Dao De Jing Chapter 1

The Dao that can be spoken of is not the Dao itself.
The name that can be given is not the name itself.
The unnameable is the source of the universe.
The nameable is the originator of all things.
Therefore, oftentimes without intention I see the Wonder of  Dao.
Oftentimes with intention I see its manifestations.
Its wonder and its manifestations are one and the same.
Since their emergence, they have been called by different names.
Their identity is called the mystery.
From mystery to further mystery:
The entry of all wonders!


I was up late one night over Thanksgiving with Annah, my 14-year-old daughter, re-watching the “Julie & Julia” movie where Julie a young 30 years old decides to cook her way through Julia Child’s cookbook and blog about her experience. An idea struck me! I will read through Lao Zi’s book “Dao De Jing” and blog my way through.  Since initiating this blog, I have had the thought to bring it “online intime”. I have been nudging up to this idea slowly trying to realize just what this means and, when I came across this Youtube clip Time sync, on time, in time!, I realized what I might be in for. After the time-sync clip and Julie’s cooking project challenges, I had second thoughts that I could keep a blog of my experiences and readings “online-intime”. But then I realize this is my experiential teaching pedagogy that I have been using since I started teaching in 1974:  one has to pay attention to one’s experiences, reflect on them in writing, as it all relates to an evolving theoretical framework, and then journal, blog, write papers – publish. Okay, understanding this is one thing, keeping It “online intime” is another!

Here is a concrete experience of what I think is now unfolding. The very next day after watching Julie blog, I watched the first Charlie Rose interview of J. K. Rowling (full interview) and listened to Rowling described the same creative processes in writing Harry Potter,  that  I had just experienced in watching Julie & Julia. This was a synchronistic and an enlightening interview for me and it brings us closer to understanding both the Yi Jing and the Dao De Jing. This blog “Dialectic Analytical Man” is where this is unfolding for me.
Charlie Rose with J.K Rowling


The writing project, Kaptitalism on the Couch, has appropriately been expanded to examine Obama’s 2nd Presidency moving, he hopes, forward. The expansion occurred when we asked the Yi Jing about what to expect from Obama’s 2nd term – reflections on the response posted earlier will soon be posted. So, the idea of blogging myself through Lao Zi’s Dao De Jing’s 81 chapters, one a week, is an attempt to better understand the experiences that are unfolding in time. It is important to realize that the Yi Jing was the book that both Lao Zi and his younger contemporary Confucius consulted in writing their books. Understanding and using both the Yi Jing and the Dao De Jing, will aid our comprehension and guide changes needed for an improved future – moving forward. This blog Dialectic Analytical Man is where this is unfolding is happening.


I have hyper-linked the Dao De Jing to Wikipedia so one might read some history. I will use Chang’s commentary, which includes both Chinese and Western thinkers on the Dao De Jing. Chang found in the writing of Heidegger a matching symmetry to that of Lao Zi. However, he also addresses the similarity in the thoughts of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Jung, and others that mirror the wisdom being spoken.

As we read Chapter 1, we immediately sense a difference between our western and this eastern Chinese way of thinking. This difference is that western linear thinking begins with specifics facts and builds these together in drawing to a rational conclusion. While Chinese thinking has been described as circular often beginning with the conclusion. Chang says Chapter 1 does this in that it “both introduces and summarized the entire Dao De Jing – the 5000 charters of this text are all based on this chapter.” The most important sentence in this chapter Chang identifies as “its wonder and its manifestation are one and the same”, which carries the meaning of the middle way philosophy, according to which reality and appearance are identified” (1).

