The Book Lao Tzu and the Tao (Part 1): Why has this Book on Cultivation been Passed Down as a Cultural Icon?

Wang Yifeng

PureInsight | July 22, 2002

1. Introduction

One summer afternoon when I was about to graduate from college, I was sitting alone on the banks of the Jialingjiang River, reading the book Lao Tzu (also known as Tao Te Ching). The summer sun was beating down on me, while the dark green mountains in the distance surrounded me. As I was reading, I entered a world of coolness. Time seemed to stop. I felt that this ancient wisdom, like waves of the river, was awakening a distant memory. As I reflected, sages came to me from the blue mountains and white clouds. They felt so far away yet so close. It was such an extraordinary experience. I was stunned by the realization that we possess such deep and ancient spiritual wisdom, but have no time to really gain a true understanding of it. Since then, I have had the dream of seeking the Tao.

The past decade has passed by very quickly and I failed to make time to read the book again, but I never forget my dream. Human civilization has waited thousands of years for this dream. Recently, when I opened the book again, I was surprised to find that the dream had already become a reality. I felt so very fortunate.

2. Why has this book on cultivation been passed down in history as a form of culture?

Although the book Lao Tzu only had 5,000 words, thousands of books have been written to explore its meaning. The authors vary from academic scholars to emperors, and span many dynasties and generations. The volume of these explorations exceeds that of the original text of Lao Tzu by thousands of times. This book is perhaps the most difficult piece to explain in all of classical Chinese literature. As time passes, people’s interest in understanding its meaning has not waned.

Actually, Lao Tzu is not so mysterious. Contrary to what people commonly believe, this book is not about politics, life, the universe, philosophy, health, or government. It is a book on cultivation and quite an extraordinary one. Because the principles of cultivation far exceed the realm of ordinary human society, no matter how hard later generations tried, they could not grasp the book’s full meaning. It is just like blind people trying to guess what an elephant’s true size is from the very minimal part that they can come in contact with. Lao Tzu achieved enlightenment, and his realm was inconceivably high compared to ordinary people. Although hundreds of schools of thought appeared after his time, they actually led people onto deviated paths. Why did society accept these deviated ways? This is because what these schools teach is close to the principles of human society.

The modern-day scholars of Lao Tzu have tried to look at the book from an atheist’s perspective. They cannot even believe that Lao Tzu lived to be 160 years old as history books have recorded. How could they be able to interpret the Tao, then? Actually the author of Lao Tzu used language and topics such as health that were common then to explain the Tao and cultivation. Later generations have deviated from the Tao, so naturally they could not understand the real meaning of the book. All they could find were the superficial meanings of the characters.

Lao Tzu wrote:

“For the Tao is a thing impalpable, allusive.
Allusive, impalpable, yet within it are forms.
Impalpable, allusive, yet within it are entities.
It is shadowy and dim, yet within it are spirits.
These spirits are genuine, and are verifiable.”

In the past, people tried to explain why the Tao is a “thing” yet “impalpable and allusive.” They have thus said that this Tao is solid yet intangible, existing yet without existence. The more they said, the more confusing it became. This is because they only looked at the superficial meaning of the words without understanding the realm and feelings of the author. Actually, as a cultivator who had reached a high level, Lao Tzu’s third eye might have been open. With an open third eye, one can certainly see things in other dimensions. Since most other dimensions are higher than ours, the manifestations are even clearer than in our dimension. This explains why there are “forms” and “spirits.” “Forms” are perceivable images that reflect other dimensions. “Spirits” are beings in other dimensions.

All of these “things” were what the author saw clearly at his level. He was apparently talking about a state of cultivation. Why “impalpable and allusive” then? In the past, only the assistant consciousness (assistant primordial spirit) could be cultivated. In order to enter into the state of cultivation, the main spirit had to be desensitized. When the main spirit feels “impalpable and allusive,” the assistant spirit can see other dimensions. The Tao School used sleep or alcohol to dull the main spirit. Without cultivating to the level of Lao Tzu, it is simply impossible to explain what the paragraph means.

Because his realm of cultivation was so much higher than that of ordinary people, what the author wrote can be very powerful when used in ordinary human society. Politicians can find principles to govern the country; philosophers can see the true basis of philosophy; and people seeking the meaning of life and the universe can gain a better understanding. Generation after generation, Chinese people have repeated the ever-lasting truths that Lao Tzu wrote, such as “The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step under the foot,” or “When a man of the highest ability hears the Tao, he does his best to put it into practice.” They have repeated these truths for centuries without knowing the true meaning. The inexplicable Tao, the eternal light of philosophical principles, the concise yet deep expressions of wisdom and reason, have fundamentally impacted the thinking of the Chinese and of all the world’s people.

This has created an interesting situation. For cultivation in the Tao School, the teacher must pass down the true teachings to one disciple, from heart to heart. Taoists do not offer salvation to all beings. As an enlightened being, Lao Tzu certainly knew that. He must also have known that once the book was written, people would try to interpret it in their own biased ways. Why did he leave the book then? Sakyamuni and Jesus, the other two enlightened beings during the same period in this human civilization, did not personally leave any teachings. They both offered salvation to many people. How can we come to terms with this information? Everything has been arranged in history and nothing is coincidental. The dream of attaining the Tao and seeking eternal wisdom and freedom is like a theme connecting generations of people in the entire history of China.

Then something changed all this. In 1992, Master Li Hongzhi introduced Falun Dafa to the public. This was a historic moment in human history. In the book Zhuan Falun, Master Li unequivocally explained the Tao on the first page: “It is the nature of the universe, Zhen-Shan-Ren, expressed in different ways at different levels. It is also what the Tao School calls the Tao, and what the Buddha School calls the Fa.” Millions of practitioners have used their personal experiences to demonstrate that Falun Dafa is the true answer for someone who seeks the Tao. They feel extremely fortunate to have been able to attain the Tao.

Now we can fully understand and appreciate what Lao Tzu did. The Dafa of the universe is being taught in China. Lao Tzu’s principles and thought, as well as the mysteries in the book and the controversies surrounding them, were all building a foundation for the spread of Dafa. Everyone who seeks the Tao can find a perfect answer in Dafa. Thus Lao Tzu has accomplished its mission in history. I believe Dafa practitioners can clearly understand the meaning of the book Lao Tzu and know the reasons behind it.

To be continued…

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