The supreme void, the supreme ancestor, the ideal support - Tao
CHAPTER 4: SUTRA 1
CHARACTER OF TAO
THE TAO IS LIKE THE EMPTINESS OF A VESSEL; AND IN OUR EMPLOYMENT OF IT WE MUST BE ON OUR GUARD AGAINST ALL FULLNESS. HOW DEEP AND UNFATHOMABLE IT IS, AS IF IT WERE THE HONOURED ANCESTOR OF ALL THINGS; (OR LIKE THE FOUNTAINHEAD OF ALL THINGS).
Tao is emptiness, emptiness like the emptiness in the inside of a vessel.
When there is nothing filled within, then only is Tao attained. When the consciousness is empty, then only does the experience of Religion come. When the individual is no more, when he can say, "I am not", then only can he know God. Understand it this way: The more an individual is filled with his individuality, the lesser will he feel God and the more empty the individual, the more perfect will be the manifestation of God.
Take it this way: When it rains, the mountain tops remain empty and void for they are already full.
The lakes and the hollows quickly get filled for they are empty. Now the rain does not discriminate. It falls equally everywhere. But the mountains are so filled with themselves, that there is no space for anything else. All the waters therefore, run to the valleys and the lakes. This seems contradictory - that which is full, remains empty, whereas that which is empty, is filled up. The lake has only one quality - that it is empty and the mountains have only one disqualification - that they are full.
Lao Tzu says, "Religion is like an empty vessel." Tao is the other name for Religion, and he who wants to attain Religion has to guard himself against all fullness. This is a very strange thing - from all kinds of fullness. It is not that if the vessel is filled with gold, it will cause hindrance; if the vessel is filled with knowledge, that too will cause hindrance; if the vessel is filled with renunciation, that too will cause hindrance. Whatever be the contents, it will cause hindrance. The vessel must be empty.
But in life we are all busy trying to fill ourselves from all directions We feel life is meant for this purpose alone. Through some means, through some path, we try to be full and perfect. Parents tell their children, the preacher exhorts his listeners, the teachers tell their pupils and the Guru his disciples - "Will you let life go by like this? You were born imperfect will you die imperfect also? Do you not want to be perfect? You shall have lived in vain if you have not attained fullness. Attain something. Do not be empty."
And here is Lao Tzu who says that he who wants to attain Religion has to guard himself against all fulness. He has neither to become perfect nor remain imperfect. He has to become Empty. If we try to understand it this way, it will be easier:
Ordinarily, we are imperfect wherever we are. We are never empty, we are never full. Our being is imperfect, incomplete. We are always in-between - we are neither empty nor perfect. And this holds good for all of us and not a special few. Whoever and whatever is within Existence, are all in-between. On one side is the Emptiness and on the other is Perfection and we are in-between.
And the order of our arrangement is to progress from this midpoint towards perfection.
Lao Tzu says, "We have to proceed towards the Void from this mid-point." So all our efforts is towards perfection from this imperfection. The woe of our lives is this only, that there is no fulfillment anywhere: our love is imperfect, our knowledge is imperfect - nothing is perfect - and we long for fulfillment in any direction! Love should be so fulfilling that we do not long for more. We long for the feeling of fulfillment. But I tell you, that the more we try to fill ourselves, the more we become aware of the emptiness within. There is no fulfillment.
Therefore, the Age that is desirous and eager and restless for perfection, experiences emptiness to the same extent.
The West has become fully educated for the first time. The West has developed considerably in education for the first time in the history of the world. But strangely enough, the Western mind is filled with the feeling of emptiness at the same time. America has touched the peaks of wealth as no other nation has in the history of the world - it is almost up to the point of perfection. But this is only approximate perfection for there cannot be full perfection. When we look back at our poverty of the past we also feel we have made great headway towards developing wealth. You must understand the meaning of approximation. Perfect we cannot be, no matter where we are but if we take a jungle tribe - say the Adivasis of Bastar - and compare it to New York, then certainly New York has almost reached the point of perfection.
There is a story of a little boy who one day returned very jubilant from school. He had won a prize.
He had answered a question correctly. When his mother asked what the question was and what was his answer, he said, "The question, was 'How many legs does the cow have?' and I replied, 'Three'". The mother was shocked. "The cow has four legs, you silly boy!" She exclaimed. "That I also found out now," said the boy. "But the other boys said two and I said three, so I was nearer the truth. Therefore, I got the prize." This is the meaning of approximation.
If anyone has reached closest to perfection of wealth, then these proverbial three legs America has perfected. And now it is almost near the fourth leg. But the fourth leg cannot be for within the human situation it is not possible. Man's very being is imperfect, therefore whatever he does cannot be but imperfect. If I am imperfect, how can that which I do be perfect? It can be approximately nearer perfection when compared to something else. So with regard to wealth, America's vessel is almost
But the feeling of helplessness and misery that is rampant in America, is not found elsewhere.
