Historically, there are textual variations in Chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching. For our purpose, such variations do not affect our conclusion. In order to identify the keywords and the logic structure, we adopt the Chinese version shown on the previous page, which is based on the Mawangdui 馬王堆 and Wang Bi 王弼 texts.[1]

We divide this Chapter into five verses:

  1. Tao may be spoken of, but it is not the Heng Tao;
    Name may be named, but it is not the Heng Name.
  2. Wu names the origin of the myriad things;
    Yu names the mother of the myriad things.
  3. However,
    In Heng Wu, we observe their mysterious appearances;
    In Heng Yu, we observe their fading boundaries.
  4. Both appear simultaneously, as
    different manifestations of the same (Tao).
  5. Profound upon profound,
    they are the gateways to all mysteries.

Let us follow the thought scenario of Lao-tzu carefully. He uses Verse 1 to introduce Heng Tao 恆道 and Heng Name恆名 as the absolute reality[2] and its true descriptions. “Heng” associates a name with reality, as discussed later. This verse declares that our language cannot describe Heng Tao and the names we assign to the various things in the phenomenal world cannot truly reflect the Heng Names of the myriad things. Heng Tao and Heng Name are the absolute realities; they are whole. Our discussion of reality is based on the names assigned in the phenomenal world. The names are only fragmented parts of the whole. This verse is the opening statement on the reality of nature. The rest of Chapter 1 shows how we can observe this reality.

[1]     We choose Mawangdui version of Verse 2 and its explicit use of Heng. In Verse 2, Wang Bi has “Wu names the origin of “heaven and earth.” The Mawangdui text uses both Wu and Yu to refer to the myriad things. In many cases, “heaven and earth” and the “myriad things” are synonyms, but sometimes, Tao itself is the root of “heaven and earth” [Ch.6] Later, Wang Bi takes Wu to be Tao and thus violate the logic structure discussed in the book.

[2]     In our discussion, we shall use Reality or Absolute Reality interchangeably for Heng Tao. See discussion of the critical role of Heng in the next Section.

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