Daodejing Chapter 4 breakdown: dark and luminous

Richard Brown
2 min readDec 9, 2023

Chapter 4 of the Daodejing adopts a mystical tone, portraying the Dao as a profound, mysterious force that is the source and sustainer of all things. It emphasizes the importance of recognizing the role of the Dao in creating balance and harmony in the natural world, while also acknowledging its ineffable and eternal nature. The chapter invites you to reflect on the fundamental principles of existence and the limitations of human understanding.

Section 1
The Dao is empty,
But when it is used,
It does not need to be filled.
It is vast and deep,
Like the source of the myriad things.

The chapter begins by describing the Dao as a vast and inexhaustible void that is ever-present, self-sustaining, and full of infinite potential. It depicts the Dao as the ultimate source of all things in the universe, suggesting that it is the fundamental principle that underlies and permeates every aspect of existence, giving rise to the diversity of forms and phenomena in the world.

Section 2
It smooths the edges,
Loosens the tangles,
Merges with the dust.

The Dao is a harmonizing and balancing force that softens harshness, resolves complications, and is intimately connected with even the most mundane aspects of the world. It is the very essence of life.

Section 3
It is dark and luminous,
Like it has existed for ever.
I do not know whose child it is.
It seems to have come before
The divine ancestors.

The Dao is so mysterious and profound that not even the author can describe or understand its true nature. As for its origin, he can only speculate that it preceded all creation and deities.

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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.