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Definition of the Tao

    The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

    (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven
    and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all
    (Tao-te ching, ch. 1, James Legge's version)


Tao can not be described. As creator and origin of all the things (chin. wan-wu, the ten-thousand) it is ineffable. Moreover, if we have to follow its course, we can't find an enduring and constant way. Everything changes or is affected by the law of change. This is the ancient Taoist view about the world.

Tao can be conceived both with name or noname. With name, it is the mother of ten-thousand - without name, it is the root of Heaven and Earth. This division name-moname points to the visible and invisible Tao. What we see are the outer productivity and what we don't see is its power.

Note: The word "tao" has many meanings according to Taoist and Confucians.
See also our paper on the Tao

I wrote more about the first verses of this chapter and their meaning in the Level 1 of the Taoism initiation course.

Commentary by Jhian


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