Lao Tzu and Tao Te Ching

What is Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching (the Book about Tao and Its Characteristics ) was traditionally assigned to Lao Tzu , but there are also passages of the book which claim the Taoist masterpiece was never the work of a single author but of a large collective of philosophers sharing the same views about life, world and wisdom.

Tao Te Ching Chinese picture
The first page of the Chinese version of Tao Te Ching
Tao Te Ching  is the main source of inspiration for people studying Taoism. All the topics of Taoism are borrowed from it.

In short, Lao Tzu explains what is Tao - the core concept of Taoism - and its basic features such as: wu-wei (nondoing), wu (emptiness), and fu (return).

He also teaches what should the disciple do in order to accomplish the task of emulating the Way (Tao). This is the main goal of the Taoist disciple.

  • Content of the Book

In its present form, Tao Te Ching comprises two sections:

    - The Book about Tao - chapters 1-37

    - The Book about Te - chapters 38-81,

consisting in around 5,000 Chinese characters.

Each chapter is made of short essays on the different features of Tao, the way to deal with the ever-changing life events or aphorisms and advice for the cultivation of the wisdom that leads to the suspension of the human suffering. Almost all the essays are characterized by laconism and paradoxes.

There are many English translations of the book, more or less focused on the Taoist approach.

Since the translation of the Chinese characters is very difficult, these versions are not identical. This is why is advisable, when studying the Book, to consult and compare several versions.

  • Philosophy of the Book

As we already mentioned, the philosophy of Tao Te Ching centers on the goal of following the Tao (also called Way). In order to do this he/she must empty his mind and be without desires.

    Always without desire we must be found,
    If its deep mystery we would sound;
    But if desire always within us be,
    Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.
    (Tao Te Ching, chapter 1, James Legge's version).

In the reign of politics, Tao Te Chig offers insight into the way the ruler must behave in order to lead his country to peace, security and wellbeing.

At least one facet of the Tao Te Ching's Taoism could be summarize in the words of Ssu-ma Ch'ian - the author of the Historical Records of ancient China - when he said about Lao Tzu that he practiced the Tao and Te, and preached the retreat from the world.

Further resources:

  • The electronic version of the Tao Te Ching may be found here (James Legge's translation).
  • Several comments may be found here.
  • Several quotes may be found here.
  • Email course. - Learn more about Lao Tzu and Tao Te Ching by taking our 10-lesson email course. Click here to see how.

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