It taught me the way.
At least this is what The Tao in the title roughly translates as — The Book of the Way.
The Tao Te Ching (or Daodejing, in pinyin) is a classic Chinese Taoist text, thought to be written in the fourth century BC. It has been attributed to a writer known as Lao Tzu— whichtranslates simply as ‘old master’, a hint that perchance the author’s true name has been lost through the years.
I was first introduced to the book through a Tim Ferriss podcast where he interviewed Josh Waitzkin. Since the book is 2,400 years old, the original text can be a little difficult to decipher. I sought out an audiobook which translated the original ideas into modern day text.
The Tao Te Ching contains timeless wisdom and possesses a natural mirror through which to question my self. This mirror is not one which creates self-loathing, but one that encourages me to ask better questions of myself.
I also began to listen to youtube snippets of Alan Watts, a British-American philosopher who is renowned for interpreting and popularising Eastern philosophy for a Western audience. He introduced me to Taoism in a more in-depth way. I caught my first glimpse of the Taoist view of the universe.
Here are three key things that I have learned along the way.
1. I was introduced to the principle of polarity.
This is a principle which puts forth the idea that in life it is necessary for both positive and negative poles to exist.
I was raised Catholic. Hence, I grew up in a culture where heaven and hell existed. If you did bad things you went to hell. If you did good things you went to heaven. Whereas if you did good things then your soul could be saved. Hence, initially, this can be a difficult concept to implement into my way of thinking. Culturally good has always been pitted in a raging war against evil. Evil is something that must be eradicated for goodness to thrive.
However, Taoists do not subscribe to this way of thinking.
In the Taoist universe, both positive and negative poles exist. They must exist together because it is the natural way in which the universe retains a sense of balance. It would be unnatural for one to exist without the other. They are different aspects of the same system.
2. A new way to see the universe was presented to me.
The Tao Te Ching encouraged me to look at the universe in a different way, and more importantly my place in the universe.
Generally, I have always regarded myself as a separate entity from the universe. Instead of viewing the universe as the Taoists do. For them, they are bound to the universe, a bind from which they are both inseparable from.
This idea is reflected in the words of Lao-tzu,
“Without leaving my house, I know the whole universe.”
When I begin to look at the world through a Taoist lens, everything began to make a lot more sense. This way of thinking created a balance within the ever-changing chaos.
When I do not seek to remove pain or struggles but accept that they too must exist suddenly my life becomes much easier to navigate.
3. The art of life is more akin to navigation rather than warfare
Life is difficult to navigate.
This navigation can be even more difficult when paired with an imbalanced way of thinking.
Thus the art of life is not seen as holding onto the good things and banishing the not so good things. Rather, the elements of life must be kept in balance, because there cannot be one without the other.
Lao Tzu speaks of this balance by referencing the yin and yang principles, in masculine and feminine form, Thus Lao Tzu says:
Knowing the male but keeping the female, one becomes a universal stream. Becoming a universal stream, one is not separated from eternal virtue.
These principles are expressed in this context to put forth the argument that a true relationship cannot exist between an exaggeratedly masculine male and an exaggeratedly feminine female.
In a true relationship, both the yin and the yang must be Hsiang Sheng — mutual arising or inseparability.
As Lao-tzu puts it:
When everyone knows beauty as beautiful,
there is already ugliness;
When everyone knows good as goodness,
there is already evil.
“To be” and “not to be” arise mutually;
Difficult and easy are mutually realized;
Long and short are mutually contrasted;
High and low are mutually posited;
Before and after are in mutual sequence.
I began to view the negative and positive aspects of life more like lovers wrestling than enemies fighting.
Life then should not be viewed as warfare. It should be viewed as an endless quest for balance. This requires careful and consistent recalibration but diminishes extreme thinking and action.
The Tao Te Ching, a 2,400-year-old bookhas added a deep layer of richness to my life. It has helped me reframe how I look at the world and my place in it.
I hope you too can glean some knowledge from the timeless wisdom it possesses.