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Marble Surface

Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.



the Way

A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 40

Ever Re-Turning



​​​​​​​​​​​​  反fǎn

(反 right hand +𠂆opposite)​​

return, reverse, opposite, contrary


      A key character in this lesson is 反fǎn.  While it is most often translated simply as "return," it is a "return in the sense of “turn around,” “revert,” “opposite,” and “contradiction.”  As such, it is very different form the 復fù, which is also translated as "return."*


     Here,  反fǎn should be understood as the ever-turning or even an ever-present pulsing of the Way from Nonbeing to Being, then followed by a withdrawal of Being into Nonbeing.

       What is "Being"? It is the indisputable fact that things "be."  This fact precedes the things or "beings" themselves.  In other words, that something exists in the first place-- that it "be's" at all, is possible only because Being first existed.

      We can study the beings of our world fairly easily.  Our physical and biological sciences do a good job of observing beings.  Our studies in the humanities do the same as we inquire into human societies, cultures, values, and human expressions in art, literature, and religion.

      All the studies of beings and their many behaviors are necessarily from the outside, as objects that we investigate.   But Being itself cannot be examined from the outside.  Yes,  there are many lengthy and erudite studies of Being as an academic topic, but these are informational only, and a best third or fourth-hand reports.

     But is it possible to know myself directly?  Can I know myself not just as an object to myself? 

    Lao Tzu says Yes.  We can become directly aware of ourselves through our own inner access--an insight into one's very own being.  In other lessons, Lao Tzu referred to this as 自zì 然rán, or the realization of one's "self-so-ness." This is not an intellectual understanding, but an unmediated realization of one's existence.  It is the awakening to one's very being.  It is here, as we awaken to ourselves, that we awaken at the same time to the mystery of Being.

     无wú "Nonbeing" does not mean nothing. Nor is Nonbeing any sort of "being" at all.  The very notion of Nonbeing is derived from the simple proposition that a thing--that is, a being, is not the cause of itself.  Each things, each being, must have a source other than itself.  What is this mysterious source?  The most that we can say is that this source does not "be."  This source, therefore, can only be referred to as Nonbeing.



*For Lao Tzu 復fù, return, is the returning to one's own natural way as endowed upon each one of us by the Way. Our own natural way is personal, and the Way is ever calling us to 復fù, return to it.

​​. ​​​​. . . . .





Line 1

Ever re-turning is

the movement

of the Way.


​​ 反fǎn   也yě   者zhě  道tào   之zhī   動dòng   也yě

​ return      (part.)   one who     way        (poss.)      move        (part.)

As for returning, it is the movement of the Way


     Again, the character 反fǎn, translated here as "ever re-turning" has the sense of "turn around," "revert," "opposite," and "contradiction." Here, it is Lao Tzu's way or describing the continuous pulsing movement of the Way from Nonbeing to Being.




Note:The character 反fǎn is used only four times in the text, and in each instance is very distinct from the "return" of 復fù.  See Lessons 25, 65, and 78. 


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. ​​​​. . . . .



Line 1
Line 2

Line 2

Yielding is the


of the Way.

​​ 弱ruò   也yě   者zhě   道tào  之zhī  用yòng  也yě

weak/flexible      (part.)   one who    way    (poss.)       use        (part.)

​As to suppleness, it is the Way’s use.

     弱ruò means yielding, weak, soft, gentle, dependent. Lao Tzu frequently analogizes the Way to 水shuǐ water, because water too is soft and supple, and always lowly, but all the while benefiting everything.


     Yes, water may be soft and pliant, but no one wants to get in the way of water. Or fight it.  So, it would be a mistake to read 弱ruò as wimpish or meek. The operation of the Way as "yielding" means that it is at once both resilient and malleable as it does its work from Nonbeing to Being.

     The operation of the Way is modest in every respect. Such 弱ruò yielding is also the way of the sage.


Note the use of 弱ruò also in Lessons 3, 36, 55, 76, and 78.

On 水shuǐ, “water,” see lessons 5, 15, and 78.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .



Line 3

Line 3

The things

of our world

are born

of Being.


​​​​​​​​​​​  天tiān  下xià   之zhì  物wù  生shēng 於yú     有yǒu

heaven   under  (poss.)    thing       live/born  (prep.)  have/being 

Things under heaven are born of being.


      Again, Being precede beings. Put differently, that we be is prior to how we be as this or that being. Try as we might, our own being cannot be studied from the outside. That's because our own being is already closer than hands and feet.




*See more on this in Lesson 42.

**Note: The standard texts read, "The 10,000 thing of our world..." rather than the much simpler, "The things of our world..."


    ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .




Line 4

Line 4

And Being is

born of


有yǒu    生shēng   於yú    无wú

have/being   live/born   (prep.)    not have/not being

Being is born of nonbeing.


      Where does this irrefutable fact that things "be" come from?  Lao Tzu tells us here that it comes from what he can only call 无wú Nonbeing. 

     T repeat:  "Nonbeing" does not mean "nothing."  The very notion of Nonbeing is derived from the simple proposition that a thing--that is, a being--is not the cause of itself.  It must have a source other than itself.  What is this mysterious source?  The most that can be said is that this source does not "be" in the manner that things "be."   This mysterious source is, for that reason, can best be termed "Nonbeing."




Note the continuation of this topic of Being and Nonbeing in Lesson 42. 



​​​​​​​​     ​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .







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