While living and teaching in Asia in the late 1970s, I learned to read basic Chinese in order to identify the women’s restroom, read street signs, and buy more items than I could readily identify such as eggs, vegetables, and beer. Soon I fell in love with Chinese etymology and calligraphy and deepened my understanding of Chinese. Since retirement and having ample time, I began to translate the Chinese classic, the Tao Te Ching.
The Tao Te Ching portrays the Tao as “mother,” “virgin,” and “womb.” She is the “immortal void” who endlessly “returns to source” to renew life again and again. From her “dark womb,” all life flows. To align with the Tao as mother, virgin, and womb is to discover a path to peace and wellbeing with ourselves, each other, the earth, and the natural world. Poem 6 portrays the Tao like so:
The immortal void
Called the dark womb, the dark womb’s gate
Creation takes root
An unbroken gossamer
That prevails without effort.
In the Tao Te Ching, peace and wellbeing are thought simple and ordinary, arising from spontaneous action that seeks no gain for the self. This is to enact the path of wei wu wei, meaning to act without acting or do without doing. Wei wu wei does not mean doing nothing, not thinking, not traveling, not initiating projects, not cooking dinner, not planting a garden in the spring, and so on. To the contrary. For in leaving self-gain aside, our actions arise naturally and spontaneously to meet concrete situations and events without plotting or maneuvering in advance or expecting to be liked, appreciated, or rewarded for what we do. In Poem 8, aligning with the Tao is to seek what is lowest and most needy like a mother might act naturally and spontaneously on behalf of a child in danger:
The highest good is like water
Bringing goodness to all things without struggle
In seeking low places spurned by others
The Tao resembles water.
In so doing, we attend to what matters most—not tomorrow but right now. Per the situation, our actions may be swift or slow, but they will in time resolve obstacles at their source in the same way that water carves out canyons and moves mountains. What matters most will vary for each of us. This is wei wu wei in action. Over time, enacting this feminine path to peace will impact all our relations with others, including animals and other species, each other, our families and communities, the conduct of governments, relationships between nations and peoples, and with planet Earth.
The wisdoms of the Divine Feminine Tao may be applied to our personal initiatives and our response to personal and modern crises, including meeting the challenges of the current coronavirus pandemic. Wei wu wei invites us to act spontaneously and naturally like water, determining its own course and leaving self-gain aside.
This article quotes from my forthcoming book, The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching, to be published in April 2021 by Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Preordering is available here