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1.4 (Chapter 25)

There was something undifferentiated and all-embracing,[1]
Which existed before Heaven and Earth.[2]
Soundless and formless," it depends on nothing external And stays inexhaustible.[4]
It operates with a circular motion And remains inextinguishable.[5]
It may be considered the mother of all things under Heaven. [6]
I do not know its name, and hence call it the Dao far-fetchedly.[7]
If forced to give it another name, I shall call it the Great.[8]
The Great is boundless and thus functioning everywhere.
It is functioning everywhere and thus becoming far-reaching.[9]
It is becoming far-reaching and thus returning to the original point.[10]
Therefore the Dao is great. Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
And Man is also great.
There are four great things in the universe,[11] And Man is one of them.[12]

Man follows the way of Earth.[13]
Earth follows the way of Heaven.[14]
Heaven follows the way of the Dao.[15]
And the Dao follows the way of spontaneity.[16]

[1] This "something undifferentiated and all-embracing" means the Dao in its original and somewhat chaotic state, in which all things were undiscriminating and encompassed as a whole.
[2] The most fundamental aspect of the Dao ties in Lao Zi's preoccupation with the Dao as preceding Heaven and earth and all things as well. This notion as such is repeated in the chapters that have been discussed previously.
[3] He Shanggong renders ji as "soundless" and liao as "formless," implying "incorporeal." These characteristics of the Dao are also explicated in such chapters as 14 and 35 (DDJ).
[4] This quality of the Dao indicates its independence and everlastingness. The Dao itself serves as something equivalent to the Western concept of the absolute and eternity, provided that the religious sense of the latter is excluded.
[5] As for the Chinese expression zhou xing in this context there are two representative interpretations: One says that the Dao functions everywhere and permeates or internally determines everything, according to Heshang Gong and Wang Bi; the other assumes that Dao is always on the move, as though operating in a circular motion, and hence it never stops or vanishes. When taking into account the movement of the Dao (i.e. "becoming far-reaching and thus returning to the original point," and "Reversion is the movement of Dao,Ħħ see Ch. 40, DDJ), we are inclined to agree with the second explanation.
[6] Lao Zi was preoccupied with the idea that the Dao is creative, productive and the originator of the whole universe. His preferred employment of "mother" (mu) as a metaphor for the Dao well confirms his stress on the feminine or Yin aspect of Chinese culture in general.
[7] Lao Zi himself could hardly think of an available or exact term to represent what he was pondering in his mind. However, he really desired to introduce a new concept of his own in order to break down the theistic conventionalism characterized by the imagined pre-existence of a personified Lord of Heaven as the creator of all things. Hence he offered a series of tentative alternatives along with further relevant descriptions.
[8] The concept of "Great" (da) is used here to emphasize the all-powerfulness and all-embracingness of the Dao as the origin of all things.
[9] These descriptions of the Dao that functions everywhere and becomes far-reaching are intended to demonstrate the greatness, powerfulness and potentiality, as well as the perpetual movement of the Dao.



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