In 1999, I read the Tao te Ching, a book written in the sixth century BCE by a Chinese philosopher called Lao Tsu. The simple and sublime mathematical clarity of Tao the Ching aroused my curiosity enough to warrant refreshing my memory as to the exact language in the high drama of Genesis, the only other creation story I knew at the time. With all due respect, the biblical account was familiar in my case through cultural literacy, not worship.
For your own comparison, here are the first two creation stories:
Chapter 42, Tao te Ching: A New Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English says:
The Tao begot one. One begot two. Two begot three. And the three begot the ten thousand things. The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang. They achieve harmony by combining these forces.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.
Upon first reading, the two descriptions of creation seemed to have little in common, except both were ancient. Genesis offers itself to be taken literally, while the Tao te Ching is clearly symbolic, employing numbers and relationships.
After reading the two poetic scriptures several more times, one after the other, I was struck with the idea that if both creation stories were telling of the origin of all existence, then both must be telling of the same initial event, as described from different perspectives.
I could think of nothing more important than to comprehend the single truth being told in such extremely different words and styles.
I soon noticed a shared pattern. In both the creation stories, opposites are differentiated: Darkness and Light in Genesis, and Yin and Yang in Tao te Ching.
Differentiation defines distinctions.
Also, in both of these stories, the differentiated produced an integration.
Integration joins commonalities.
In the Tao te Ching the forces achieved harmony; and in Genesis the evening and morning were integrated into the “first day”.
See Essential Vocabulary: Differentiation and Integration.
I wondered how the two ancient scriptures might be translated or decoded so that any other shared concepts might be revealed to me. My curiosity captivated me for days on end, until one morning within a week or so, during the moments between dreaming and waking, patterns appeared, as if upon a chalkboard in my mind.
This was unlike anything I had previously experienced; it was as if I had become a voyeur, watching my dreams from a portal at the cusp of waking.
When I would awaken completely, I could recollect the visions, as if they were specifically mine to keep. I suspected at the time that these images were related to my quest, so I scribbled them into notebooks – a la ‘A Beautiful Mind’ (a movie released many years later). Illustrations of the actual chalkboard symbols are in the next post, Quadrants of Creation Appear in Chalkboard Visions.
For someone with only a high school education, the insistent instructional insights have been mesmerizing, stimulating and, at times, challenging.
I had one friend, Napi, who would put up with me as words, images and even numbers flowed from me, even before any clarity had settled in. She too would take notes, feeling that there was something of value camouflaged in the incoherence. Napi helped me learn composition rules and computer tricks. (Please know that to whatever degree I have become a writer, it is due to Napi’s patient guidance and tutoring; although, all errors on this site are entirely my own.)
Fortunately, each morning ‘lesson’ would recur until I got its translation right. I seemed to have an intuitive sense about them; however, since I had no educational background to fully understand the patterns, my process was much like putting together a picture puzzle without the benefit of a box top illustration for a guide.
When an insight would confound me or seemed counter-intuitive, I would go to the library or bookstore and wander around a bit until some book would grab my attention. When I opened it, seemingly too often to be coincidental, that very page would provide some fuller explanation that enabled me to understand and assimilate what had previously been perplexing. In this novel way of doing research, I discovered entire books that confirmed, sharpened, or expanded upon the patterns and concepts intuited in my meditations.
My insights were confirmed by renowned authors, including the most illustrious minds in philosophy and physics, sacred scribes and obscure mystics, and of course, women from widely-varying cultures whose brilliant work has long deserved to take its place alongside their celebrated male counterparts.
Sometimes a book in my own library beckoned me to revisit it, and a passage previously glossed over would leap forward to illuminate a concept applicable to my current line of questioning. When the time was right, books that had been previously irrelevant, or entirely over my head, revealed their significance.
Having been home-schooled in this fashion, perhaps by library angels, I have read books on such subjects as wholistic health and healing, histories of science, mathematics and sacred geometry; psychology and sociology; ecology and politics; life science and quantum biology; religion and spirituality; ancient wisdom and new science; process philosophy, chaos, complexity and information theory. I very much appreciate those authors who are willing to write so that laypersons, like myself, can gain insight into subjects otherwise accessible only to advanced students.
