This blog is an interpretation of the Tao te Ching "Tao Virtue Book" which is attributed to Laozi "Lao Tze" a Chinese philosopher who lived circa 600 b.c.

Please remember always that this is the description of the Tao and not the experience of the living Tao. Hopefully, this blog will not serve as analysis or commentary but as a window into the Tao. You are encouraged to disagree with this interpretation, involve yourself in self-study, and ultimately leave all concepts behind and so experience the living Tao.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chapter 51: What is teh

Tao gives life to all creatures; de [teh] feeds them; materiality shapes them; energy completes them. Therefore among all things there is none that does not honor Dao and esteem de [teh].

Honor for Dao and esteem for de [teh] is never compelled, it is always spontaneous.

Therefore Dao gives life to them, but de [teh] nurses them, raises them, nurtures, completes, matures, rears, protects them.

Tao gives life to them but makes no claim of ownership; de [teh] forms them but makes no claim upon them, raises them but does not rule them. This is profound vitality (de [teh]).

Tao te Ching Chapter 51


The "teh" or "te" of an object is often described as its "virture."  Another way to look at "teh" would be "natural purpose."  This definition may help in the understanding of the above passage, since all things, even things that we find to be without virtue do serve the purpose that is natural to their being.

Stanza one separates out four states of being, the self created by Tao, the self created by natural purpose, the physical self and the energy that flows through all of the above.

Stanza two can be seen to be saying that honor and respect for the nature of things is natural within.

The third stanza observes that the Dao itself gives rise to all things (including teh) but that teh may be defined separately as the driving force that completes the unique shape of each thing.

We see again in the fourth stanza the much repeated message that Dao and now also teh do these things spontaneously and without desire to own or possess.  It is this selflessness that give teh such unlimited power.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chapter 50: Beyond Life and Death

Life is a going forth; death is a returning home.

Of ten, three are seeking life, three are seeking death, and three are dying.

What is the reason? Because they live in life's experience. (Only one is immortal.)

I hear it said that the sage when he travels is never attacked by rhinoceros or tiger, and when coming among soldiers does not fear their weapons. The rhinoceros would find no place to horn him, nor the tiger a place for his claws, nor could soldiers wound him. What is the reason? Because he is invulnerable.

Tao te Ching Chapter 50


In and earlier chapter, the author discusses Immortality.   The suggested at that time that immortality is not an issue of a body that does not die but of returning naturally to the Dao.  It is as if we are water taken from the ocean in a bucket.  Sooner or later, whether poured back into the ocean or out onto the ground, that water will return to the ocean.  So too do we.  It can be said that the water in the bucket is actually still part of the ocean just as we, though we perceive ourselves as different are still part of the Tao.

This chapter returns to that theme.  It is interesting to speculate whether the author means literally to suggest that those steeped in the dao are protected from animal attack.  It seems clear that they are suggesting that only one in ten have discovered their true place in the Dao and so their immortality.

The first stanza points out the perception that we, as living humans perceive ourselves as separate from the Tao, our "home."

The second stanza can be seen to say that some struggle with living, some with dying, others with the secret desire to die.

The third stanza suggests that these people's struggle is because they have not seen through to the Dao.  It suggests that only one in ten have noticed their true, immortal nature as part of the Dao.

The fourth stanza is most curious, does the author mean to suggest that those steeped in Dao cannot be cut or injured.  This seems unlikely because wounds to the body are part of the struggles of life that the one who is immortal is beyond.  It can be suggested that the tenth person is not hurt because they have taken refuge in their true nature and so injuries to the body do not disturb their sense of peace.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chapter 49: Love to All

The wise man has no fixed heart; in the hearts of the people he finds his own.

The good he treats with goodness; the not-good he also treats with goodness, for de [teh] is goodness. The faithful ones he treats with good faith; the unfaithful he also treats with good faith, for de [teh] is good faith.

The wise man lives in the world but he lives cautiously, dealing with the world cautiously. He universalizes his heart; the people give him their eyes and ears, but he treats them as his children.

Tao te Ching Chapter 49


This chapter repeats the earlier message about listening.  Now it observes that listening to the hearts and desires of others is a useful guide for choosing our own feelings.

