Taoism > Basics

What is Tao?

The word "tao" is usually translated as "way", "road", "method", "technique" or "principle". As a concept, Tao is the most important topic in the philosophical Taoism (tao-chia).

In Tao-te ching, Tao is the name given by Lao-tzu to the Great Pervader or the Mother of all Things. Tao is the creator and sustainer of everything in the Universe. It is described as follows:

    There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth... (Chap. 25, James Legge.)

The words "undefined" and "complete" mean that Tao is defined as the fundamental layer of the created universe that includes both things and beings (wan-wu).

Tao is the model of conduct to be followed by the Taoist disciples and as such it is associated with wu-wei (nondoing) and wu (emptiness) in this respect.

tao graph
The Chinese character for Tao is made of two signs: head and foot, that is, walking. The ideas suggested are conscious walking or the way of ruling of the ancient sovereigns

The word "tao" reefers further to the special skills of people such as: a good archer, musician, painter or writer etc. The skill itself was called a "tao" and as such enjoyed the interest of the ancient sovereigns who invited the skilled people to the court, put them to test and rewarded them.

Finally, the Tao concept may be found at Confucians as well. In this case it points to the art of ruling of the ancient Chinese emperors taken as models of virtue and humanism.

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