Years later, the ancient Rig Veda‘s passages would come into my awareness as a third creation story. Full of insights is the Nasadiya Sukta (Hymn of Creation), from the tenth mandala of the oldest of the Four Vedas, whose date of origin is unknown and highly contested*.
*Here is a linked site that informs us of the pre-history of India; and it includes a nice video on the topic, too.
Along with Chapter 1 of the Bible’s Genesis and Chapter 42 of the Tao te Ching, the Rig Veda presents a third creation story:
Rig Veda, Translation by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty
There was neither non-existence nor existence then. There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
What stirred? Where? In whose protection?
Was there water, bottomlessly deep?
There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning, with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.
The life force that was covered with emptiness, that One arose through the power of heat. Desire came upon that One in the beginning, that was the first seed of mind.
Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence and non-existence. Their cord was extended across.
Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers, there were powers. There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen? Whence this creation has arisen — perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not – the One who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only He knows or perhaps He does not know.
The questions pondered by the writer(s) of the ancient Rig Veda are not unfamiliar to me. My questions are similar.
Rather recently, another creation story came onto my radar. The Enuma Elish is the first of the Mesopotamian Seven Tablets of Creation, which are among the most ancient of all creation stories. Do these first few lines sound familiar?
When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven,
Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being…
Apparently the more ancient creation stories filtered down into the one presented in Genesis. Still, the creation story on Chapter 42 of the Tao te Ching remains in a class of its own. Only by reading the entire book do we begin to find keys to their similarity.
An aside is offered here to explore the persistence of ancient Myths and Mysteries.
To this day, I live in the belly of a question that seized me years ago: What is the source of all that is?
From that initial question comes its logical follow-up: Shouldn’t understanding the dynamics of creation empower us to realize the full potentiality of, and responsibility for, our own creativity?
Just as a radio can be tuned to pick up invisible frequencies, answers are attuned to our questions. A question and its answer fit together, like a lock and key. When I feel that click, it produces a sense of clarity and gratitude — almost an ecstasy. Sometimes I get a tickly feeling that tells me an answer is very close by and trying to dock-in; however, my question is not quite fit for the answer. And sometimes an answer docks in, and even though it exudes certainty, I am ill-equipped to fully comprehend it.
At one point, when a mathematical formula was revealed for which I had no comprehension, I wrote it down and hired an algebra tutor so I could grasp its meaning. As it turned out, that mathematical formula offered a profound confirmation of a previous insight whose depth I had yet to fully fathom. (I’ll keep that story for a future post.)
I make no claims about my credentials for writing factual essays. I am simply sharing what I have “remembered” through my meditative process and what I have distilled from the books I have read. Various religious, mythological, philosophical, poetic and scientific writings confirm that my intuitive perceptions have been, throughout the ages “remembered” by others before me who have asked the same or similar questions.
As an old autodidact, I have come to believe that when a person’s curiosity is compelling, and his or her attention is focused enough, tapping into universal knowledge and understanding occurs quite spontaneously. Those whose wisdom and creativity have been celebrated throughout history have often described their source of inspiration as an experience of whole-cloth immediacy. I propose that this natural, wholistic, and convenient method of learning can be, for some, richer and more satisfying than the alternative methods currently available through institutions that sometimes confuse training with education.
As for myself, I can say now, nearly two decades after the commencement of this process, that patterns have become a part of my everyday life; they are never not hovering around me. I have developed a great respect for the art of questioning, and I have learned to linger longer in that wondrous state between sleeping and waking, from which my questions’ answers often arise.
As I share with you my artistic process of downloading impressions and fitting them together in puzzle-like fashion, I hope you will consider my blog site as you would an abstract painting; you may make your own account of what is presented here. No claim is made that this work of art represents advanced scholarship in comparative religion. Creation stories are respectfully scrutinized here to honor their exquisite awareness as time capsules across the millennia, discreetly carrying the keys to perennial mysteries. I invite you to expand on the ideas evoked by my descriptions.