February 23, 2009


The Dào that can be spoken of
Is not the Everlasting Dào.
The Name that can be named
Is not the Everlasting name.
The unnamed is the origin to all Heaven and Earth;
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

Therefore, always be without desire
In order to observe the hidden mystery;
Always be with desire
In order to see the manifestations.
Though the two are the same,
Once they arise they differ in name.
One in the same they are called Xuán.
Xuán within Xuán,
Gateway of all mystery.

COMMENTARY by Koeng S. Wan:
All creation is a mystery. To gain a complete understanding of any part of it, even as it exists right now, is impossible, though one can learn how to observe it more completely by understanding Xuán.

The Lǎo Zǐ starts with a disclaimer – the Dào can't be fully explained to the reader because it is being described with words (names). Words cannot capture the total essence of a thing as the "Everlasting name" for a "Name" cannot be "named". However, this division does not explain what the Dào is. Furthermore, Division 2 identifies other shortcomings of words.

Understanding of any particular thing, including the Dào, originates from a unified mystery of it called Xuán (玄) (translated as "Darkness" or "Dark-Enigma") that has two separate expressions that people cannot perceive simultaneously. One expression, manifestation (jiào 徼), is acquired with desire. The other expression, hidden mystery (miào 妙), is aquired without desire. Complete understanding is attained by acquiring both expressions. The two expressions are so different that we give them different names, though they both originate from the same thing, Xuán. Consequently, understanding of Xuán itself (Xuán within Xuán), is the key to a complete understanding of every thing.

Overall, “The Name that can be named” refers to all words collectively. By asserting that, “The Name that can be named is not the Everlasting name”, the Lǎo Zǐ, in its distrust for language, distinguished itself from both Mohism and Confucianism, schools of thought that competed directly with the Daoism of the Lao Zi[1].

The “unnamed” that is the origin to all Heaven and Earth is the Dào (Division 42). Dào itself is a term used only as a designation and not a "name" (see Division 25).

The “named” that is the mother of the ten thousand things is Heaven and Earth, mentioned in the previous line.

[1] Hansen, Chad, "Taoism", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (editor), section 4.