Daodejing Chapter 25: I do not know its name

Richard Brown
2 min readMay 12, 2023

There is something
Nebulous yet whole,
That was born
Before heaven and earth.
Silent and formless,
Alone and unchanging,
All-pervading and inexhaustible,
It may be considered the
Mother of all-under-heaven.
I do not know its name.
I just call it the Dao.
If I must give it a name,
I call it great.
Great means
It is boundless.
Boundless means
It reaches everywhere.
Reaches everywhere means
It returns to itself.
The Dao is great,
Heaven is great,
Earth is great,
The king is great.
Within the realm,
There are four great things.
The king of men
Is one of them.
The king models himself on earth.
Earth models itself on heaven.
Heaven models itself on the Dao.
The Dao models itself
On what is naturally so.


IIn Chapter 25 of the Daodejing, Laozi provides a useful summary of the key characteristics of the Dao, telling us that it is “silent and formless,” “alone and unchanging,” and “all-pervading and inexhaustible.” He also reminds us of the Dao’s feminine nature, too, saying that it is the “mother of all-under-heaven.”

While cheerfully admitting that he does not know the real name of the Dao, Laozi remarks that if pressed to give it one he would (rather unimaginatively) call it “the great.” This is because it reaches everywhere yet always returns to its source in a constant cycle of reversion.

Laozi goes on to emphasize the supreme position of the Dao in the cosmic order. It is the guiding universal principle that heaven, earth, and humanity model their behaviour on. It is a law unto itself. It answers to no one.

For all the lyricism of his description, Laozi could not find the right name for it — preferring instead to employ vague metaphors such as the great and the mother of all-under heaven to describe it. Perhaps this was deliberate, because he wanted people to think deeply about how the universe came about and where they fit into it. Or perhaps he simply had no idea himself and writing the Daodejing was exploring the question further in the hope of finding an answer.

I took this image at Longhu (Dragon Tiger) Mountain, a famous Daoist site about ten miles south of Yingtan in Jiangxi Province. A great place to visit!



Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.