|The Way/The Science of the Essence|
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is the Tao?
Lao Tzu wrote a book concerning the Tao; he explained that the word 'Tao' (pronounced 'dow') was just a label. The Tao he was referring to could not be expressed in words and thoughts.
This may seem confusing until you consider wind. Can you see wind? Can you feel wind? Are you sure you are not just feeling air moved by wind? Can you hold onto wind? Can you taste wind?
The word is not the thing
Our senses cannot apprehend wind yet we have a word for it and we consider
it to exist.
The Tao is as elusive as wind.
People can intuit what Lao Tzu was referring to but never express it
Tao is like a thought at the back of your mind; you have only a vaguely sense of what it is. Yet, with observation and contemplation, it becomes gradually clearer.
Tao Te Ching
The title of Lao Tzu's book 'Tao Te Ching' is often translated to mean The Way and Its Power.
This can be misleading, as many people assume that the Tao means way/road/route and suggests a path of some sort.
The book is an investigation of reality itself. Lao Tzu studied nature and existence in order to better understand the Way in which the world operated.
Modern physics does the same thing but works on the basis of hypothesis; which means starting from the known in order to understand the unknown.
Whilst both Taoism and physics study the physical world, they differ quite radically in approach.
Taoism recognises that a person must lose knowledge - in the form of comparison, conditioning, education, measurement, opinions, preconceptions - in order to see reality without bias.
There is a folly in applying the characteristics of the known to the unknown.
The word 'way' is intended to mean 'nature', for example - an animal acts according to its own nature. Nature in this context means how it is, the Way it is, its essence. What makes a dog a dog?
Tao can be seen in things but what the Tao is cannot be expressed using words or thoughts.
Taijiquan without Tao is no longer taijiquan, but Chinese exercise.
The Tao Te Ching depicts the sages of old... It explains that the essence of the sages cannot be known; their inner thoughts and nature are a mystery. Yet we can learn a lot by how they behaved.
Their characteristics or behaviour are an outward manifestation of their innermost nature.
The Science of the Essence
A dog acts like a dog, a tree like a tree. Everything has a substance that is reflected outwardly in some way through specific characteristics.
These qualities are called virtues because they the uncontrived demonstration of the essence. Te (pronounced 'day') means virtue.
The word 'ching' (pronounced 'jing') just means book of wisdom or insight.
Lao Tzu saw the Tao as permeating everything. He encouraged people to accord themselves with the nature of existence in order to remove resistance. Without resistance there cannot be conflict.
The reality of his observations can be seen by studying wind or water. This accord is also known as 'wu wei'.
Taoists recognised that the natural world was not made, but grew instead.
Things which are made - such as houses, furniture, and machines - are an assemblage of parts put together, or shaped, like sculpture from the outside inwards.
Things that grow shape themselves from within.
Consider your own body... Cells divided to grow your body - you were not constructed. You are a universe of complexity in your own right, just as the earth is, just as the galaxy is and existence itself.
We are not separate from anything; a fish cannot exist without water and water is part of the sea and sea is part of the planet and so on...
Zen has evolved from the study of the Tao. Not to be confused with the religion called Zen Buddhism.
Students of Zen are encouraged to see existence without the clutter of conscious thought and memory. Zen poetry is stunning in its simplicity, beauty and clarity of perception.
Chuang Tzu wrote the second main book about the Tao. He had a great sense of humour.
Tao & tai chi
Tai chi was developed as a means of aligning both body and mind with the Tao. The body must be returned to a condition of organic wholeness, both within itself and in relationship with everything else.
Correct practice of tai chi requires the student to feel the flowing smoothness of nature; to change and move like water. The physical shape of the tai chi should be natural and comfortable.
It is not necessary to become 'green' in order to learn tai chi but a healthy respect for nature will help you to learn.
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese art concerned with the alignment of the physical environment in accordance with the Tao.
At its heart is a deep sensitivity to the natural order that makes it especially relevant to our environmentally-conscious times. There are many hokey feng shui practitioners in business, so choose carefully...
We can hold back neither the coming of the
nor the downward rush of the stream; sooner or later,
everything comes to its fruition.
18 April 1995
Last updated 15 May 2020