Tao Te Ching Commentary: Filled with Desire – Perceive Manifestation


“Filled with desire: perceive manifestation”

So, as expounded in the previous commentary, we can see that when we are filled with desire, we will be blocked from the truth, and the gateway to reality will be closed. Because we are filled with desire, our consciousness is skewed, and all that we see are manifestations – projections of our desires, super-imposed over, and distorting reality – fantasies and delusions that we will cease to perceive, as soon as we stop wishing for them. As fear is also a type of desire – because we’re always afraid of losing what we have, or not getting what we want – nightmares, paranoias, phobias, and neuroses are also expressions of this mechanism.

To put it another way, our minds are like movie projectors, and our lives are like the movie. Whatever we put into or store in our minds, determines what we experience. If you fill your mind with horror and violence, then you will perceive and experience horror and violence. If you fill your mind with compassion and peace, then you will experience compassion and peace. The true followers of The Way seek to remove all artificial constructs from their minds, so that their lives will be free of false manifestations. Unobstructed and clear, with no artificiality to distort nature, they perceive the world as exactly as it is.

Tao Te Ching Commentary: Empty of Desire – Perceive Mystery


“Empty of desire – perceive mystery”

This adage is a simple recipe for perceiving the Truth of The Way. By the Truth, Taoists do not mean facts or figures – they mean the mystical principle that governs the inner workings of all things.

In Buddhism, The Buddha recognized that desire and craving are the sources of all suffering as part of his Four Noble Truths. When we crave and desire things, it means we are discontent with what we already have, which puts us in a dissonant mental state, and state of being. If you aren’t at peace, exactly as you are, then you are already at odds with The Way. Wanting means that peace is always eluding us, something we are forever postponing into the future. If we consider happiness to be the gratification of all our desires, then we will forever be ill at ease and unhappy, because desires can never be satisfied by worldly things. Like an addict, we just keep calling out for more and more. The present is torturous for us, for we are not yet satisfied. Yet, even once are desires are fulfilled, and we finally get the food, drink, sex, fame, or money that we’ve been longing for, then our stress does not subside. It is not enough. We always want more.

Fortunately, both Buddhism and Taoism are antidotes to this delusion. Lao Tzu is telling us something very simple yet profound here. When we are filled with desires, it warps our perception of reality. We become so obsessed with the object of our desires, that is narrows our awareness to that end, and we end up projecting this delusion onto reality, like a thirsty man seeing a mirage of an oasis in the desert.

Let’s take sex as an example. Imagine a man filled with lust in the world’s most comprehensive art gallery. Despite being surrounded by some of the greatest art of all time, in a building of stupendous and awe-inspiring architecture, because there are some beautiful women in the gallery, he is completely unaware of it. Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso or Dali mean nothing to him in that moment, because all he is thinking about is the breasts, bottoms, skin, lips, perfume, hair and other delightful appendages of the women present – women he would like to kiss, touch, have sex with, etc. Lost in these fantasies and delusions, his body is present in the gallery, but his mind is not.

And that is just why desires are dangerous to the seeker of The Way – they prevent one from being present. The Truth cannot be felt tomorrow or yesterday – only right Now.

This doesn’t mean that Taoists are prudes. Some Taoists are celibate recluses, whilst others are tantric mystics who utilize sexual intimacy as a means to cultivate The Way. Both would acknowledge that desire engenders delusions, and that one needs to be free of them to see The Way. Being free from desire doesn’t mean we are free from pleasure – it means we are free from our selfish attachment to it.

If you are having sex with your partner, and are only concerned with gratifying your desires, then your selfishness will prevent you from being truly unified with your partner. If you are only concerned with their pleasure, then you will be attached to their desires, which makes you no less selfishly attached. But, if you can just be with your partner, without expectation or desire, then that is where the true bliss begins.

This is true of anything in life. If you can renounce any of the desires and expectations that you have of life, then you can be that much closer to life, satisfied with everything you experience, because there is no dissonance between what you want, and what you actually have. Desires separate us from pleasure – desirelessness creates a gate where bliss can enter in.

