It is a pleasant evening. You walk up to the entrance of the ballroom. As a member of the Music Union (MU), you've been invited to a dance. You don't know much about ballroom dancing, but you're eager to learn.
It is the first time you've been to such an event, so you are a bit nervous. Fortunately, your friends will meet up with you inside. Some of them have been to the dance many times and can help you get oriented.
The ballroom is colorful and lively. Everywhere you look, there are bright lights and fanciful decorations. Overhead, the chandeliers provide countless glowing points of illumination.
The MU seems to have limitless resources to be able to provide all this, but there doesn't seem to be anyone around in an official capacity.
You are part of the oversoul - the sum total of all human spirits past, present and future. As a member of this totality, you have the right - the member privilege - to enter the material plane and participate in the experience of mortal existence.
We tend to descend to the material plane in groups, with our soul companions for mutual support. Young souls will often rely on more mature spirits to guide them. When they gain experience, they will in turn offer assistance to those for whom life is still a new experience.
It is the nature of the material world to be filled with bright, colorful and tempting distractions. These sights and sounds seem endless. Whatever their ultimate source may be, it seems inexhaustible.
The beginning of chapter four of Tao Te Ching says the above this way:
The Tao is empty
The source of creation is elusive. Although it seems limitless, there is nothing we can point to and identify as the source. Nor is there anyone around to claim responsibility. When we look up at the night sky with its million points of light, it feels as if everything comes from a deep and unfathomable emptiness.
As you observe everything around you, you can't help but wonder how this marvelous spectacle came into existence. You ask your friends: "Where did all this come from? Who founded the MU? Who started the dance?"
One of your friends pauses thoughtfully before replying: "I've asked quite a few people that question, and they give me conflicting answers. Some say that one man founded our organization long ago and has been in charge ever since, as the General Opera Director, or GOD. Others say GOD is a woman, not a man; still others say there is no evidence that such a position exists - according to them, this ballroom has always been around and we just happen to take advantage of it."
"Who do you think is right?"
"Well, it may not be a situation where one side has to be right and the others wrong, because there are many possibilities other than these theories. For instance, the Music Union may have evolved from informal gatherings of friends who enjoy music and dancing. If so, then all the things you see here are not the result of one individual's effort, nor did they come together spontaneously by random chance.
"More importantly, if you really think about it, there is a truth that is greater than any debates about the existence or non-existence of the General Opera Director. Whether the Music Union was founded by one individual or many or no particular person, we can say with certainty that the driving force behind the founding was the love of music.
"Think about it: the love of music had to be there before anything meaningful could occur. For instance, if indeed there was a GOD, it would only be because the love of music motivated someone to take on that role. Therefore, I would say love is the primary cause - no matter who's right!"
What is the origin of life, the universe, and everything? Who or what is the ultimate creator? These are profound questions people have asked since the dawn of humanity. Theists and atheists attempt to answer - and often engage each other in heated debates.
Tao cultivators believe that the Tao is the process that makes existence and reality possible. Or, to be more precise, whatever the process is that brought about existence and reality, we call it the Tao. This means the Tao is the undeniable, everpresent reality whether the universe springs from the work of a supernatural entity, or came together out of the interaction of natural laws.
Just as the love of music had to exist before the Music Union could be founded, the Tao also had to exist before the universe could be created. This remains true even if one subscribes to the theist notion that asserts a Supreme Being as the creator.
Christians would say that God created the universe out of His divine love or divine will. In order for that to work, divine love or will had to be present before the role of creator became reality. It simply cannot be the other way around.
Having realized this, we look again at the end of chapter four of Tao Te Ching:
So indistinct! It seems to exist
The last line may have puzzled us before, but now it makes perfect sense. Just as the position of the General Opera Director was made possible by the love of music, God the creator is a concept that could only emerge from the Tao. This is what it means when we say that the image of the Tao precedes God.
The Tao is indistinct because it is not personified, just as the concept of love need not be personified. Unlike God, the Tao is not a human-like figure with human-like emotions. It is the primary cause - so we cannot know what gave rise to it (whose offspring it is), just as no one can say where love comes from.
This understanding elevates us above the issue of God's existence or non-existence. It is an illumination that reveals the true insignificance of the debates between theists and atheists. No matter who's right, the transcendent truth of the Tao remains eternal... and forever unchanging!