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A New Interpretation of “The Dao That Can Be Said, Is Not the Eternal Dao”

Social Sciences in China (Chinese Edition)

No. 6, 2022

 

A New Interpretation of “The Dao That Can Be Said, Is Not the Eternal Dao”

(Abstract)

 

Feng Guochao

 

The Dao that can be said, is not the eternal Dao” is the opening sentence of the first chapter of the Dao De Jing (the Book of Tao and Teh) in the general edition. Scholars usually think that Laozi’s Dao refers to the origin of all things in the universe, but in fact it refers to the written character or zi rather than the name of the origin of all things in the universe. The character interprets the connotations of the name. According to Laozi’s intellectual logic, the origin of all things in the universe has two aspects: noumenon and function. The noumenon is silent, intangible, and cannot be named; its function is manifested in the creation of all things in the universe, and in the internal basis and criterion for the change and development of all things in the universe. This function can be seen and known, and it can also be said, so Laozi says “it is designated the Dao.” Therefore, the exact meaning of Dao refers to the function of the origin of all things in the universe; while the eternal Dao refers to the noumenon of the origin of all things in the universe. According to this understanding, the meaning of “the Dao that can be said, is not the eternal Dao” is that the function that can be said of the origin of all things in the universe is not the essence of the origin of all things in the universe. Understanding “the Dao that can be said, is not the eternal Dao” from the perspective of the noumenon and function of Dao is not only in line with Laozi’s intellectual aims, but can also effectively resolve many important controversies surrounding Laozi’s thought.