The Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching is one of the most translated books in the world. Why is it so popular, and what does it teach us?

The Tao Te Ching (pronounced dow duh jeang) is the collection of holy writings used by Taoists and other Eastern philosophies. The title of the book means literally, "The Classic Book of Integrity and the Way" and has become, for many, a guidebook on how to act and live in peace and serenity.

Besides the Holy Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book of in the world. One reason for this is that the Tao Te Ching is the primary text used both by philosophical and religious Taoists. Another reason for its popularity is its brevity. Although it is easy to read, it is deceptively tricky. As happens with most fundamental religious texts, scholars who have studied the text for decades often find that true comprehension continues to elude them.

The book is divided into two parts: Te (integrity) and Tao (the way). It contains 81 "chapters," some only several dozen words in length.

Lao Tzu

The collection of writings is attributed to Lao Tzu, who allegedly lived in China in 600 B.C. He is called Lao Tzu ("Old Boy"), because nothing is known of his youth or origins. He worked in the Chinese government, but soon became disenchanted with politics and the whole imperialistic regime. Legend has it that he mounted a black ox and journeyed into the countryside through the Han-ku Pass. Before he went through, the keeper of the pass asked him to write down his thoughts and ideas. Lao Tzu graciously obliged, and wrote 81 chapters which is today known as the Tao Te Ching. It contained his view and philosophy of life and politics and quickly became one of the most influential philosophies in the history of China. After completing his task, Lao Tzu crossed the pass and was never heard from again.

Some scholars have questioned the existence of Lao Tzu, asserting that the book may be a collection of thoughts and ideas gathered by various sources over time. One reason for this is the lack of any biographical evidence of the man Lao Tzu. Although the authorship is somewhat in doubt, for all practical intents and purposes it is accepted that the man Lao Tzu originated the verses found in this terse political and mystical work.

The Teachings

The principles espoused in the Tao Te Ching are based on the ancient theories of yin-yang and wu-wei. The idea of yin-yang is that there are two opposite forces, which, in their opposition and constant pull, actually keep the world and life in balance. This pair of complementary opposites creates the flow of nature, or the Way. Wu-wei means, literally, "non-action," or the practice of doing nothing to accomplish everything. Someone who understands and adheres to wu-wei does not try to force things. In not forcing or even pursuing what they want, their desired goal is able to come to them, and their objective is met. Plans and rules and laws created to get results never accomplish the aims they were meant to obtain. The Way can only be found in humility, in serene acceptance of life and things as they are, and finding the flow of nature. The verses contained in the Tao Te Ching illustrate-sometimes clearly, sometimes not so clearly-the method to living the Way. Some verses follow:

"The person of superior integrity does not insist upon his integrity; for this reason he has integrity. The person of inferior integrity never loses sight of his integrity; for this reason he lacks integrity." (1)

"Without going out-of-doors, one may know all under heaven; without peering through windows, one may know the Way of heaven. The farther one goes, the less one knows. For this reason, the sage knows without journeying, understands without looking, accomplishes without acting." (10)

"All under heaven say that I am great, great but unconventional. Now, precisely because I am unconventional, I can be great; If I were conventional, I would long since have become a trifle."

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