Thursday, 3 July 2008

What is Tao?

The Tao Te Ching begins with:

The way that can be walked
is not The Way
The name that can be named
is not The Name

The word Tao can have a number of different meanings, but it does not have a literal translation (for a really good version of the Tao Te Ching try Jonathan Star's version The Definitive Tao Te Ching. This is the main source of my translations). Usually it is translated as "the Way", but it can also
mean path, "the absolute" or "nature".

The term "way" could mean a direction or, by association, a method (a "way" of doing things). It can also mean a state of being, like in the term "that's the way it is". However, I am a little sceptical of this last suggestion, as it is too close to "te" or "virtue".
So, what is Tao or "Way"? Lao Tzu indicates that it is not a physical object, or at least it has no physical manifestation1. Neither is it an idea or an emotion, for they are human concepts. Some call a principle, the principle of nature or the principle on which the Universe exists. Lieh Tzu refers to it as the "Absolute"2.

I have had only glimpses of the Tao, but I find it impossible to say what it is. The best that I can describe it is a "clarification" or "illumination" coupled with a overwhelming sense of unity. These glimpses are rare, but I try to live in readiness for them. This is the reason for my attempt at recording my life as a modern Taoist - to share my experiences and findings with, hopefully, others who have also seen the Tao, and to try to seek the Tao where and when I can. In the world we live in today, it is difficult. I am no different from anyone else: I have a family, a mortgage, a job and all the pressures that come from
modern living. However, I seek the Absolute, which according to the Masters involves living simply and in harmony with nature. I do not think that this is impossible, but it can be difficult today. However, I am most fortunate as I have many guides on my journey: my family, my close friends, everyone I come into contact with and, of course, the Masters who left their legacies in their writings. How I use these guides is up to me, and I try to listen to them wisely. And I will gladly share all that I learn on my journey, all my mistakes, fumbling and illuminations, hopefully going in the right direction. I will look for signposts on the way (no pun intended!) from the Masters, from my Tai Chi Sifus, brothers and sisters, and from simple contemplation.

And if you wish to share too, then I welcom
e your wisdom.


1: see Tao Te Ching - Chapter 14
2: The Book of Lieh Tzu - Book 3: "Dreams"

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