All the thinkers of America are now studying one simple aspect of life - the feeling of emptiness, meaninglessness. Everything is meaningless and empty; nothing is full - and they are at the point of saturation of wealth!
What is the matter?
Man cannot be perfect. To be imperfect, is his destiny. The very manner of his being is such, that he will always remain imperfect, no matter where he be. An imperfect mind always tries for perfection. That too, is the destiny of man. There is agony in the imperfection. There is the feeling of worthlessness and inferiority and also of wretchedness and humiliation. So the endeavour for perfection arises out of this imperfection of being. And whatever arises out of imperfection can never be perfect The result will always be a by-product - imperfect.
It is 'I', who am imperfect, who is trying to be perfect. All my efforts will be imperfect. All my results will be defective for the effort as well as the result both came out of me. My actions cannot be bigger than myself. My accomplishment cannot go beyond me. They will all be within the boundary of my being. No singer can sing better than himself, no mathematician can solve problems as well as he can. Or can he?
Our actions come out from within our being. We cannot be better than ourselves, although we are for ever trying to be better than what we are. This only gives rise to melancholia The endeavour is great but the result is nil. The same imperfection stands out in the result. We go round and round and meet our own self! When the seeker is imperfect, whatever he attains will be imperfect. We cannot attain anything more than ourselves.
This is the condition. We are in the middle - imperfect, incomplete. The incomplete mind aspires to be perfect. From imperfection is born desire - the desire to be perfect. Remember, there is no desire for perfection in perfection. That is meaningless. It is in imperfection that the desire for perfection arises. The desire is always for the opposite. If we are poor, we aspire for riches. If we are ill, we long to be healthy. We are imperfect, so we strive to be perfect. Desires are all logical, reasonable.
It is natural that the desire for perfection should arise in an imperfect mind.
There cannot be any development in this direction for the imperfect can never become the perfect through any effort, any practice, any sadhana or any bodily effort. All sadhanas, all exercises evolve out of the imperfect and will always bear the stamp of imperfection.
If an imperfect man attains perfection then he was never imperfect for then, imperfection has no meaning.
This is the state of affairs. All man's efforts, all his endeavours - no matter in which direction - are all aimed at attaining perfection. But Lao Tzu says, "Be empty!" He says, "Be on guard against any thought of being perfect for that is the trap; that alone is the plague that destroys man." Therefore - understand yourself, understand that you are not to succumb to the lure of being perfect. Be empty, be a void and the wonder is, as soon as you become empty, you are filled, you are perfect! The void is the most perfect potential on this earth.
Take it this way: There is a pot filled with water. Can you visualise a pot that is filled with water in which you cannot add a further drop of water? We say the pot is full, but if one more drop can still be contained within it, we shall have to say it is not full. No matter how full a pot is, it is never fully full, for a drop more can always be added.
In the course of his travels, Nanak happened to reach a village where lived a fakir who it was known had reached perfection. Nanak sent word to him that he would like to meet him in order to know what sort of perfection was his. The fakir sent a cup filled with water to the brim, in answer to his request. Nanak placed a flower on top of the water and sent it back. The fakir came running to Nanak and fell at his feet. He said, "I thought I had reached perfection!" Nanak replied, "Whatever man does in order to be perfect, leaves some place unfilled, incomplete. However much he tries, a simple flower can still be accommodated in his filled cup. And a flower is no small thing!"
Now a filled pot always has place enough to take in a drop more of water but supposing the vessel is empty - can it be more empty? No. An empty vessel is absolutely empty. Had the fakir sent an empty vessel, Nanak would have found himself in difficulty, for it was impossible to empty it more!
The full can be filled yet more but the void cannot be emptied more. Therefore there is no perfection in saturation, in fullness, whereas in emptiness, perfection takes place. Emptiness is Perfect. Hence there is only one perfection in man's existence and that is, perfect emptiness - to be completely empty.
Therefore Lao Tzu says in this sutra that Tao is like an empty vessel - not a full vessel, mind you.
Therefore whoever has a longing for Religion or for Tao, should avoid all temptations of perfection of any kind. Ego will try to fulfill itself. The complete Sadhana of the Ego is, how to be perfect. Tao is attained by him who is empty - where the ego is completely annihilated.
