"It is used but never spent."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 6
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
The valley spirit never dies.
It is called the mystical female.
The entrance to the mystical female
Is called the root of Heaven and Earth.
As if barely existing,
It is used but never spent.
Lao Tzu allows himself some play with words here.
The Chinese word for valley, ku, can be translated gorge, and
the word for female (of any species) also refers to a deep
gorge. The word for mystical, hsüan, can be translated dark
or deep. So, Lao Tzu describes a dark depth, from the
entrance of which the whole world springs, like a child does from
its mother's womb.
The sign for entrance, also meaning gate or door,
shows a swinging door, just like the one to the saloon in
every Western movie. In the context of this chapter, it's an
image also suggesting the gate to a woman's womb, which is
certainly a birthplace of tremendous significance.
To Lao Tzu, the origin of the world is female, like
a mother of any species. Heaven and Earth are rooted at
the entrance to this womb, but there is a vast depth beneath
the entrance, from which so much more can emerge.
This mother of all is endlessly fertile. She never ceases to
breed and nurture.
This mystical female is Tao, the Way. Again an
intriguing imagery. The way to this primordial female leads
into the dark gorge.
Tao as a mother of all, like the Greek Earth goddess
Gaia, is a returning theme in the Tao Te
Ching. Although ancient China was indeed a patriarchal society, Lao Tzu praised
the traditionally female qualities repeatedly. Since the nature
of Tao resembles the female much more than the male,
so should people behave. Giving instead of taking,
humble instead of proud, yielding instead of forcing, and so on.
This preference must have been very radical in the
days of Lao Tzu. Actually, it still is.
In the last line of this chapter, Lao Tzu leaves the
metaphor of the womb, although he still talks about Tao.
He moves on to another aspect of it, another way of looking
at it. The essence of the Way is as vague and fine as
cobweb, because it's a principle, a natural law, with no substance
of its own. That's why it lasts, no matter how much it is
used. Like a formula.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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