Daodejing Chapter 40 breakdown: the origin of existence

Richard Brown
2 min readJan 15, 2024

Chapter 40 is the shortest chapter of the Daodejing, but that does not stop it from addressing some of the biggest questions in the entire text, including the cyclical nature of change and the origin of existence.

Section 1
Reversion is the motion
of the Dao.
Softness is the application
of the Dao.

The Dao turns like a wheel, constantly bringing everything back to its original starting point so that the cycle of life can start once again. Just as night follows day, plants, animals, and humans are born, mature, and die — leaving their offspring to repeat the cycle. This is known as the process of reversion or returning to your original state.

The Dao does not apply any force to make reversion happen. It simply provides the conditions for the process to take place of its own accord. The Dao is thus soft and gentle rather than hard and forceful. Just like water, it is a powerful yet yielding force that can adapt to any situation and overcome even the most rugged rocks and mountains through persistence and gentleness.

Section 2
In all-under-heaven,
The myriad things
Are born from being.
Being is born
From non-being.

The final lines of the chapter further explore the origin and nature of existence. The Dao, referred to as “non-being” or void (無/wú) in the text, is the intangible source from which all tangible reality or “being” (有/yǒu) arises and to which it returns. Although the Dao itself does not possess a physical form, is the fundamental principle or force behind the existence of everything in the physical world.

Related Articles
Daodejing Chapter 25: I do not know its name
Daodejing Chapter 25 breakdown: nebulous yet whole
Daodejing Chapter 39: attaining the one
Daodejing Chapter 39 breakdown: taking the humble as the root
Daodejing Chapter 40: being and non-being
Daodejing Chapter 42: the origin of the myriad things
Daodejing Chapter 42 breakdown: the one

--

--

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.