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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.



the Way

               第 四十

Line 1  反也者道之動也


Line 2  弱也者道之用也  




Line 3 天下之物生於有

Line 4   有生於无






Ever Re-Turning





      This is the shortest of Lao Tzu's teachings. And yet it is, perhaps, the fullest of his lessons, as a concise statement of his metaphysics.* 

     Here Lao Tzu returns to the topic of Being and Nonbeing.  While this may seem esoteric, consider the existence of "Being" as so basic, so elemental, that we hardly ever consider it.  In that sense, it is like the road we drive on each day.  We hardly ever consider the existence, or the "being," of the road.  As we drive, our attention is on a safe and speedy navigation toward our destination.  We don't busy ourselves wondering how the road got there in the first place, who designed it, how it was made, and with what materials. 

​       In short, the road's "being" is an invisible background to our narrow focus of getting to the store, to a friends house, or arriving on time as some social gathering.


​      Similarly, as we are busy going about our day, we hardly ever marvel at the fact that there is anything here in the first place. We take "beings" for granted--that things and we ourselves "be." The question--"Why is there something and not nothing?" rarely rises to the surface of our consciousness.

      So this lesson, as with lessons 1, 2, 11, 25, and 42, among others, draws us to that all-important question,  "Why is there something and not nothing?"  This question is unanswerable of course, except for a child's wisdom, as he or she looks up at us and says, "Because."

     And then there are those two other questions:  "Where do all these things come from in the first place?"  And, "When people and things die, do they really disappear and are no more." 


     These are the same questions that scientists and philosophers have asked for millennia: "Can something come from nothing?" And, "Can something that exists really become nothing at all?" 

        Plato tells us that philosophy begins with wonder. This means that each of us is already a philosopher to the extent that we are truly wonderers. And while this, the most fundamental of all wonderings-- "Where do things come from, and where do they go?" may ultimately be unanswerable to us, the very wondering of this question and the surprise we may feel that there is anything all, deepens our thought and enhances our appreciation for existence itself.


*Metaphysics: The science of the inward and essential nature of things; not just what we see, taste, touch and smell in the busy world around us, but what the source is that underlies it all. Metaphysics asks the most fundamental questions of all: “Why is there something and not nothing?” “Where did it all come from?” This also begs the question, “What is my place in it all?”


Note: In the Ma Wang Tui manuscripts  Lessons 40 and 41 are reversed in order from what we find in the standard texts. That this lesson would actually be Lesson 41 makes good sense, because both 41 and 42 are concerned with Being and Nonbeing. However, for easier reference and comparison of translations, I have retained  the traditional numbering of this lesson as Lesson 40.   

Click on each line number

 for Chinese-English interlinear

& commentary


Ever re-turning, is

the movement

of the Way

















Yielding, is

the operation

of the Way.





The things of

our world are

born of Being.









And, Being is

born of



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