In the opposite direction, of the way ‘it’ moves.
Loss through death, of the way ‘it’ uses.
All under heaven is born in having
Having is born in nothing.
1) turn over (in an opposite direction; in reverse; inside out) (者) road (way, principle; speak; think) of move (stir; act; change; use; arouse). 反者道之动。(făn zhĕ dào zhī dòng.)
2) weak (inferior <frml> lose through death) (者) road (way, principle; speak; think) of use (employ > eat; drink; > hence). 弱者道之用。(ruò zhĕ dào zhī yòng.)
3) under heaven all things on earth give birth to (bear; grow; existence; life) in (at, to, from, by, than, out of) have (exist), 天下万物生于有，(tiān xià wàn wù shēng yú yŏu,)
4) have (exist) give birth to (bear; grow; existence; life) in (at, to, from, by, than, out of) nothing (without; not). 有生于无。(yŏu shēng yú wú.)
Chapter of the Month
Go to Kirk Garber’s YouTube channel for recordings of our monthly Sunday meeting. These come in two parts for each chapter. The shorter first part of the meeting begins with a chapter reading followed by attendees’ commentary, if any. The second longer part is an open discussion among attendees on how the chapter relates to their personal experience.
In the opposite direction, of the way moves.
This is probably the most mind-blowing chapter in the Tao Te Ching. It strikes at the very heart of reality, for me anyway. I’m not sure how I can comment on what the chapter says to me in any straightforward way. Ah, yes, speaking of straightforward, Straight and honest words seem inside out as chapter 78 puts it. This certainly applies here. D.C. Lau translated this a little less literally, but perhaps more understandably as Straightforward words seem paradoxical.
This chapter can feel paradoxical, but only in juxtaposition to ‘common sense’. It is ‘common sense’, and our blind adherence to believing what we perceive to be reality that makes matters feel inside out. The best way to think about the issue of common sense perception is to consider it from the point of view of nature… and evolution in particular.
Briefly, life on earth didn’t evolve to enable any creature’s perception to see reality as it truly is. The evolutionary agenda is first and foremost about survival. Perception is biologically skewed in whichever way promises to enhance survival chances. (See How the hookwink hooks and Peeking in on natures hoodwink .)
Take time for instance. The phenomenon that we call time is actually energy interacting with matter in space-time. Therefore, I think of true time, Taoist time, as moving backward, if anything. It is the energy that is moving forward… at or approaching the speed of light. Now, if you were to travel at the speed of light, the interaction ceases and you would never age. Time doesn’t move, and at light speed, neither does energy relative to itself anyway. I think of time as the eternal present… always and only now.
The Taoist notion of the constant conveys this in various ways. Beginning with the first line of chapter 1:
The way possible to think, runs counter to the constant way,
… and ends straightforwardly with…
These two are the same coming out, yet differ in name.
The same, meaning dark and mysterious.
Dark and dark again, the multitude of wondrous entrance. #1
Answering to one’s destiny is called the constant;
. . . .knowing the constant is called honest.
Not knowing the constant, rash actions lead to ominous results.
Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial, #16
Loss through death, of the way uses.
Again, consider evolution. It is loss though death above all that compels a species to evolve in any way that avoids this loss. Loss is the mechanism for evolution, but not only evolution on a grand scale. The experience of loss is also the primary ‘force’ that brings each creature to maturity. Beginning from day one, losses pile up throughout life. As one ages, actual loss through death of loved ones dear pulls us even deeper into our being. Loss through death awakens.
On a simple practical level, loss through death speaks to the recycling process in nature. Dead plants create wonderful compost that makes a garden grow and thrive.
All under heaven is born in having
Having is born in nothing.
If our imagination follows the trail of what appears to be solid and real, our insight will reach the subatomic level. Plunging still deeper, insight takes us to the illusion of matter. As Einstein put it, E=MC2. Energy = matter at the speed of light squared. Perhaps, to put it more in line with the ‘big bang’, as it were, this could be represented as M= E/C2. In other words, the big bang was pure energy that soon began coalescing into matter. But, what preceded energy’s big bang? It feels like the energy of the big bang popped out of nothing… a singularity of nothing. Nothing is much more subtle than just the idea of ‘no thing’. The Taoist nothing doesn’t depend on space, energy, or matter. This nothing is almost inconceivable to the human mind… beyond definition. And so why is it conceivable at all?
This is where quantum mechanics and more specifically the virtue of ‘non-locality’ help answer this conundrum. In the past, people attribute the enlightened powers of saint, seer, sages that had a special ability to see beyond. Quantum non-locality blows away that myth and allows us all to be ‘in the know’, so to speak.
Yet, we have difficulty knowing. Several factors are responsible. One of course is the warning chapter 71 offers us… Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. We exist in two realities much of the time: (1) A cognitive facsimile of reality and (2) The reality our body’s biology works through from conception to death. Unlike other animals, human awareness puts most of its eggs in the cognitive facsimile basket, and the certainty placed there consistently blinds us to insights outside that basket. The more certain you are in the basket of beliefs you hold, the less able you are to see beyond belief. Or as chapter 16 concludes,
Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial,
Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural,
Natural therefore the way.
