What is Tao?
|Tao (pronounced "dao") means literally "the
path" or "the way." It is a universal principle that underlies
everything from the creation of galaxies to the interaction of
human beings. The workings of Tao are vast and often beyond
human logic. In order to understand Tao, reasoning alone will
not suffice. One must also apply intuition.
In our study of Tao, our source material is Tao Te Ching
(pronounced "Dao De Jing") by the ancient sage Laozi, a.k.a. Lao
Tao of Heaven is also
known as Tien Tao or I-Kuan Tao in Chinese. It is not Taoism but
Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism and author of Tao Te Ching, is
one of our main source materials.
Some of Lao Tzu's most significant teachings are as follows:
- Non-contention. Lao Tzu noted that violence and
conflict, no matter how tightly controlled, could not help but cause
negative side effects. The Tao ideal is to solve problems through
- Non-action. The foolish expend a great deal of
energy and time trying to do everything and end up achieving
nothing. On the other end of the spectrum, the truly wise don't seem
to do much at all and yet achieve whatever they want. This magic is
possible, indeed unavoidable, when one is in tune with the Tao.
- Non-intention. So often we perform virtuous
deeds hoping to receive praise or recognition. That's no virtue at
all. True virtue is a state where such actions flow forth naturally,
requiring no conscious effort or thought.
- Simplicity. The basis for our reality and our
existence is elemental and uncomplicated. Human beings create a lot
of trouble for themselves by making everything more complex than
they need to be. If we learn to simplify our lives, we can
experience a profound satisfaction that is infinitely more
meaningful than the rewards of the material world.
- Wisdom. Logic has its place in human affairs
but isn't everything. There is a limit to what we can understand
through rationality and reasoning. To transcend that limit, we need
to engage our intuition fully. This is the key to insights
as opposed to knowledge, and the difference between living
the Tao and reading all about it.
- Humility. The more you learn, the more you
realize there's still so much more to learn. This tends to make you
humble. Arrogance and egotism come from ignorance - knowing a little
bit and assuming you know a lot.
- Duality. Lao Tzu pointed out that all qualities
in the world possess meaning only by the existence of their
opposites. Something can only be big if there is something else that
is small by comparison. "Good" exists in the world so long as "evil"
exists as well. One cannot do without the other.
There have been many English renditions of Tao Te Ching.
Unfortunately most contain imperfect translations or outright mistakes.
For instance, the Chinese expression for "everything" or "myriad things"
is often translated literally into "ten thousand things." Even worse,
some translators have mixed in their own ideas or pet concepts into
their work. The list of offenders actually includes some books that are
supposed to be scholarly works written by people with
To be sure, much of this results from the difficulty in understanding
ancient Chinese, which is quite different from modern Chinese so that
even native speakers often have trouble understanding certain esoteric
passages. We have a great opportunity here to set things straight.
Ironically, the best translation I've found so far is a cartoon
rendition of the classic - a book that some would dismiss as "for kids."
Nothing can be further from the truth. The Tao Speaks by Tsai Chih
Chung, translated by Brian Bruya, contains remarkably accurate
interpretations of Tao Te Ching which demonstrate clearly the author's
deep understanding of Laozi's original intent. This comic book and the
paperback Backward Down the Path by Jerry Dalton are what we're using in
class as our text books.
Is Taoism a Religion?
Taoism certainly has a religious aspect. However, in this web site we
concentrate on the philosophical aspect, which can be compatible with
other religions. Many Christians, for instance, freely explore the
concepts of Taoism and add whatever they think is useful to their own
beliefs. The idea is to explore and learn the correct way or the better
way to live and to conduct our personal affairs by understanding some of
the principles that govern our lives