Daodejing Chapter 6 breakdown: the spirit of the valley

Richard Brown
2 min readDec 10, 2023

Chapter 6 of the Daodejing focuses on the eternal, feminine aspect of the Dao, portraying it as the nurturing source of all existence, subtle yet omnipresent, and an inexhaustible wellspring of life and creation.

Section 1
The spirit of the valley never dies.
It is called the mysterious feminine.

The chapter begins with the metaphor of the “spirit of the valley,” which it identifies as “the mysterious feminine.” The valley and the feminine are two of Laozi’s favourite symbols for the Dao because they are soft and yielding, fecund and nurturing, and humble and resilient.

Section 2
The gateway of the mysterious feminine,
Is called the root of heaven and earth.

The text goes on to describe “the gateway of the mysterious feminine” as the “root of heaven and earth,” suggesting that it is the entrance to the womb from which all things in the universe emerge. Like the Dao, the valley, the feminine, and the root are sources of inexhaustible fertility that are continuously pulsating and generating new life.

Section 3
Like a fine slender thread,
It appears to go on forever.
No matter how much it is drawn upon,
It is never exhausted.

The metaphor of the Dao as a “fine slender thread” that goes on forever and is never exhausted, even when drawn upon, highlights its continuity and inexhaustibility. Like this endless thread, the Dao is an unfailing and constant source of life and energy, always available and never depleting.

Describing the Dao as a fine, slender thread also emphasizes its subtlety and permeability. The Dao is not a grand, overpowering force but a delicate and pervasive presence that, like the valley, feminine, and root, underlies all of existence. This aspect of the Dao underscores the value of subtlety and the understanding that the most profound truths and powers often manifest in seemingly small or insignificant forms.

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Daodejing Chapter 6: the mysterious feminine

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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.