The way therefore long enduring, nearly rising beyond oneself.
Loss through death paves the way to drop a fondly held belief and move on. Loss through death can also be the loss of a fondly held belief that fails to serve anymore. The single major obstacle we face to seeing things as the actually are is this disease… the certainty we place in belief — any and all belief. Even to the point of believing we are alive. That is a bio-illusion primarily and then exaggerated by our illusion of self. As Buddha so correctly put it, “The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things”.
Now back to answer the question, why is it conceivable at all? Because ‘everything’ is connected instantaneously and eternally to ‘everything’ else. Though the pieces may disintegrate (Loss through death) the connection remains. I use the term ‘everything’ loosely because, in truth, the separate selfness is an illusion, a bio-illusion in the case of living things, and perhaps some other kind of illusion in the case of inorganic matter. The point here is that we all have access to the mystery. The reason we can’t see it is the bio-hoodwink and the emotional entanglements it creates to get living creatures to interact in the world of things. Chapter 47 is very straightforward.
Without going out the door, we can know all under heaven.
Without looking out the window, we can see nature’s way.
He goes out farther, he realizes less,
Accordingly, the wise person goes nowhere, yet knows.
Sees nothing, yet understands.
Refrains from acting, yet accomplishes.
The final angle to Having is born in nothing lies in considering this from a Symptoms Point Of View. First, broaden the meaning of having to include having the cognitive side of things: goals, beliefs, life meaning, and purpose. What drives a person to strive to have any of these? And when this having is not realized, why do we enter the awful realm of meaninglessness, despair, depression?
The intuitive deep-seated sense of nothing, of entropy, of the void, drives all living things to move, to act, to have, to survive. To survive even in the face of total futility of what can seem like a short and meaningless life. A looming, and in the end inevitable, loss of meaning and death of purpose, are ‘ghosts’ that haunt our every moment driving us to act, to be somebody, to have, to live.
Well, I don’t know how much of this make sense to anyone. It is my stream of conscious for today’s chapter. Oh well….:) I also wrote on chapter 40 in Fear & Need Born in Nothing. It might be a bit more succinct on certain aspects of this chapter.
Video Archive: https://youtu.be/E_Q_90WgT4k
Work in Progress
Lines 1 & 2: I am rethinking the ‘it’ that I inserted in these two lines (i.e., …of the way ‘it’ moves). ‘It’ makes for odd reading.
Of course, this can serve a useful purpose in that it forces the mind to think outside the box a bit more than it would if phrased in a normal way, like D.C. Lau’s Turning back is how the way moves; Weakness is the means the way employs (1).
On the other hand, it may be unnecessarily confusing. So, I’m dropping the ‘it’ for now. ‘It’ isn’t even in the original in the first place, as you will notice in the Word for Word just below. What’s more, the change still reads odd enough to jar the mind sufficiently (and maybe even more for all I know).
turn over (in an opposite direction; in reverse; inside out) (者) road (way, principle; speak; think) of move (stir; act; change; use; arouse). 反者道之动。(făn zhĕ dào zhī dòng.)
weak (inferior <frml> lose through death) (者) road (way, principle; speak; think) of use (employ > eat; drink; > hence). 弱者道之用。(ruò zhĕ dào zhī yòng.)
Another option could be to move “of” to the front of the line, which gives us, Of loss through death, the way uses. However, it may not work so well for line 1: Of the opposite direction, the way moves. I could put “in” instead of “of”, but then I’m getting further afield from the literal original. Beside, having it a little awkward still helps prod thinking in new ways… if you allow it to and don’t get upset that it takes extra work to read. 😉
Line 2: I choose to go with the more formal meaning of the word ruò (弱) loss through death , rather than weakness. I figure death is the ultimate manifestation of weakness, inferior, failure, loss, etc. Those other aspects are merely ‘death light’. Correlations helps illuminate this emergent property side of death. Put on your ‘big picture glasses’ and try pondering the profound sameness that death and its correlation’s cousins share: death » nothing » sleep » depressed » lethargic » silence » passive » dark » end » infinity » stillness » peace » valley » loss » empty » failure » eternity » shadowy… and so on)
In the opposite direction, of the way moves brings to mind the view that living is like a journey down a river. We tend to look in directions that lie ahead, to what we imagine is coming rather than where we’ve been (2). The basis of where we are, however, lies in what has gone before. ‘In the opposite direction’ points back toward the cause rather than the effect. It is all too easy to get swept away with attempting to arrange effects and turn a blind eye to causes (See symptoms point of view). In the opposite direction is the contrarian direction, an ‘outside the box’ thinking that can serve us well as long as it doesn’t reach irrational extremes (which it often may, alas).
