learning the way of the tao

From my bookshelves: Tao Te Ching, ascribed to Lao Tzu, translated by John H. McDonald. (Arcturus, London: 2010).

Tao Te Ching is translated to mean “The Classic/Canon on the Way/Path of Virtue” and is a book on the philosophy of Taoism, written over 2,500 years ago.

Authorship is ascribed to Lao Tzu, a record-keeper at the Zhou Dynasty court, who was a contemporary of Confucius (551-479 BCE). However, some scholars believe that the work is an anthology of sayings compiled over a long period of time.

The work has been divided into chapters by later transcribers of the text, perhaps to make memorization easier. Many of the concepts are difficult to understand, such as wu-wei, or non-action, which is not the same as inaction.

Says John Baldock in his introduction: “The Tao Te Ching tells us that ‘true sayings seem contradictory’ (78), and there are possibly few sayings more contradictory than those relating to the principle of non-action or wu-wei.

“For example,we are advised to ‘Act by not acting; do by not doing’ (63). And we are told that ‘The Master….acccomplishes much without doing anything’ (47).

“In mastering the ego or ‘self’ rather than allowing it to master him/her, the Master is freed from the need to act out of personal desire or self-interest and thus becomes an empty vehicle for the Tao. In this liberated state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’, the Master enjoys that ultimate freedom – the ‘freedom of no-choice’ – because he does nothing; it is the Tao which accomplishes things through him.”

I like this particular version of the book because it translates the Chinese pronouns into “her” rather than “him”, so I can relate better to the sayings.

My favorite chapter, 43, gives advice on dealing with things:

That which offers no resistance,
overcomes the hardest substances.
That which offers no resistance,
can enter where there is no space.
Few in the world can comprehend
the teaching without words,
or understand the value of non-action.

I’ve tried resistance, I’ve tried butting heads, I’ve tried forcing my way. But these tactics often don’t work. It is when I become still, and calm, and allow the world to swirl around me unheeded, allowing other people’s actions to wash over and around me without being affected, that things go the way they should and fall into place.

I am learning the way of the tao. It is not easy, and for someone raised in Western ways, it is counter-intuitive. But in these stressful times, we need to find the path that takes us where we need to be, in the serenity and stillness of a self not controlled by the hunger of personal desires, a self that, through non-action, achieves.

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2 Comments on learning the way of the tao

  1. Bea
    20 February 2011 at 6:53 am (2705 days ago)

    I super needed to learn this during the stressful time before my exhibit. Sayang you weren’t able to go, but it’s still open naman until 7PM today. Nath dropped by. (He said I should’ve told him earlier para he could have written about it in his column. Wah! Onga. I’m learning a lot of things and hopefully, I incorporate some wisdom from Tao in my activities next time.)

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