Chapter 1



1.      道可道非恆道,名可名非恆名。

2.      無、名萬物之始,有、名萬物之母。

3.      故恆無、欲以觀其所妙;恆有、欲以觀其所徼。

4.      兩者同出,異名同謂。

5.      玄之又玄,眾妙之門。

Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching has been the most puzzling chapter to decode. For more than 2000 years, this Chapter has defied numerous attempts to successfully decode its logical structure. As shown in the following discussions, we can decode this Chapter completely with the logic model.

Our analysis of Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching reveals a clear logical structure. Such a novel discovery may appear rather surprising to many readers, but we can show that the analysis is actually straightforward and the result is very natural and scientific. The logical structure is a general framework for many philosophical discussions.

Lao-tzu recognizes our habit of invoking two opposites to describe a phenomenon. However, such description is always unsatisfactory and we quickly find that the two opposites cannot be separated in the phenomenon.  Lao-tzu has encoded his observation very carefully and poetically in this short Chapter. We have the following interpretation:[1]


1 Tao that is spoken of, is not the True Tao.

Names that are named, are not the True Names.

2 Wu names the beginning of the myriad things;

Yu names the mother of the myriad things.

3 However, In True Wu, we observe subtle appearance;

In True Yu, we observe fading boundaries.

4 Both appear simultaneously, as

Different manifestations of the same (Tao).

5 Profound upon Profound, They are the gateways to all mysteries.


The core principle of Tao philosophy is clearly shown in this Chapter. Lao-tzu states that we may use many names to describe manifestations of Tao, but we cannot really describe the true Tao with ordinary names.

How can we describe the order of the myriad things? Customarily Lao-tzu introduces two ordinary names, Wu and Yu, to define the possible order of the myriad things. Wu and Yu represents two opposite states: (1) as Wu, all myriad things are undifferentiated in the beginning, and (2) as Yu, all myriad things are clearly differentiated after they are ‘born” as individuals. In this dualistic view, the myriad things are either totally undifferentiated or totally differentiated. It is clear that neither Wu nor Yu can correctly characterize the true order of the myriad things since the myriad things are always somewhat differentiated and undifferentiated.

Therefore, Lao-tzu introduces in Verse 3 two true states of the myriad things as the True Wu and True Yu states. We shall describe these two states in details later. In Verse 4, Lao-tzu further states that these two states, True Wu and True Yu, appear simultaneously and represent the same Tao. These are the nature of the true manifestations of Tao.


[1]   We have translated “Heng” as “True” in the translation. We have translated Heng as True, because Heng indicates wholeness and reality. True is used above as an adjective to indicate the characteristic ofwholeness and is used to associate an entity with reality. For details, see the discussions in  The Logic of Tao Philosophy [Wang 2013a].




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