Chapters 1 to 10
| Chapters 11 to 20 | Chapters
21 to 30 | Chapters 31 to 40
Chapters 41 to 50 | Chapters
51 to 60 | Chapters 61 to 70
| Chapters 71 to 80
The Tao Te Ching is the mystical, spiritual soul of
Taoism, one of the three great religions (along with Buddhism and Confucianism)
of ancient China. The Tao is usually translated as 'The Way' or 'The
Path', but is better understood as a universal life force that flows around and
through all things. The Tao Te Ching teaches us that happiness is
found in becoming one with the Tao, which enables us to live in harmony,
balance, and peace and to develop the virtues of humility, moderation, and
About Lau Tzu
According to Taoist tradition, Lau Tzu was a keeper of
archives in the imperial court of the Zhou Dynasty (1027-221BC). As a
young man, Confucius sought information about propriety and rites, central
concerns of Confucian morality, and he arranged an interview with the older Lao
Tzu at the court. Lao Tzu brilliantly instructed Confucius on the
meaninglessness of his concerns. Following the meeting, Confucius compared
Lao Tzu to a dragon in flight riding on the wind and clouds, invulnerable to the
moral pitfalls the ensnare the lesser man.
The legend continues, that at the age of retirement, Lao Tzu (disillusioned with
the state of the government) left his native territory and traveled west.
At the border, a guard implored Lao Tzu to write down his teachings. After
writing the 5000 characters of the Tao Te Ching , Lao Tzu passed through
the gates, and no more was heard of the man.
Some scholars claim that Loa Tzu was a name assigned to one of three men: Tan,
prefect of the Grand Scribes; Lao Lai Tzu, an old Taoist sage; or the father of
Tuan-kan Tsung, another historical person about whom not much is known. Another
theory claims that a group of Taoist poets together wrote the Tao Te Ching
using the name Lao Tzu.
Comparison of Taoism, Buddhism, and
Confucianism - from The Tao of Pooh
Let's imagine that we have walked down a narrow street in a large Chinese
city and have found a small shop that sells scrolls painted in the classic
manner. We go inside and ask to be shown something allegorical - something
humorous, perhaps, but with some sort of Timeless Meaning. The shopkeeper
smiles. "I have just the thing,", he tells us. "A
copy of The Vinegar Tasters!" He leads us to a large table and unrolls the
scroll, placing it down for us to examine. "Excuse me - I must attend to
something for a moment," he says, and goes into the back of the shop, leaving us
alone with the painting.
Although we can see that this is a fairly recent version, we know that the
original was painted long ago; just when is uncertain. But by now, the theme of
the painting is well known.
We see three men standing around a vat of vinegar. Each has dipped his finger
into the vinegar and has tasted it. The expression on each man's face shows his
individual reaction. Since the painting is allegorical, we are to understand
that these are no ordinary vinegar tasters, but are instead representatives of
the "Three Teachings" of China, and that the vinegar they are sampling
represents the Essence of Life. The three masters are K'ung Fu-tse (Confucius),
Buddha, and Lao-tse, author of the oldest existing book of Taoism. The first has
a sour look on his face, the second wears a bitter expression, but the third man
To Kung Fu-tse (kung FOOdsuh), life seemed rather sour. He believed that the
present was out step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was
out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of, the universe.
Therefore, he emphasized reverence for the Ancestors, as well as for the ancient
rituals and ceremonies in which the emperor, as the Son of Heaven, acted as
intermediary between limitless heaven and limited earth. Under Confucianism, the
use of precisely measured court music, prescribed steps, actions, and phrases
all added up to an extremely complex system of rituals, each used for a
particular purpose at a particular time. A saying was recorded about K'ung Fu-tse:
"If the mat was not straight, the Master would not sit." This ought to give an
indication of the extent to which things were carried out under Confucianism.
To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, life on earth was bitter, filled
with attachments and desires that led to suffering. The world was seen as a
setter of traps, a generator of illusions, a revolving wheel of pain for all
creatures. In order to find peace, the Buddhist considered it necessary to
transcend "the world of dust" and reach Nirvana, literally a state of "no wind."
Although the essentially optimistic attitude of the Chinese altered Buddhism
considerably after it was brought in from its native India, the devout Buddhist
often saw the way to Nirvana interrupted all the same by the bitter wind of
To Lao-tse (LAOdsuh), the harmony that naturally existed between heaven and
earth from the very beginning could be found by anyone at any time, but not by
following the rules of the Confucianists. As he stated in his Tao To Ching (DAO
DEH JEENG), the "Tao Virtue Book," earth was in essence a reflection of heaven,
run by the same laws - not by the laws of men. These laws affected not only the
spinning of distant planets, but the activities of the birds in the forest and
the fish in the sea. According to Lao-tse, the more man interfered with the
natural balance produced and governed by the universal laws, the further away
the harmony retreated into the distance. The more forcing, the more trouble.
Whether heavy or light, wet or dry, fast or slow, everything had its own nature
already within it, which could not be violated without causing difficulties.
When abstract and arbitrary rules were imposed from the outside, struggle was
inevitable. Only then did life become sour.
To Lao-tse, the world was not a setter of traps but a teacher of valuable
lessons. Its lessons needed to be learned, just as its laws needed to be
followed; then all would go well. Rather than turn away from "the world of
dust," Lao-tse advised others to "join the dust of the world." What he saw
operating behind everything in heaven and earth he called Tao (DAO), "the Way."
A basic principle of Lao-tse's teaching was that this Way of the Universe could
not be adequately described in words, and that it would be insulting both to its
unlimited power and to the intelligent human mind to attempt to do so. Still,
its nature could be understood, and those who cared the most about it, and the
life from which it was inseparable, understood it best.
Over the centuries Lao-tse's classic teachings were developed and divided into
philosophical, monastic, and folk religious forms. All of these could be
included under the general heading of Taoism. But the basic Taoism that we are
concerned with here is simply a particular way of appreciating, learning from,
and working with whatever happens in everyday life. From the Taoist point of
view, the natural result of this harmonious way of living is happiness. You
might say that happy serenity is the most noticeable characteristic of the
Taoist personality, and a subtle sense of humor is apparent even in the most
profound Taoist writings, such as the twenty-five-hundred-year-old Tao Te Ching.
In the writings of Taoism's second major writer, Chuang-tse (JUANGdsuh), quiet
laughter seems to bubble up like water from a fountain.
In the painting, why is Lao-tse smiling? After all, that
vinegar that represents life must certainly have an unpleasant taste, as the
expressions on the faces of the other two men indicate. But, through working in
harmony with life's circumstances, Taoist understanding changes what others may
perceive as negative into something positive. From the Taoist point of view,
sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life
itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the
message of The Vinegar Tasters.