Guest contribution by: Alexander Thomas

In the first chapter of the Tao de Ching we read “The Dao that can be conceptualized is not the pristine Dao, and Dao is not its true name. The pure ground of Heaven and Earth is Nameless. It is Heaven and Earth that parent the ten thousand.” (1)

These three lines express what I think is the essence of Taoist cosmology. Our world is split into two coexisting influences that are intertwined like strands of rope. One strand is nameless and formless. In Buddhism it is sometimes called Emptiness. It is like the blank page staring at a calligrapher. There is nothing there. It exists as a constant state of formless potential from which all forms arise and into which all forms constantly dissolve. As the calligrapher stares at the blank page, something in him starts to formulate itself and with a few movements of his brush something appears on the page.

His art belongs to the ten thousand things which comprise our practical reality, the world of forms. It is everything around us which can be conceptualized, our sense of self and the labels we attach to all things we see in nature. It is anything that can be measured, examined, studied and understood from subatomic particles up to us and onto vast galaxies in the farthest reaches of our universe. All ten thousand things are born and eventually will fade into formlessness again.

A photo of a tea cup of tea and teapot on a Chinese tea tray in front of a statuette of the Buddha, with grass in the background

I have a teapot. It is empty.  Then I insert something from the earth into it, tea leaves. Next I pour in the one element without which biological life cannot exist, water. And now the magic begins. Various forms dance. The marriage of water and earth.  Chemicals and molecules come alive to promote nutrients and taste. The pouring of the tea into an empty cup. The setting I find myself in to consume the elixir of life.

As I’m writing this I’m on my deck. A few mourning doves peck at seeds on the ground. Finches pull seeds from a bird feeder. I can’t help but wonder if they are maybe talking to each other, “Hey, check out the free food I found.” Hummingbirds flit around the yard. Steam rises from the tea cup. My wife is in the kitchen baking an apple pie. It is one of those just so perfect moments where everything is right. 

Eventually the cycle will close. The tea is consumed. Tea utensils washed and returned to a state of potential. Until next time. It’s already been happening for thousands of years and will probably do so for another thousand.

  1. “Observing. Wuwei: The Heart of the Daodejing,” Liu Ming, 2016, Da Yuan Circle, Oakland, CA.

Author Bio: I work as a psychotherapist and writer in the San Francisco Bay area. Taoist at heart. Tea lover for many years.

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