There is a force that connects all things. That probably makes many modern Americans think of the Force in the Star Wars films, but it goes further back. It is the Tao.
When I first read the little teaching story below – many years before Star Wars or reading Joseph Campbell or studying Zen Buddhism – I thought of the George Harrison song, “Within You, Without You”
“We were talking-about the space between us all
… we’re all one, and life flows on within you and without you.”
There once lived a young, curious fish. He was inclined to ask his older and wiser friend many questions.
“I always hear of this thing called the ocean,” the young fish said. “What is it?”
“Why, the ocean is that which surrounds you on all sides,” replied the older and wiser fish.
“That cannot be,” protested the young fish. “If it truly surrounded me on all sides, I would be able to see it!”
“You cannot see it because the ocean is both within you and outside of you.”
“But how can I tell if it exists if I cannot see it,” asked the bemused young fish.
“You cannot see it, but you can feel it,” replied the older fish.
The Tao or Dao (pronounced dow) is a Chinese concept signifying ‘way’, ‘path’, ‘route’, or sometimes more loosely, ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle.’ The concept of Tao was shared with Confucianism, Chán and Zen Buddhism and more broadly throughout East Asian philosophy and religion in general.
Tao signifies the essence or fundamental nature of the universe. In the foundational text of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching, Laozi explains that Tao is not a ‘name’ for a ‘thing’ but the underlying natural order of the universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe. Tao is thus “eternally nameless.”