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Taoism - The Tao

Taoism - The Tao

Author: David Dillard-Wright

Identify the origins of Taoism and the nature of Taoist practice.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this tutorial on the Tao. This is the Chinese character for Tao. And it can be found in all Chinese schools of thought, including Confucianism, with which Taoism is contemporary. To characterize two parts, this side of the character represents a warrior. Warriors were expected to be virtuous people. In addition to being strong fighters, they were also supposed to have ritual knowledge. And on this side, this part of the character means moving forward.

So the Tao is a sort of code that people might live by, the way. It takes on a special meaning within Taoism, though.

Taoism originates with Lao Zhi, or Lao Tzu. You'll see it transliterated different ways. This person, if it is indeed a person, is shrouded in mystery.

The title simply means old master. We are told that Lao Zhi spent many years in the state of Chu in China, trying to teach people how to live good lives. Apparently, he grew frustrated with this mission and decided to leave China behind.

While he was crossing out of China, the border keeper detained him and said, all right you can leave China behind, but only after you write down your teaching. And the result of that writing was a little book called the Tao Te Ching. Which is one of the most translated books in the world, second only to the Bible.

The title means the way and its virtue, or the way and its power. And it is a long meditation on this word "Tao." It turns out to be a slippery, very subtle term. That it's debatable whether we can define it at all.

In fact, the first chapter concludes darkness within darkness, the gateway to all understanding. In other words, if we want to understand the Tao, we have to stop trying to understand it. We have to un-understand it.

So it's a sort of anti-conceptual concept. It's the antithesis of all concepts. It's just simply darkness.

A little bit more about the Tao Te Ching and what the book contains. It dates back to around the 500's BC. Even the dating of it is not really certain. And there's also different manuscripts of the Tao Te Ching.

One of the themes is naturalness or non-resistance. Working with nature instead of working against it. Allowing things to fall into place rather than trying to get across an agenda.

This happens through the use a wu wei, which we could say is active inaction inactive action. It's a sort of gracefulness. A kind of, as I said before, allowing things to happen.

The ruler who practices wu wei leads people without them even knowing that they're being led. And accomplishes things without any direct sort of effort. The best way that I can explain wu wei is when athletes talk about being in "the zone." They're so completely immersed in what they're doing that it's as though it happens automatically.

Another theme of the Tao Te Ching is non-conceptual thinking. So there's a chapter that says, if you define one thing is good, something else becomes bad. If you define one thing is beautiful, something else becomes ugly. So as soon as we begin using terminology, we set up these dualistic oppositions. But if we can stop labeling everything and simply live in the present moment, we can get rid of the negative aspects of those labels.

Well gosh then, this Tao is so bizarre. How can we understand it at all? Well we can't know it conceptually. So we can't get there by describing the Tao. Although these descriptions can kind of point the way, they're never going to help us to get all the way there.

So how do we know the Tao? We can know it experientially. There's a Daoist a way of describing meditation, which is just sitting and forgetting. There are also Taoist forms of yoga and martial arts as a way of getting in touch with the Tao.

Finally, we can also know the Tao by practicing wu wei in daily life. That is, acting without getting entangled in action. Acting but without creating an emotional and mental tangle. Simply doing the action without all of the encumbrances of making sure that it turns out the way that we think it ought to turn out. And simply allowing the work to come to fruition by itself.

We said that "Tao" means the path or the way. We also talked about the origins of Taoism, including Lao Zhi's philosophy and teachings in the Tao Te Ching. We said that the goal of Taoist practice is to become one with the Tao. And this can be accomplished by silent meditating to achieve the state of the uncarved block-- that is the original state of the human mind. Or through wu wei, which is effortless action.

We said that the Tao is ultimately indefinable. But we can realize it experientially through the practice of meditation and through wu wei.

Terms to Know

In Taoism, the "path" or "way" the worshiper must follow and with which the worshiper should attempt to become one.

Uncarved Block

In Taoism, the original state of the human mind, before and independent of experience.