Tao Te Ching, also known as Dao De Ching (道德经) and Lao Tzu, is the foremost text of Taoism. It is believed that Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher lived during the Warring States Period of the ancient China, wrote the book. Although it is difficult to tell exactly when it was written, the oldest excavated text so far dates back to the late 4th century BC.
Tao Teh Ching is made up of 81 chapters, written in the style of verses. The chapters are divided into two parts. Part one comprises of chapters 1-37, and part two 38-81. Part 1 centers on Tao, or “The Way”. Part 2 centers around Te, or “The Virtue”. The order can be reversed, depending on the editions of the book.
The two words – Tao and Te – are the first two characters of the book title. The third character is Ching, it means scripture. So the title of the book means ‘a scripture of The Way and The Virtue’.
Timeless & Universal
One of the questions that I’m often asked is whether Tao Te Ching a religious text.
Tao Te Ching is often associated with Taoism. As Taoism as a religion emerged in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 -220 AD), hundreds of years after the book was written, it was unlikely that Lao Tzu wrote the book with the religion in mind.
Lao Tzu probably did not know his book would one day become the primary scripture of a religion, and himself worshiped as founder.
For many people, the book is more a work of philosophy, rather than religion.
In China today, the book is revered by both: Those who see it as a philosophy and those who read it as a religious text. The people who view Dao De Ching as a philosophy sometimes identify themselves as Daojia (道家); and those who see it as a religion Daojiao (道教). Both are known as Taoism in the West.
Tao Teh Ching played a role in the promotion of Buddhism in China. When Buddhism was first introduced into the country, it was promoted by using of Taoist lingo — something the Chinese people found easier to relate to. It is for this reason that the book is also widely read by Buddhists in China.
In any case, Tao Te Ching has transcended historical and cultural confines. It is timeless and universal! In China, it has significant impact on almost every aspect of life. Since its introduction in the late 19th century, the work has been widely read in the West as well.
The book, unfortunately, is not easy to read. Not only is the language cryptic, it can mean different things to different people. It is a book on cosmology, self development, longevity and leadership and many more. If you find it difficult to fully comprehend, you are not alone.
To truly enjoy the work, go beyond the surface. Understand the underlying unified principles that hold the whole work together and apply whatever that you have learnt in your life.