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Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching

The Tao Te Ching is a Chinese text used to perpetuate the philosophy of Taoism. Written in roughly 5,000 Chinese characters, it has been translated numerous times, resulting in different interpretations. Despite numerous interpretations, just three are said to be primary understandings of the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching was said to be written by Laozi in the 6th century; however, this has not been proven and there are historians that deviate from assigning Laozi credit for writing the Tao Te Ching in the 6th century.

If Laozi lived during the sixth century BCE, then he saw a time of tremendous change in China.

  1. The feudal order of the Chou dynasty was disappearing, and a new system of social development was emerging.
  2. The feudal world of the Chou was based on ancestor worship and sacrifice, with the social order revolving around the aristocracy.
  3. But the development of Iron Ore around this time signaled the end of the Bronze Age in China, and the emergence of the Iron Age. The new iron tools and goods expanded trade and commerce, creating a new society of merchants and artisans, who took over leadership of the various city-states.
  4. Confucius was a conservative who sought to preserve the old order with his teachings, codifying the ritual traditions of the aristocracy.

While the Tao Te Ching is the blueprint for Taoism, it should be noted that the philosophy overall incorporates tenets of other Eastern philosophies, like Buddhism and Confucianism. This is what makes it so popular across religions and schools of thought. Not only has the Tao Te Ching been used over the years as a philosophical and religious reference, but it is often used by creative types from which to draw inspiration for the arts.

The name of the text, when translated, means "the way of integrity." As such, it is also often used as a self-help text for people that want to incorporate more self-awareness and wisdom into their lives. Wisdom is the core theme of the Tao Te Ching. It also encourages more time for reflection on the world around, so that people that adhere to this philosophy can be more mindful of their place in it and how to affect lasting change from a place of integrity.

Historical Time-Period of the Tao Te Ching

Some scholars now date the invention of this legend to 250 BCE, a period in China when Confucianism was a well-developed religion, and the Tao Te Ching only becoming popular. The first Taoist followers tried to avoid recognition, and thus their traditions were less formed. "What a stroke of genius, then, for them to take an already accepted story of Confucius going to Lao Dan for instruction in the rites and to identify him as the mythical author of their text, thereby establishing a founder for their tradition who preceded Confucius and was his teacher". Indeed, if Laozi was more than one person, it fits that Laozi was "less important than the book associated with him, but his fame grew as the text was venerated with increasing devotion".

But at the same time, the teachings of Laozi reveal the unimportance of the Master. Welch quotes the Tao Te Ching as saying: "As to the Sage, no one will know whether he existed or not". Chapter 2 reads: "Therefore the Master acts without doing and teaches without saying anything." At the heart of the Tao Te Ching lies a philosophy that seeks to find a harmony in simplicity.

In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family, life, be completely present. When you are content to be simply yourself and don't compare or compete, everybody will respect you.

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