Man can empty himself - and there is a reason for this. We may perhaps not attain what we do not have but we can certainly leave that which we already possess! We have no hold on that which we do not have but we have a complete hold on what we have. I have said before, that man is in the middle - on one side is the emptiness and on the other, perfection, fullness. Man is incomplete - some things he has, some things he has not. Now there are two ways. (1) If he attains also that which he does not have, he can become perfect. (2) If he lets go all that he already possesses, he will become empty. Now it is not certain that we will attain all that we do not have, for it is not m our hands; but it is entirely within our hands to discard what we possess. We have to take no one's help.
Now this is interesting: If you want to be perfect, you will have to pray to God - and it may still not be possible; but if you want to be empty you require no help from any God! Your own self is enough.
There is no need to ask. This is why prayers have no place in religions that are based on the order of emptiness. People like Buddha and Lao Tzu whose teachings are based on Emptiness, have given no credence to prayers. Prayers hold no meaning for them. There is nothing to be asked for, then who is to be prayed to and for what? We shall discard all that we have and be rid of it. In order to obtain what we do not have, we shall have to knock at someone's door, we shall have to put out our hands in supplication.
There is another thing worth considering: Time is required to acquire what we do not possess. For that which we do not have, is not likely to be attained this very day. It may be attained tomorrow or the day after or even in the next life. But what I have, can be left instantaneously. No time is required.
I can leave it today or tomorrow, it is all up to me and if I postpone it, then I alone am responsible for it. If I do not attain what I do not have, I am not responsible for not attaining it. It can be that in spite of all my efforts, I do not attain it.
You may wish the skies to enter your compound or the sun to be enclosed in your house but that would merely be your desires. For this to happen, depends on thousands of factors and not you alone. Therefore you have to ask for help.
There is no place for prayers in Lao Tzu. He says there is no question of prayers - just leave all that you have. There is another interesting factor and the mathematics thereof is worth noting.
Supposing a million rupees is the target for perfection. If I have ten rupees, my journey to the millionth rupee is going to be very long. If you have 90,000 rupees, your journey will be much shorter and if you need only Rs. 51 - to complete the figure, you are about to reach, whereas I am very far away from the target. The journey towards fulness does not make us equal for we each start with different amounts. Some have 10, some 10,000, yet another has 75,000 or even 95,000.
All these create differences in distance. And if we create differences in Perfection, then we do not consider all men to be equal.
Now if you have Rs. 99,999 and I have Rs. 1 and if we both want to proceed towards Emptiness, we can both go together. We are equals. I leave my rupee, you leave your rupees. I shall be empty, you shall be empty. Only the journey towards Emptiness has a quality of equality and no other.
So the Perfection-oriented communities can never be equal. Only those that proceed towards emptiness can be equal. Before Emptiness, Rs. S or Rs. 95,000 are both equal. I will renounce my Rs. 51 - and reach exactly where you will reach after renouncing your Rs. 95,000. It is not that you will attain a bigger emptiness and I a smaller one. Our Emptiness will be the same. The vessel that is full is emptied by overturning and the vessel that has only one drop, is also emptied by overturning. There will be no hierarchy in the emptiness of your vessel and mine. There is no one great or small. We shall be both - just empty.
But if you have an eye towards Perfection, then equality is not possible; it is absolutely impossible.
And then the journeys will be all different. Also it cannot be told when it will end. Time will be required and the religion that requires time to be attained, is also weakened by Time. It is but natural that such a religion does not remain unconditional for this religion has a time-limit.
If we were to understand it properly, such a religion becomes a time-product for it will arise according to time. Then such a religion cannot go beyond time, for that which is born through time, also dies in time. That which has its one extremity in Time cannot have its other extremity outside of time.
Emptiness however, can be instantaneous, this very moment - now. It is wrong to say instantaneous.
Actually, Emptiness happens outside of Time, whereas fulness happens within Time. The moment you are empty, you are outside of Time and it requires no time to become empty.
Therefore, when anyone went up to Lao Tzu and said, "I am a sinful man, I have committed many sins, how long will it take me to attain liberation?" and Lao Tzu would say, "You can be liberated here and now." Lao Tzu can say this for he knows you have not to be anything. Rather, you have to leave even that which you are!
Therefore Lao Tzu has not pondered over the question of how many years and how many lives it will take. He says, "Here and now." Therefore, the nirvana that Lao Tzu has talked about is 'Sudden Enlightenment.' It can take place this very minute. There is no question of losing even a minute but if you do not desire, it is a different matter. There is no other hindrance save yourself.
Lao Tzu says, "There is no other obstacle. If you yourself do not desire it, then it is a different matter.
There is no other hindrance. All else are excuses."
It will be difficult for the mind to understand that the postponement of liberation is our own evasion and not to attain nirvana, is also our own contrivance. No sin keeps us away. It is only we ourselves who do not desire it and hence seek explanations, to explain ourselves away. According to Lao Tzu, there is no intervention of time - be empty this moment, open your fists here and now!
