Taoism // Through ‘Tao Te Ching’

18 Jun

Through the lens of the “Tao Te Ching”

Personal Intro

I enjoyed reading Tao Te Ching, and found it to be a quick and easy read of roughly 100 pages of metaphoric teachings and pros structured in a poetic way.  Although I was unfamiliar with the make-up of Taoism, I had been introduced to several concepts that are central to its teachings; mainly: surrender to the universe (doing not-doing) and see past the illusion of seemingly contrary forces to their actual complementary relationship (yin-yang).

I associate Tao Te Ching’s concept of  “doing not-doing” with “flow states” or “being in the zone” (my athlete metaphor).  Essentially it means, ‘get out of your own way and let the law of the universe work through you’.  I have directly experienced this while playing soccer, dancing and in all of my life  for a brief four month period during my 30th year.  I deeply associate this state with the loss of ego, although that direct metaphor did not come up in the Tao Te Ching.

Beyond, “doing not-doing”, Taoism teaches that forces that seem contrary, are in actuality, complementary (yin-yang).  I have personally experienced this lesson, and recall sometime in the Fall of 2012 reading about complements and spending time pondering its significance.  My first experience in understanding this was with a former co-worker who I considered rigid and uptight. For the longest time, it drove me crazy, until I realized that the co-worker’s discerning eye actually allowed me to have more freedom and creativity because all of the worrying was already taken care of.  Props to my younger brother, who, as I was venting about the co-worker, said to me, “Wow, it seems like they really get under your skin. I wonder what they are here to teach you.”

Most recently, I have experienced the deep connection of complements with my husband.  Not that we are so “contrary” to begin with, but there is much of our surface identity that might seem that way.  In reflecting on my single years and my single friends, I feel like we were searching for our “match” – our equal and opposite.  Instead of finding my “match”, I found the complement to my feminine energy. In hindsight, I actually do not believe finding an equal is even possible, nor lasting. Firstly, I think that the concepts of equality and self-worth are based in the ego; so a “match” is more for the ego than the soul. Secondly, with two dynamic and changing beings, equality cannot stay in tact for long. And lastly, I do not think “equal-ness” is even possible, as every human being is so different.

There are several topics associated with Taoism that have come up in my past, and again came up during my research and peaked my interest.  Those topics are: I Ching, Qigong, Qi, and Yin Yang.  Perhaps I will dive a little deepr into those.

I believe Tao Te Ching is a great read for those seeking lessons on: LEADERSHIP, FORGIVENESS, ACCEPTANCE OF OTHERS and LETTING THINGS GO.


“Tao Te Ching” translated as “The Book of the Way” was written by Lao-tzu, a man who left no trace, and dated to the late 4th century BC.  It is categorized under both philosophical and religious categories.  The version I read was translated into English by Stephen Mitchell, and he states upfront the difficulty in translating the Tao Te Ching with 100% accuracy.


The main message of Tao Te Ching is “Wei wu Wie” meaning literally “doing not-doing.”  The book talks often about not forcing things, but rather accepting them as they are and allowing them to be naturally and unfold spontaneously.  The book teaches that the greatest treasures are: simplicity, patience, compassion (translated elsewhere as compassion, moderation, and humility[1]).


Yin Yang

Another focus of the Taoism teachings is that of yin-yang: how apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another[1] “What is a good man, but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man, but a good man’s job?” Tao Te Ching calls understanding this “the great secret”


Like Buddhism, the Tao Te Ching emphasizes the impermanence of the world, and the perils of illusions, desires and attachments.  
Tao Te Ching states that “for governing a country well there is nothing better than moderation.”  Although I did not mention Buddhism’s focus on the “middle way” in my report, both Buddhism and Taoism mention moderation or a “middle path”.  In Buddhism, the focus on the “middle way” is much more prevalent.


The Tao Te Ching  says “He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.” and “When you have names and forms, know that they are provisional.  When you have institutions, know where their functions should end.”  This is resonant of existentialism’s focus on the individual first, before all of their ideologies and categories.

The Tao Te Ching says, “you can show all people the way back to their own true nature.” The mention of a “true nature” aligns with existentialism’s view of a core and authentic self and a path back to that self.  This differs from Buddhism’s “no-self.”


When the Tao Te Ching says, “Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source.  Returning to the source is serenity,” I believe it is referencing a return to that source after death. Existentialism makes no common claims for life post death, and relative to Buddhism, this varies from it’s “no-self,” and rebirth beliefs.  As well, the Tao Te Ching’s “Be a pattern for the world. If you are a pattern for the world, the Tao will be strong inside of you,” reminds me of Gandhi.

QUOTES (with more coming under categorical posts).

 “All things are born of being.  Being is born of non-being.”

“We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable.

We work with being, but non-being is what we use”

“In the pursuit of knowledge, everyday something is added. In the practice of Tao, everyday something is dropped.  Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”

“In dwelling, live close to the ground.

In thinking, keep to the simple.

In conflict, be fair and generous.

In governing, don’t try to control.

In work, do what  you enjoy.

In family life, be completely present.”

“It is serene. Empty. Solitary.  Unchanging.  Infinite. Eternally present. It is the mother of the universe. For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao”


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