What is the Tao?

Houseplant.Although Tao cannot be described, a definition however vague is going to be helpful if you want to engage Tao as a way of life.

Tao is pronounced as ‘dao’, and written in Chinese as 道, and means literally “the path” or “the way.”

It is what Taoism is all about, but the concept is so elusive it is next to impossible to define, especially when we attempt to do it in written words alone

This explains why Lao Tzu begins Tao Te Ching — the foremost text of Taoism — by saying, “The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.”

Although Tao cannot be described, a definition however vague is going to be helpful if you want to engage Tao as a way of life.

Here I am putting together a framework as a point of reference. Although it would never be able to answer the ultimate question of what Tao is, hopefully it can serve some practical purposes.

  • First, Tao is the primordial essence of the universe from which every existence is created, be it the galaxy or a human being.
  • Second, it is the principle that underlies every existence. We are in association with it since we were born and are going to be associated with it after our death, even when we are unaware of it. So is everything else around us. As a universal principle, it is impartial and consistent.
  • Third, recognizing the working of Tao enables us to appreciate the laws that govern the universe. Abiding by these laws allows us to work in unison with Tao, so that we can leverage on the almighty force to get things done effortlessly while feeling more fulfilled.
  • Forth, the understanding helps us to return to our true self and natural quality that is integrated with the cosmos. This enables us to live in sensitive response to Tao and stay closer to the truth.

I do hope that these 4 aspects of Tao – putting together – may work as a framework of reference for you to get started in your journey to make Tao a way of life.

 

“Before the universe was born
there was something in the chaos.
Serene and empty;
solitary and unchanging;
cyclical and ever present.
It may be regarded as the Mother of the universe.
For lack of better name,
I call it the Tao.
If forced to give it a name,
I would call it ‘Great’.

Because it is Great means it is everywhere.
Being everywhere means it is eternal.
Being eternal means everything returns to it.

Tao is great.
Heaven is great.
Earth is great.
Humanity is great.
Within the universe, these are the four great things.

Humanity follows the earth.
Earth follows Heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
The Tao follows the Nature.”

— Tao Te Ching quotes, Verse 25

Thank joaoloureiro for the picture.

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One Response to “What is the Tao?”

  1. Adish Kumar Jain October 8, 2012 at 2:43 am #

    “What is life, an organised state of some elements,
    What is death, an un-organised state of their compounds.”
    Basic rules of nature are same for everyone, everywhere.

    Thanks to useful reading of “Tao”
    CA Adish Kumar Jain

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