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The Tao Te Ching and the futility of naming March 1, 2013

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Tao Te Ching.
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One of the tendencies of the ego (the mind, the voice in our heads) is the propensity to apply labels to everything in life.

Perhaps this is a manifestation of our subconscious desire to feel a measure of control and understanding — a way to intellectually manage or make sense of the universe by categorizing all elements as we perceive them. But the “control” afforded by labelling can be illusory because many of the components underlying the real world cannot accurately be named universally.

By placing labels on phenomena, we are coloring everything with our own brush, which in many cases is not a reflection of the true colors of reality.

There is an interesting reflection on labelling or naming which I found when reading a passage in the Tao Te Ching (composed by Lao-tzu, in perhaps the 400-500 BC period)  as interpreted/translated  by Stephen Mitchell.*

In Chapter 1 Lao-tzu writes:

The tao that can be told

is not the eternal tao.

The name that can be named

is not the eternal Name.

The unamable is the eternally real.

Naming is the origin

 of all particular things.


If we can resist the temptation to label, if we can accept things as they are, if we make a decision to try to not judge, then perhaps we can then better see reality.


*Stephen Mitchell, Tao Te Ching, A new English Version, HarperPerennial edition, 1991, paperback.