Tao-te ching Comments

Definition of Tao


    The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

    (Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth; (conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things. (Ch. 1, Legge version.)


Tao can not be described. As creator and origin of all the things (chin. wan-wu, the ten-thousand) it is ineffable. Moreover, if we have to follow its course, we can't find an enduring and constant way. Everything changes or is affected by the law of change. This is the ancient Taoist view about the world.

Tao can be conceived both with or without name. With name, it is the mother of ten-thousand - without name, it is the root of Heaven and Earth. This division name-moname points to the visible and invisible Tao. What we see is the outer productivity and what we don't see is the power to produce.

Note: The word "tao" has many meanings according to Taoist and Confucians. See also our paper on the Tao here .

I wrote more about the meaning of the first verses of this chapter in Level 1 of the Taoism initiation course.

The Condition to See the Tao


    Always without desire we must be found,
    If its deep mystery we would sound;
    But if desire always within us be,
    Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.
    (ch. 1, 3, Legge version.)


External boundaries are only the form of contemplated thing, and not their content or essence. What we see in general is what we think or more precisely what we wish. Our vision is corrupted by desire. In order to see what it really is, we must maintain an equal attitude and a sovereign calm. This is the Taoist way of "knowing" the Tao.

Note: I prefer here to render the word "Tao" as "meaning", close to the Jungian concept of the archetype of the Wise old man.



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