Chapter 14 – Bullwinkle’s Magic Hat – and More
Looked at, but cannot be seen –
That is called the Invisible (yi).
Listened to, but cannot be heard –
That is called the Inaudible (hsi).
Grasped at, but cannot be touched –
That is called the Intangible (wei).
These three elude our inquiries
And hence blend and become One.
Not by its rising, is there light,
Nor by its sinking, is there darkness.
It cannot be defined,
And reverts again to the realm of nothingness.
That is why it is called the Form of the Formless,
The Image of Nothingness.
That is why it is called the Elusive:
Meet it and you do not see its face;
Follow it and you do not see its back.
[Hold on to the Tao of old in order to master things of the present
From this one may know the primeval beginning.
This is called the bond of Tao.]
I know I am late with this week’s Tao Te Ching Tuesday. I am going to say it counts as long as this reflection on Chapter 14 gets posted no later than a day that has a “y” in it.
The quotation above is mostly from the 1955 translation of Lin Yutang. The last three lines, in square brackets, are not included in that translation, but are found in many others. The wording here is taken from Wing-Tsit Chan’s translation.
This verse is particularly poetic, and, as good poetry, it is concise and susceptible to multiple interpretations, requiring many words for explication. I am not going to attempt that. Instead, let me share a few thoughts that came while thinking about Chapter 14.
As Lin Yutang indicates in his translation, the Chinese words rendered here as “Invisible,” “Inaudible” and “Intangible” may be transliterated yi, hsi and wei. Saying them together would sound something line “yeesheway.”
Many of the earliest European translators of Chinese literature were Christian missionaries to whom the sound was quite similar to “Yahweh” or “Jeshua.”
The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica noted:
Some Roman Catholic missionaries, two centuries ago, fancied that they found a wonderful harmony between many passages [of the Tao Te Ching] and the teaching of the Bible. Montucci of Berlin ventured to say in 1808: ” Many things about a Triune God are so clearly expressed that no one who has read this book can doubt that the mystery of the Holy Trinity was revealed to the Chinese five centuries before the coming of Jesus Christ.” Even Remusat, the first occupant of a Chinese chair in Europe, published at Paris in 1823 his Memoire sur la vie et les opinions de Ldo-tsze, to vindicate the view that the Hebrew name Yahweh was phonetically represented in the fourteenth chapter by Chinese characters.
I don’t believe that any modern scholars subscribe to that theory. It does illustrate, though, that the concept of an ineffable creative force is shared by many religious and philosophical systems.
Another poetic expression of the concept is George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” which reminds us that “Alleluia” sounds much like “Hare Krishna.”
On the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show, a commercial or a segment of the show was often introduced by Rocky saying, “and now . . .”; only to be interrupted by Bullwinkle asking, “Hey Rocky, want to see me pull a rabbit out of my hat?” He would then reach into his magician’s top hat and pull out a lion or tiger or bear (oh my!) or rhinoceros – or even Rocky. You never could tell what was going to be in that hat. It was sort of like the Tao.
From the invisible, all colors, shades, contrasts and textures may spring forth. That which is easily seen is more limited.
From the inaudible, tones, melodies and syncopations beyond description may be created. The sounds we hear around us now are more limited.
From the intangible, the material world may manifest with its countless textures. The feel of the wood of your desk, the material of your clothing or the fur of the dog you are petting are relatively fixed.
Just allow Bullwinkle to reach into the Tao and anything may pop out. . . . . Sure, even Yahweh. . . . We may not be able to name it, though. . . . And eventually it returns to the hat, like the animals Bullwinkle produced.
I added the additional lines from Wing-Tsit Chan’s translation because I believe they add an important concept. The “Tao of old,” which is the source of all things is realized in the present moment. The same is true of the future. The Tao is Now.