Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

The Dao De Jing is not logical by any western standards

While Westerners have a large male creative god, DDJ is saying, the original novel thing is feminine and identifiable when it moves through the world.
So my name is Professor John G. Blair I have been coming to PRC since 1988 usually in Beijing at BeiWai and I am here today to meditate with you with my partner about the DDJ in the West.. My name is Jerusha McCormack I come from Ireland I joined John Blair in China in 1998. And we have been coming ever since to teach at BeiWai where I teach studies. And this is your Distinguished Professor at Beida. Now we are going to begin by explaining why we think the DDJ is difficult for westerners.
Actually It is a very popular text in the west but there are a lot of problems associated with understanding it It has to do with the way westerners understand the words Words to westerners must correspond to something that is actually out there They are very literal and they believe that words are crucial in understanding the way the world works That is because they should be logical and reflect the order of the world. Now the DJJ is not logical by any western standards because it rejects literal meanings and it is in empty vessel in terms of words that you have to feel like an empty bowl that we will talk about value of emptiness later.
So we are going to begin by talking about the DDJ Verse 25 which is a pivotal turning point in DDJ. And here is the translation by Professor Gu Zhengkun we think it is an excellent translation. So here is Verse 25 from the DDJ as translated by Gu Zhengkun. There is a thing wholly formed And born earlier than heaven and earth Silent and empty It relies on nothing Moving around for ever We may regard it as the mother of all things I do not know its name So I name it as the Dao Now these are Chinese ideas about language here.
Westerners find this verse very difficult because they can not give Dao a name Westerners like to name things and they like to believe that t he name gives the kind of order or logic but here this verse is pushing them away and saying you can not do this that this is only a convenience you can only intuit the Dao at a level much lower than language much more childish in a way, much more open For instance For Americans in particular something silent and empty is really scary you do not want it you want to feel it with sound you want to feel it with stuff.
you know it is moving around forever Our ancient philosophers in the west will hate that They say you can not know anything that is moving around forever It is unstable It is untrustworthy And I love this it is the mother of all things It is feminine it is nutritive It is not male In the west we have a large male creative god with a long white beard and he has created the whole world Here the DDJ is pushing that idea away and saying, the origin of all thing is feminine and is only identifiable when it moves through the world

Dao De Jing is very difficult to translate into western languages.

Westerners find it very difficult to understand because even Lao Zi himself says he cannot give a name to mean the exact meaning of Tao (Dao). All ancient western philosophers will hate that they say you cannot know anything that is moving around forever. It is unstable. While Westerners have a large male creative god, here the Dao De Jing is saying, the original novel thing is feminine and is only identifiable when it moves through the world.

About this week’s educators

John G Blair

– PhD of Brown University (Rhode Island)
– Professor at University of Geneva
– Distinguished Visiting Professor at Peking University

Jerusha McCormack

– PhD from Brandeis University (Massachusetts)
– Professor at University College Dublin
– Chief Expert on Ireland Issues Invited by China Foreign Ministry
– Guest Professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University

This article is from the free online

Taoism and Western Culture

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education