Home Pharos Fiction Site Map Updates Search


                                                                                                                        Back Next

Halexandria Foundation
Sacred Mathematics
Connective Physics
Chronicles of Earth
Justice, Order, and Law
Extraterrestrial Life
Creating Reality
Tree of Life

Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching is an ancient Chinese text, believed in its original form to have consisted of eighty-one short chapters, arranged in two sections, known as the ‘Tao Ching’ and the ‘Te Ching’.  The first was comprised of thirty-seven chapters, and the second, forty-four chapters.  The original length is said to have been approximately five-thousand characters, and “it is probable that these were written on bamboo strips or slats, which would then have been bound together to form two scrolls, each appearing somewhat like a venetian blind with vertical slats.  These were a common form of ‘record’ in the period of Lao Tzu, which according to  <http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/taoism/ttcstan2.htm, was a time known as ‘The Period of the Warring States’.” [See Chinese History]  

The Tao Te Ching and its companion volume, the I Ching, are about change.  As Ovid as said in his Metamorphoses, “There is nothing constant in the universe.  All ebb and flow, and every shape that’s born, bears in its womb the seeds of change.”  The I Ching, literally translated, becomes The Book of Changes.  

The path of life through the changing cosmos is the tao.  The word literally means “the way” or “gate” through which all things move.  “To move with the tao is to be in a state that Christianity refers to as ‘grace’.  The Chinese philosophers were fond of comparing taoist behavior with that of water:  It flows onward always.  It penetrates the crevices, it wears down resistance, it stops to fill deep places and then flows on.  Always it holds to its true nature and always it flows with the forces in the cosmos.” [1]  

The tao is thus about going with the flow -- so beautifully illustrated in the hand-written introduction of Richard Bach’s book, Illusions; the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.  Similarly, The Fool’s Journey, is often undertaken by a “reluctant” individual, who has the potential for god-hood.   

As Wing [1] noted, “Although the tao implies the path of least resistance, it is often a very difficult path to accept and follow.  In following the tao, the individual can find his place in the cosmos and harmonize with it.  At this point he [or she] can exercise true free will as s/he makes real decisions based upon real possibilities.  Here The Book of Changes [the I Ching] can illuminate the individual by revealing immediate tendencies in the cosmos.  Confucius wrote in the Ten Wings, ‘Whoever knows the tao of the changes and transformations, knows the actions of the gods.’”  

In the process of going with the flow, there is also needed “Virtue” or “heart”.  The word, Te, in the Chinese can be written two ways, such that one achieves an “upright heart” (aka virtue), and secondly, virtue in action.  Te is not, as its English-language equivalent suggests, a one-size-fits-all sort of goodness or admired behavior that can be recognized as essentially the same no matter who possesses it.  It is instead a quality of special character, spiritual strength, or hidden potential unique to the individual -- some-thing that comes from the Inner Nature of things.” [2]  Te is a very important principle of Taoism.  

An ancient tradition states that the original version of the Tao Te Ching was written by an ancient Chinese named Lao Tzu, sometime around 600 B.C.E..  Sometime, in the third century A.D., Wang Bih allegedly provided the compilation used today.  Since then, there have been numerous translations and variations of the work.  

<http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/taoism/ttc-list.htm>, for example, provides:  An Explanatory Translation, an Interpolation, a Widely-Read Translation, a Recent Translation, a Translation in Progress, an Etymological Resource, Earlier Translations of Historical Interest, Several Different Translations Compared, and a “Non-Dualist Rhyming Riff”.  The latter is a “Headless Tao” version written by “an accomplished gardener and amateur mystic. (Is there another kind?) By turns fanciful and insightful, like a nursery rhyme or like a jazz riff, this compliment to the text makes the reader wonder if it is a spoof or simply the truth.”  

The first of these, <http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/gthursby/taoism/ttcstan2.htm> gives some of the problems associated “when translating any work from a written language, such as early Chinese, into twentieth century English.”  These problems include:  

            1)  the difference between the written forms of the two languages,

            2)  the difference between the two cultures,

            3)  the time elapsed between the writing of the original work (circa 600 B.C.E), its compilation in the third century A.D., and the current day,

            4) the number of changes in the form of written Chinese characters since the original work was written -- at least four in the case of the Tao Te Ching,

            5)  “...the ignorance of scribes who continually brought to light faulty forms which were... reproduced by posterity...”,

