We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it ‘the Equable.’ We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it ‘the Inaudible.’ We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we name it ‘the Subtle.’ With these three qualities, it cannot be made the subject of description; and hence we blend them together and obtain The One.
Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not obscure. Ceaseless in its action, it yet cannot be named, and then it again returns and becomes nothing. This is called the Form of the Formless, and the Semblance of the Invisible; this is called the Fleeting and Indeterminable.
We meet it and do not see its Front; we follow it, and do not see its Back. When we can lay hold of the Tao of old to direct the things of the present day, and are able to know it as it was of old in the beginning, this is called (unwinding) the clue of Tao.
(Tao Teh King 14)
This section really reveals how incredibly, inconceivably vast is the distance (gulf, actually) between Eastern and Western religion. It is simply not true that it is a tiny step from East to West. Reading a paperback book, going to a yoga class, seeing a super-guru when he passes through town on his annual world tour, or liking what is seen of the Dalai Lama on a TV spot (usually brief), does not make anyone able to leap the gulf and really become a practicer of Dharma. A person has to be able to think East, not just talk East. The very observable fact that Western “Buddhists” and “Hindus” almost never follow the moral precepts of those religions is proof that, to paraphrase the Bible, they do not have the mind of Buddha or the mind of Krishna (Vyasa). For if they did, they would comprehend the wisdom of those precepts and naturally follow them as necessary principles of life.
I am not saying that everyone born in the East really is Eastern, or that everyone born in the West is Western. Actually, we are not speaking of geographical East and West, for after all, America is the far East to people living in China and Japan. What we are dealing with is a matter of brain dominance: of left-brain dominance versus right-brain dominance. And I mean dominance, not just a hint. Drug-use can warp a person’s brain enough to make him open to the paradoxes of Eastern religious thought, but that is neither understanding them nor evidence of the complete psychology necessary to be of the East.
This is not just my idea about the matter. During my first visit to India I was fortunate enough to meet with Swami Maheshananda Giri, who for many years had held the chair of Sanskrit and Indology at Harvard. For decades he had encountered many Western students of Eastern religion, men and women of highly developed intellects, certainly not superficial in their interest. But when I asked him if he had met a single Westerner who truly understood Eastern religion, his answer was “No. Nor have I met a single Easterner who really understood Western religion. To understand Eastern religion a person would have to tear down every bit of their Western background and build up a new frame of reference to really comprehend Hinduism or any other Oriental philosophy. And it is the same with Easterners if they would understand Western religion.” I agreed with him, but in later years I came to understand that something more besides is really needed: not an intellectual catharsis, but a shifting from left-brain to right-brain dominance. And that is accomplished by diligent practice of authentic yoga meditation.
I have seen people that could be called typical Westerners become typical Orientals after taking up yoga practice. I am not speaking culturally, but psychologically. I well remember the day Sri Kaka Sahib Kellelkar, one of Gandhi’s closest associates, said to another one of Gandhiji’s disciples regarding myself and some of our ashramites: “I have travelled throughout the world and met people from every land, yet today for the first time I have seen people who truly have a kinship with us.” Many times very strict Hindus have said to me: “You are not an American, you are one of us.” Now so many years later, there are some real American Hindus, I am glad to say, and in India there are very authentic sadhus that were born in the West. They crossed over the gulf or were born already there inwardly. That is why Mahendranath Gupta, the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, once said: “Undoubtedly there are good people in every land, but they are aliens in those lands and their faces are toward India.”
Lin Yutang’s translation of this section is a bit better: “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.”
The Absolute Reality, the Tao, can be looked at but not seen, listened to but not heard, and touched but not felt. Only those who have seen, heard, and touched the Tao know that It cannot be seen, heard, or touched. This is not some Zen-like string of contradictions, but carefully considered fact. And this is the authentic position of Eastern Christianity: only when you have seen God will you know that God cannot be seen.
Two eyes, two ears, and two hands cannot perceive or contact the Tao, for they are external and dual, but the single eye, ear, and hand of our internal being can see, hear, and touch that to which the outer faculties are blind, deaf and numb.
When these three experiences elude the dual mind, persistent inner search results in the single perception of the Single (and Sole) Reality. This only makes sense to the yogi.
Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not obscure. Ceaseless in its action, it yet cannot be named, and then it again returns and becomes nothing. This is called the Form of the Formless, and the Semblance of the Invisible; this is called the Fleeting and Indeterminable. Lin Yutang: “Not by its rising, is there light, nor by its sinking, is there darkness. Unceasing, continuous, It cannot be defined, and reverts again to the realm of nothingness.” The yogi knows the unknowable; knows It as everything, yet knows that in essence It is the No Thing.
We meet it and do not see its Front; we follow it, and do not see its Back. When we can lay hold of the Tao of old to direct the things of the present day, and are able to know it as it was of old in the beginning, this is called (unwinding) the clue of Tao. Lin Yutang: “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.” “Front,” “back,” and “sides” do not apply to the Tao. Yet, since the Tao does assume form we sometimes get a fleeting perception of it in an expressible form, but It is gone before we even begin to speak of it. Yet we did perceive It, so we know It exists, but Its almost instant disappearance tells us that It really is formless and No Thing. After a few encounters of this kind we begin to realize that the same is true of us. We are as indefinable as the Tao, because we are the Tao.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: The Wise Ones of Old