The Info List - Tao

--- Advertisement ---

TAO or DAO (/daʊ/ , DOW ; from Chinese : 道; pinyin : Dào, ( listen )) is a Chinese word signifying 'way', 'path', 'route', 'road', 'choose', 'key' or sometimes more loosely 'doctrine', 'principle' or 'holistic science ' . Within the context of traditional Chinese philosophy and religion, the Tao is the intuitive knowing of "life" that cannot be grasped full-heartedly as just a concept but is known nonetheless through actual living experience of one's everyday being.

Laozi in the Tao Te Ching explains that the Tao is not a 'name' for a 'thing' but the underlying natural order of the Universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe due to it being non conceptual yet evident' in one's being of aliveness. The Tao is "eternally nameless" ( Tao Te Ching-32. Laozi ) and to be distinguished from the countless 'named' things which are considered to be its manifestations, the reality of life before its descriptions of it.

The Tao lends its name to the religious tradition ( Wade–Giles , Tao Chiao; Pinyin , Daojiao) and philosophical tradition (Wade–Giles, Tao chia; Pinyin, Daojia) that are both referred to in English with the single term Taoism .


* 1 Description and uses of the concept

* 1.1 De

* 2 Religious, philosophical, and cultural interpretations

* 2.1 Taoist interpretations

* 2.1.1 Diversity of views

* 2.2 Confucian interpretations * 2.3 Buddhist interpretations * 2.4 Neo-Confucian interpretations * 2.5 Christian Interpretations

* 3 Linguistic aspects

* 3.1 Characters * 3.2 Etymology * 3.3 Meanings * 3.4 Etymologies * 3.5 Loanwords

* 4 See also * 5 Notes * 6 Citations

* 7 Bibliography

* 7.1 Further reading


The ba gua , a symbol commonly used to represent the Tao and its pursuit.

The word "Tao" (道) has a variety of meanings in both ancient and modern Chinese language. Aside from its purely prosaic use to mean road, channel, path, principle, or similar, the word has acquired a variety of differing and often confusing metaphorical, philosophical and religious uses. In most belief systems, the word is used symbolically in its sense of 'way' as the 'right' or 'proper' way of existence, or in the context of ongoing practices of attainment or of the full coming into being, or the state of enlightenment or spiritual perfection that is the outcome of such practices.

Some scholars make sharp distinctions between moral or ethical usage of the word "Tao" that is prominent in Confucianism and religious Taoism and the more metaphysical usage of the term used in philosophical Taoism and most forms of Mahayana Buddhism ; others maintain that these are not separate usages or meanings, seeing them as mutually inclusive and compatible approaches to defining the principle. The original use of the term was as a form of praxis rather than theory – a term used as a convention to refer to something that otherwise cannot be discussed in words – and early writings such as the Tao Te Ching and the I Ching make pains to distinguish between conceptions of the Tao (sometimes referred to as "named Tao") and the Tao itself (the "unnamed Tao"), which cannot be expressed or understood in language. Liu Da asserts that the Tao is properly understood as an experiential and evolving concept, and that there are not only cultural and religious differences in the interpretation of the Tao, but personal differences that reflect the character of individual practitioners.

The Tao can be roughly thought of as the flow of the Universe, or as some essence or pattern behind the natural world that keeps the Universe balanced and ordered. It is related to the idea of qi , the essential energy of action and existence. The Tao is a non-dualistic principle – it is the greater whole from which all the individual elements of the Universe derive. Keller considers it similar to the negative theology of Western scholars, but the Tao is rarely an object of direct worship, being treated more like the Hindu concepts of karma or dharma than as a divine object. The Tao is more commonly expressed in the relationship between wu (void or emptiness, in the sense of wuji ) and yinyang (the natural dynamic balance between opposites), leading to its central principle of wu wei (non-action, or action without force).

The Tao is usually described in terms of elements of nature, and in particular as similar to water. Like water it is undifferentiated, endlessly self-replenishing, soft and quiet but immensely powerful, and impassively generous. Much of Taoist philosophy centers on the cyclical continuity of the natural world, and its contrast to the linear, goal-oriented actions of human beings.

In all its uses, the Tao is considered to have ineffable qualities that prevent it from being defined or expressed in words. It can, however, be known or experienced, and its principles (which can be discerned by observing Nature) can be followed or practiced. Much of East Asian philosophical writing focuses on the value of adhering to the principles of the Tao and the various consequences of failing to do so.

The Tao was shared with Confucianism , Chán and Zen Buddhism and more broadly throughout East Asian philosophy and religion in general. In Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism, the object of spiritual practice is to 'become one with the Tao' ( Tao Te Ching) or to harmonise one's will with Nature (cf. Stoicism ) in order to achieve 'effortless action' ( Wu wei ). This involves meditative and moral practices. Important in this respect is the Taoist concept of De (德; virtue). In Confucianism and religious forms of Taoism, these are often explicitly moral/ethical arguments about proper behavior, while Buddhism and more philosophical forms of Taoism usually refer to the natural and mercurial outcomes of action (comparable to karma ). The Tao is intrinsically related to the concepts yin and yang (pinyin : yīnyáng), where every action creates counter-actions as unavoidable movements within manifestations of the Tao, and proper practice variously involves accepting, conforming to, or working with these natural developments.