Lao Tzu also says that fulfillment can never be peaceful. A half-filled vessel always makes a lot of sound. A vessel 3/4th filled also makes a sound. Lao Tzu says, "No matter how full the vessel is, it makes a sound." Only an empty vessel is silent - Why? You might argue that a vessel can be so full, there is no sound. But Lao Tzu says 'no'. He says if a vessel is full, one thing is proved that there are two things. One is the vessel and the other, its contents. And where there is duality, perfect serenity is impossible. So the person who is eager for perfection is filled with duality and hence the conflict continues.
Only the man who is established in Emptiness is outside of conflict for then there is no other. The vessel is empty, how can there be any sound? There is nothing to knock against the vessel.
Remember, in the advaita (the single), tranquility is possible for there is no 'other' to cause the conflict.
Where there are two, there is bound to be friction and it is interesting to note, it has its own ideology.
When you fill yourself with something, take it for certain. it cannot be yourself. Whatever you fill yourself with, will be different and apart from you, then be it wealth or knowledge or even God. And can you ever he at peace with the 'other'? Now the vessel cannot fill itself with itself. It has to be water or milk or poison or nectar - things other than itself. If the vessel wishes to be filled by itself, it will have to be empty - that is the only way. Or else, it will be filled with something. Then whatever name we give, makes no difference, although we tend to think that it does.
A well-known, priest went to meet Lincoln. He began to talk of high things like heaven and hell and God. "Could it be that these are mere names?" asked Lincoln. "Certainly not" replied the man.
Lincoln said, "May I ask you a question? How many legs does a cow have?" "What a question to ask a learned man like me, who talks only of heaven and hell? Well, if you insist, it has four legs,"
said the priest. "Suppose we include the tail as a limb, then how many legs would the cow have?"
Lincoln asked again. "Five", said the priest.
"That is your mistake", said Lincoln. "If you call the tail a leg, it does not become a leg. Your saying will make no difference, for the tail is a tail because it performs a specific function. Also legs are not legs merely in name, they too have a specific purpose, which the tail cannot fulfil. Your giving it a name, makes no difference." We live in the illusion of names. Man's greatest delusion is that of labelling things.
There is a Sufi story: A squirrel was sitting under a tree. A fox happened to pass by but the squirrel did not run away. "You foolish thing!" He said to the squirrel, "Aren't you afraid? Do you know I am a fox and I can break you in two?" "Have you any proof, any certificate to prove that you are a fox?"
asked the squirrel. The fox was shocked! Never had a lesser animal addressed him thus. Rather, they ran at the sight of him! He was terribly upset. He said, "Wait, I'll get you one."
The fox went to the lion and said, "Kindly give me a certificate. I have been insulted. An ordinary squirrel wants a testimony to prove my credentials!" This he told the lion, whereas within his mind, he was boiling. "This is an outrage," he said to himself. "Never has this happened in the history of animals!"? He took the certificate and went back to the squirrel, who was still waiting for him. He flourished the certificate on her face and then began to read aloud. "This is to certify that this is a fox and a very dangerous animal. The squirrel should beware of him....." and so on. He was so engrossed in reading his own praise that he dwelt longer on every word than was necessary. When he finished, he looked up to find that the squirrel was missing. She never returned.
When the fox went again to the lion, he found a deer standing next to the lion and asking him for proof that he was a lion. Now the fox wondered what the lion would do! Whom would he ask for a certificate?
The lion told the deer thus: "Look here! If I were hungry, you would not have had the leisure to ask me for a testimony and if I am not hungry, I do not care what you think."
The fox asked the lion, "Your Majesty, why did you not advise me to say thus to the squirrel? Why did you give me a certificate? I would have set that impudent creature right!" "But you never told me for whom you wanted the certificate. I thought some stupid human being had asked for it. I have noted of late that the animals of this jungle have also started indulging in the stupidities of human beings."
One of the basic follies of human beings, is this habit of naming, of labelling. Giving a thing a name makes it convenient to deal with. When a man says, "I fill myself with God", he forgets that this is duality, for it makes no difference with what you fill yourself. One thing is certain - you are filling the vessel with something. Then whether it is the world or whether it is God, whether it is love or whether it is prayer, it is immaterial. That is not you. You are the filler of that which is being filled in. Then whatever name you give to that which is being filled into you - whether liberation or the mundane world - makes no difference. The duality remains.
In fact, we can only be filled with 'the other'. If you want to be purely yourself, then there is no other way than becoming empty.
