The Way of the Tao

All Eastern philosophy springs from the same fountain. That is, different Eastern traditions all seem to speak about unity between ourselves and the universe in some way or another. One such philosophy is Taoism, also referred to as Daoism.

This ancient Chinese philosophy dates back to the 6th century BC. Its primary text, The Tao Te Ching (The Way and its Power) was one of the first attempts to come up with a theory of just rule based on the idea of virtue. This virtue was defined as following the Tao, or The Way, and this came to form the basis of Taoism. It is attributed to Laozi or Lao Tzu, but so little is known about him that he’s become something of a mythical figure. Its origins notwithstanding, this profound philosophy offers another opportunity to try and wrap our heads around the idea of universal oneness.

The Tao concept

The concept of the Tao is intricately intertwined with a Chinese worldview, which saw everything as ever-changing and constantly moving through a cycle. Changes from night to day and the cycles of the seasons were not seen as opposites, but rather as arising from one another. All states were seen to have complementary properties which make up the whole, much like the symbol of yin yang. This process of change from one state to another is considered to be the Tao. The Tao is the primordial essence of the universe, which is essentially energy, a perpetual state of flux. It is the universe in a constant state of motion.

The Tao Expression

The expression of the Tao is said to lead to the 10 000 manifestations of the world, of which humans are merely one. They are afforded no special status, but rather are seen as merely being another part of the universal flow. However, because human beings have free will, they can stray from the Tao and disturb the harmonious balance of the universe. Very simply, according to the Tao, virtue is defined by living in accordance with the natural flow of things and not disrupting or working against it.

While this concept seems simple enough, the Tao Te Ching recognizes that this is easier said than done. Furthermore, philosophizing about the Tao is pointless because while we can have an idea about it, its qualities are essentially indescribable and can only be subjectively experienced. Therefore, we cannot actively try and live by the Tao, rather living in accordance with the Tao is characterized as wu or “not-being”. This doesn’t refer to inaction as much as it refers to a sense of acting spontaneously and intuitively in accordance with universal flow. This sort of action will automatically be without desire or ambition because it recognizes its place in the whole. That is to say, the individual is not separate from nature; therefore his/her actions will be harmonious with the whole if the Tao is recognized.

Within the philosophy of Taoism and other Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism and Confucianism, the purpose of spiritual practice is to become one with the Tao, that is, to merge individual consciousness with the universal current. It is the eternal flow that connects us all, like a wave washing onto the shore and receding again only to repeat the cycle. This is the flow of life that we are inextricably a part of.

So how can we bring the idea of the Tao into our daily lives? We can start by listening. Rather than superimposing our wants, needs and desires onto situations, we can learn to authentically respond to what is there in accordance with the natural flow of things. It’s about letting go and simply being, effortlessly, with what is. This is the way of the Tao.

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