By Aleister Crowley

Chapter XXXIV: The Tao (1)

Cara Soror,

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

This is the hardest question you have yet put to me: to explain the Tao.  The only proper answer would be Silence, trusting to the slow dispersion and absorption of the disturbance created by your asking it.  In that sentence there lies, really, the whole explanation; but I see well enough that it won't do for you.  You are not yet old or wise enough to understand that the only way to clear muddy water is to leave it alone.  Still, you doubtless expect me to tell you just how that comes to pass; I will not disappoint you.  First of all, what is the Tao?  No proposed equivalent in any other language comes within a billion light-years of giving even an approximation.  For one thing, it is itself a paradox; for another, it has several meanings which are apparently quite distinct.  For instance, one sinologist calls it "Reason"; another, "The Way"; another "Tat" or "Shiva."  These are all true in one sense or another.  My own "White Hope" (see The Book of Thoth) is to identify it with the Qabalistic Zero.  This last attribution is useful, as I will show presently, for hard practical reasons; it is an assumption which indicates the method of the Old Wise One who approaches the Tao.

As you know, the supreme classic of this subject, is the Tao Teh King; and I must suppose that you have read this in at least one of the several translations, else I should have to start by pushing my own version at you.  (This has been ready for a quarter of a century, and I seem to be unable to get it printed!)  None of these published translations, learned and admirable though they may be as such, can be of use except to familiarize you with the terminology; for not one of these scholars has the most nebulous idea of that Laotze was talking about.  I can hardly hope to emphasize sternly enough how deep and wide is the "Great Gulf fixed" between the initiate and the profane, when questions of this kind are on the Magic Carpet.  Suppose you were transported (on that Carpet!) to a planet where the highest means of reproduction was germination; try to make the denizens understand Catullus, Shelley, Rossetti, or Emily Bronteë!  It is, honestly, quite as bad as that.  How can anyone grasp the idea of perfect and absolute negation being at the same time the sole motive force of all that exits?

"Tao hath no will to work;
But by its influence even
The Moon and Sun rejoice to run
Among the starry Seven."

King Kang Khang.1

The Book of the Law states the doctrine of Tao very succinctly: "...thou hast no right but to do thy will.  Do that, and no other shall say nay.  For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect." (AL I, 42-44)

"Thus also the Sage, seeking not any goal, attaineth all things; he does not interfere in the affairs of his body, and so that body acteth without friction.  It is because he meddleth not with his personal aims that these come to pass with simplicity."  Tao Teh King, VII, 2.

The ideal analogy seems to be that of a planet in its orbit.  It has its "true motion;" it meets the minimum of friction from circumambient space.  When it suffers the attraction of another body, it sways slightly to make the proper adjustment without effort or argument; it can, consequently, continue indefinitely in its orbit.

This is roughly the plan of the Taoist in his attitude to life. Having ascertained the Path which satisfies the equations of his Nature (as we say, "found his True Will") he continues "without lust of result," acting only when it happens to be necessary to adjust himself to any external stress that affects him, and so proceeds happily

     "thinking of a way
   To feed oneself on batter,
And so go on from day to day
   Getting a little fatter."

—assuming that his "True Will" is of that variety.  Basil King Lamus asserts this in The Diary of A Drug Fiend when he says: "If I were a dog, I should bark; if I were an owl, I should hoot."  It is rather like the pattern in the game of dominoes; you put the card that matches.  No other consideration comes into it at all.

It is the extreme simplicity of this idea which baffles people's minds, and the universal quality of impatience which makes everybody fidget, and so injure the delicacy of the "fine adjustment" which is the essence of the work.

When I used to climb rocks, I never jumped, I never grabbed, I never made a sudden or a violent movement; therefore, with thin smooth arms like a young girl's, and legs, tough enough it is true but always slow and steady, I used to find myself at the top of pitches that had beaten all the gymnasts.

In every sport worth the name one may observe similar facts.  Consider the delicacy required for big breaks at billiards; the problem is always to secure favourable readjustment with a minimum of disturbance.  Of course, there are positions which demand drastic treatment; but that is the best evidence that the balls have got into the worst possible mess from your point of view.  But it was an exquisitely delicate "safety shot" that got them like that.  True, there are games in which brute force is the way to victory; but such games never make progress in themselves.  The "tug-of-war" or "tossing the caber" are exactly as they were fifty—or five hundred—years ago.  Contrast the advance in "positional" chess!

