What is Laozi’s central teaching?
The most important thing people can do in life, Laozi asserts in the Tao Te Ching and other works attributed to him, is to gain a state of silent awareness — to open the mind to its source:
Become totally empty
Quiet the restlessness of the mind
Only then will you witness everything
unfolding from emptiness
See all things flourish and dance
in endless variation
And once again merge back into perfect emptiness—
Their true repose
Their true nature
Emerging, flourishing, dissolving back again
This is the eternal process of return
To know this process brings enlightenment
To miss this process brings disaster
Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity
Eternity embraces the all-possible
The all-possible leads to a vision of oneness
A vision of oneness brings about universal love
Universal love supports the great truth of Nature
The great truth of Nature is Tao
Whoever knows this truth lives forever
The body may perish, deeds may be forgotten
But he who has Tao has all eternity — Chapter 16
Laozi calls on us to “become empty,” to “quiet the restlessness of the mind.” Then we experience the “emptiness” that forms source and goal of all things. This “brings enlightenment” and “reveals the secrets of eternity.” Grounded in this experience, one attains a “vision of oneness,” leads a life of “universal love,” and achieves immortality. In contrast, “to miss this process brings disaster.” To this transcendental field of life, Laozi gives the name Tao or Dao. Dao is usually translated as the Way or the Path. The term is often understood to mean “nature.” It refers to a very deep level of nature, because, as Laozi says, when you gain the Tao, you gain “all eternity.”
Experiencing the Tao, Laozi observes in this next verse, involves allowing the mind to move beyond the superficialities of thought and perceptions:
A mind free of thought,
merged within itself,
Beholds the essence of the Tao
A mind filled with thought,
identified with its own perceptions,
beholds the mere forms of this world.
To experience “the essence of the Tao,” Laozi indicates, is to apprehend the truth. And the key, again, is to let the mind settle inward, beyond thought, into itself.
Here are some passages from the Hua Hu Ching, another work attributed to Laozi:
The superior person settles his mind as the universe settles the stars in the sky.
By connecting the mind with the subtle origin, he calms it.
Once calmed it naturally expands, and ultimately his mind becomes as vast and immeasurable as the night sky.
As the mind settles inward, Laozi tells us, it expands, culminating in unbounded awareness. This experience, he emphasizes in the same work, is the key to everything good — while missing this experience, he cautions, leaves you forever lost:
Remain quiet. Discover the harmony in your own being. Embrace it. If you can do this, you will gain everything, and the world will become healthy again. If you can’t, you will be lost in the shadows forever.
Here is a final passage from Laozi, this one from work called the Wen-Tzu, again speaking about allowing the mind to settle beyond thoughts to “utter simplicity.” This, he emphasizes, is “the great attainment”:
Clarifying their eyes, they do not look; quieting their ears, they do not listen. Closing their mouths, they do not speak; letting their minds be, they do not think. Abandoning intellectualism, they return to utter simplicity; resting their vital spirit, they detach from knowledge. Therefore they have no likes or dislikes. This is called the great attainment.
If you practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, Laozi’s words shine with a new light. You’ll notice immediately that Laozi is talking about transcending. Many people who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique have had experiences just as he describes. Here is an example:
I distinctly recall the day of instruction, my first clear experience of transcending. Following the instruc¬tions of the teacher, without know¬ing what to expect, I began to drift down into deeper and deeper levels of relaxation, as if I were sinking into my chair. Then for some time, perhaps a minute or a few minutes, I experienced a silent, inner state of no thoughts, just pure awareness and nothing else; then again I became aware of my surroundings. It left me with a deep sense of ease, inner renewal and happiness.
As many meditators will realize, the Tao is not some abstract concept. It is the field of pure consciousness, the source of thought deep within. It is also the source of nature’s intelligence, the unified field of natural law described mathematically by quantum physics.
Every time we meditate, every time we transcend, we experience this unbounded field. We awaken it. We enliven it. Our consciousness expands. Our creativity and intelligence increases. Our thoughts and actions come into harmony with natural law. The force of natural law gathers behind our every thought and action so that we can fulfill our desires without effort.