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Taoism - The Tao

Taoism - The Tao

Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will discuss the Taoist idea of the Tao.

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Hello. Welcome. When you study religions, you're studying various methods of approaching and thinking about the concepts and the principles that serve to guide a culture and its traditions. And depending on one's cultural perspective and personal orientation, some religions may seem more straightforward and others more obscure and foreign. Tim

But then again, many ideas in their pure form transcend time and place while simultaneously calling our attention from wherever the interest emerges-- in a person, in a religious impulse, in a philosophical system, in a whole country, within and throughout an entire cultural epoch and beyond.

Well, today we're going to look at one of these ideas. The concept of the Tao, and the philosophy of Taoism. If I were to truly communicate the notion of the Tao to you, I might leave you with some silence, an image of the Yin and Yang, symbol, complementary opposites, and offer some more silence, then sign off.

While that could have some dramatic effects on your milestone, you never know, but just to be sure let's go over the basics, the history and the approach to the Tao and the philosophy of Taoism.

If you've studied Confucianism, you'll know that the its founder, Confucius, was influenced and inspired by Taoism and the writings of its founder, Lao-tzu. These two men were born 50 years apart in the sixth century before the common era, and their philosophies taken together form the basis of many aspects of Chinese thought and Chinese culture.

Confucianism is particularly concerned with the willful and worldly or society-based application of certain ordering principles. And Taoism expresses the importance of intuition, spontaneity and a creative understanding of balance, letting be and actionless action.

Dao, in Chinese, which is spelled D-A-O in pinyin, which is the system used to transcribe Chinese characters into Latin, means "the way," or "the path." However, fixing a notion to the Tao like this, some kind of a noun to pin it in our mind and memory, is misleading, says Lao-tzu.

As the primordial order and essence of the universe, we can only let it be, trusting somehow that its manifestations, in other words, everything we name and experience in the world, are like lampposts along the way. And therefore bring insight and understanding of the way of the Tao, which is utterly timeless and nameless.

Lao-tzu communicates this paradox in the first line of his writing, which became the Tao Te Ching. This title has been translated in different ways. For example, the classic Book of Integrity and The Way and Tao and Virtue Classic and The Book of Virtue or Power.

The teaching of Lao-tzu expresses the importance of living in harmony with the universal force and essence, receiving and responding to its actions with sensitivity and compassion. Open to the Tao, express oneself modestly and trust intuition as a guiding manifestation of the Tao itself. In the Tao Te Ching he says every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao.

Well, on one level it's easy to grasp this concept, in other words, if we constructed some Tao in our mind and thoughts, then we can derive other things. But the problem is that it's the Tao that expresses being, not us per se.

And he offers many lessons to help one step out of the way of the Tao, so to speak, so that the Tao can be enjoined and followed with balance. First of all, in the first line of the Tao Te Ching, as we hinted at earlier, the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

And secondly, the concept of Wei Wu Wei, or Wu Wei simply, which points to a creative letting be or actionless action or effortless action. This is meant to be a practical guide in life. It involves notions of trust, watching out for ego desires, then settling into quiet but active attention.

In a chapter on Wu Wei he says, "Practice not doing and everything will fall into place." Well, this can be interpreted in a variety of ways but it points to the idea that to fully embrace and allow the depths of Wu Wei to be integrated, one must study, read, sit and let be. Let be, entrusting accord and balance with the Tao.

So now let's review Taoism and the Tao. Taoism emerged in China in the sixth century before the common era, at the same time as Confucian philosophy. The founder of Taoism is Lao-tzu, and it's a philosophy based on the concept, the notion, the principle of the Tao, which has been given the translation "the way," or "the path."

We understood that it's very difficult to define, but there are certain lampposts along the way and the Tao Te Ching points to these lampposts as a way of helping someone who's a follower of Taoism to become integrated and become one with the Tao. And to live in balance with this essential principle of life and being.

The two lampposts that we mentioned were first of all orienting or re-orienting oneself or slipping way to allow oneself to be oriented. And that was hinted at in the first line of the Tao Te Ching. The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The Tao that can be named is not the eternal name.

And then the second principle, a lamppost that might help one find balance and integration with the Tao is the concept of Wu Wei, effortless action, a creative letting be. Also a difficult notion to understand, but experientially one can follow these lampposts and perhaps find a way along the Tao.

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.