A thread for discussion/analysis of this source text of Taoism. Written around 500 BC in China by "Lao Tzu", though this name simply means "old man" and no corroborating evidence for his existence has been found. But the book most certainly exists.
The tao that can be described
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken
is not the eternal Name.
The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of creation.
Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.
By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.
Yet mystery and reality
emerge from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness born from darkness.
The beginning of all understanding.
Lao Tzu frequently points toward the "negative", that is, the "nameless", the "desireless", "darkness", etc. My understanding of this is that he is teaching us to let go of conceptual attachments -- what we have been conditioned with, what we "think we know", our righteousness, etc. He is pointing toward the importance of learning how to clear the mind by releasing our rigid fixations to our familiar intellectual reference points. His path to enlightenment is very much one of "unlearning", you might say.
A famous Zen parable -- a scholar visits a Zen master. As the scholar begins to share his knowledge, the Zen master pours him some tea. The scholar goes on and on about what he knows. The Zen master continues pouring the tea. Soon, the tea is overflowing onto the floor, but the Zen master keeps pouring.
"What are you doing?" asks the scholar, thinking maybe the Zen master is crazy. "The cup is already full."
The Zen master stops pouring, and replies, "So is your mind. You are so full of your own certainty, that there is no room for wisdom."
Much of Oriental philosophy is concerned with this "emptying out" process. In point of fact it's not really a process of "forgetting" what you know or any such thing, more one of expanding awareness by learning to witness thoughts, learning to observe the mind without getting caught up into it. Such a practice has the potential to lead to less attachments and less desires -- less "clinging" in general. This can play out in many realms, both in our relationships with objects, with people, and with our own thoughts and conditioned beliefs.
As Lao Tzu says...
"Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.
By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real."
"Desire" here is synonymous with "attachment". With less attachment, the "hidden mystery" (truth beyond the conditioned mind) is more knowable, and with more attachments, we can "see only what is visibly real", that is, we are limited to familiar, fixed reference points, the world we have been conditioned by society to see.