So, when your being is empty of desires, then you are in a position for The Way to enter into you, and for you to enter into The Way. You will be able to truly perceive mystery, because you will have forsaken all pre-conceptions of what that mystery might be. Returning to the state of The Blank Slate – what Lao Tzu calls ‘The Uncarved Block’ – Mystery becomes ours to know.

Tao Te Ching Commentary – Naming: The Origin of Heaven and Earth


Naming: The Mother of Ten Thousand Things

‘The Ten Thousand Things’ is a term oft-used in ancient Chinese philosophy to designate the infinite variety of things. They did not believe there were literally only ten thousand things! Ten thousand was just a poetically and suitably large enough number.

Prior to words, names, and labels, distinctions between things did not exist. Heaven, Earth, and the elements were merged into a harmonious whole, to which nothing could be added or subtracted. However, once we start designating names, the names trick our minds into thinking that things are separate from one another. Because a tree is called ‘a tree’ and the ground is called ‘the ground,’ we delude ourselves into thinking they are separate from one another, despite the fact that they are reliant upon one another to survive! The tree needs the ground to hold it in place, and to sustain it with minerals and fluids, whilst the ground needs the tree to keep it fertile, and to lend purpose to its yin-powered receptivity. They are inter-dependant, as all things are. The whole tapestry of life is like a jigsaw, or a mosaic – it is not self-sufficient on its own, but needs every other piece to complete it. Tao is The Ten Thousand things – The Ten Thousand Things are Tao. As Lao Tzu expresses it in a later chapter:

“Tao becomes one,

One becomes two,

Two becomes three,

Three becomes The Ten Thousand Things.”

Lao Tzu deliberately places the two seeming opposites of Naming and Nameless beside one another to demonstrate that they are One. Whether you give it a name or not, it is still exactly as it is, either way. It is Reality. And Reality is The Way.

Tao Te Ching Commentary -Nameless: The Origins of Heave and Earth

Heaven and Earth

Nameless: the origins of Heaven and Earth

Since as early as man has been conscious of himself, he has been able to make speculations about himself, the origins of the universe, and his place within it. Every culture has its own hodgepodge of creation myths. And yet, cosmology has never been of much interest to Chinese philosophers. Deeply rooted in Taoist thought, Chinese sages have always recognized that the distance between creation and the uncreated, between being and non-being, between presence and absence, is an entirely illusory one. The universe never came into being, because it has always been in being. It is a continuum, a hologram –not a linear arc in a cheap children’s bedtime story. There is a dialogue in the Lieh Tzu that expresses this understanding admirably:

The Emperor T’ang of Yin asked Chi of Hsia:

“Have there always been things?”

“If once there were no things, how come there are things now? Would you approve if the men after us say there are no things now?”

“In that case, do things have no before and after?”

“The ending and starting of things

Have no limit from when they began

The start of one is the end of another

The end of one is the start of another

Who knows which came first?

But what is outside things, what was before events, I do not know.”

So, we see, that what we consider to be the origin of something, is really relative. A baby just born into the world considers the world to be born along with him, and is unmindful of what went before. In Quantum Physics, there is a phenomenon known as ‘the envelope’ where atomic particles seem to come into and out being from absolutely nowhere. What is actually happening is that they are passing in and out of dimensions we aren’t able to see. They aren’t being born or dying – they are just moving from one plane of existence to another. So it is with birth and death.

So, the origins and Heaven and Earth cannot be spoken of, because they had no need to originate. Having their source in the Tao – that which cannot be spoken of – their origins cannot be spoken of, either. Things are simply present or absent. Present in one place, absent in another; absent in one place, present in another. People might think they know of the origins of the world because of The Big Bang Theory, but this theory only talks of the visible universe – it has no understanding of the invisible universe. Taoism deals with the unity of the visible and invisible universes as two sides of the same coin. Before things come into being, they are simply pre-existent – pre-meditated, literally – somewhere else. The origins of Heaven and Earth were nameless, because they hatched from The Ineffable Unity of The Way.