We are concerned right from the start with understanding the essence of Dao. The Dao is the source, the originator of the universe and of all things. Chang writes that the “Dao cannot be determined: it is nameless and inexpressible… its wonder and its manifestations, in reality and its appearance are identified.” Western efforts identify Dao as the way, with reason or nature are one-sided – “the Dao that can be spoken of in not the Dao itself. The name that can be given is not the name itself.” With this in mind, Chang translation of the Dao he calls “the Dao itself”. Chang’s approach is to identify the real Dao, by looking deep into its hidden meanings, which he states will be “revealed through non-discrimination.” So, here we see a keen distinction between the eastern way of non-discriminations and the western way of discriminations.

The key Chang suggests to understanding the wonder of the Dao is proper seeing. The lines, “oftentimes without intention I see the wonder of Dao” and “oftentimes with intention I see its manifestations” identify a task before us. This seeing is not ordinary in that when one really sees, the unnamable and the nameable are both identified, such that “when seeing nothing, one not only see nothing but also the ten thousand things simultaneously concealed and unconcealed.”  Chang states that, “When one sees being, one is not limited to the form of being. One sees that being is simultaneously the formlessness of being and the wonder of non-being. Therefore Lao Zi says: Its wonder and it manifestations are one and the same…. Their identity is called the mystery.”

Chang suggests that the seeing being described is a “mental function of contemplation, where one can grasp and identify the nameable and the unnamable, or being and nothing,” however, what is seen in Chapter 1, he says, “cannot be conceptualized”. Chang states the implication of this is that only “without intention or non-willing, is one freed from conceptualization and released to the total identity of the seer and the seen, which is the highest state of the mystery of Dao.” Without this inner experience of identity, our conceptualizations are worthless. One must simultaneously be fee from both the wonder of Dao as an objective of study and from the idea of the mystery as subjective feeling. When this is achieved “both things and myself are forgotten. Once one is free from both the subjectivity and objectivity, one can enter the gate of Dao.”

Chang ends his commentary by stating he hopes with this understanding we will now be able to better grasp the meaning of the remaining 80 chapters. Imagine, we have just read and looked at a commentary on Chapter 1, a summary of the entire Dao De Jing, one of the greatest books  a Chinese mind has produced, and we are feeling probably less clear than before starting. I think what Lao’s Zi is saying here, “without the inner experience of identity” is the same advice Confuses gives:

I hear and I forget,
I see and I remember,
I do and I understand.

To understand the Dao De Jing, one has to experience it!

Dao De Jing

Like the Bible the Dao De Jing is a book whose appeal is as broad as its meaning is deep.

It speaks to each of us at our own level of understanding, while inviting us to search for levels of insight and experience that are not yet within our comprehension.

As with every text that deserves to be called scared, it is a half-silvered mirror.  To read it is not only to see ourselves as we are but glimpse a greatness that extending far beyond our knowledge of ourselves and the universe we live in.

The Dao De Jing deals with what is permanent in us, it speaks about possible inner greatness and an equally possible inner failure, which are indelibly written into our very structure as human beings.

Under its gaze we are not American or Chinese or European, we are that being, man, uniquely called to occupy a precise place in the cosmic order no matter where or in what era you we live.

The Dao De Jing is thus a work metaphysical psychology taking us far beyond the social or biological factors that have been the main concern of modern psychology. It helps us to see how the fundamental forces of the cosmos itself are mirrored in our own individual inner structure. And, it invites us to try to live in direct relationship to all these forces.

Metaphysically the term Dao refers to the way things are.

Psychological it refers to the way human nature is constituted, the deep dynamic structure of our being.

Ethically it means the way human beings must conduct themselves with others.

Spiritually it refers to the guidance is offered to us, the methods of searching for the truth that have been handed down great sages of the past – the way of inner work.

All these meanings of Dao are ultimately one.

Yin Yang Balance – Genesis The Conception by Mystic Machine

*There are many translations of the Dao De Jing (pinyin spelling will be used) but I have chosen to use Chang, Chung-yuan (1975). Tao: a new way of thinking. New York: Harper & Row. It was the first book I purchased in August 1980 soon after taking up a new position at the Chinese University in Hong Kong.

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