Daodejing Chapter 25: key characteristics of the way

Daodejing Chapter 25

「有物混成,先天地生。寂兮寥兮,獨立而不改,周行而不殆,可以為天下母。吾不知其名,字之曰道,強為之名曰大。大曰逝,逝曰遠,遠曰反。故道大、天大、地大、人亦大。域中有四大,而王居其一焉!人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然」。
There is something mysterious and all-encompassing,
That came into being before Heaven and earth.
Silent and formless,
Independent and unchanging,
All-pervading and inexhaustible,
It may be considered the mother of all things under Heaven.
I do not know its name;
I call it the Dao.
If forced to give it a specific name,
I would call it “the Great”.
Great means it is boundless.
Boundless means it reaches everywhere.
Reaching everywhere means it returns to itself.
Therefore, the Dao is supreme;
Heaven is great;
Earth is great;
Humanity is great.
There are four great powers in the universe;
Humanity is one of them.
Humanity models itself on earth.
Earth models itself on Heaven.
Heaven models itself on the Dao.
The Dao follows its own nature.

In Chapter 25 of the Daodejing Laozi provides a useful summary of the key characteristics of the way, telling us that it’s “silent and formless,” “independent and unchanging,” and “all-pervading and inexhaustible.” He also reminds of its feminine nature, too, saying that it is the “mother of all things under heaven.”

While cheerfully admitting that he doesn’t know the real name of the way, Laozi remarks that if pressed to give it one he would call it (rather unimaginatively) “the great”. This is because it reaches everywhere yet always returns to its source in a constant cycle of reversion.

Laozi goes on to emphasize the supreme position of the way in the cosmic order. It is the guiding universal principle that heaven, earth, and humanity model their behavior on. It is a law unto itself. It answers to no one.

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