Therefore Lao Tzu says that Tao is like an empty vessel; and in its use, it is required that we are on guard against all kinds of perfections. If we want to make use of Religion, we have to beware of the chaos of all perfections. This requires a little pondering. We shall have to go a little deep into this word 'use'. If Religion is anything, it is the highest use of life. It is the most intrinsic interpretation of life. So if you want to make use of Tao, of Religion, Lao Tse gives only one advice - Be on guard against all types of perfections. Then the use of Religion will start. For no sooner a man becomes empty, Religion becomes active, dynamic. And as soon as a man is filled with something, Religion becomes inactive, it is pressed down.
But Religion is not destroyed.
There is empty space in this room. We fill this room up with so much furniture that there is no space left. What does this mean? Does this mean that the empty space is destroyed? Or does it mean that the empty space has been pushed out of the room and its place taken by the furniture? The empty space cannot go out of the room for the emptiness is not a thing that can go in or out. And where will it go? Outside the room there is already a lot of empty space. There is however, no empty space anywhere in the universe to accommodate this empty space. Then where will this empty space go?
Now another way of deducing that it has been destroyed is that we have filled the room with furniture hence the empty space is destroyed; but nothing can be destroyed - least of all emptiness. Objects can be destroyed but emptiness cannot be annihilated.
Emptiness means that which is not. How can that be annihilated? The presence of a thing is necessary in order to destroy it. Therefore no matter how much you fill up this room - you may fill it with cement completely - even then the emptiness remains where it was. It cannot move out, it cannot be destroyed. Then supposing we decide to stay within this room, would we have to bring back the emptiness? No, we have simply to remove the things that are in it. The empty space will be there where it was once again. Objects merely hide the empty space. Remove the objects and the empty space appears to view.
We also are like that. Emptiness is our nature. It is our religion, it is Tao. We keep on adding things to this emptiness, so much so, that it is completely smothered. It cannot do smothered though.
What is meant is, it is hidden from view. Then what is to be done? Lao Tzu says, "Be on guard against this desire of fullness." Leave the desire for fullness. Then what will you do? Throw out all the arrangements you have made towards this aim, with your own hands. The day you throw out all that is within you and become empty, you shall be in the state of the Tao.
And Tao is very active. Emptiness is a dynamic force. This emptiness is very useful.
Actually we make use of only the Emptiness. The meaning of the word 'use' is: as soon as a person becomes empty, he has with other things, thrown the incompleteness also out of him. He has not tried to be perfect (complete) for that requires to amass things, whereas he has thrown out everything. Now if he is not incomplete, what will you call him? He has thrown out all requisites of incompleteness, imperfection. Now he is not even imperfect. Then what will you say about such a man?
We use the word 'empty' so that the eye can begin to see emptiness. The day a man throws out everything within him, the day he gives up all planning for perfection and becomes absolutely empty, he becomes perfect. To be freed from incompleteness is to be perfect. This is the actual meaning.
One way is to unfold each imperfection and remove it bit by bit and become perfect, another way is to step out of the incompleteness, then what remains, is perfection.
This fullness, this perfection, is not yours for you will have passed away together with the things that were thrown out. That fullness is of the Absolute, the Aggregate. It is the fullness of God; and this God is very active and from Him arises all creativity. Then whether it is a seed bursting or a new star being born or whether it is a flower blooming or an individual being born - all the arrangement of this vast Universe accrues from the Supreme Emptiness. This Emptiness is all powerful. There is untold energy within it. In our effort to be perfect, we become beggars by our own hands. No sooner we become empty, we are blessed; we become the masters of the Supreme Wealth.
Therefore it is that Lao Tzu says, "IN ITS USE WE HAVE TO BE ON OUR GUARD AGAINST ALL FULLNESS."
Lao Tzu says again: "HOW IMPRESSIVE, HOW SOLEMN IS THIS EMPTINESS! HOW VAST AND FATHOMLESS IS THIS EMPTINESS! FOR SOOTH, IT IS THE SOURCE OF ALL MATTER!
EVERYTHING IS BORN OUT OF IT. OUT OF WHICH EVERYTHING HAS ARISEN, EVERYTHING HAS BEEN BORN - IT IS LIKE A REVERED ANCESTOR" - everyone's father, everyone's mother - "THE FOUNTAIN-HEAD OF ALL!"
Lao Tzu has used very strange words that seem contradictory. First he says "RELIGION IS LIKE AN EMPTY VESSEL." Then he says "HOW BOUNDLESS IT IS!" Now we estimate the depth of objects only. You cannot call an empty river fathomless. You can only call a very full river fathomless, when its waters can be measured. If we call a dry river fathomless, it would be foolish. But Lao Tzu calls just such a river fathomless - a river without any water - Why?
