The Feminine Nature of the Tao
“Having recognized the Tao in this intensely feminine way, I could not possibly refer to the Tao as anything other than “She.” There was no going back.”
Excerpt from The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching
From Introduction: My Journey to the Tao
In 1977 I was a thirty-year-old tenured professor, comfortably settled into my life—teaching psychology and supervising research at an elite private American university. Asia was “the Orient,” a faraway place overflowing with ancient traditions and largely untouched by Western TV and media. And yet, mysteriously, Asia called to me, speaking to me in ways nothing else did. I needed to get there. So I resigned from my university position and, almost overnight, dropped into another world, embarking on an adventure that continues to unfold today. As few signs were transliterated from Chinese characters into Roman letters, I had to learn to read basic Chinese quickly so I could find the women’s restroom, get on the right train and off at the right station, and buy more than just items I recognized like vegetables, eggs, and beer.
I kept reading, kept learning, and before long fell in love with the etymology of Chinese characters and the elegance of Chinese calligraphy. Everywhere I traveled in those years in Asia I sought out the national art museums and spent hours in the rooms dedicated to Chinese calligraphy. The beauty of the various forms of calligraphy touched me, and the reverence the Chinese gave to the characters inspired me. “Now here’s a culture that knows what matters,” I thought.
Living in Asia in my early thirties challenged almost everything I thought I knew about the world. I learned the hard lesson of accepting things as they were and not as I thought they were or as I wanted them to be. Looking back, I realize that I had begun to learn what the Chinese call wei wu wei, which means to “act without acting” or “know without knowing.” Not having a car and having to walk or take public transportation everywhere, I mingled with hundreds, if not thousands, of Asian people every day. I was so happy to be in Asia. I suspect that I was like a young child, imitating the people near me as infants do. In so doing, I embodied their wei wu wei effortlessly and certainly came back to the United States a “revised” human being.
Discovering the Divine Feminine Tao 40 Years Later
Since wei wu wei is an essential lesson of Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching, this on-the-ground learning gave me the experiential and embodied understanding I needed to translate the text into English decades later. In fact, wei wu wei was invaluable to me—first as a reader and then as a translator—because it allowed me to wait for a poem to reveal itself to me instead of chasing down meanings intellectually or multi-tasking. I had to slow down, turn off my agenda, and listen until a great silence entered my being.
Being with the Tao Te Ching, reading it with wei wu wei patience, I often found esoteric gems in the poems that had not made it into any English translations I had read over the years. These phrases would flash at me and speak to me intimately, spiritually. However, it was not until I retired that I wondered if I could translate the Chinese manuscript for myself. Afterall I could read basic Chinese and scholarly books were now available to help me with the Chinese characters that I did not recognize. Perhaps in translating the poems initially just for my own benefit and delight, I might discover something new in the Tao Te Ching or something new about myself.
To my surprise, I discovered that the Tao was profoundly feminine! Never could I have predicted that because, in the English translations I read, the Tao is commonly referred as “It” throughout the poems. How could so many translators, almost all men, not have noticed that the Tao is consistently referred to as “mother,” “virgin,” and “womb of creation,” all of which are clearly feminine and hardly gender neutral? Only in a rare poem do a few translators refer to the Tao as “She” when the reference to “mother” or “womb” is blatant. Therefore, as I continued to translate the poems, I kept asking myself, “Am I really the first to notice that the Tao is feminine throughout the poems?” Having recognized the Tao in this intensely feminine way, I could not possibly refer to the Tao as anything other than “She.” There was no going back. You will see what I mean in the next chapter ...
From Rosemarie Anderson’s translation of Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching
The Tao that can be told
Is not the everlasting Tao
The name that can be named
Is not the everlasting name
Nameless is the virgin of all things
Named is the mother of all things
Free of desire we see subtleties
Not free we see only things
The two are the same
Yet arise as two
A oneness called dark Dark beyond dark is
The door to all subtleties
Not exalting the worthy
Prevents people from fighting
Not cherishing precious objects
Keeps people from stealing
Not displaying possessions
Calms the minds of people
Thus in governing the way of the wise
Empties the mind
Fills the stomach
Keeps people innocent and content
And the cunning afraid to act
Act without acting
And nothing is out of place
The Tao is empty
Yet when used
That seems the ancestor of all
She softens our edges
Loosens our entanglements
Tempers our light
Merges with ordinariness
She seems ever present
We do not know whose child this is
She seems to have existed
The immortal void
Is called the dark womb, the dark womb’s gate
Creation takes root
An unbroken gossamer
That imparts without effort
The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching by Rosemarie Anderson, Ph.D. © 2021 Inner Traditions. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com
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