Poem: Porcelain Years


Wisps of aureate smoke

Conch shells on the beach

I dream of China

And a string of porcelain years

Chanting Amitabha

Upon a mountain latrine

If light itself cannot hear our thoughts

What indeed can?

Brightness never seemed so bright

Nature never seemed so pure

The thunder of the coming world





So make sure you secretary

Has the kettle ready

Tao Te Ching Commentary: Names can Names No Lasting Names



“Names can name no lasting names”

After explaining that The Way cannot be expressed in words, Lao Tzu goes on to explain the illusory nature of words and language. A word is a verbal or symbolic signature that we use to refer to a specific thing. We see a large pillar-shaped life-form with branches and leaves, and call it a ‘Tree.’ Once we learn to tell it apart from other trees, we might be more specific, and call it ‘a Maple Tree’ or an ‘Ash Tree.’ From then on, if we want to be really pedantic, we might start using its Latinized name, in conjunction with the various ‘scientific terms’ that designate its specific attributes, until we find ourselves drowning in names and nomenclature! How far removed this all is from that beautiful, peaceful life-form rooted in the Earth, and dancing with the wind! Have any of these names brought us any closer to comprehending and understanding the essence of a tree? Or has it just bound it up in a conceptual prison, so that we can never again look at our friend, the tree, with clear, innocent eyes?

Of course, names are useful, as they help to distinguish one thing from another, and grant us a feeling of intimacy and kinship with the thus named object. This year, I charged myself with the task of learning the names of all my local trees, and I do truly feel closer to them as a result.

But, the important point that Lao Tzu is making, is that we must not mistake names for reality. Names are just labels – they are not the thing thus labelled. Just because we know the name of a particular thing, being, or object, we must not think that means we now fully understand the nature of that object. A name is just the external aspect of a thing, like clothes or flesh on the human body.

Taoists are not concerned with externals. They only care for externals in so much as they can reveal the internal.

But names can never tell you about the inner reality of a thing. They are distracting and inhibiting, and should not be trusted as a valid demarcation of truth, for the truth is no words.

Clinging to these words confuses and misdirects us. One of the reasons the teachings of Taoism and other Eastern Religions/philosophies so often strikes Westerners as bizarre and contradictory is because our language is very binary, and mono-dimensional. In our language, if one word testifies to the truth of a given thing, then it must, by implication, negate all that is does not specify. Tao is the very opposite of this, because it negates nothing, embodying all things. This is why Taoist psychologists urge us to cultivate The Mind of Tao, not The Human Mind.

The Human Mind is hindered by distinctions, divisions, theories, and categories. Endlessly dividing things into smaller and smaller pieces, it moves very far away from reality.

The Mind of Tao keeps things intact; whole. It does not need words, thoughts, or concepts to understand things. It is not separate from the things it seeks to understand, so it understands them effortlessly. Thus it is said “All knowledge is self-knowledge.”

So, names can names no lasting names. A tree is called one thing in this country, and another thing in a different country. In a different time, it will be called this, and in another time period, it will be called that. The names change, never lasting – but the tree remains – the permanent part of reality, around which illusions orbit.

It should also be understood just why Lao Tzu feels this way about language. Though Lao Tzu is our very ancient ancestor – (his name literally means ‘The Old Master’) – whom we consider to be the very embodiment of The Way, he was very much a renaissance man, who recognized that his own time period was very far from The Way indeed. Living during the historical Chinese era of The Warring States period, the country with torn apart by rivalries between emperors and feudatories. Confucianism had just appeared, endorsing rigid morality, social structure, hierarchy and bureaucracy. Philosophers squabbled over meaningless terminology, and wasted time on erudite arguments. Peace was nowhere to be found.

These were times in which Lao Tzu was living in. His understanding of Tao was not inspired by this tumultuous present, but by a past he was hoping to recreate. In this pre-historic golden age, men had no need for words, because people could communicate soundlessly to one another via telepathy. People were so in harmony with Heaven and Earth, that there would be no need to communicate anything about their external environment, as it was already a part of their internal environment. No distinction existed between inner and outer, as all things were One.

