Lao-tzu > Tao-te ching

History and Content of Tao-te ching

Tao-te ching is the most famous and translated work from the Taoist inheritance. Its traditional author, Lao-tzu, is the most popular in this matter. Even in ancient China the work enjoyed a great popularity and was glossed both by Taoists and Confucians.


Tao-te ching first lines
The first lines of Tao-te ching
written with Chinese characters
According to tradition, the work originates in the 4th century BC, but recent discoveries showed that it is no early than the 4th or 3rd century. The oldest existing copy is from 206 or 195 BC.

Lao-tzu would have composed this work by the request of Yin Hsi, the Guardian of the pass, while he began his wandering towards West.


The book consists of 81 short chapters among which 37 form the first part - the Classic of the Way (Tao) -, and the next 44 form the Classic of Te ("te" is a word translated by James Legge in relation with "Tao" as "characteristics", the entire title of the book would be The Classic about Tao and its Characteristics).

This division in chapters is considered to be the result of the remarks of mysterious Ho-shang kung (Han dynasty).


The philosophy of the book focuses on concepts like: Tao, Te, wu (emptiness), wu-wei (nondoing) and fu (the return of all things to their origins). [For explanation of the main concepts in Tao-te ching please read our Taoism section here].

The Taoist sage is trying to follow the Tao or unite with it by taking its course and emulating its conduct. In this respect, he tries to achieve wu and practice nondoing (wu-wei).

The second part of the book seems to be compiled by the Confucians because it insists on the method of governing while Taoists didn't show interest in this aspect.



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