Loss through death, of the way uses is a marvelously succinct way to nail down reality. The core of weakness in my view is entropy, and Loss through death, of the way uses express it well, although perhaps not as poetically. Or maybe it is just that I’ve been reading D.C. Lau’s ‘Weakness is the means the way employs‘ for so long.
I’ve now come to see all that is ostensibly ‘high’ as having its foundation in the ‘low’, and all that is ostensibly ‘more’ as based in ‘less’. I guess I’ve completely brainwashed myself, or as I prefer to see it, see things more as they may truly be, not as the bio-hoodwink invites me to feel (and subsequently believe). The act of living is actually the vital struggle to resist entropy that pulls all living things. The long-term futility of this leaves me in awe; life strives on diligently in the face of certain loss (death). It is as though loss is nipping at the heels of life, which drives life to flee its grasp for as long as it can—the bio-hoodwink promises us escape is possible. Ha!
Another way to think about this ‘Loss through death, of the way uses’ is how it causes need. Hunger and thirst being among the most primary forms; if these needs are not satiated, death comes quickly. The way uses the realm of death to manifest hunger; hunger drives all life to eat food to supply the energy needed to strive on forestalling death for another day. Everything (and I mean absolutely everything) animals do originates in whatever hunger each feels it needs to satiate to further its life.
The world around me, seen as emergent properties of the great Taoist nothing and its offspring loss, death and hunger, becomes very understandable, straightforward, and simple. Now here are a few chapters that relate:
In the opposite direction, of the way moves.
Loss through death, of the way uses.
All under heaven give birth to having
Having gives birth to nothing.
(1) I’ll admit, the terser, literal Tao Te Ching may jog my thinking more now due to the 40+ years I was reading D.C. Lau’s translation. The wording became too predictable… although in a nice way. By definition, ‘predictability’ can’t help but impede self-discovery, especially in regards to wanting to see life through Taoist eyes. Of course, when I first read D.C. Lau’s translation in 1964, nothing was predictable; only two chapters resonated with me after that first reading. On the other hand, I really do fathom deeper meaning through the literal; the terse directness helps, whereas attempts to make it sound culturally ‘pretty’ can easily mislead. Although to be fair, not lead us where we don’t truly wish to go at the time.
(2) Of course, as one gets older, there is less to look forward to; the loss of one’s life looms ahead. Then, we begin to look more in life’s rear view mirror. Wisdom lies to one extent or another in that opposite direction rather than forward to illusions of progress.
Chapter of the Week
Turning back is how the way moves corresponds to the correlation’s derived(1) world-view that ‘time returns’. i.e., time moves backwards, time stays still(2). Sure, saying that ‘time returns’ defies common sense and observation, but no less so than saying, Turning back is how the way moves, or as I put it below, In the opposite direction, of the way ‘it’ moves.
Perhaps we trust common sense and observation a little too much for our own good. Surely, the purpose of evolution is not to enable living things to know how ‘it’ really is, or works. Evolution is all about ensuring that living things see ‘reality’ in such a way that drives them to compete (or cooperate) to survive. If that means using the way to hoodwink all us living things, then so be it.
The wonder of the Tao Te Ching is that it attempts to help us see ‘it’ from the other side – in reverse and inside out… to defy common sense in order to stumble into ‘ultra-common sense’. The downside is that ‘reality’ is often just the opposite of how it appears to be. This can be a ‘little’ disconcerting and takes time getting used to (if ever). The upside is that if you take ‘it’ seriously, you can often spot good fortune perching and disaster crouching in a timely way. What more could one ask for?
That ‘symptoms point of view‘ I’m always touting is expressed here succinctly in Loss through death, of the way ‘it’ uses and Having is born in nothing (or as Lau puts it: Weakness is the means the way employs, & Something from Nothing). This is why judging a book by its cover is utterly misleading. It is not important what ‘facts’ we think see; the underlying causes are what enlightens. All one’s actions are merely reactions to one’s intuitive sense of the silent and void. It’s the cause. It drives us to do, or not do, whatever. The advantage of looking as deeply as possible using a ‘symptoms point of view’ is not that you’ll get a clear and distinct view of what is happening. It’s just the opposite, and there in lies an advantage. This helps you be more tentative, hesitant, vacant, and murky like muddy water. Only then can the teaching that uses no words be heard.
(2) What is time anyway? The experience we have in what we call ‘time’ is actually our experience of ‘energy moving’. Clocks don’t measure time; you might say that they measure energy ‘within time’. If you can loosen the common sense meanings to which you were conditioned from birth, you will experience time (or perhaps I should say eternity) differently.
Part of our common sense meanings are due to cultural conditioning, and part due to natural instinct as I said above. Being so deeply rooted in our being, ‘common sense meanings’ are not about to, poof – vanish. Nor need they. Simply loosen your trust in ‘common sense’ enough so you can notice nature’s hoodwinks.
There is a bonus too. Those weird and paradoxical effects of Einstein’s space-time relativity will begin to make simple sense!