            6)  the change in writing instruments used by Chinese scribes -- from an efficient “‘fiber tipped pen’ (made from vegetable fibre soaked in ink, and held in a hollow bamboo tube)” to the invention of the paint brush, where in the latter “the writer had less control over the stroke of a brush than of an instrument with a fine, firm tip” -- (“The brush could be used to paint on silk, and was considered to produce a more ‘artistic’ form of calligraphy than the earlier instrument.”),

            7)  the fact that it became “almost a ‘hallmark of a gentleman’ to write in a free, flowing and virtually illegible style” (“There can be no doubt that this was the cause of many errors which were made and subsequently compounded.”), and

            8) possible confusion “caused in part by the multiple meanings of some of the limited number of characters said to have been used in the original text, this being attributed to the cryptic style of Lao Tzu.”  (“It is also in part a result of the nature of early Chinese grammatical structure itself.”)  

“There are already at least forty-two English translations of this work (listed by Clark Melling of the University of New Mexico), each, I am sure, carried out as ably and honestly as was possible.  However, it is difficult, if not impossible, for any person not to be influenced by the philosophy, beliefs, culture and politics of their own society, historical period and education system.”  I.e., the old Paradigms problem, wherein the unconscious Assumptions of one’s culture prevent one from seeing the forest for the trees.  

“Even a brief glance at various translations of the work of Lao Tzu will illustrate how such a ‘hidden curriculum’ surreptitiously imposes itself upon even the most honest of men, thus creating a major problem for the reader.  This is the case even for the reader who merely hopes to see an accurate English rendering of the work, but the reader's problems are compounded if he or she seeks a translation which presents a reasonably accurate description of Taoism (Tao Chia), the ‘system’ of which the Tao Te Ching is a major work.  It must be said of the existing English translations, that most treat the Tao Te Ching as a literary or poetic work, whilst many others treat it as a work of mysticism, rather than a work of classical scholarship.”  

The end result is that so-called translations of the Tao Te Ching may be less a translation than an interpretation, “...for the language of one tradition does not provide exact verbal equivalents for all the creative ideas of another tradition.”  

Be that as it may, there is contained within the Tao Te Ching a succinct philosophy which has stood the test of time.  

It begins <http://www.human.toyogakuen-u.ac.jp/~acmuller/contao/laotzu.htm> with the famous line, “The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.”  It continues with:  

“The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the origin of heaven and earth

While naming is the origin of the myriad things.

Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery

Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.

These two are the same --

When they appear they are named differently.

This sameness is the mystery,

Mystery within mystery;

The door to all marvels.”

And ends with:


True words are not fancy.

Fancy words are not true.

The good do not debate.

Debaters are not good.

The one who really knows is not broadly learned,

The extensively learned do not really know.

The sage does not hoard,

She gives people her surplus.

Giving her surplus to others she is enriched.

The way of Heaven is to help and not harm.”

Notice just some of the absolutely profound implications of these statements:

            1.  The path “that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.”  [If it can be followed, it’s not the path; and yet, perhaps, the path can find you.]

            2.  The “origin of heaven and earth” is something far beyond being named.  [“God” would be considered limiting, or a minor subset of the nameless. “The name [i.e. “God”] that can be named is not the eternal name.”

            3.  “Naming is the origin of the myriad things.”  The very act of naming brings things into existence.  This is in keeping with very ancient traditions, from the Sumerians to the Egyptians.  In The Egyptian Book of the Dead is the story of Isis and Ra, where just knowing Ra’s name gave Isis power over him.

            4.  Void of desire, one can see the mystery, but desiring to see the mystery will result in seeing only the manifestations.  In one sense they are the same, but appear differently.  This might relate to the nature of light; a wave and a particle.  A wave in propagation, but when measured, suddenly a particle.  “This sameness is the mystery.”

            5.  Wisdom is more important than knowledge.  Wisdom is to be shared (not sold as education).  Wisdom is not for debate, or decoration.

6.  “The way of Heaven is to help and not harm.”  Good advice for religions.

Another translation, with some notably differences in words (but hopefully with the same basic meanings is:  <http://www.chinapage.com/gnl.html>.


I Ching         Tarot         Numerology         Astrology          Daath

Forward to:

Lao Tzu         Alchemy         Transmutation         Lao Tzu, et al



[1]  R. L. Wing, The I Ching Workbook, Doubleday, New York, 1979.

[2]  Benjamin Hoff, The Te of Piglet, Penguin Books, Middlesex, England, 1993.



                                                                                      The Library of ialexandriah       

2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved                     [Feedback]    

                                                                                                            Back Next