So, for Lao Tzu, the very fact that the Tao had to be put into words to guide people back to it, already demonstrated how far people had strayed from living in accordance with it. Sorrowfully, he laments this state of affairs. But, moved by compassion, and wanting people to partake of the harmony and bliss they had lost, he penned this sutra, hoping that people might use his wisdom-filled words to return to a state where words have no meaning, and nothing needs to be expressed or understood, for all things already are expressed understood.

Tao Te Ching Commentary: Chapter One – Tao Called Tao is not Tao

Tao Te Ching

“Tao called Tao is not Tao
Names can name no lasting names

Nameless: the origins of Heaven and Earth
Naming: The Mother of the Ten Thousand Things

Empty of desire – perceive Mystery
Filled with desire: perceive manifestation

These two have the same source,
But different names
them both deep
Deep and again deep

The gateway to all mystery”


“Tao called Tao is not Tao”

Tao translates as The Way; The Path; The Road. It is the supreme source underlying and inherent in every single thing; the force that creates, conserves, kills, balances, and harmonizes, whilst simultaneously transcending all these functions. It is beyond description, beyond explanation, beyond the intellect. Words cannot encompass it, for it is boundless; concepts cannot limit it, for it is limitless.

Thus, Lao Tzu begins his powerful sutra by telling us that ‘The Way called The Way is not The Way.’ He is gently and directly letting us know that The Way is something to be experienced – not described. Try as we might, words, praises, exultations, essays and exegeses can never do it justice. We just have to let it be, and then it will be with us.

This is why the Tao Te Ching has the form it does. Short, poetic, concise, and mysterious, it is a guide book, a secret code that we need to meditate and practice in order to decode. It is not an authoritative piece of unquestionable dogma, as The Bible claims to be, because the sublime truth can never be presented in words or books – only hinted at.

So, with absolute humility, Lao Tzu approaches us, and lets us know, as a caveat, that, despite his experience, whatever he tells us of The Way is not The Way itself. Like a symbol, his words are meant to suggest and convey things beyond their immediate appearance. If you want to understand them, you will get nowhere if you take them solely from a literal, mundane viewpoint. These are holographic, multi-dimensional words, pointing beyond knowledge, beyond language, beyond anything of which we can conceive. Like a magical tree, the more time you spend with these verses, the sweeter and more variegated are the fruits they offer up. Every single word has a billion further words of wisdom compressed within it. Don’t just read these words – open them up, and go inside them, so that you can become enlightened of their inner workings.

These sutras are echoes of transcendence. So pay close attention to those echoes, and, if you are mindful, you will be able to follow them straight back to The Source.

POEM: The Heavenly Plumber

Clothed in light

Dressed in light
Robed in the raiment of the sun
Bejeweled with photons
Glistening with Truth
Stars fall from Heaven
Just to anoint your feet
King of 8000 heavenly realms
But you still need to remember
The clean the toilet
Every once in a while

Christmas Poem


Yin reached its apex
On the Winter Solstice
Now yang re-emerges
Osiris is re-membered by Isis
To become Horus
The unexcelled
The Son of the Sun
The Nucleus of the Tathagata
The Spiritual Embryo
Germinating into Unity
If you think Christ
Is anything
But yourself
Then you’ve been reading it
All wrong
Just chop up your lower self
And use it
To fuel
The light

Poem: Afternoon at The Butcher’s

Dead Pigs

Afternoon at The Butcher’s
A smorgasbord of suffering
Laid out as an executioner’s
Tables of Delights
If you’re willing
To end a life
Just to fill
Your empty stomach
What atrocity
Won’t your desires
Reduce you to?
Look at your gouty kings
And bloated nobles
This is what your banqueting
Does to you
If we can only place our hearts
Before our taste buds
Just think what needless slaughter
Might be spared
Because a free-range chicken
After all
Still a dead chicken
Enslaved to the selfishness
Of those who consume it.