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Dao De Jing: Chapter 40

The Dao De Jing: Chapter 40


反 者 道 之 动。
弱 者 道 之 用。
天 下
万 物 生 于 有。
有 生 于 无。


Fan zhe dao zhi dong.
Ruo zhe dao zhi yong.
Tian xia
Wan wu sheng yu you.
You sheng yu wu.


Reverting to its opposite is how the Dao moves.
Being pliable and fluid is how the Dao is used.
Under Heaven
The ten thousand things emerge from what exists within form.
And that which exists within form, emerges from existence without form.



In the initial line, fan () is a character that appears over and over again in Laozi and The Dao De Jing. It is a word that has many shades of meaning: to return, to revert back, go back, come back, the perpetual reversion of what is contrary [yin () to its opposite, yang ()], to redo, to return to one’s original nature, return to one’s hometown, a return to unity or a union of opposites, a circular return of the seasons, and to rotate. The last character in line one, dong (), means movement, to stir, act, change, alter, use, arouse. It is a verb that describes a process, a process that moves easily and often.

In the second line, ruo () means weak, frail and delicate. As a process, it means to weaken, bend, and go with the flow. Within the context of Chinese calligraphy (writing-painting), known as shufa (书法), it describes the critical way, or technique, on how the brush and ink (you) are applied to the white paper (wu). For shufa, although the technique may be weak and delicate, the effect should be fluid and free.

So the first two lines can mean:

Reversion to its opposite is how the Dao moves
Being pliable and fluid is how the Dao is used.

Tian xia literally means under the sky or under heaven, or what is down here on earth.
Sheng means to give birth to, to bear, deliver, grow, life, existence, cause, make, incur, to emerge.

This vision of existence moving back and forth between the formed and the formless, the material and the spiritual, the manifested and non-manifested, dovetails well with one of the basic tenets of Chan Fojiao (禅佛教) (Zen Buddhism), impermanence, and therefore bodes well for Buddhism’s later acceptance when first introduced into China in the early centuries of the Christian Era.

This movement back and forth makes the Dao more of a verb, as opposed to being a noun. The swinging to and fro is kind of like the young child playing peek-a-boo with a parent or adult. Now you see it, and now you don’t. The Western mind often tends to believe that if the object is not seen, then it does not exist.

So Chapter 40 can be translated as:

Reversion to its opposite is how the Dao moves
Being pliable and fluid is how the Dao is used.

On earth, the innumerable worldly things emerge from Being-Within-Form
And Being-Within-Form is born from Being-Without-Form.

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