The Concept of Heng

The uniqueness of our textual arrangement is recognition of the word Heng 恆 as the central concept of Tao. The importance of this recognition was first pointed out by Professor Qingjie Wang [Wang 2000]. This nature of Heng cannot be easily described or translated, so we keep it un-translated in our discussion of the formal model. Heng has a well-defined meaning in the logic structure in Chapter 1.

The concept of Heng is associated with the undivided wholeness of “reality” or “truth.” A reality must be a whole and cannot be divided. Therefore, anything associated with Heng is a whole and undivided. If we have to translate it, the closest meaning may be “enduring,” which transcends dichotomy of “changing and unchanging,” or “eternal and non-eternal”, etc.

For example, Wu and Yu are two entities divided from Tao, but Heng Wu and Heng Yu restore their wholeness by recombining Wu and Yu back into wholeness. Therefore, Heng preserves the nature of wholeness. Heng is therefore equivalent to Oneness or wholeness. Sometimes, Heng has also been recognized to be equivalent to Tao, which is Oneness.

For this reason, Heng as wholeness cannot be easily described with simple words. Any description may reduce it into a dualistic concept. We have seen description of Heng as “eternal”, “unchanging”, “perpetual”, etc. However, these are already conventional “dualistic” concepts. Heng is not just “unchanging,” but is encompassing both the changing and the unchanging.

If we have to translate Heng into English, we shall use “True” or “Holistic” to indicate “reality.” This is consistent with Western philosophy, where a reality must be a “whole.”

In summary, Heng is used to qualify a name as a reality. Therefore, we regard these Heng Names 恆名 (i.e., Heng Tao, Heng Wu, and Heng Yu) as realistic and non-dualistic. The simple Names 名 (Wu and Yu) are our objects of knowledge and dualistic in nature.

The word Heng 恆 was replaced by Chang 常 after Liu Heng 劉恆 became the emperor of Han dynasty (180-157 bce). For this reason, Heng had been missing in the Tao Te Ching until it re-appeared in the Mawangdui version (existing prior to 180 bce) which is unearthed in 1973. Now, Heng is the most critical keyword that can bring consistency back into our interpretation of the Tao Te Ching.

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