Reading the latest updates in Yijing Dao the other day, led to these words, “Turning back moves to the Dao” which jumped up at me. One got so used to the translation by James Legge and never saw the significance of Chapter 40 TTC until reading what Steve Marshall said about its first verse. A reason why reading his Yijing Dao’s website is worthwhile for Yi and Daoist students.
To Yi students, ‘Return’ (turning back) conveys a special meaning of its own. By studying the Yi we are also learning Tao (Da Chuan / The Great Treatise). To Eastern Daoists, learning how to return to Tao is of utmost importance. Through the short verses in Chapter 40 Laozi provides yet another subtle guide to what the inner alchemy (neidan) practitioner has to do. Therefore the interesting chapter is definitely worth a mention. And to facilitate a meaningful discussion one has ventured to translate the four short verses in Chapter 40 as follows:
Return (reversal) is the movement to Tao
Yielding is the usefulness to Tao
Myriad things under Heaven are born from being
Being born from non being
Man’s fall from Tao has been discussed in previous entries on Chapter 18 and the cardinal virtues, where ‘when the great Tao ceased to be observed, benevolence and righteousness appeared followed by propriety and wisdom’. Because of this fall, Daoists need to cultivate essence and life to return to Tao.
In the Yi, the judgment of Hexagram 24 Fu says: “Return. Success. Going out and coming in without error. Friends come without blame. To and fro goes the way. On the seventh day comes return. It furthers one to have somewhere to go.” Reading part of the commentary may give rise to a better understanding: “After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. There is movement, but it is not brought about by force. The upper trigram Kun is characterized by devotion; thus the movement is natural, arising spontaneously.” [W/B]
Return is the root and stem of character. This is one of the hexagrams where we learn how to cultivate proper conduct of a Junzi and to build character. In forum discussions on this hexagram, one often points out that it is a return to the Light. For essence and life is contained in the light of Heaven. Therefore it is important for students to understand the significance of Return and its deeper implications if we want to progress much in Yi studies. Rereading the judgment and commentary, perhaps Laozi had hexagram ‘Fu’ in mind when he wrote down TTC 40.
Daoists in the East have easier access than the West to real masters and Daoist immortals to assist in their understanding and learning of Tao. They are taught how to cultivate essence and life with the hopes of returning to Tao. Few will succeed but along the far journey, the earnest and sincere becomes better and healthier because of the cultivation. According to Laozi, “The great Tao is very level and easy but people love the by-ways” (TTC 53). (Discerning readers may understand the point one tries to make.)
In inner alchemy (neidan), reversal of the breath (qi) leads to Tao. Stillness or quietness yielding like the receptive Earth (Kun) can be achieved through this method of meditation. By converting essence to qi, qi to spirit, spirit to emptiness and emptiness to Tao, although a far journey, a neidan practitioner can return to Tao. Through this process, non-being manifest from being, and being manifest from non-being. Indeed ‘Return’ starts the movement to Tao like the waxing and waning of the moon phases. In TTC 40, Laozi like the skillful Dao masters of old was truly subtle to remain blameless.
If readers ever wonder why one speaks about Tao from time to time, it is because one only knows just a touch. Therefore it may be time to take that pinch of salt again.