Oh yes, this is all old stuff!  Of course it is; but it remains a useful sort of basis for meditation when you are seeking to understand one aspect of the Way of he Tao.

Anyhow (you protest) this is getting away from the question as to what Tao actually is.  Good; but I want you to abstain from trying to make an intellectual image of it, still less to visualize it.  I tried at one time to do something of the sort with the Fourth Dimension:2 Hinton gives a practice involving complex patterns of cubes; and I was never able to make anything of it.

As I said above, it is a matter of Neschamah; but what follows may help you.

Why is the Tao translated "Reason"?  Because by "Reason" is here meant the structure of the mind itself; a Buddhist who had succeeded with Mahasatipatthana might call it the Consciousnesss of the Tendency to Perceive the Sensation of Anything.  For in the last resort, and through the pursuit of one line of analysis, this structure is all that we can call our consciousness.  Everything of which we can in any way be aware may be interpreted as being some function of this structure.

Note!  Function.  For now we see why Tao may also be translated "The Way"; for it is the motion of the structure that we observe.  There is no Being apart from Going.

You are familiar with the Four Powers of the Sphinx, attributed by the Adepts of old time to their Four Elements.  Air is to Know, Scire; Fire is to Will, Velle; Water is to Dare, Audere; and Earth is to Keep Silence, Tacere.  But now that a fifth Element, spirit, is generally recognized in the Qabalah, I have deemed it proper to add a Fifth Power corresponding: to Go, Ire.  (Book of Thoth, p. 275)3

Then, as Spirit is the Origin, the Essence, and the Sum of the other four, so is to Go in relation to those powers.  And to Go is the very meaning of the name God, as elsewhere shewn in these letters; hence the Egyptian Gods were signalized as such by their bearing the Ankh, which is a Sandal-strap, and in its form the Crux Ansata, the Rosy Cross, the means whereby we demonstrate the Godhead of our Nature.  See then how sweetly each idea slides into the next!  How right this is, that the Quintessence should be dynamic and not static!  For if there were some form of Being separate from Going, it would necessarily be subject to decay; and, in any case, a thing impossible to apprehend, since apprehension is itself an Act, not an idea immobile which would be bound to change in the very moment of grasping it.

As I have tried to shew in another letter, the "Point-Event" (or whatever it is) of which we are aware is a change, or, less inaccurately, the memory of one; the things that change remain relentlessly unknown.

It does seem to me, young woman, that you ought to go over these ideas again and again, familiarizing yourself intimately with this process of passing from one to another, so intimately that it becomes automatic and spontaneous for you to run round the circle in perfectly frictionless ease; for otherwise your mind will be for ever pestering you all your life, and even your conscience reproaching you; they will say "But you have never got a definite answer to any single one of your original questions."  We are all—most of us, anyhow—born with this hankering after the definite; it is our weakness that yearns for repose.  We do not see that this is death; if any of these answers could be cut off short and neatly trimmed with paper frills like a ham, it would no longer be even an approximation to truth.

I am quite sure that this is the Doctrine of the Tao, and of opinion that no other body of teaching puts forward its thought more clearly or more simply.

Love is the law, love under will.

Yours fraternally,


1: The Khing Kang King, or "Classic of Purity" is a short Taoist writing attributed to one Ko Yüan (or Hsüan); an English translation by James Legge appeared as an appendix to the two volumes of Taoist texts in the "Sacred Books of the East" series.  While he was in America between 1914 and 1919 Crowley wrote a poetic paraphrase which he designated Liber XXI.  The verse quoted was originally translated by Legge as "The Great Tâo has no passions, but It causes the sun and moon to revolve as they do."  I do not currently have access to any modern translations – T.S.

2: The Fourth Dimension by C.H. Hinton; London, 1884; facsimile reprint by Kessinger available – T.S.

3: The initials of the five "powers" in the Latin language thus form the initials of Sub Umbra Alarum Tuarum, Iehova (or Isis).  Compare the concluding prayer of the Fama Fraternitatis – T.S.

© Ordo Templi Orientis.  Original key entry by W.E. Heidrick for O.T.O.  HTML coding by Frater T.S. for Nu Isis Working Group.

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