The place of an image

Richard Shusterman quotes/translates in "The Adventures of the Man in Gold" Laozi describing the Tao:

“As a thing the way is shadowy and indistinct. Indistinct and shadowy, yet within it is an image. Shadowy and indistinct, yet within it is a substance. Dim and dark, yet within it is an essence. This essence is quite genuine” (D 21). (道之為物惟恍惟 惚。惚兮恍兮其中有象。恍兮 惚兮其中有物。窈兮冥兮其中 有精。其精甚真。)

At first I though it was a cascade: the unspoken contains an image, that image contains a substance, that substance holds an essence. And the essence is genuine. So we go deeper and deeper till we reach that which is.

However grammatically it's a series of approximations that try to explain that which is shadowy and indistinct. Or is it? I need a solid English consultation here.

As an image maker I would prefer the former way of reading the quote. In it the image is a necessary step into that which is. In the latter it's just one of many possible ways to grasp that which can't be grasped.

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