Taoism: The Basics

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Taoism 101
by Zee Sing

"The way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way; The name that can be named is not the constant Name. The nameless was at the beginning of heaven and earth; the named was the mother of myriad creatures."
--Tao Te Ching

"Tao" means road, path or "the Way." It is the process of the unfolding of ultimate reality -- the transformation of all things.

The notion that change is fundamental is a cornerstone of the Chinese worldview and can be found, for example, in the "I Ching or Book of Changes."

The Tao cannot be limited by words. It is incomprehensible, but reveals itself in the interaction of yin and yang -- opposites that might be compared to the positive and negative fields of a magnet.

The Tao Te Ching states that "The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name."

While the Tao cannot be understood conceptually, through the process of Wu Wei, a Taoist can become one with the Tao. While wu wei is often translated as inaction or nonaction, a better understanding of it is to be natural. This includes the effortless effort where things flow rather than strain. Sports has many examples -- like being in "the zone" on the tennis court or golf course.

The artificial is the opposite of wu wei because it tries to counter the natural unfolding of the Tao -- which is ultimately impossible.

Among the artificial are human conceptual schemes that we applie to nature. Nature simply IS. It has no misfortune or unfairness.

The correlatives of yin and yang often result in apparent contradictions. Thus the soft is the strong, the crooked is the straight and the empty is the full. The truth is a paradox.

The sage is a person who is able to go with the natural flow of yin and yang; one who can wu wei. They are the uncarved block and are content in being what they are without pretence. They are balanced and know that without the "nothingness" of the window or bowl, there would be no window or bowl. Consequently, nothingness IS something but something should not be done. Nothing should be done; i.e., we should not tamper, resist, argue, dispute or attempt to change things.

"The work is done, but how no one can see;
'Tis this that makes the power not cease to be."

The flexibility of the sage allows them to overcome the rigid. They are like water, one of the most powerful forces on the earth. Water is soft. It flows around large stones. Eventually, the stones wear away.

"The highest excellence is like that of water. The excellence
of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying,
without striving to the contrary, the low place which all men
dislike. Hence its way is near to that of the Tao."

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Copywrite 2005 by Zee Sing. For permission to publish on the internet or in any form, please contact zee@the-professor-mon.com

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Updated on:  February 16, 2013