The way that can be spoken of is not the eternal Way.
The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.
Nonbeing is the origin of Heaven and Earth
Being is the mother of worldly things.
Therefore, be free of desire so you can see the true essence of things.
Having desire, all you can see are its outer manifestations.
Both come from the same source, yet they are called by different names.
What they have in common is their mystery,
Mystery upon mystery.
Mystery is the door to understanding everything.
Commentary: The first, and most famous, verse in the Tao Te Ching. The first two lines have a symmetry that's lost when they're translated. Basically, the character [tao] that means "Way" can also signify the action of talking about something, as well as the action of walking or following a path. So in the original Chinese the first line actually looks like this: "The [tao] that can be [tao]'ed is not the eternal [tao]." So it has an ambiguous meaning: either "The Way that can be followed is the not the eternal Way" or "The Way that can be spoken of is not the eternal Way." This ambiguity is lost in translation because the translator has to choose either "followed" or "spoken of," there's no word in English that means both. Was the ambiguity in the original intended? It was probably partly intended for poetic effect, but I think the intended meaning is probably closer to "spoken of." The idea that the Way is difficult to follow is not supported anywhere else in the Tao Te Ching. In fact, many passages speak of the TTC's Way as being very easy to follow, in particular 53 and 70, although both add that despite its easiness, most people don't have the good sense to follow it. Indeed, that's the whole essence of the TTC's Way: it's easy to follow, but impossible to describe.