It also shares a message from Buddhism.  The Buddha observed that being angry with someone is like holding a coal that you mean to throw at another person.  Whatever happens to the other person, we can be sure your hand will get burned.  This same sentiment is reflected here where the author suggests the wise person treats all people with good heart whether they are bad or good themselves.

The first stanza reminds up to be flexible in our feelings.  To understand the people around us and let them move our hearts.

The seconds stanza can be seen to say that compassion is universal.  Who needs compassion more than those whose hearts are so sick that they hate and treat us unfairly?

The third stanza repeats a frequent message from the Dao de Ching, careful action is the road to good life.  it also reminds us to care for all people as if they were our children.  This is in agreement with the teachings of the Christian Bible which tells us to "love our neighbors as ourselves."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chapter 48: The Limits of Learning

He who attends daily to learning increases in learning. He who practices Dao daily diminishes. Again and again he humbles himself. Thus he attains to non-doing (wu wei). He practices non-doing and yet there is nothing left undone.

To command the empire one must not employ craft. If one uses craft he is not fit to command the empire.

Tao te Ching Chapter 48


There is a common saying, "The wise are not learned and the learned are not wise.  This stanza may be seen as comparison between learning for the sake of control and learning to be content.  We are can easily imagine a scatterbrained scientist who has memorized thousands of species names and endless details about birds but cannot remember to take care of a pet.  Then there is the person who has lived in nature and knows nothing of the names or scientific details of animals but can raise them and love them as family.   How does the second man, the wise man, acquire this ability?  By being still and observing.  Listening rather than doing.  This can be seen as the message of this chapter.

Stanza one points out the difference between the person who seeks intellectual knowledge and the the person who seek the Dao. 

The second stanza observes that the intellectual eventually fails.  This can be seen to say that the intellectual who is out of touch with the natural wisdom of listening and non-doing cannot value what he learns 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chapter 47: Seeing Within

For this chapter we will use Susuki's translation:

"Without passing out of the gate The world's course I prognosticate. Without peeping through the window
The heavenly Reason I contemplate. The further one goes, The less one knows."

Therefore the holy man does not travel, and yet he has knowledge. He does not see things, and yet he defines them. He does not labor, and yet he completes.

Tao te Ching Chapter 47


Since the Daoist seeks to understand the world and life from the place before form, they need not trave to seek knowledge, by looking within, he can seek the structures and forms that lie beneath for.  If you look to the place before yen and yan, before light and dark, you look also to the place before here and there.  From this place before, all forms that rise from the Tao seem natural and understandable without study or intellectual understanding.

Stanza one observes that the knowledge of the dao comes from still contemplation not movement.  The last stanza, "the further one goes, the less one knows."  Can be interpreted to mean any movement, study, thought, away from still contemplation.

The second stanza tells us the benefits of seeking this stillness.  Internal knowledge, understanding, and wu wei, completion through non-action.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Chapter 46: Contentment

When the world yields to Dao, race horses will be used to haul manure. When the world ignores Dao war horses are pastured on the public common.

There is no sin greater than desire. There is no misfortune greater than discontent. There is no calamity greater than acquisitiveness.

Therefore to know extreme contentment is simply to be content.

Tao te Ching Chapter 46


It is sometimes surprising how many people have never examined what and why they desire.  For example, there are very many people in the world who, when you greet them, will immediately and consistently tell you what is wrong, with them, with the weather, with the world.   Since they tend to always respond this way, they must have some desire.  They must be seeking some gratification.  But what?  And why?

This chapter is perhaps the most accessible to the western mind.  It begins with an observation of social behavior and then personalizes it.

The first stanza observes that horses can serve prosperous ends when Dao is followed but destructive ends when it is not.  

The second stanza states clearly that it is desire, (and the Buddha might add, "the inability to acquire what we desire) that keeps us discontent.

The third stanza might be interpreted as "contentment comes from being happy for no reason.  always we want things, the weekend, the new TV, the better job.   How do we feel when we are experiencing a simple pleasure?   petting the dog?  Combing long hair slowly?   Is it possible to feel content simply for the sake of feeling content without any stimuli?