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Ming is a Chinese word (radical 30a) translated into English variously as: name(s), to name, named, given a name, one’s name (or title), spoken of, divided, what they are called, how they manifest, labels, the term, manifests as.

In Taoist texts, the word “ming” is used most frequently to point to “the tao that can be named,” in other words, to the manifest, phenomenal world -- the “names and forms” created by mind. Ming is used also to refer to the functioning of a name or a word: in other words, to how words operate to divide, separate, make distinctions; and in particular, how names/words artificially divide the essential unity, the original simplicity of the Absolute, via intellectual/conceptual activity or social discrimination -- how they work to oppose, disrupt or limit the true nature of the Tao.

Ming appears six times in verse one of Laozi’s Daode Jing (Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching) -- mostly in combination/contrast with Chang (the Absolute/Eternal).

In Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition, Jonathan Star offers an explanation of the related term -- wu ming -- which is more or less the equivalent to Chang:

”Wu ming (‘without name’) is a special term meaning ‘the Nameless,’ the undifferentiated Absolute, that which cannot be divided by names. It represents Tao in its unmanifested form, as the substrata of all things, existing before Heaven and earth, the unnameable or indivisible nature of Tao. Wu-ming, the Nameless, reaffirms the Unity of the Tao, that Supreme Reality that cannot be named or divided ... that which is beyond name and form.”

Paradoxically, the word “Ming” (with a capital “M”) is also used to point to The Name (with a capital “N”): to the Eternal Name, which refers to the aspect of Tao which is its power to create the names/forms of the world. We find this usage, for instance, in the first two lines of verse one of the Daode Jing, where “Ming” is paired with “the Tao” to represent two aspects of the one Supreme Reality.

In this second usage, Ming is akin to the Shakti of Hinduism, which -- when paired with Shiva -- represents the power of Shiva to manifest creation. It is akin also to The Word or God’s Spirit, in Christianity: the force which creates the entire world (e.g. via St. John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”) And similar also to the Greek logos, or the para-vak (Supreme Speech) of Kashmir Shaivism.


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