My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practise them, you'll fail.
My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.
I remember years ago at college a lecturer fulminating against those who attempted to paraphrase poetry, quite simply because it destroyed the magic, the very essence of the poem and the poetic enterprise. In similar manner, that same lecturer and many other colleagues encouraged us never to ask the question "what does a poem mean?" They believed that a poem just was what it was or is what it is and that the readers should allow the words to work their magic on them in their own way and in their own time. Let's use a mathematical concept here in order to further our understanding of what these lecturers were at. Those of you accustomed to mathematics will know all about functions and the one to one correspondence of elements in the domain and the range. No element in the domain can be mapped onto two elements in the range. If we use this mathematical concept we could say that a paraphrase attempts a one to one correspondence between words and their significance, between poem and meaning: in short, it tries to make the poem out to be a mere one dimensional functional thing. A poem cannot denote like a function denotes; rather it connotes many levels of meaning. Hence, no simplified paraphrase will ever suffice; no on-to-one correspondence will be adequate.
Likewise, our above spiritual poem defies simplification or oversimplification. Once again, our Taoist poet uses exaggeration and paradox and he either overstates or understates things thus: He tells us his teachings are easy to understand; that our intellect will never grasp them (two contradictory sentiments); that if we try to practise his teachings of the Master or of the Tao we will fail; that the teachings of either Master or Tao are beyond our human understanding; and that the journey into the Tao begins with diving deep into our own hearts. This latter assertion is pure Augustinianism or pure "interiority" as St Augustine called the meditative or contemplative way of discovering God within our own souls. He also called that that phenomenon the "indwelling of the Holy Spirit."
However, my advice to any reader of poems is to let the poem be, let it call forth all the associations, personal and otherwise that it sparks in the mind and heart of the reader. My recommendation is similar for spiritual writings. All such works are attempting the nigh impossible - to capture the movement of the human heart towards God and the movement of the Divine towards humankind. Insofar as it is engaged in that task, those spiritual writings, of necessity, employ the use of metaphors, similes, comparisons, parables, stories, allusions and connotations, and all these devices serve to strike resonances of all kinds in the mind and heart of the reader. In like manner, that is what we have to do with the above rather paradoxical and enigmatic poem. Read the words in a contemplative way, seeking not to understand them in the head, but rather to accept their multiple and contradictory meanings with the heart.