The Major Functions of Dao
The Principal Functions of Dao
Though Dao is Emptiness ( 虛 Xu ) and Non-Being ( 無 Wu ), it is the origin of the world and is the generator of all movement and evolution in the universe.
The Creative Function of the Great Dao
The Laozi says: the Dao, though nameless, is the origin of Heaven and Earth; it also has a name, and is the mother of all beings. ("Non-Being is the Origin of Heaven and Earth; Being ( 有 You ) is the mother of the myriad things." ( Trans. Based on Wang Keping: The Classic of the Dao: A New Investigation, Beijing, 1998: p.220 )) It also says that these two (the nameless and the named) are actually the same thing, but when manifested have different names. Together, they can be called the 'Mysterious' ( 玄 Xuan ), which is mystery upon mystery, and the gate to all changes. ("These two have the same source but different names, They both may be called mysterious and profound. The mysterious mystery Is the doorway to all subtleties" ( Trans. Based on Wang Keping 1998: 220 )). The Sublime Book of the Supreme Venerable Sovereign's Teachings on Eternal Purity and Tranquility ( 太上老君說常清靜妙經 Taishang Laojun Shuochang Qingjng Miaojing ) thus says that the Great Dao is formless, and gives birth to Heaven and Earth.
The Dao does not interfere ( 無為 Wuwei ), but is not inactive ( 無不為 Wu Buwei )
The creative function of Dao does not express itself by sending down specific orders. It does not interfere, but lets each being follow its won nature and spontaneously grow and develop, from Non-Being to Being and from Being to Non-Being. This is called 'Non-Interference' ( 無為 Wuwei ). All beings have an end, and their functions may only express themselves through action. But for this reason, their functions are always limited, and cannot be maintained indefinitely. Laozi said that the great wind cannot blow over the whole sky, and the rain cannot fall the whole night. The actions of Heaven and Earth cannot be maintained forever, much less those of people. The Great Dao is different: it lets the myriad beings to be born and develop, while remaining in a state of Non-Interference - it can never be exhausted. For this reason, Laozi said: Dao does not interfere, but is not inactive. The Great Dao gives birth to all, but never takes possession of them; it accomplishes everything, but claims no credit for itself. Those who study and practise Dao should also follow the Great Dao, and seek after Purity and Tranquility ( 清靜 Qingjing ), and Non-Interference.
The law of motion of Dao is movement toward the opposite
Laozi's conception of Dao is rich in dialectical thinking. He considered that Dao is in a process of constant cyclical motion, always following the law of return to the opposite. Concepts such as Being and Non-Being, high and low, long and short, before and after are all relative and mutually generating. Fortune and misfortune depend on each other, each always turning into its opposite. Who can master the turning point of these transformations? Why is Dao never in a normal state? Normality will become abnormality, the good shall turn to evil. These deep thoughts were not only inherited by successive generations of later Daoists, but also had a deep influence on the entire body of Chinese philosophy. On the foundation of Laozi's thought, later Daoist scholars developed concepts such as 'the Dao of Heaven is Return from the Ultimate' ( 極而反，天之道也 Ji Er fan, Tian Zhi Dao ye ), which has become a famous maxim regarding the Chinese approach to reality. Related to this, Daoism considers that softness can defeat hardness. Laozi said that softness is an expression of Dao. For example, water is the softest thing under Heaven, but when it attacks hard objects, none can resist it in the end. Therefore the softest thing in the world can circulate freely amidst the hardest things. Self-effacement and softness are the basic principles of Daoist methodology and approach to people and things; they also count among Daoism's unique characteristics.