Now this is very interesting. Lao Tzu says, "The river that is full can be measured no matter how deep and unfathomable it be." We may find great difficulty in measuring it but it is measurable all the same. We will find its depth, for objects - matter - cannot be immeasurable. But the river that has no water is immeasurable - for how will you measure it? That which is not, cannot be measured whereas that which is, can be. Therefore a river filled with water is never unfathomable but a river without water becomes immeasurable.
Lao Tzu says, "No matter how full the vessel, it is not unfathomable. An empty vessel is unfathomable, for there is no way of measuring emptiness."
Even a very small emptiness cannot be measured, whereas the vast universe can be measured.
The Hindu philosophy has a term - 'MAYA'. It means - that which can be measured. This word does not mean illusion as is generally understood. It means - that which is measurable is maya. And since it can be measured, it is an illusion. That which can be measured, is not the Truth, for Truth is immeasur-able - it cannot be measured.
Lao Tzu says, "How unfathomable it is!" This needs to be pondered over for a person like Lao Tzu does not utter a single word without a reason. It is with great difficulty that they speak. Speaking is no pleasure for a person like Lao Tzu. It entails a lot of pain and difficulty for he who sets out to speak, is beyond all speech. Therefore they do not utter a single word that is meaningless.
Lao Tzu says, "How unfathomable." He should not have used the word 'how (much)' for with this, the measure starts. 'How (much)' suggests a measure. Then why does Lao Tzu use this word? If Lao Tzu says - 'immeasurable' it sounds logical, but he says, "How immeasurable!" and from here the measure starts. Think again - for Lao Tzu weighs each word he speaks. If Lao Tzu says, "This world is immeasurable," then you can turn round and say, "Then you have measured!"
If I say this world is immeasurable, it means I have tried to measure it. I have reached the corners of the earth. I have seen the whole earth and now I return to say that it is immeasurable. I dive into water, I come back and say that it is fathomless. Then it can be two things. Either I say I could not reach the profoundest depth and so I cannot say it is immeasurable. I can only say I could not reach the depth. It is quite possible that a fathom below the depth I reached may be the bed of the river. So it can mean two things: I could not reach the depth - in that case I have no right to say it is unfathomable. All I can say is, "As far as I could go, was not the bottom of the river. It could be a little way further down, I cannot say." Or it could also mean that I reached the bottom and found it was bottomless! But the fact is, if I reach the very end, I have reached the bottom. Then if I come back and say, "I reached the very end and found there was no bottom" - this would be an absolutely wrong statement. How can you see to the very bottom if there is no bottom? If you reached the end, you have reached the bottom.
Therefore Lao Tzu says, "How unfathomable!" He does not directly call it unfathomable for then it would seem that it has been measured - at least by Lao Tzu, and he has discovered it is unfathomable. Therefore Lao Tzu says, "How unfathomable!" What he means is, however much you try to measure, it is unfathomable. You measure and it is beyond measure. Wherever you reach, it is yet further away; the shores are nowhere in sight. You try infinite ways and yet it is unfathomable! So Lao Tzu does not use the term 'Unfathomable' directly for fear of the illusion of measure.
Therefore, many contradictory statements are made, where entirely opposing words are made use of. When we make use of the term 'fathomless' it conveys the meaning of that which is very very deep - then also it carries the sense of measure. When we say 'How fathomless', then it becomes multi-dimensional, whereas the word fathomless alone, is one dimensional. If we compare this with Mahavira's statements, it will be easier to understand.
Whenever Mahavira wanted to convey the idea of the infinite. he never used the term 'infinite' only.
He always said 'infinitely infinite'. When someone questioned, "What is Truth like?" He would reply, "Infinitely infinite". Now it is natural that he should be asked why he made use of the word infinite twice. One should be enough to convey the measuring of infinity, and this joining of two words could be wrong also, for infinity is only one. If there are two infinites then each will form a boundary of the other and then they can no longer be termed infinite. Infinite means that which is infinite, boundless, but here, where the second starts the first must end.
This is why, before Mahavira the word 'infinite' was used directly to convey the infinite. The Upanishads refer to the infinite as the infinite. But infinite is one-dimensional and Mahavira felt that this gives an impression of a measure. If someone says 'the infinite', it seems he knows its dimensions.
So Mahavira says, "Infinitely infinite." It is so infinite that it spreads even beyond the infinite. It is Infinity (Infinity raised to infinity). When a word becomes multi-dimensional, it becomes a very living word whereas a one-dimensional word, is a dead word.
Lao Tzu could have said "It is fathomless", but he says, "How fathomless!" This is the same as saying it is infinitely infinite. Then he says, "How deep (profound) it is!" It is void and deep. The void is entirely empty, then how is it profound? The river is filled with water, we can say the current is deep.
