing which he or she senses. So, “I” touch the “keyboard,” and there are two. “I” taste the “apricot,” and again there are two.  It’s a fact that whatever I experience is necessarily not me. Where is Oneness?

     It is the same with our thinking about "One."  In consciousness, there are always two: 1) a person, and 2) what thing the person is thinking about. Again, duality abounds.

     Some scholars and philosophers explain the “Oneness of all things” as the “interconnectedness” or “interdependence” of everything. That is an easy enough concept for our minds to hang onto. But Lao Tzu would disagree.

     If we look back to Lesson 1, which is Lao Tzu’s central chapter, we see that he describes the Way as “nameless,” “the origin,” and the mystery—in other words, as beyond knowing in the ordinary sense of "knowing." But then in the next breath Lao Tzu describes also the Way differently—as the “named,” “mother,” and the “10,000 things—in other words, as the many individual things around us.

     What he says next is astounding. It also happens to sum up all of Lao Tzu’s teachings.

These “two's” are actually the Same.

Although they come forth to us with different names,

they are the same "Way" [lit. 'same speech'].

兩 者 同 出 異 名 同 胃

     According to Lao Tzu, the Way is One and at the same time the Way is the many things in our world. Put a little differently, each of us, and each thing, is a unique appearance of the Way. The Way is right now expressing itself as each thing and each person in our world.

     Then why don't we feel it? And why don't we know it?  Lao Tzu gave us the answer in the previous lesson. It is because we regard the "me" we reflect upon in our heads, as who we are. But that is no more reliable than the "me" we see reflected in the store window.

     How do we realize that One is right now coming forth as the many things, including us? There is no way, no path. But we can at least begin by wondering deeply whether the "me" we carry in our heads is all that authentic. Perhaps even challenge it, in the same way that scientists challenge the results from a study, in order to determine whether or not it is valid.

     We may discover that Lao Tzu is wrong-headed, and that the "me" in my head is the final and truest me, and there's no question about it. Or we may find something else.


     Each of Lao Tzu's lessons is either directly or indirectly about 聖人sagehood. The 聖shèng sagely 人rén person is one who--regardless of age, gender, education, occupation, or anything else-- courageously has let go of their "me" to discover what remains.  It is 自zì 然rán, or self-so-ness.

    The 聖shèng sage is a person who 執 holds to 一 One.

The sage holds fast to One,

and by this becomes a model to the world*



 So yes, there is Oneness. But not due to an “interconnectedness” or “interdependence” between things. Instead, each thing is itself a special coming forth or appearance of One, the Way. It is “special” because the Way has bestowed on each its unique qualities. The sage has discovered his or hers, and lives them out. This is to 无wú 為wéi , or "not do" anything of ourselves..

     As hard as we might try to grasp Oneness, we can't. Even our attempts to think about Oneness take place within the very Oneness that we seek.  Seeking Oneness is like our eyes searching the room to find themselves. What they are looking for is itself doing the looking. And, it can't be found in that manner.

     Though the Way, One, cannot be seen, heard, touched, or even thought about, it can be lived. That is precisely what this fine chapter is about.


*Lesson 22

Note also: That One comes forth as the 10,000 things, is also the insight of the first line of John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God."

To be "with," implies two. And to "be" implies One. Also, note the curious relationship between a "word" or "utterance" and the "speaker" of the "word." A words is wholly dependent upon the speaker, but at the same time appears to have a life independent of the speaker. Again:

These “two's” are actually the Same.

Although they come forth to us with different names,

they are the same Way [lit. 'same 胃 speech'].

. . . . . .

Click on each line number

 for Chinese-English interlinear

& commentary


Look for it,

and you won't see it.

Call it 'imperceptible.'



Listen for it,

and you won't hear it.

Call it 'soundless.'



Reach for it,

and you won't find it.

Call it 'intangible.'




These three are unfathomable.

Therefore they blend as one.




One cannot be fathomed

in its height or depth.


It is endless!

It is beyond description.

And it is ever

returning home, as no-thing.


We could say that it is

a shape with no shape,

or an image of no-thing

In other words,

the Way is simply imponderable.


Follow it, and you

won't see its back.

Face it, and you

won't see it's front.




Hold fast to the Way of the present

and by this

attend to affairs of the present.




Knowing the first beginnings
is called knowing

the continuity of the Way.


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