Tao Te Ching

How To Be Lived By The Tao

Connecting To Your True Source Of Power

Introducing The Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching is one of those books that many people read, few understand, and even fewer put into practice.

It encapsulates Taoist philosophical thought comprising ideas and concepts of Chinese origin with a focus on living in alignment and harmony with the Tao.

What is the Tao?

We are told that the Tao has no name, it can have no name.

However, in the dualistic world we live in, the Tao is conventionally also known as The Way which means the natural order of any or all of: the universe, God, how things really are, reality, emptiness, consciousness or the energy of life.

The theme of the book

The title "Tao Te Ching" translates in short form as "The Book Of The Way" or "The Immanence Of The Way" and in long form as ""The Book Of The Way And How It Manifests Itself In The World".

The theme of the book is living in harmony with the Tao [reality, consciousness, God, the energy of life etc]. This theme is described and expressed as living in harmony with the natural world. 

It is thought to have been written about 2,500 years ago, is popularly attributed to Lao Tsu sometimes referred to as the old master but, as with many sacred texts such as the Christian gospels, the end product is the result of a team effort of various writers and editors and is reflective of the time and the context in which they wrote.

Actually it is misleading to refer to the "end product" because there have been so many translations from the Classical Chinese into English and other modern languages and each reflecting to some degree the thought, insight and experience of the translator.

My own personal preference is the translation by Stephen Mitchell which is illustrated with Chinese paintings of nature selected by Asian art expert Dr Stephen Little.

Here is a free public domain translation of the Tao Te Ching.

The Tao is beyond words

But, regardless of the version and translation, what you read is more analogous to a modern musical performance of an ancient song than any solid credal statement of belief.

In my view the strength of this analogy is illustrated in the opening words of the Tao Te Ching which states quite clearly and emphatically that:

    The tao that can be told
    is not the eternal Tao.

    The name that can be named
    is not the eternal name.

    The unnamable is the eternally real.

    [Tao Te Ching 1]

The difference between the “world as-it-is” with the “world as-it-is-thought-about” and spoken about, is vast.

There is always a context, and framing, in our use of words.

The concepts we employ, the categorizations we apply and the words we choose and use to articulate a direct experience put us in a double bind.

Why? Because for all that we gain by being able to speak about an experience we lose a greater amount of the full meaning of that experience by speaking it.

Zen koans on steroids

The written style of the Tao Te Ching can take your your breath away with the poetry of its aphorisms and then leave you scratching your head with the apparent irreconcilable contradictions they contain.

It's like reading zen koans on steroids!

Quite clearly, the purpose and meaning of the Tao Te Ching lies in the truth to which it points.

    Words are not the meaning
    they are the pointers to the meaning.

    [Lost For Words]

The Tao is experienced - it is felt in your heart

So, if you shift your focus to the meaning that lies behind or beyond the words:

  • the meaning that transcends the words...
  • the meaning that can only be fully grasped by experiencing it...

...then everything changes and divisions and barriers evaporate as you open your heart to it.

    My teachings are easy to understand
    and easy to put into practice.
    Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
    and if you try to practice then, you'll fail.

    My teachings are older than the world.
    How can you grasp their meaning?

    If you want to know me,
    look inside your heart.

    [Tao Te Ching 70]

The Core Teachings Of The Tao Te Ching

The words in the Tao Te Ching are not a belief system.

This is not something that you can grasp intellectually.

As we have already established, the words are just pointers to the Tao.

The only way to know the Tao is to experience it, and it is experienced in your heart not your head.

You can experience the Tao spontaneously, but to experience it on a daily basis as a way of living requires action and practice.

What I am going to outline to you now may temporarily satisfy your mind with a workable concept of the Tao, but it will fade faster than the mist in the early sunshine of a summer morning unless it encourages you to take action.

For the rest of this section I am now going to refer to the Tao as  Consciousness as it is a word that is more accessible to the modern mind.

This is my personal  summary of the teachings in the Tao Te Ching:

  • 3 Parameters of Consciousness
  • 3 Behaviours that facilitate Access to Consciousness
  • 3 Qualities that flow from Living in Consciousness

I have included a quote - usually one of many - to illustrate each point and have shown the number of the section of the book in brackets against each quote.

