Tao Te Ching #14: “What you don’t see when you look”

What you don’t see when you look
is called the unobtrusive.
What you don’t hear when you listen
is called the rarefied.
What you don’t get when you grasp
is called the subtle.
These three cannot be completely fathomed,
so they merge into one;
above is not bright, below is not dark.
Continuous, unnamable, it returns again to nothing.
This is called the stateless state,
the image of no thing;
this is called mental abstraction.
When you face it you do not see its head,
when you follow it you do not see its back.
Hold the ancient Way
so as to direct present existence:
only when you can know the ancient
can this be called the basic cycle of the Way.

– Thomas Cleary


We look but don’t see it
and call it indistinct
we listen but don’t hear it
and call it faint
we reach but don’t grasp it
and call it ethereal
three failed means to knowledge
I weave into one
with no light above
and no shadow below
too find to be named
returning to nothing
this is the formless form
the immaterial image
the one that waxes and wanes
we meet without seeing its face
we follow without seeing its back
whoever upholds this very Way
can rule this very realm
and discover the ancient maiden
this is the thread of the Way

– Red Pine


Something looked for but not seen,
Or listened for, not heard,
Or reached for, not found:
Call one “dim,” one “faint,” one “slight,”
Not for summons nor for challenge.
Combined these three make one—
The One, the foremost number,
When daylit sky and dark of night
Have yet to be.
Through this One all living forms coil forth
Helter-skelter—how else to name it?—
Only to go round home again
To their unbodied state:
Form before form,
Guises of the unbodied,
Or gleams in a dim void.
Who can engage them?
Who find the foremost?
Who can pursue them?
Who find the last?
Hold fast to the Way of ancient days
To guide us through our present world;
To know how things began of old
Is to be grounded in the Way.

– Moss Roberts