What is the Tao?


What is the 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 comprehension. In order to understand it, reasoning alone will not suffice. One must also apply intuition.

In our study of the Tao, our source material is the Tao Te Ching (pronounced “Dao De Jing”) written by the ancient sage Lao Tzu.

Some of Lao Tzu’s most significant teachings are as follows:

  • Non-contention. Lao Tzu noted that violence and conflict, no matter how minimal or tightly controlled, could not help but cause negative side effects. The Tao ideal is to solve problems through peaceful means whenever possible.
  • 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 inevitable, when one is in tune with the Tao and acts without attachments.
  • Non-intention. So often we perform virtuous deeds hoping to receive praise or recognition, but that’s actually no virtue at all. True virtue is a state where such actions flow forth naturally, requiring no conscious effort and no need of external approval.
  • Simplicity. The basis for our reality and 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 it isn’t everything. There is a limit to what we can understand through rationality and reasoning. To transcend that limit, we need to fully engage the intuition. This is the key to insights as opposed to knowledge, and the difference between living the Tao and reading 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.
  • Yin and yang. Lao Tzu pointed out that all qualities in the world possess meaning only by the existence of their opposites, or their complements. Something can only be big if there is something else that is small by comparison. “Good” exists in the world so long as “bad” exists as well. One cannot do without the other.

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. In that context, there are no deities or descriptions of the hereafter. Many Christians and atheists alike 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.

Derek Lin
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