There are two types of flow in a river: One is a very superficial one, as we see in shallow rivers where beds are also visible at places. Such rivers make a great noise. The water may be a fathom deep but the noise it makes, is tremendous. Such a flow is a shallow flow. Such a river makes a lot of noise - Talks a lot! There is another river whose waters are so deep that even if there are rocks and cliffs beneath, it does not disturb the river at all. The river flows and its flow is hardly visible to the eye. It flows so silently. Then we say the flow of the river is so deep, so profound, that there is no sound whatsoever.
But Lao Tzu refers to emptiness as deep. There is no flow of water here - everything is void, but this is the very reason for its profoundness. Lao Tzu says, "No matter how slowly a river flows," whether you can hear it or not hear it, where there is a flow there is bound to be noise. The sound may be so less - almost subtle - almost inaudible. But where there is a flow, there is bound to be friction and where there is friction, sound is bound to be. So Lao Tzu says, "Only the Void can be deep for there is no sound there."There is no flow, no friction. There is nowhere to go, nowhere to come, everything is tranquil and stable with in itself.
So Lao Tzu says, "How deep, how profound!" He makes use of the adverb 'how' and the reason is to convey the stress on the profundity of his statement and also to convey that the matter has not ended with his statement. He takes care to see that none of his words are closed. Rather, he sees that they are open - each word should be an opening to further exploration. Each word should open the door to further Mystery. When the pundit speaks, his words are closed. None of his words are suggestive of anything ahead. Their words are mere information and nothing more.
The so-called Science says, "This is the Truth". Authentic Science only suggests - there is nothing fixed, everything is fluid.
Hints can also be of two kinds. There is one hint that is fixed. If someone points at the moon and keeps the fingers fixed, the moon will have shifted in due course from that point where the finger points. If you really wish to point at the moon, the finger will have to shift with the moon. The indication will have to be alive and it shall have to move with the moon.
People like Lao Tzu, do not consider Truth as a dead unit. They believe it to be a dynamic force.
So all their indications are live suggestions. Their finger keeps moving with the moon. In the term 'How', no boundary can be formed, for this 'how' goes beyond all 'how's. It becomes a hint, a suggestion that transcends all words. When Mahavira says 'infinitely infinite' the term does not carry the transcendence that Lao Tzu conveys by using the term 'how'. When Lao Tzu says, 'how', the transcendence goes even beyond. Mahavira repeats the word infinite - infinitely infinite - but then the word seems to get fixed, its resonance becomes somewhat fixed and it seems as if it conveys the impression of a boundary. Then it seems to convey a meaning and we tend to feel that we have understood it. But when a person says, "How unfathomable!" you cannot draw a boundary anywhere round the 'how'.
Lao Tzu says, "How deep, how unfathomable - as though it is the source of all matter." Again he makes use of the term 'as though, as if'. He who has to speak of Truth, has to weigh each word before he utters it. He does not make a categorical statement that it is the source of all matter.
Wahinger has written a book called, "THE PHILOSOPHY OF AS IF". This book is one of the few priceless books written in the West in the last hundred years. He has called it the philosophy of 'as- if'. Whoever has stated, "Truth is such," has made a wrong statement for man can only say 'as-if'. If he tries to say beyond this, it trespasses all limits, it is only an exhibition of man's ego.
Wahinger does not say, "God created the world." He says, "as if God created the world." The world is so beautiful - as if God had created it! For who else can create such beauty? He makes no definite statement to prove that God made the world.
Wahinger says, "If I give proof that God is, someone else can disprove it too." If one section of the world says 'God is' and gathers proofs thereof, another section can as well say, 'God is not', and give proofs thereof. And when a person says, 'God is not' we have no right to say, he is transcending all limits, for this race was started first by those who declared that God is. It is the Theist who has first gone beyond limits by making declarations that are beyond human concept. The atheist has merely followed him. One man says, "I can prove that God is." This is a matter beyond man. Does God require a testimony of approval from you to prove His existence?
Wahinger says, "I can only say this, that the more I think, the more I seek, I find it seems as if God created the world." This is not a mathematical solution he has found. He says, this is the feeling of his heart. Whatever he sees, be it a little flower, his heart tells him such creation could only be of God. He cannot bring himself to believe that such beauty has sprung out from among the stones, just like that. "Therefore", he says, "It is as if God has made it."
Lao Tzu says, "It is as if this profound emptiness, this unfathomable depth, is the source of all matter."
This addition of 'as if' is very priceless. This is the characteristic of the profound sensitivity of Lao Tzu's consciousness. This very sensitive statement has not been made just like that. It has not been made in the heat of an argument or with the desire to prove something or convince someone. It is something that comes right from within him, something he has experienced.
Lao Tzu has explained this somewhere. His disciples have collected many of his statements.
