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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.

Line 1   道沖而用之有弗盈也

Line 2   淵呵萬物之宗

Line 3   銼其銳解其紛

Line 4   和其光同亓塵

Line 5    湛呵似或存

Line 6   吾不知亓誰之子也

Line 7    象帝之先



What is



     The first two characters of this chapter say it all: 道tào 沖chōng, “The Way is empty.” But we know that the world is not an empty place.  It is abundant, even luxurious, filled with fields and forests and cities and people.  So Lao Tzu must mean something else.

    That there is a physical world at all implies that there is a source or a natural law which brings all the physical forms forth and then sustains their existence. But natural laws have no shape, no form, in themselves. For Lao Tzu, this is being “empty.”

     There’s nothing mysterious about this. We cannot see eyesight. Hearing itself makes no sound. We could say the laws that govern these are “empty” because we do know that eyesight and hearing exist because our eyes do see and our ears can hear. It is all very reasonable. And by the way, we also cannot see reason, memory, or intentions, and yet we know they exist because of their outward effects.

     It is the same with the Way. It is “empty” or “formless.” And yet it is there.  We know it is there just by looking around and noting its countless outward expressions.

 Click on each line number

for Chinese-English interlinear & commentary


The Way is empty,

yet draw from it and

you will never run out.



A wellspring!

The Way seems

to be the

predecessor of everything.


The Way blunts

what is sharp

and unties

what is tangled.



It softens the glare

and unites the dust.


Concealing itself!

The Way seems

hardly to exist.


I do not know

who's child it is.



The Way seems

to have existed

even before god.

​​​​​​​. . . . . .


the Way

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