‘Tao’ is a Chinese word meaning ‘way’, ‘way of Heaven’, ‘Path’ or ‘road’ or ‘method’. It indicates a line or principle of conduct. There is no proper English term for ‘Tao’. It means the ‘Eternal Being’.
The Founder of Taoism was Lao-Tze. Lao-Tze was born in 604 B.C. in the village of Chu-Jhren, in Li country, belonging to the Ku province of the State Chu. He was born under the plum tree (in Chinese ‘Li’). He adopted it as his surname. The hair of the head was white when he was born. Hence he was called Lao-Tze (old boy) or philosopher, one who is child-like even when old.
He was popularly called Lao-Tze. His name was Er (ear). He was called Tan after his death. ‘Tan’ means ‘long lobe’. He had peculiar long ears. His appellation was ‘Po Yang’ or “count of positive principle”. He was a keeper or recorder of the secret Archives in the Royal court of Chore. He was a State Historian.
Lao-Tze says: Tao is one. It was in the beginning. It will remain for ever. It is Impersonal, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, bodiless, immaterial. It cannot be perceived by the senses. It is nameless. It is indescribable.
It is the first cause from which all substances take their origin and all phenomena flow. The great Tao is all-pervading. All things depend on it for life. It is the mother of all phenomena, of heaven and earth. It existed before the Personal God. It is the father of God. It is the producer of God. It is the originator of heaven and earth. It is the mother of all things.
You will find that there is an aroma of Indian Vedantic philosophy in the teachings of Lao-Tze.
Tao is everywhere. It is in the ant. It is in the grass. It is in the earthen-ware vessel. It is in excrement. It is in the highest place but is not high. It is in the, lowest place, but is not low. It is in ancient times, but itself is not ancient. It is in old age but itself is not old. It is everywhere, but appears to be nowhere.
Tao is the sanctuary where all things find refuge. It is the good man’s priceless treasure. It is the guardian and saviour of him who is not good. Tao overspreads and sustains all things.
The Tao which can be expressed in word is not the Eternal Tao. The name which can be uttered is not its Eternal Name.
Whatever is contrary to the Tao soon ends. When the great Tao prevails, the outer doors need not be closed. All will be virtuous. There will be no theft.
If Tao perishes, then virtue will perish. If virtue perishes, then charity will perish. If charity perishes, then righteousness will perish. If righteousness perishes, then ceremonies will perish.
The man who achieves harmony with Tao enters into close union with external objects. No object has the power to harm or hinder him.
Tao does nothing. It has no bodily form. It cannot be seen. It has its root in Itself. From Tao came the mysterious existence of God. It produced heaven and earth. It was before the primordial ether. Tao produces all things and nourishes them.
It presides over all. Tao is the fundamental principle of the philosophy and religion of Lao-Tze.
The way of the Tao is to act without thinking of acting, to taste without discerning any flavour, to consider what is small as great, and a few as many, and to react to injury by kindness.
Purity, humility, contentment, compassion, kindness towards all living creatures, higher knowledge and self-control are the means for attaining the Tao. Concentration and Pranayama (breathing exercises) are helpful in the path of Tao.
Tao Te Ching (canon of Tao and its manifestation) contains the sayings and teachings of Lao-Tze. Lao-Tze himself wrote this book in the sixth century B.C. This title was given by Emperor Ching. He issued an imperial decree that Lao-Tze’s work on Tao should be respected as a canonical book.
He who acts, destroys. He who grasps, loses. Therefore, the sage does not act and so does not destroy. He does not grasp and so he does not lose.
Without going out of doors, one may know the entire universe; without looking out of the window, one may see the way of heaven. The further one travels, the less one may know. Thus it is that without moving you shall know; without looking you shall see; without doing you shall attain.
Sincere words are not fine; fine words are not sincere.
If you would contract, you must first expand. If you would weaken, you must first strengthen. If you would overthrow, you must first raise up. If you would take, you must first give. This is called the dawn of intelligence.
To the good I would be good. To the not good, I would also be good in order to make them good.
He who humbles himself shall be preserved entire. He who bends shall be made straight. He who is empty shall be filled. He who is worn out shall be renewed. He who has little shall succeed. He who has much shall go astray.
Some things are increased by being demolished and others are diminished by being increased.
Those who know, do not speak; those who speak, do not know.
To know when one does not know is best. To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease. Only he who recourses this disease as a disease can cure himself of the disease.
I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle, and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal. Avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.
There is no greater sin than yielding to desire; no greater misery than discontentment; no greater calamity than the propensity to acquire.
Abandon your scheming. Put away your gains. Thieves and robbers will not exist.
Hold fast to that which will endure.
Show thyself simple, preserve thee pure, thine own keep small, thy desires poor.
Renounce learnedness and you will have no vexation.
He who overcomes others is strong, but he who overcomes himself is mighty.
Taoism has its monks and nuns. They wear yellow caps. They retire from the world and live in caves, forests and secluded retreats in mountains.
Taoism inculcates the highest ethics, pure living and discipline of mind and body.
Emancipation is attained through the realisation of Tao through self conquest.
There is the idea of purgatory in Taoism, of the reward and punishment after death. There is also rebirth. Lao-Tze believed in the immortality of the Soul. He advocated the doctrine of reincarnation of the soul after death.
Sincerity is the first step towards the knowledge of Tao. That knowledge is maintained by silence. Tao is employed with gentleness.
When the aspirant is serene and tranquil, his wisdom becomes complete. When his wisdom becomes complete, the light of intelligence grows around him. When the light of intelligence grows around him, he is one with the Tao. This is true forgetfulness, a forgetting which does not forget, a forgetting of what cannot be forgotten. That which cannot be forgotten is the True Tao.
Glory to Lao-Tze, the founder of Taoism, that old boy who was born under the plum tree with peculiar long lobes, with white hair, the reputed sage of China! Glory, glory to Tao, the Eternal Great One, the Brahman of the Upanishads!!