3 The Movement of the Dao
The motion of the Dao is reckoned as having a dialectical character
that reflects the growth, change and decline of all things in a
developmental cycle. The idea associated with "reversion" (fan), if not
absolutized as it is by Lao Zi, can still have a valid message even
judged from a modern perspective. Here we focus on Chapter 40 (DDJ).
3.1 (Chapter 40)
Reversion is the movement of the Dao.
Weakness is the function of the Dao.
All things under Heaven come from Being-within-form.
And Being-within-form comes from Being-without-form.
important principle from which has derived major fundamental principles
in Tai Chi chuan: particularly in Sun Style Tai Chi Chuan, the concept
of "Opening/closing" is in perfect correlation with developmental cycle
From this principle, the perfect performance a taolu of Chen Style Tai
Chi should reveal this "pulsing and round" impression of power, instead
any "continuous and linear" issuing of energy specific to any "external
 The concept of fan (reversion) contains a similar meaning in this
context as it does in Chapter 25 (da yue shi, shi yue yuan, yuan yue
fan--The great is boundless and thus functioning everywhere. It is
functioning everywhere and thus becoming far-reaching. It is becoming
far-reaching and thus returning to the original point). In addition, it
is used here to signify a dynamic and circular movement of the Dao
according to such contemporary Lao Zi scholars as Gao Heng and Chen
 The term ruo (weakness) is ambiguous as well. There are so far a
number of interpretations of this, of which we cite three key ones as
follows: firstly, it is supposed to denote the function of the Dao that
exemplifies itself through the soft and weak; secondly, the function of
the Dao lies in helping all things grow and become complete naturally
without any imposing force or pressure; and finally, the function of
the Dao displays itself by the dialectical fact that the soft and weak
are to overcome the hard and strong as is expressed by Lao Zi in rou
rou sheng gang qiang. 1 am inclined to agree with the third
interpretation since it corresponds to Lao Zi's philosophy of shou rou
(keep to the soft and weak) as a whole.
 The Chinese character you is rendered here as Being-within-form
identical in meaning with the same concept figuratively described as
"the mother of all things" (wan wu zhi mu) in Chapter 1 (DDJ).
 The notion of wu (Being-without-form) means the same as it does in
Chapter 1. It implies the original state of the Dao, which is
characterized by invisibility and yet with initiative potentiality.
Brief and concise as it is, this chapter is strikingly rich in
connotations. It is generally concluded that Lao Zi exposes his
dialectical concept of the Dao in terms of its movement and function,
which in turn comes to be a law of change and transformation from one
side to its opposite.
According to observations by Che Zai, Chen Guying and others,
"reversion" (fan) refers to a kind of interrelation between opposites
in one sense, and in another sense, a kind of return to the root known
as the unity of opposites. The former conveys the meaning of being
opposite while the latter, the meaning of transformation and change. We
think that the movement of the Dao in such a manner of "reversion," may
be well symbolized by the tai ji, in which the two forces known as Yin
and Yang are always in motion, inter-depending and interacting at the
same time. The generalization that "reversion is the movement of the
Dao" can be seen as a refined version of what is said about the Dao in
Chapter 25 (see Annotations  above). It is noticeable throughout
human history that things (i.e. a nation, culture, economic strength,
political power etc.) are doomed to roll downhill once they reach their
acme. This indicates that they tend to reverse to their opposites in an
ever-changing process. I¡ê we give due consideration to our
surroundings, for example, the changes detected in plants and the
stages experienced in the life cycle, we may collect sufficient
evidence to justify the dialectical movement of the Dao. It is
schematically interesting to quote a well-known Chinese saying from The
Book of the Hou Han Period (Hou Han Shu: Huang Qiong Zhuan): "Things
that are too high fall down easily; things that are too white stain
easily; songs that are too pretentious have few listeners; reputations
that are too lofty often fall short of reality" (Cf. Chinese Maxims, p.
129). All these possibilities seem to be in conformity with the Chinese
conception of "Inevitable reversal of the extreme" (wu ji hi fan).
It is worth pointing out that Lao Zi, even though emphasizing the
opposing interrelationship between things and the significant role of
their transaction or transformation, ultimately focuses on the idea of
returning to the root as the final destination for all things. For it
is right there in his ideal that absolute stillness. tranquility or
state of take-no-action will be realized and actualized, and
accordingly all the conflicts and antitheses in the world will draw to
The statement, "Weakness is the function of the Dao" is in fact a
further justification of the foregoing assertion that "Reversion is the
movement of the Dao." Lao Zi's philosophy features a preference for
"cleaving to the soft and weak" (shou ruo). He often uses shui (water)
as an image when illustrating the overwhelming power of "the soft and
weak." It is helpful for gaining a better understanding of this notion
if we approach it with reference to his discussion in Chapter 78 (tian
xia zhi ruo mo guo yu shui, er gong jian qiang zhe mo zhi neng
xian....-- Nothing under Heaven is softer and weaker than water, and
yet nothing can compare with it in attacking the hard and strong....).
However, one should be aware of the problematic aspect of Lao Zi's
confirmation that the soft and weak is bound to conquer the hard and
strong. This is largely due to his absolutization of the former by
cutting it off from actual and varying circumstances or conditions in
both subjective and objective dimensions.
Also offered in this chapter is a generalized explication of how all
things "under-the-sky" come into being. It is here once again that Lao
Zi traces the origin of the universe. Both Being-within-form and
Being-without-form are different names for the Dao, and are likened to
the two sides of the same coin. In short, the expression in this
context is a modified as well as a condensed one of the ideas presented
in Chapter 1 (see Part 1, l.1).