Taoism > Sources > Tao-te ching

What is Tao-te ching

Tao-te ching Chinese version
Tao-te ching pages written with Chinese characters

Tao-te ching is the most famous and translated work from the Taoist inheritance. Its traditional author, Lao-tzu, is considered to be the father of Taoism. Even in ancient China his work enjoyed a great popularity and was glossed both by Taoists and Confucians.

  • History

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.

  • Content

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" means "characteristics" in the translation of James Legge so the entire title of the book would be 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).

  • Philosophy

The philosophy of the book focuses on concepts like Tao, Te , wu (emptiness), wu-wei (nondoing) and fu (return).

In short, concerning the Taoist sage, he should follow the Tao (or unite with it) by emulating its conduct. In this respect, he must achieve wu and practice nondoing.

The second part of the book, which insists on the method of governing the country, seems to be compiled by the Confucians since Taoists didn't bother too much with this topic.


    -> Foreword - hints on how to understand the text (very useful for beginners)

    -> Commented chapters:

      - Definition of Tao (ch. 1)
      - The Condition to See the Tao (
      ch. 1bis)
      - Waiting for the Right Time (
      ch. 2)
      - About Abstinence from Action (
      ch. 3)
      - About Wu and Tao
      (ch. 4)
      - About Long-enduring (
      ch. 7)
      - The Way of Heaven (
      ch. 9 )

      - They Make Mad the Mind (ch. 12)
      - The Great Tao and the Ethics (
      ch. 18)

      - Features of Masters (ch. 20)
      - The Partial and the Complete (ch.
      - Heaven's Law vs. Man's Law (
      - Avoid Excessive Effort (
      ch. 29)

      - Avoid Force (ch. 30)
      - He who Knows Others... (
      ch. 33)
      - The Mutual Change (
      ch. 39 )

      - Who Knows to Stop is Free from Dangers (ch. 44)
      - Parable of the Small Fish (
      ch. 60)

      (more commented chapters will follow soon, please sign with our newsletter to receive more news)

    -> English version by James Legge - More...

    -> Jesus and Tao-te ching (paper) - comments on a comparison between quotes from Bible and Tao-te ching.

    Further resources:

    Learn more about Lao-tzu and the basics of Tao-te ching by taking our online course intended for beginners. Click here to see how.

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