Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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After Lao Tzu and Zhuang Tzu, Taoism split into at least three different directions: Philosophical Taoism based on the Tao Te Ching, the Zhuangzi, and staying true to the original inspiration; Religious Taoism that incorporated many rituals, superstitions, and ceremonies; and “Practical Taoism” with a focus on health, longevity, and practices like Tai Chi, Feng Shui, martial arts, and complex meditation practices.
Our focus here is on Philosophical Taoism that personifies our theme of the “Wisdom Beyond Words.” To understand this means going beyond words; only using them as stepping stones or launching pads into something deeper and more real. And as becomes clear looking into the lineages and lineage holders described here; all authentic traditions, religions, and philosophies share as least a small stream of teachings and awareness of the sense buried beneath the words, of understanding based on experience rather than faith, belief, tradition or philosophy.
Although genuine Taoism champions this theme, unfortunately—like almost all traditions—frequently sinks into superstition, materialism, and belief systems. Unlike most of the other traditions though with the sometimes exception of Buddhism, the Taoism core realizations seem to more easily shine through the “golden chains” of religious conceptualization and practice bringing this profound and ancient wisdom into our modern world.

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Quotes (60)

“Where is Tao? There is nowhere it is not to be found… It is in the ant… It is in the weeds… it is in this turd… Tao is great in all things, complete in all, universal in all, whole in all.”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE

Themes: Taoism

35. The Power of Goodness

“In Taiwan 7.5 million people (33% of the population) identify themselves as Taoists.”

Anonymous 1 via Taiwan Government Information Office
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Taiwan Yearbook 2006

Themes: Taoism

“The Tao drifts everywhere. It can go left or right. It can go up or down. Wherever we turn, it’s there for us to use.”

Wang Bi 王弼 226 – 534 CE

Themes: Taoism

34. An Unmoored Boat

“But deluded people don't realize that their own mind is the Buddha. They keep searching outside.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 1

“But deluded people don't realize that their own mind is the Buddha. They keep searching outside.”

Bodhidharma 菩提達磨 1

“The more you seek the Buddha and the Dharma, the further away they become.”

Rinzai Gigen 臨済義玄 1 via Shan Dao
(Línjì Yìxuán)
from Zen Teachings of Rinzai (Record of Rinzai), Irmgard Schloegl translation 1976

81. Journey Without Goal

“in our Taoism, the expression 'to produce emptiness' contains the whole work of completing life and essence... It is the washing of the heart and the purification of the thoughts...the work of making the heart empty... forever tarrying in purposelessness.”

Lü Dongbin 呂洞賓 1
(Lü Tung-Pin)

from Secret of the Golden Flower 太乙金華宗旨; Tàiyǐ Jīnhuá Zōngzhǐ

Themes: No Trace Taoism

“The sage who knows all as pure potential leaves the material world for Buddhafields of Bliss.”

Tilopa 988 – 1069 CE via Keith Dowman
from Masters of Mahamudra

Themes: Taoism Buddhism

“Taoists don’t avoid what others hate… They only avoid what others fight over, namely flattery and ostentation.”

Lu Huiqing 1031 – 1111 CE

24. Unnecessary Baggage

“Lao-tzu's 5000-word text clarifies what is mysterious as well as what is obvious. It can be used to attain the Tao, to order a country, or to cultivate the body.”

Li Xizhai 1 via Red Pine
(Li Hsi-Chai)
from Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh

Themes: Taoism

2. The Wordless Teachings

“This is the meaning of Lao-tzu’s entire book: opposites complement each other”

Wu Cheng 吴澄 1249 – 1333 CE via Red Pine
"Mr. Grass Hut"
from Tao-te-chen-ching-chu

Themes: Oneness Taoism

“The differences between Confucius and Lao Tzu are no more significant than the preference for wheat in North China and rice in the South.”

Li Hungfu 1574 – 1574 CE
from Lao-tzu-chieh

“Rather than trying to become a buddha, nothing could be simpler than taking the shortcut of remaining a buddha!”

Bankei 盤珪永琢 1622 – 1693 CE
(Bankei Yōtaku)

10. The Power of Goodness

“Searching through the paths and levels for a place far away, they have never had a chance to arrive at buddhahood.”

Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol ཞབས་དཀར་ཚོགས་དྲུག་རང་གྲོལ། 1781 – 1851 CE via Erik Pema Kunsang
from Flight of the Garuda

47. Effortless Success

“Lao Tzu's Taoism is the exhibition of a way or method of living which men should cultivate as the highest and purest development of their nature.”

James Legge 1815 – 1897 CE

Themes: Taoism

“Although Confucian philosophy has become the guiding star of the Chinese government, Lao Tzu has taken a firm hold on the hearts of the people. In the progress of time, his figure has grown in significance into the stature of a Christ-like superhuman personality.”

Paul Carus 1852 – 1919 CE
The Teachings of Lao Tzu
from The Teachings of Lao Tzu (1913)

“After his death, Lao Tzu’s teachings were corrupted and overlaid by legends and had the most complex and extraordinary observances and superstitious ideas grafted upon them.”

H. G. Wells 1866 – 1946 CE
A father of science fiction and One World Government apostle
from Outline of History

Themes: Taoism

“While Taoism degenerated more and more in the Han period in an external wizardry... Lü Dongbin's movement represented a reform. The alchemistic signs became symbols of psychological processes”

Richard Wilhelm 1873 – 1930 CE
Translator bridging East and West
from Introduction to Secret of the Golden Flower

Themes: Taoism

“since Confucianism has a broad common base with Taoism, the union of these two sets of ideas does not cause a loss in coherence.”

Richard Wilhelm 1873 – 1930 CE
Translator bridging East and West
from Introduction to Secret of the Golden Flower

“I was completely ignorant of Chinese philosophy and it was only much later that my professional experiences showed me that in my methods I was unconsciously led along that secret way which for centuries has been the preoccupation of the best minds of the east.”

Carl Jung 1875 – 1961 CE via Introduction to Secret of the Golden Flower
Insightful shamanistic scientist

Themes: Taoism

“People hate Buddhist monks and nuns, Mohammedans, and Christians. But no one hates a Taoist. To understand the reason for this is to understand half of China.”

Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅 1881 – 1936 CE via Lin Yutang
(Zhou Shuren; Lusin)
Insightful satirist representing the "Literature of Revolt"

from Epigrams of Lusin

“Confucius had the wisdom to forbid that a religion be based on his personality or codes; and his injunction against graven images has fared better than a similar injunction in the Ten Commandment. Hence Confucius continues unchanged as a realistic philosopher, an early pragmatist, while Lao Tzu and Jesus, his ethical fellows, have been tampered with by prelates, have been more and more removed from human living and relegated as mystics to a supernatural world.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)
from The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

“[Taoism is] the straightest, most logical explanation as yet advanced for the continuance of life, the most logical use yet advised for enjoying it.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)

“Lao Tzu knew that organization and institution interfere with man's responsibility to himself and therefore with his proper use of life... yet Taoism in China is a cult compounded of devils and derelicts, a priest-ridden clutter of superstitions founded on ignorance and fear... Lao Tzu's simple, delighted awareness of the way of life has been twisted into a quest for the philosopher's stone.”

Witter Bynner 1881 – 1968 CE
(Emanuel Morgan)
from The Way of Life According to Lao Tzu

Themes: Taoism

“Popular theologians took the misty doctrine of Lao Tzu and gradually transformed it into a religion. People flocked to it, built temples, supported its priesthood and poured into the new faith their inexhaustible superstitious lore. Lao Tzu was made a god... For a thousand years the Taoist faith had millions of adherents, converted many emperors, and fought long battle of intrigue to wrest from the Confucians the divine right to tax and spend.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE via Shan Dao
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Our Oriental Heritage

Themes: Taoism

“Confucians worship culture and reason; Taoists reject them in favor of nature and intuition, and the one who rejects anything always seems to stand on a higher level and therefore always seems more attractive than the one who accepts it... Lao Tzu's aphorisms communicate an excitement which Confucian humdrum good sense cannot. Confucian philosophy is a philosophy of social order, and order is seldom exciting.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Laotse

“The principal teaching of Lao Tzu is humility... gentleness, resignation, the futility of contention, the strength of weakness.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Laotse

Themes: Humility Taoism

“Above all, the one important message of Taoism is the oneness and spirituality of the material universe.”