Chuang-Tse says that Lao Tzu has said that the greater the sage, the more hesitant he is. An ignorant person makes any statement without hesitating for he is blissfully unaware of the enormity of the words he utters. When thus he says, such-and-such an act is a virtue and such-and-such an act is a sin, he puts himself above God. Which is a virtuous act and which sinful? It is difficult to say and therefore unlawful. Therefore he who knows, will still hesitate and will try to avoid making a statement.
Jesus has said, "Judge ye not, that ye should not be judged." Things are very complicated and mysterious. What is virtue, what is sin? Virtue becomes a sin and sin becomes a virtue. That which starts as a sin, bears flowers of virtue, what begins as a virtue, lands up in sin. Here it is light now but very soon darkness descends and the darkness that was now will soon change into light. Now it was morning and it has turned into evening and that which was beautiful has turned grotesque.
What is beautiful?
Nasruddin's wife asks him one day, "I feel your love has become less since a few days. Will you love me when I am old?" Nasruddin replied, "I shall worship you. I shall smear my head with the dust of your feet. But wait! you will not look like your mother will you? If so, I beg of you, remain as you are!"
What will we call beauty, what will we call youth? Each step of youth leads to old age. Every wave of beauty rises up and turns ugly in a short time. Here things are mysterious, united; they are not divided. The Universe is misty, it is twilight here - you cannot say it is light, you cannot say it is dark.
Lao Tzu says, "The sage hesitates", and Lao Tzu's each statement is full of hesitation. If an ignorant man reads him, he will say, "Perhaps Lao Tzu did not know or else why should he say, 'as if'? If you know say so, if you do not know even then, say so. One should talk clearly. If you do not know, say 'I do not know'; if you know then say what you know. Where is the sense in saying 'as if'. This shows his rank ignorance" - thus an ignorant man argues.
In fact, an ignorant person cannot conceive the mystery of things. They find it easier to go by fixed concepts. Let it be said that a man is sinful - that is enough for him. But the sinful man can perform an act of virtue. Another man is called virtuous - but he is also prone to sin. Then what does this mean? What difference can your labelling make when a sinner can perform a deed of virtue and a pious man can sin? Then your labels become dangerous. Then why attach these labels? But we categorize and become free from anxiety by putting each man in his place. This does not help to change matters in the least. Life proceeds as it is going to.
Lao Tzu is very hesitating and there have been very few people in the world who have been as hesitating as Lao Tzu. In India we find this hesitation in Buddha. But Buddha's hesitation was not as much as Lao Tzu's for Buddha had left it be known that he would not answer certain questions. This is also a certified answer; for Buddha has answered by saying he will not answer. Not to answer is definite on the part of Buddha, so there is nothing indefinite about these questions.
Lao Tzu says 'as if' - it is hypothetical, imagine, repeat within yourself and it may come within your understanding that all this is born out of the empty Void. All this has come into being through Void, but to express it thus definitely, is to trespass it. For then the Void is small enough for me to look into it and see that all things have come out of it. Then the Emptiness does not remain boundless - it is no longer fathomless, no longer deep. It has become small enough to be placed on the research table and analysed. Then the mystery is lost.
Lao Tzu says, "Suppose, as if it alone is the mother."
If Lao Tzu is questioned "Does God exist?" He will never answer in yes or no. People like Lao Tzu live so close to God that they cannot answer in yes or no.
There is a case filed against Nasruddin in the court. The magistrate tells him "Nasruddin, you are a great word-twister. You give such a turn to your words that we find it difficult to cope up with you.
Therefore, you are hereby ordered to answer in either yes or no."
Nasruddin replied, "But the answer that is worth giving, cannot be given in yes or no. Only the answer which is not worth giving can be given in yes or no. So I beg you to take back the oath you gave me to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. Then I shall answer you freely in yes and no. You have made me take an oath to tell the truth and truth is not a thing that can be replied by yes or no."
"Alright", said the magistrate. "Give me an example to prove that you cannot answer in yes or no."
Nasruddin asked, "Can I ask you my lord if you have stopped beating your wife? Please answer in yes or no." The magistrate found himself in difficulty. If he said yes, it would mean he has been beating his wife. If he says no, that would mean he still beats his wife. Nasruddin again asked, "What is your answer? Now will you relieve me of my oath? Then I shall answer as you wish but remember, there are many things that cannot be answered by a yes or a no."
And where the question pertains to God, yes and no become absolutely useless. There the atheist as well as the Theist proves himself to be a fool. He who answers in yes or no, proves his stupidity.
Here things become very fluid and merge into each other. Therefore, Lao Tzu says very hesitatingly, "It seems as if everything is born out of this void."
Enough for today - rest, tomorrow.