In Chapter 25 of the Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing), Lao Tzu tried to explain the origin and nature of Tao (Dao). Throughout the years, other saints and sages have attempted to define and describe the essence of Tao, knowing the difficulty of using language and words to convey the essence directly. However, these writings can give us some guidance and a greater understanding of the truth. Let’s look more closely at Lao Tzu’s description of Tao in two interpretations of the same text:
Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – Chapter 25
There was something featureless yet complete, born before heaven and earth; Silent-amorphous-it stood alone and unchanging. We may regard it as the mother of heaven and earth. Not knowing its name, I style it the “Way.
There is something that was mysteriously formed. It was born before the creation of heaven and earth. It is silent and formless, independent and immutable, constantly moving and always harmonious. It is the mother of all things in the universe. I do not know its name, so I have simply called it Dao.
As you can see, the translations may vary, and the wording may not always be flawless or perfect, however the spirit that is captured is the same. Regardless of how many other translations we may choose to examine, trying to define words and draw specific conclusions may only limit our own power of understanding. As we may already know, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” That is what Lao Tzu meant when he said:
The Dao that can be said is not the eternal Dao; the name that can be named is not the eternal name.
As we explore its essence further, our understanding of the truth will grow and we will be able to fully appreciate the preciousness of the message we receive. For the sake of mutual understanding, if we were to image ourselves for a moment as a literary critic, we would break down each sentence as follows:
There is something that was mysteriously formed. The “something” in this statement refers to Dao. “Mysteriously formed” simply means that no one knows how it came into being. All things in the universe have a source. Everything must be created or born. The essence of Dao, however, has no source, because it is itself the source of all things. Dao is not created; it is that which creates. In the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 6, it states “The Valley-Spirit dies not. It is called the Mystical Feminine. The Door of the Mystical Feminine is called the Root of the heavens and earth…”
It was born before the creation of heaven and earth. Since Dao was not created, it must have been in existence before heaven and earth were formed. In other words, Dao is the essence that gave birth to heaven and earth. Western mind tends to associate “Creator” with masculine and Father, as the act of creation is essentially yang. However, the notion of divine creativity can also be understood as feminine. The driving force of all creativity is love, and with love as a driving force, creativity freely gives itself – nowhere is this more evident than between a mother’s unconditional love and devotion for her child.
It is silent and formless. Dao is not a substance or a kind of material. It has no form and makes no sound, so it cannot be seen, heard or grasped through any of our senses. We also know from the Tao Te Ching, that the Great Mother’s fathomless womb is the birthplace of existence emerging to create heaven and earth. From this silence and emptiness springs life. The theologian Ramon Panikkar says, “The Nothing out of which God creates everything is God.”
Independent and immutable. Dao is self-sustaining. It does not need to rely on anything for its existence. Being immutable means that Dao does not undergo change; it is constant, imperishable, and therefore eternal. Our own self-expression and participation in the process of creation is born of the same divine creative substance of our universal Mother. The very energy of Creation is flowing through us. As Eckhardt Tolle says, “You are here to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold. That is how important you are!” The reality to which this statement points fills us with awe and a sense of responsibility and accountability not just for our life, but to nature and our planet.
Moves constantly and harmoniously. Dao works ceaselessly. It governs and sustains all things in a harmonious manner so that there is no danger or conflict. As the source and underlying condition of all things, nothing can maintain its existence without Dao. This quality of consistency reflects the great benevolence, wisdom and compassion of the supreme and mysterious Female, which works unconditionally and never rests.
It is the mother of all things. The title of Mother refers to the fact that Dao gave birth to all things. Sometimes we talk about Dao in terms of Mother Nature, who creates and nurtures the things of this world. Since Dao is our source and origin, we are children of the Universe. Our first relationship in this life is with our mother. Through our connection and bond with our mother, we come to understand our relationship with everyone else.
I do not know its name. Because it is impossible to convey the nature of Dao in words, Lao Tzu said “I don’t know what it’s called.”
So I simply call it Dao. Although Lao Tzu knew that a word could never fully represent Dao, he realized that he would have to give it a name so that he could teach people about it and guide them in their search for spiritual truth. He used the Chinese Dao to represent this essence. “Dao” simply manes “the way, or path.” By showing us that Dao is beyond words, and yet still giving it a name, Lao Tzu demonstrates both the limitations and the necessity of language. He also shows great compassion in his effort to help us understand the essence of Dao without becoming attached to the forms of representation.
From Lao Tzu’s description of Dao, we can note the following points:
Dao is the source of all things.
Dao is the principle that governs all things.
Dao is the path that leads us back to our origin.
There are striking parallels to the image of sacred feminine, or Mother, who is the source of life, the governess of her children, the restorer of harmony. It is not pure coincidence. As Lao Tzu pointed out, all things have their origin in Dao. Thus, Dao is the mother of all things in the universe. Although modern science and technology have made great advances in recent years, even the capacity to manifest growth, there is no scientist who can create vital life energy. People cannot manufacture this vitality, from which we all spring from. It is the essence of life without which we cannot exist as living beings. Be it heavenly grace, or Mother Nature, it is the well of life that nourishes all. It is easy for us to understand that the Earth nurtures us because all the food we eat and the water we drink, all the things we need for our physical survival, come to us directly from the Earth. But why do all spiritual teachings say that Heaven gives birth to us then? Although it is our parents who give birth to our physical body, the anima or essence within us stems from the universal cosmos. It is the same essence of life for all sentient beings on this planet. Put in another way, or a religious context, we all have a heavenly essence within us and this essence comes from our Heavenly Mother. When we speak of Heavenly Mother or God, we are using personalized terminologies for Dao to be understood in human terms.
The material that has been presented here is just the tip of the iceberg. As Lao Tzu said, words are no substitute for the real thing, which can solely be experienced in our own hearts and minds. We know that Dao is an intangible, indescribable essence, which has the capacity to create all things. We are fortunate to have scratched the surface of this precious treasure, now it is our time to explore it further.
The essence of truth will become clearer as we work towards uncovering it. The clearer it becomes, the more it helps us in our cultivation. So the way to really understand the essence is to cultivate our role as human beings and act in accordance with the principles of life and Dao in our everyday lives.
- The Teaching of Buddha is an untiring fiery call to the realization of the beauty and unity of the great creativeness of infinite Existence.
- And this stimulus, when imbued with the essence of the Teaching, rises before us not only as the greatest cosmic principle, but also as the greatest and most beautiful cosmic mystery.
- Woman must realize her significance, the great mission of the Mother of the World; she should be prepared to take responsibility for the destiny of humanity. Mother, the life-giver, has every right to direct the destiny of her children. The voice of woman, the mother, should be heard amongst the leaders of humanity. The mother suggests the first conscious thoughts to her child. She gives direction and quality to all his aspirations and abilities.
- And woman is the one who should know and proclaim this leading Principle because from the very beginning she was chosen to link the two worlds, visible and invisible. Woman possesses the power of the sacred life energy. The coming epoch brings knowledge about this great omnipresent energy, which is manifested in all immortal creations of human genius.
- But we hope that this first step will soon be outlived and that woman will deepen her knowledge of Mother-Nature and will find true, original ways of self-expression. The mother, the life-give, the life-protector—let her become also the Mother, the Leader, the All-Giver, the All-Receiver.