"Being is born out of non-being."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 40
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Returning is the movement of the Way.
Yielding is the manner of the Way.
All things in the world are born out of being.
Being is born out of non-being.
A Cyclic Universe
The returning movement of Tao, the Way, is cyclic.
Tao brings everything forward, and then back to its origin, to
be brought forward yet again. This is the view on
nature shared by most cultures, and for obvious reasons.
Most of what takes place in nature is cyclic. Day
and night take turns, the moon's phases are just as regular, as
are the shifts of seasons through the year. Plants grow and
then they wither. Animals have their lifespan, but also their
offspring. That's the rhythm of mankind, too.
Everywhere there is procreation, maybe including the universe as
What to make of it, but a cyclic principle ruling
Although Tao is the instigator and instrument behind
all these cycles, it accomplishes everything in the
background, so that its role is hardly revealed. When we say that
things happen of themselves, we unknowingly point out the
work of Tao. The processes are carried out without apparent
force. Things appear and disappear, move in their courses, and
at no time do they show signs of being restricted or redirected.
It's as if Tao makes it all happen by opening doors
instead of closing them, by making way instead of
showing the way. That's also the superior ideal for any leader.
They should use encouragement instead of threats, and
opportunity instead of constraint. Nobody is pleased with
constantly seeing the back of another, blocking the view
ahead. The leader who is not opposed is the one showing the
way by stepping out of it.
Being and non-being, yu and
wu, are old concepts in Chinese thought, as well as in philosophy around
the world. Some things deteriorate and disappear, as if
they exist no more. Is that possible? Can something become
nothing? Many philosophers have pondered the question.
And vice-versa: can something appear out of nothing? Lao
Tzu clearly states so, but other thinkers in history have
In our time we have similar questions. Scientists seem
to agree that the basic component of the universe, its
energy, can change but not disappear – or appear out of nowhere.
On the other hand, the Big Bang theory implies
that somehow, something must have come into existence, for
the process to begin. Otherwise, that was not the moment
when the universe was born. And what can we say about the
domain that the universe has not yet reached in its
expansion? It's said not to exist, since the universe is the limit for
existence. But then the universe is something appearing out
We still wrestle with the questions that Lao Tzu
and many other ancient thinkers asked themselves.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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