Lín Yǔtáng 林語堂 1895 – 1976 CE
from Wisdom of Laotse

Themes: Oneness Taoism

“Taoism and Buddhism pursue the same aims... The highest goal of Taoism as well as Buddhism is a state of enlightenment which the Buddha defines as the overcoming of greed, hatred, and ignorance—not stupidity but the ignoring of facts which appear uncomfortable or against our desires.”

Anagarika​ (Lama) Govinda 1898 – 1985 CE
(Ernst Hoffmann)
Pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism to the West

from Inner Structure of the I Ching

“The commonest charge brought against Taoists was that of being merely interested in self-perfection without regard for the welfare of the community as a whole. This chapter is devoted to rebutting that charge.”

Arthur Waley 1899 – 1969 CE
from The Way and its Power

Themes: Taoism

27. No Trace

“The Taoist interest in non-being [… ] prepared the Chinese mind for the acceptance of the Buddhist doctrine of Emptiness.”

Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮捷 1901 – 1994 CE
from Way of Lao Tzu

Themes: Taoism Buddhism

“Taoism wants the concentration of chi (vital force) to be weak, whereas Confucianism wants it to be strong... Such is the contrast between Confucianism and Taoism.”

Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮捷 1901 – 1994 CE
from Way of Lao Tzu

Tao originally meant 'moon.' The Yiching stresses bright moon, while Lao Tzu stresses the dark moon.”

Du Erwei 1913 – 1987 CE via Red Pine
Modern Chinese scholar

Themes: Taoism Moon

“Guidance, if given at all, should be so subtle that the person concerned doesn’t know he is being guided. Confrontation, to Taoists, is unthinkable… for the Tao is most easily found when laughter comes spontaneously.”

John Blofeld 1913 – 1987 CE

49. No Set Mind

“An antidote—and a complement—to the rigid moralism of the later Confucians and their state religion, Taoism became both an elevated philosophy and a popular religion.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Creators: Heroes of the Imagination

Themes: Taoism

“There is no question that the kind of thought and culture represented by Chuang Tzu was what transformed highly speculative Indian Buddhism into the humorous, iconoclastic, and totally practical kind of Buddhism what was to flourish in China and in Japan in the various schools of Zen.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE

Themes: Buddhism Taoism

41. Distilled Life

“Buddhism and Taoism—unlike Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism—are not whole cultures but critiques of culture: endearing, non-violent revolutions or 'loyal oppositions' to the cultures they live in.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“That in China the scholar ranked at the top of the social scale may have been Confucius’ doing, but Taoism is fully as responsible for placing the soldier at that bottom.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“Confucius stresses social responsibility, Lao Tzu praises spontaneity and naturalness… Confucius roams within society, Lao Tzu wanders beyond.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

“Whereas Confucianism is concerned with day-to-day rules of conduct, Taoism is concerned with a more spiritual level of being... The essence of Taoism is contained in the 84 chapters of the book [Tao Te Ching]—roughly 5000 words—which have for 2500 years provided one of the major underlying influences in Chinese thought and culture, emerging also in proverbs and folklore.”

Gia-Fu Feng 馮家福 1919 – 1985 CE
Counterculture Patriarch, translator, teacher and Taoist rogue

“In accounting terms, we can say that if Philosophical Taoists work at increasing net profits by cutting costs, Religious Taoists try it by increasing gross income.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

Themes: Taoism

“Lao Tzu's ancient philosophy provides a window through which we can acquire such a perspective—one that can intellectually catapult us beyond the limitations and toxins of our everyday lives.”

Ralph Alan Dale 1920 – 2006 CE
Translator, author, visionary
from Tao Te Ching, a new translation and commentary

Themes: Taoism

“Remember, in tranquillity, that the Absolute, the Tao, is within thee, that no priest or cult or dogma or book or saying or teaching or teacher stands between Thou and It.”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian

Themes: Leadership Taoism

“Taoism is a human religion rather than divine like Buddhism. Tao can be 'used' (as by... cackling architects of the eternal nod)”

Jack Kerouac 1922 – 1969 CE
from Some of the Dharma

Themes: Taoism

“Taoism cannot be traced back to Lao Tzu or any other single man. Its principal branches were not offshoots of the Taoist church. Those who set up the church were not followers of Lao Tzu (they turned their backs on almost every precept in his book). the doctrines of Taoism are no more 'corrupt' today than they were when it began. And to call it a religion at all is misleading because, though it included a religion, its other elements were equally important.”

