Tao

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One is naturally performing an exercise in futility when writing on Tao. The first rule, or rather, the first statement made about it in The Tao Teh Ching is that the Tao which can be named is not the ordinary Tao. But as the whole philosophy of Taoism is nothing if not an extended footnote on silence forsaken, allow me to continue in this tradition by offering up my exemplary futility to the wooly, jarring realm of personal speculation.

Where does one begin or end? Perhaps one place is as good as any, seeing how to speak of beginnings or endings would be to portend to capture the essence of a thing which, by definition, is not a thing at all and, as such, always evades us.

One will notice, after having studied the varied literature, that there is a stripped, bare metaphysic whose purity one will be tempted to approximate to the absolute core of other philosophies and religious traditions. This is certainly a path one might find it interesting to travel down, however, one does so at the peril of falling into the crude domain of provincial meaning, interpreted through various religious wings of Taoism and its appropriation into other folk religions. Unsatisfied by the pantheon and literalized cosmology of a more religious Taoism, one might wander into Zen or some light Hinduism, hoping they can satisfy the mind's need to possess concepts as objects. However, one would miss precisely what is so incredibly powerful, beautiful and wonderful about the Taoist philosophy (a philosophy which, far from exclusive, even echoes and shadows its way into other traditions and systems of thought).

People interested in Tao can't help but endlessly discuss it though they've been warned not to. What is it, they ask? The  impossible passtime of turning it into a system, a `belief,' of all things, only ends up being a useful tool to hide the Tao yet again, which it is already doing anyway. No one has come up with an adequate translation of the word,  but a great many have fancied that it means, at best, a sort of 'way.' But when we pair this translation with the fact that it is often spoken of as something one 'possesses,' we're already beyond the bounds of where our western minds would want to go.

It would seem that the frustration resulting from this evasion of meaning would weed out those for whom the very game can only be 'a thing' or an object, a concept.