I feel close to the glory of nature, and if I walk up to one of those old trees and put my hand on its bark, I am touching the creation, touching the universe.
“Tree” – such a poor, short label for such a magnificent thing, many times older and bigger than I am, home to birds and climbing things, sometimes other plants, high up in the branches.
Even if I give it a better name, “oak”, perhaps, I am a long way short.
The tree is not the word. I could write a book of words and still not get the tree right. A photo, a movie, a 3-D plastic model. I’m never going to get the true living tree, am I?
As the Tao te Ching says, “The path that is trodden is not the true path; the name that is known is not the true name.”
There are many, many translations of the Tao, and none of them is the true and accurate text. But we read and contemplate them, and we get an idea of what is meant.
The word, the text, the idea, the photo is not the truth entire. Even if we put our arms around the tree, we do not have it complete. We see it, we touch it, we feel its movements in the wind, but we do not have it.
Likewise, we may look at the sun, its heat burning a hole in our eye. We can see the shadows it casts, the reflection in a pool or pot of water or a shiny surface, we can feel its heat on our hand.
Every reflection is different; a small reflection of a large bright object, but it is not the sun itself. Words and photos and reflections have their own reality, as do the ideas we have about them and the objects or concepts they represent.
So I wonder about people endlessly searching for the one true translation of the Tao te Ching, or the right understanding of the Bible, or the one true glory of the creation.
As the Tao indicates, we cannot have it.
Consider the opening of Genesis, the story of creation. It has its own majesty, in its powerful rhythms, its images of God moving on the face of the waters, its own forests and herds and suns. It is full of goodness. It is beautiful, but it is not the creation itself. The words are just a hint, a shadow, a reflection of the true glory which we can see for ourselves.
There are mighty oaks in the creation story, but they are only hinted at. All the forests and plains and seas and clouds and stars, they are all there, but they are not the words.
So I wonder at people who hold onto the words. They seek the one true translation, the true understanding. They are looking for a forest in a book, and they will never find it there, no matter how grand and lovely the words are.
Does it really matter what the words say? The majesty and truth of the creation are right there in front of us when we open our eyes, or draw in a breath or feel the sun on our face.
Whether it was created by a mind moving on the face of the waters, or a great turtle moving through empty space, or the operation of the laws of nature it still exists and is there to be experienced.
We are part of that creation, and we have barely the foggiest notion of how we came to be. We can talk about DNA or the breath of the Almighty, but we can feel the truth of our own existence. We are here, we are a mind moving on the face of the water – don’t believe me? just close your eyes and fall still – and we can feel the truth within ourselves.
The words are not the reality. Don’t embrace and hold onto the words, powerful though they may be. They are shadows and reflections of the real thing. Do you want a tree? Go embrace one.
Do you want God? Just close your eyes, fall still, let the chattering, circling thoughts fade away, and you are a mind moving on the face of the waters. You can feel every ripple, every wave, every stillness. You can call into being the whole glory of creation in your mind, and just open your eyes to see it.
Doubt is impossible. There is everything, and there you are in pure consciousness, to see it.