Holmes Welch 1924 – 1981 CE
from Taoism—The Parting of the Way, 1957

Themes: Taoism

“The Tao Te Ching is a magic mirror, always found to reflect our concept of the truth. How easily we find our image in it! From person to person the sense changes, but the truthfulness remains.”

Holmes Welch 1924 – 1981 CE

Themes: Magic Taoism

“The teachings of Lao Tzu point to and reveal the highest dimension of life that is the original focus and inspiration for all religions.”

Hua-Ching Ni 1925 CE –
from Complete Works of Lao Tzu

Themes: Taoism

“The doctrinal differences between Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism are not anywhere near as important as doctrinal differences among Christianity and Islam and Judaism. Holy wars are not fought over them because verbalized statements about reality are never presumed to be reality itself.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“Taoists gain their ends without the use of means. That is indeed a light that does not shine.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

Themes: Taoism

58. Goals Without Means

“Lao Tzu is not saying that immortality or even longevity is desirable. The religion called Taoism has spent much imagination on ways to prolong life interminably or gain immortality… but the Lao Tzu who wrote this had no truck with such notions.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

33. Know Yourself

“What is most necessary for people and what is given us in great abundance, are experiences, especially experiences of the forces within us. This is our most essential food, our most essential wealth. If we consciously receive all this abundance, the universe will pour into us what is called life in Judaism, spirit in Christianity, light in Islam, power in Taoism.”

Jacob Needleman 1934 CE –
American religious scholar, historian, philosopher, and author
from American Soul

“I maintain that Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism all hold up love as an ideal, seek to benefit humanity through spiritual practice, and strive to make their followers better people.”

Dalai Lama XIV Tenzin Gyatso 1935 CE –

“From the point of view of the Madhyamaka school, these other approaches... earlier Buddhist philosophical schools, theistic Hinduism, Vedantism, Islam, Christianity, and most other religious and philosophical traditions... can be grouped together into three categories: the eternalists, the nihilists, and the atomists... atomisitic pluralism”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

“Intellectuals began debating... scholars wrote tomes... moralists determined what is on the Way and what if off... thus Taoism was born”

Stephen Mitchell 1943 CE –
from Second Book of Tao

Themes: Taoism

“Lao Tzu teaches us that the dark can always become light and contains within itself the potential for growth an long life, while the light can only become dark and brings with it decay and early death. Lao Tzu chose long life. Thus he chose the dark.”

Red Pine 1943 CE –
( Bill Porter)
Exceptional translator, cultural diplomat
from Lao-Tzu's Taoteching

Themes: Taoism

“Taoism is based, first and foremost, on the experience of this universal Way, the essential reality through which derivative ways might be comprehended... Eventually the scope of the Way led them to undertake the investigation of vast domains of knowledge and experience... in three critical areas: individual well-being, social harmony, and accelerated evolution of consciousness.”

Thomas Cleary 1949 CE –
from Essential Tao

Themes: Taoism

“In its pristine sense, the meaning of following the Tao, later called Taoism or wayfaring, included the whole spectrum of the search for knowledge... the schools of learning that retained the most comprehensive range of interest general came to be known as Taoist... [It] was used as a primary source for terms and concepts through which Buddhism could be explained to the Chinese.”

Thomas Cleary 1949 CE –
from Essential Tao

“In Taoism everything—including religion and science—connects.”

Eva Wong 1
Champion of Qigong, Fengshui, and a Taoist approach to health and healing

Themes: Taoism

“Taoism is unique among the major schools of Chinese thought in emphasizing the priority of the feminine principle (yin) over the masculine principle (yang).”

Yi-Ping Ong 1978 CE –
from Tao Te Ching - Introduction and Notes

“Buddhism was accepted as another aspect of the native Taoism when it was first introduced into China... the Buddha was worshiped together with Confucius in the same temple that also enshrined the Yellow Emperor and Lao Tzu.”

Edward T Chʻien 1986 CE –
Chiao Hung and the restructuring of in the late Ming
from Chiao Hung and the restructuring of in the late Ming