The Concept of Tao
Lao Tsu, from whose Tao Te Ching comes much of our understanding of Tao, begins by saying that "...the Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao". He firmly believed that we should give up learning and renounce wisdom and ingenuity.
Words can only take us so far along the way to understanding Tao; at some point we must let them go before we can progress further, each along his or her own path.
I've called this site 'Aspects of Tao' not 'Aspects of Taoism' because 'Taoism' is itself only one response, one interpretation of the conundrum that is tao.
In this case it is a religio-philosophical interpretation, but that is all it is - an interpretation of the meaning of tao.
In a sense, as each of us develops an image and understanding of tao, so we create our own personal version of taoism.
The main translated meaning of Tao is road, or way. The undefinable nature of Tao means that it is usually left untranslated. In Wilhelm's words... 'Tao reveals itself differently to each individual, according to his own nature'.
There is certainly an intuitive sense of rightness about the English word way, with its own rich variety of meanings woven from a common thread.
Its frequent use by authors and translators over the years makes a reasonable case for putting way ahead of the alternatives.
That which happens in accord with tao possesses the character or quality of te.
Wu Wei is a principle applied to action. It translates literally as 'not doing' or 'no action', and it describes the way in which Tao accomplishes things.
The essential idea is that of achievement without calculated action; that progress is made through effortless response to the demands of the moment. Its meaning lies behind a perception of how we can best move forward with the flow of time.
Whilst considering the concept it helps to remember that...
- non-action is distinguished from inaction - the idea is one of responsiveness, not inertia.
- there is no moral or ethical sense involved. Its way is unconscious and impartial.
- time is not a consideration. The course of 'non-action' lies within the here and now.
Just as water flows around the rock, and the willow yields to the wind, so wu wei asks that we give up conscious effort, and put our trust in the moment.
At the heart of the idea of Tao lies the imagery of the twin concepts Yin and Yang.
In broad terms Yin represents the principle of the feminine, its nature is
- negative - receptive - passive
- positive - creative - active
These characteristics are qualified thus:
- Neither yin nor yang is possessed of any advantage or superiority; 'better' or 'worse' are meaningless in the context of their individual natures.
- Neither is a reflection of its counterpart, yet each derives its meaning from the other.
- Neither yin nor yang is to be found in isolation.
- Life is seen as a process of continuous tension and reconciliation between yin and yang. Everything that has existed, does exist or could exist in the universe is a result of the dynamic interplay between these two.
The symbol for this interplay is the t'ai chi -
Yin, the dark female element, surrounds and
is surrounded by Yang, the light male, whilst each contains the seed of the other.