Tao Te Ching

What is Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching (translated the the Classic about Tao and Te) is traditionally ascribed to Lao Tzu. Even in ancient China this work enjoyed a great popularity and was glossed both by Taoists and Confucian adepts. It contains the basic Taoist concepts that made the Taoist way of life (tao-chia), also known as the philosophical Taoism.

First pages of Tao Te Ching in Chines
First pages of Tao Te Ching in Chines

According to tradition, the work originates in the 4-th century BC, but recent discoveries showed that it is no early than the 4-th. or 3-rd. century. The oldest existing copy is from 206 or 195 BC.

Lao Tzu would have composed this work at the request of Yin Hsi, the guardian of the mountain pass, while he departed towards West.

It consists of 81 short chapters divided in two books: the Book of the Way (the first 37 chapters) and the Book of Te (the next 44 chapters).

Philosophy of Tao Te Ching

The philosophy of this work focuses on the following concepts: Tao, wu (emptiness), wu-wei (nonavtion), p’u and fu. (See the explanation of them here.)

The sage who takes the Tao as his model of conduct will surely act without acting (nonaction), empty his mind and practice p’u and fu that is, simplicity and return to the roots.

In its second part, the book dwells on on the art of ruling in accordance to Tao. This is intended to noble men and princes who rule the land. However, we must not ignore that Tao Te Ching is a composite work which, the same way as I Ching, underwent influences and taints in the most various ways.

This second part of the book is undoubtfully compiled by the Confucians and Legalists because it insists too much on the art of leadership. The Taoist ethics was not interested in the social work and progress, rather its philosophy stresses the necessity to accommodate the natural trend of the world

These aspects can make us believe that the book is no longer actual or corresponds to an outdated way of thinking or characteristic only to Chinese antiquity. Of course, this characterization is erroneous because Tao Te Ching remains today a conduct guide centered on the most diverse interests.

Related articles:
-> Several commented chapters (a work in progress)
-> Tao Te Ching translations
-> Quotes by themes

PDF Guide:
-> Check our guide to the basics of Tao Te Ching here.