Friday, 27 April 2012

Tao and Brahman

Lao Tzu

The Tao that can be told 
is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named 
is not the eternal name, 
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth;  
     (Tao Te Ching)

Tao Te Ching (The way and its power) was composed by Lao Tzu, as a record of his teachings, at the request of a guard.  Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher, who lived in the sixth century B.C.   He was the keeper of archives at the Imperial court. At one time he got disillusioned with people around him, quit his post and set out for the western border of China.  At the border gate, a guard, Yin Xi requested Lao Tzu to record his teachings for the benefit of people like him and that is how Tao Te Ching was born.  It is really a compilation of paradoxical poems.

Reading these poems one is struck by the similarity between Tao of Lao Tzu and Brahman, as revealed by the Upanishads.  Tao, meaning ‘Path’ and Brahman, meaning ‘Big’ are only just terms of reference for the Cosmic Supreme.  Both are only names given and not the name of the Eternal.

Lao Tzu’s statements are also in paradoxes like the Upanishadic truths.  One reason why paradoxes are employed is that they jolt our usual thinking process and make us pause and ponder.  They are pointing the finger the Supreme’s way and they want you not to look at the finger but in the direction it points.  For the Cosmic Supreme is not a thing or object of comprehension but one of realization by oneself following the path shown.   Guru and scriptures can only show the way; one has to travel that way and realize the Cosmic Supreme for oneself. 

Brahman is the cause of the Universe, both the material cause and the intelligent cause, as per Mundakopanishad.  Kena Upanishad states clearly that the one who feels or thinks he knows Brahman well, does not know Brahman at all.  So we can say even of Brahman:

The Brahman that can be told 
is not the eternal Brahman;
The name that is given 
is not the eternal name,
The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth;
In verse 15, Lao Tzu states:

Look, it cannot be seen - it is beyond form.
Listen, it cannot be heard - it is beyond sound.
Grasp, it cannot be held - it is intangible.
These three are indefinable;
Therefore they are joined in one.

Kathopanishad speaking of Brahman says it is beyond the perception of all our senses; beyond form, beyond sound and beyond grasp, verbally and physically.  So Brahman is beyond all description in a positive way and hence undefinable.   We can only say of Brahman as it is said of Tao further in this verse 15:

The form of the formless,
The image of the imageless,
It is called indefinable and beyond imagination.

 In verse 26, Lao Tzu states:

Something mysteriously formed,
Born before heaven and Earth.
In the silence and the void,
Standing alone and unchanging,
Ever present and in motion.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name
Call it Tao.
For lack of a better word, I call it great.

The expression, ‘ten thousand things’, stands symbolically for all things created.  Not only are they created by Tao but also nourished by Tao and they all get back to Tao as given in verse 35:

It nourishes the ten thousand things,
And yet is not their lord.
It has no aim; it is very small.
The ten thousand things return to it,
Yet it is not their lord.
It is very great.

This means that Tao is not only the creator but also the nourisher and also final refuge for all things created  and Brahman is described as the srishti, sthithi, laya kartha for this universe, in Taittreya Upanishad.  Tao is described in this verse as very small and very great and Brahman is also described as smaller than the atom and greater than the greatest in more than one Upanishad.

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