Verse 25

There was something formless and perfect.

Born before heaven and earth

In the silence and the void.

It is serene. Empty.

Solitary. Unchanging.

Infinite. Eternally present.

It is the mother of the universe

I do not know its name

Call it Tao.

For lack of a better word, I call it great

Being great, it flows.

It flows far away

Having gone far, it returns

Therefore, the Way is great,

Heaven is great,

Earth is great,

People are great.

Thus, to know humanity,

Understand earth.

To know earth

Understand heaven,

To know heaven,

Understand the Way.

To know the Way,

Understand the great within yourself.


According to scholars the twenty-fifth verse of the Tao Te Ching is considered to be one of the most significant lessons in the entire manuscript. I do not necessarily look at this verse as a significant lesson; instead I look at it as a creation story. The Tao Te Ching was written by Lao-tzu over twenty-five centuries ago. I interpret the first ten lines as describing the big bang. Considering how long ago it was written I think Lao-tzu nailed a concept that would not be known for centuries later. I was honestly wondering when a creation concept would be brought up, so I was relieved when I read this verse. I love the way he describes existence prior to the big bang when the Tao gave birth to the universe.

Lao-tzu says “there was something formless and perfect.” Whatever was before the universe was created will always be a mystery, but Lao-tzu says whatever it was it was perfect. I am a firm believer that the Tao created heaven, but in doing this he also gave birth to Gods. I believe the Gods we know today were created by the Tao.

Lao-tzu could not find the words to describe the Tao; all he could come up with is the word “great.” This greatness is responsible for everything that has and will be.  He says “being great, it flows. It flows far away. Having gone far, it returns.” I am sure this could be interpreted in many ways. I look at it as the process of dying and the journey of our shen. When we die we go to the center where the universe was born. This center is formless and perfect, and is where we all return. Having gone far to the center; we return. This comforts my fears of death and calms my anxiety over it. The atheist in me comes out from time to time to trample my visions of salvation, so I lack faith. I wonder if my lack in faith is the reason I cannot live the lessons of the Tao on a consistent basis? If this is the case then my journey should be that of faith. Once I find faith perhaps I will find understanding.

This verse touches on things being great. It starts with the Way all the way down to people. This is a tough yet great message for me. I do not see myself as great; therefore I can never realize greatness. If I dwell in my negative emotions then I will attract negative things. This concept is brought up in the last eight verses. Lao-tzu says to truly know the way you need to understand the greatness within you. Since everything stems from the Tao is great therefore I to should be great because I am a product of perfection. This is a great lesson to learn.

  1. Johanna says:

    I like your final lesson. You too, are great because you were created by perfection. That is indeed a good lesson.

  2. jennirey says:

    “Understand the great within yourself.” this is so hard for me sometimes.. I never feel great… Nice post..

  3. It’s interesting to see how different scholars translate the ancient Chinese into English.

    For example, the version you quote renders the last line as “Understand the great within yourself.” Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English translate it as “Tao follows what is natural” and Derek Lin comes close to this with “Tao follows the laws of nature.”

    Jonathan Star seems to straddle between the version you quote and the two I cited above: “But Tao depends on itself alone. Supremely free, self-so, it rests in its own nature.”

    For me, this verse does not describe a creation story. The reason for this is that we don’t know if there was a time before existence. Since the overwhelming motif of Taoism is the principle of yin-yang (never-ending cycles transforming one into the other), it must be understood that linear time MAY not exist at all. In other words, there MAY be no before and after, beginning and ending. Maybe life is a constant; it has always been and always will be.

    Then again, maybe none of this exists at all. Life as we know it may be a dream inside of the head of some unintelligible nonbeing. 😉

  4. Johanna says:

    Haven’t heard from you in a few days. Hope you are ok. I wish you health in mind and body!

  5. Harland Noy says:

    Good day to all out there! Because you’re enthusiastic about classics, I’d like to discuss with you the fact that experts discovered that Tao Te Ching (by Laozi) and also I Ching (Chinese classic text I Ching) are commentaries to Shan Hai Jing (Collection of Mountains and Seas). Every person is actually a bio-machine and has an individual program (or software). All human programs are documented within a very old Chinese manuscript known as Shan Hai Jing. Originally, all of the programs were documented on the monument dating back to the twentieth century B.C.. Shan Hai Jing

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