3 Parameters of Consciousness

[1] The Expression Of Consciousness

The expression of Consciousness is PARADOX 

"True words seem paradoxical." [78]

  • Everything is interconnected and a part of a one-ness or non-duality - there is no separation.
  • Yet despite this innate one-ness or unity there are 2 sides to absolutely everything - the yin and the yang.
  • These 2 sides are opposite, or contrary, to each other and yet they are dependent on each other. For example: there can no up without down, light without darkness, male without female, expansion without contraction, wealth without poverty or good without bad. 

This paradox exists within us - on one hand we have the capacity for experiencing the one-ness and unity of the enlightened mind and the awakened heart, and on the other hand we have the capacity for exercising a wide range of thinking skills in the everyday world of duality.

[2] The Key To Living In Consciousness

The key to living in Consciousness is BALANCE

"Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other." [2]

  • This is all about achieving a balance between the harmony and peace of the inner world of consciousness with the requirements of surviving and functioning effectively in the outer world of duality.
  • The balanced life is one where you recognise the full spectrum of possible responses and choose the most appropriate one for the situation you find yourself in.
  • This balance occurs when you draw daily guidance and inspiration from your inner world  of consciousness and execute and implement with your thinking mind.

[3] The Process Of Living In Consciousness

The process of living in Consciousness is FLOW

"Act without doing;
work without effort." [63]

"Less and less do you need to force things,
until you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone. " [48]

  • Going with the flow is about achieving the balance of being and doing.
  • It is about learning to become comfortable with uncertainty, and learning how to see the potential hidden within it. Uncertainty is where things happen.
  • The  2 foundations to embracing uncertainty are acceptance and flexibility.

3 Behaviours That Give Access to Consciousness

[1] Non attachment

"Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect. W
hen her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever." [2]

[2] Flexibility

"Yielding is the way of the Tao" [40]

"The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world." [43]

[3] Mindfulness

"Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace." [16]

"Free from desire, your realise the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations." [1]

3 Qualities Of Living in Consciousness

"I have just three things to to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures." [67]

[1] Simplicity

"Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being."

[2] Patience

"Patient with both friend and enemies,
you accord with the way things are."

[3] Compassion

"Compassionate towards yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world."

How To Use The Tao Te Ching

"Only in being lived by the Tao
can you truly be yourself." [22]

"Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine." [54]

The Tao Te Ching is not a detailed instruction manual.

It's purpose is to point to the Tao [The Way].

This is very necessary as the human default setting is for your ego  to want to be in control.

But when this happens, and your ego usurps your spiritual nature, you remain disconnected from your true source of power.

In my experience, we can use the Tao Te Ching as a source of inspiration, a wake up call, and a reminder to stay connected to our true source of power.

Being Lived By The Tao

The teachings in the Tao Te Ching point to a major realignment of how we normally function.

This is about a 180 degree shift from living MY life to a life that is lived by the Tao.

This is difficult for the natural egoic mind to comprehend as it requires a renewal of your mind.

Renewing your mind is based on practices, not beliefs, that will have a profound and positive effect on your life.

This all takes work and effort as the human mind runs on deeply ingrained and habitual patterns of thought.

Neural pathways in your brain get stronger with repetition and you will be training your brain to establish new pathways through new activities, new patterns of thought, and new behaviour.

Based on my own personal experiences I recommend the following 3 core practices and 2 applied practices as a means of renewal.

Each of the links below will take you to a page which explains how to do the practice and offers additional supporting resources.

Core Practices

"Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?

Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?" [10]


"The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them." [29]

"Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready." [16]


"Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you." [44]


Applied Practices

"When the ancient Masters said,
'If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,'
they weren't using empty phrases
Only in being lived by the Tao
can you truly be yourself." [22]

Dying To Self

"In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone." [48]

Going With The Flow

Supporting Material

The following articles will provide depth and context to these practices. I have shared a lot of my experiences and tried to make this material as accessible as possible, and I have also provided extensive cross references to supporting material on this site and quality third party material.

    Only in being lived by the Tao
    can you truly be yourself.

    [Tao Te Ching 22]

Next Article: Dying To Self - Everything Does Not Revolve Around Me

Return from the "Tao Te Ching" to: Walking The Talk

Contact me

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