What Is Dao? What Is It?

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What is dao? What is the dao? What is a dao? I don’t know, and neither do you. I’m not being flippant; in fact that is a better answer to the unanswerable than ostensibly knowing. The dao is emphatically ineffable, it is nothing and everything, it is nameless, empty, intangible, and most importantly it is the way; it is the way of the universe, which is as profound as it sounds (DDJ: ch.1,4). If there is one explicitly knowable facet of the dao it is paradoxically (the dao loves paradoxes) that one can never explicitly know it. Stemming from the nature and articulation of the dao from authorities this becomes unequivocal. But the articulation from said authorities is mildly authoritative on the subject. The “definition” or parameter of the dao is given but presupposed by the intrinsic ineffability of the dao. These explanations are ubiquitous in subject as well as ambiguous and comprehensive. They range from topics of leadership to the origin of the universe all manifested in the dao. The ambition of this paper is to clearly elucidate the dao and why it is so elusive by using the two most authoritative texts on it, the Dao de Jing and the Zhuangzi. Of course even the concise introduction above allows one to see the inevitability of confusion. The Dao de Jing is the fundamental Chinese text for Daoism, the religion spawning from the profundity of the dao. The text is attributed to the Chinese “sage” Laozi (and from here the text will be known simply as the Laozi, homage to
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