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What is Tao-te ching
History, content, philosophy, comments

Tao-te ching Chinese version
Tao-te ching pages written in Chinese

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 one of the three "classics" that made the official canon.

  • History

According to tradition, the work originates in the 4th century BC, but recent discoveries showed that it is not earlier than the 4th or 3rd century. The oldest existing copy is from 206 or 195 BC.

Lao-tzu would have composed this work at 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 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).

Lao-tzu heading West
  • Philosophy

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

Its teachings concern a way of life in accordance with the Tao, aiming at the avoidance of failure and even premature death. In this respect, the Taoist disciple must achieve wu and practice nondoing.

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

Read also:

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

Commented chapters:

Please note that you can add your own commentary should you disable the ad blocking feature in your browser.

      - 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)
      Chapter 5
      - About Long-enduring (
      ch. 7)
      - The Way of Heaven (
      ch. 9)

      - They Make Mad the Mind (ch. 12)
      - About the State of Stillness (
      ch. 16)
      - About the Ancient Rulership (
      ch. 17)
      - The Great Tao and the Ethics (
      ch. 18)

      - Features of Masters (ch. 20)
      - The Partial and the Complete (ch.
      - Avoiding Excess (
      ch. 24)
      - Heaven's Law vs. Man's Law (
      ch. 25)
      - The Sage Follows the Tao... (ch
      - About the Two Parts of a Whole (
      ch. 27)
      - Keeping the Opposites as One (
      ch. 28)
      - Avoid Excessive Effort (
      ch. 29)

      - Avoid Force (ch. 30)
      - He who Knows Others... (
      ch. 33)
      Chapter 35 .
      - Hiding the Light of the Procedure (ch.
      - The Mutual Change (
      ch. 39)

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

(More commented chapters will follow, please bookmark this page.)

Further resources:

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

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

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    -> We provide an online course dealing with Lao-tzu and the meaning of basic features of Tao-te ching. Start now and receive several bonuses papers in PDF.
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