2. The Architecture of Tao Philosophy

(excerpts from Dynamic Tao and Its Manifestations)

Laotzu describes the architecture of Tao in Chapter 1, which is a very concise and powerful proclamation of the Tao universe. Laotzu used only four verses to define the architecture of Tao, and another three verses to describe the states and transmutation of Tao. Parts of this short chapter had been puzzling to us, which, we understand now, was due to improper interpretation.

In this architecture, Tao is described in terms of its two fundamental states as Wu 無 and Yu 有. These two states are transmutated with each other, to form a unified state, which is called the Ultimate Oneness太一state. The Oneness state shows the relationship between Wu and Yu states. Laotzu defines Oneness only implicitly by saying that Wu and Yu come from the same source. This architecture is explicitly described by Chuangtzu as, “Tao is built upon constant Wu and Yu, and mandated by Oneness.”

2.1 Proclamation of Tao

Laotzu has described a complete Tao philosophy in the Tao Te Ching. In Chapter 1, we shall witness Laotzu’s astonishing ability for clarity and simplicity. The first verse is the most familiar one in the book. This verse is a powerful preamble of Tao philosophy. Unfortunately, this verse has often been interpreted negatively as “The Tao that can be told is not a constant Tao.” This negative statement invokes a mystic feeling, but it has also misled many.

2.3 The Wu State無

The Wu state shows the intrinsic harmony of man and heaven. This state is inherently difficult to describe since man is merged subconsciously with all beings and with heaven and earth. However, Laotzu has characterized this state in many chapters of his book.

We have identified Wu as a state. Most other interpretations and translations have followed Wang Bi and treated Wu as an adjective, so Wu-Ming 無名 is taken to be the Un-named or the Nameless. Our interpretation is in line with the interpretation of Wang An-Shi 王安石 (1021-1086).

2.4 The Yu Stat有

Laotzu describes the Yu state with more details in the Tao Te Ching. In the Yu state, we turn on our consciousness to be aware of our interactions with heaven. The Yu state represents what we can “see” in Tao.

Therefore, in the Yu state, the individuality of all beings is manifested and all interactions become conscious processes. In other words, we may say that this self-consciousness brings all beings into being. The process in the Yu state will guide all beings to live in harmony with heaven.

2.5 Transmutations of Wu and Yu

We now come to a unique phenomenon in Tao. The two fundamental states Wu and Yu are not independent. They are always coupled and active simultaneously at all times.

This important coupling is due to the reverting power of Tao and is described by Laotzu in the next two verses. These verses have been punctuated in two ways. After careful considerations, we have concluded that Laotzu introduced his concept of transmutations of Wu and Yu in these verses.

We may also say that Tao always remains in the Wu state in order to display how the Yu state comes into being. This is a picture of the mysterious germinating process, by which the Yu state emerges from the Wu state. Wu contains coded within it information about its relationships to Yu. Similarly, when Tao is manifested in the Yu state, we may observe how Yu disappears (transmutates) into Wu. There is always a germinating seed of Wu in the Yu state, i.e., Yu contains coded within it information about its relationships to Wu.

2.6 Duality of Tao

The two states, Wu and Yu, are a result of the same interactions of Chi exchange between man and heaven. Therefore, they are from the same source. They are simultaneously the manifestations of Tao. Both states describe the same Tao. This is the duality of Tao. In the I-Ching, we have Yu and Wu comprises one Tao. 易傳:「一無一有之謂道」

Both Wu and Yu states are from the same source, and they are different manifestations of the same descriptions (of the same Tao). This verse is an extraordinary example of the conciseness of Laotzu’s words. This verse implicitly, yet unambiguously, introduces the concept of Oneness.

2.7 Mystery and Gateway to Revelation

Which state is the core of Tao philosophy? In the light of our theory, this question does not arise, as both Wu and Yu are the core of Tao philosophy simultaneously.

Laotzu declared both states to be profound. They are both the gateway to all revelations to all mysteries. This is to emphasize the important roles of Wu and Yu in the mystery of Tao. Both Wu and Yu are profound. All mysteries may be understood in terms of the relationship between Wu and Yu.

2.8 The Dynamic Tao

Chapter 1 sets the stage for a very dynamic Tao. Throughout the book, Laotzu describes the properties of the states of Wu and Yu and their relationships through his concept of transmutations. The utmost state of Tao is the Oneness state where Wu and Yu achieve their ultimate balance.

It is interesting to summarize this by calling this Tao: The Dynamic Tao.

the step to the left - alternating with a step to the right
points to the swing - to the dynamical features
always in change for adapting and finding the best response
always in change between energy and matter too


Description of the Sinograph of Tao by Wulf Dieterich