Tao Te Ching: the beginning of the initiatory journey

I would like to inaugurate a new category of this blog by dedicating it to the Tao Te Ching, a monumental work of Eastern philosophy that I believe should deserve a prominent place in the cultural education of any individual who wishes to deepen his or her spiritual and human growth path.

For copyright reasons, I cannot quote whole passages from the work (of which there are a variety of translations). Still, I state right now that my reference is based on comparing several translations to understand the nuances of particularly cryptic verses better. There are many very high-quality versions, which I have reported at the end of the article. The reader without any version can choose one of these: the fidelity of the translation is always assured.

Monk in meditation in search of the Tao.

The first chapter of the Tao Te Ching

The first chapter of this concise work represents a perfect synthesis of the inherent paradox that each subsequent page will continue to shape until a final form is achieved through its destruction, understood not as a negation of being but as a re-transformation into creative and unifying potential. The cryptic nature of these few lines can be justified by the incipit that Lao Tzu outlines in simple, effective, and highly efficient words: it is possible to speak of the Dao, but not of the entity as such, but only of its linguistic representation, the result of a keen insight cultivated for centuries by the wisest and most knowledgeable human beings.

The pinnacle of paradox, however, is reached in the declaration of helplessness that the author follows the first warning, “The Dao is beyond comprehension”! A superficial reading would too easily get trapped in the logical “pit” that the principle of non-contradiction has banished from the classical cognitive horizon. Still, the following verses provide an initial clarifying answer, which, without denying anything postulated, positions the essence of the Dao in a logical and temporal moment before any linguistic genesis.

It is not the man who is incapable of understanding it. Still, it is the entity itself that, by its very nature, escapes the manipulations that intelligence has succeeded and never will. In other words, it is a crossroads: a dual place where man is lost in his inability to decide which direction to take, but the “keystone” that Lao Tzu seeks to summarize is hidden precisely in the renunciation of any action, any attempt to conceive, not the solution or the choice, but not even the problem itself!

By freeing himself from the pre-concept of the logical-linguistic domain, man may be able to glimpse the horizon from which spring the “innumerable manifestations” of the Tao: realities transcending any form that can ever be conceived but shining with the blazing light of the darkest of universes!

Reference texts

Tao Te Ching: The Way, The Path
  • One of the essential Chinese philosophy books ever written
  • Tao Te Ching roughly translated as the way or the path is a guide for living in accordance with reality and the universe without trying to struggle against the tide
  • A way to peace and calm amid life’s challenges
  • Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching when he was travelling between cities, he was coming to the end of his life and the keeper of the pass asked him to write everything he had learned or wished to pass on in a book, and that is what we have today, the saved wisdom from over 2400 years ago
  • See where Taoist philosophy started and why it is still practiced by millions of people all over the world
Tao Te Ching
  • Traditionally attributed to Lao Tzu, an older contemporary of Confucius (551 - 479 BC), it is now thought that the work was compiled in about the fourth century BC
  • An anthology of wise sayings, it offers a model by which the individual can live rather than explaining the human place in the universe
  • The moral code it encourages is based on modesty and self-restraint, and the rewards reaped for such a life are harmony and flow of life
  • For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world
  • With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines
Tao Te Ching: A New English Version
  • The bestselling, widely acclaimed translation from Stephen Mitchell"Mitchell's rendition of the Tao Te Ching comes as close to being definitive for our time as any I can imagine
  • It embodies the virtues its translator credits to the Chinese original: a gemlike lucidity that is radiant with humor, grace, largeheartedness, and deep wisdom
  • " — Huston Smith, author of The Religions of ManIn eighty-one brief chapters, Lao-tzu's Tao Te Ching, or Book of the Way, provides advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit, and teaches us how to work for the good with the effortless skill that comes from being in accord with the Tao—the basic principle of the universe
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