Main article: De (Chinese)

DE (德 "power; virtue; integrity") is the term generally used to refer to proper adherence to the Tao; De is the active living or cultivation of the way. Particular things (things with names) that manifest from the Tao have their own inner nature that they follow, in accordance with the Tao, and the following of this inner nature is De. Wuwei ( Pinyin : wúwéi) or 'NATURALNESS\' are contingent on understanding and conforming to this inner nature, which is interpreted variously from a personal, individual nature to a more generalized notion of human nature within the greater Universe.

Historically, the concept of De differed significantly between Taoists and Confucianists. Confucianism was largely a moral system emphasizing the values of humaneness, righteousness, and filial duty, and so conceived De in terms of obedience to rigorously defined and codified social rules. Taoists took a broader, more naturalistic/metaphysical view on the relationship between humankind and the Universe, and considered social rules to be at best a derivative reflection of the natural and spontaneous interactions between people, and at worst calcified structure that inhibited naturalness and created conflict. This led to some philosophical and political conflicts between Taoists and Confucianisms. Several sections of the works attributed to Chuang Tzu are dedicated to critiques of the failures of Confucianism.



See also: Taoism

means a road, path, way; and hence, the way in which one does something; method, doctrine, principle. The Way of Heaven, for example, is ruthless; when autumn comes 'no leaf is spared because of its beauty, no flower because of its fragrance'. The Way of Man means, among other things, procreation; and eunuchs are said to be 'far from the Way of Man'. Chu Tao is 'the way to be a monarch', i.e. the art of ruling. Each school of philosophy has its tao, its doctrine of the way in which life should be ordered. Finally in a particular school of philosophy whose followers came to be called Taoists, tao meant 'the way the universe works'; and ultimately something very like God, in the more abstract and philosophical sense of that term.

The Tao is what gives Taoism its English name, in both its philosophical and religious forms. The Tao is the fundamental and central concept of these schools of thought. Taoism perceives the Tao as a natural order underlying the substance and activity of the Universe. Language and the "naming" of the Tao is regarded negatively within Taoism; the Tao fundamentally exists and operates outside the realm of differentiation and linguistic constraints.

Diversity Of Views

The Tao causes the people to be fully in accord with the ruler. —  Sun Tzu , Art of War

There is no single orthodox Taoist view of the Tao. All forms of Taoism center around Tao and De, but there is a broad variety of distinct interpretations among sects and even individuals within the same sect. Despite this diversity, there are some clear, common patterns and trends within Taoism and its branches.

The diversity of Taoist interpretations of the Tao can be seen across four texts representative of major streams of thought within Taoism. All four texts are used in modern Taoism with varying acceptance and emphasis among sects. The Tao Te Ching is the oldest text and representative of a speculative and philosophical approach to the Tao. The Tao T\'i Lun is an eighth century exegesis of the Tao Te Ching, written from a well-educated and religious viewpoint, that represents the traditional scholarly perspective. The devotional perspective of the Tao is expressed in the Ch\'ing Ching Ching , a liturgical text that was originally composed during the Han dynasty and is used as a hymnal in religious Taoism, especially among eremites . The Zhuangzi (also spelled Chuang Tzu) uses literary devices such as tales, allegories, and narratives to relate the Tao to the reader, illustrating a metaphorical method of viewing and expressing the Tao. A Taoist monk practicing Chinese calligraphy with water on stone. Water calligraphy, like sand mandalas , evokes the ephemeral nature of physical reality.

The forms and variations of religious Taoism are incredibly diverse. They integrate a broad spectrum of academic, ritualistic, supernatural, devotional, literary, and folk practices with a multitude of results. Buddhism and Confucianism particularly affected the way many sects of Taoism framed, approached, and perceived the Tao. The multitudinous branches of religious Taoism accordingly regard the Tao, and interpret writings about it, in innumerable ways. Thus, outside of a few broad similarities, it is difficult to provide an accurate yet clear summary of their interpretation of the Tao.

A central tenet within most varieties of religious Taoism is that the Tao is ever-present, but must be manifested, cultivated, and/or perfected in order to be realized. It is the source of the Universe and the seed of its primordial purity resides in all things. The manifestation of the Tao is De, which rectifies and invigorates the world with the Tao's radiance.

Alternatively, philosophical Taoism regards the Tao as a non-religious concept; it is not a deity to be worshiped, nor is it a mystical Absolute in the religious sense of the Hindu Brahman . Joseph Wu remarked of this conception of the Tao, "Dao is not religiously available; nor is it even religiously relevant." The writings of Lao Tzu and Chang Tzu are tinged with esoteric tones and approach humanism and naturalism as paradoxes. In contrast to the esotericism typically found in religious systems, the Tao is not transcendent to the self nor is mystical attainment an escape from the world in philosophical Taoism. The self steeped in the Tao is the self grounded in its place within the natural Universe. A person dwelling within the Tao excels in themselves and their activities.

However, this distinction is complicated by hermeneutic (interpretive) difficulties in the categorization of Taoist schools, sects and movements. Some scholars believe that there is no distinction between Daojia and Daojiao. According to Kirkland, "most scholars who have seriously studied Daoism, both in Asia and the West, have finally abandoned the simplistic dichotomy of Dàojiā and Dàojiào, 'philosophical Daoism' and 'religious Daoism.'"


See also: Confucianism

The Dao, or Way, of Confucius can be said to be 'Truth'. Confucianism regards the Way, or Truth, as concordant with a particular approach to life, politics, and tradition. It is held as equally necessary and well regarded as De (virtue ) and ren (humanity ). Confucius presents a humanistic 'Dao'. He only rarely speaks of the t'ien Dao (Way of Heaven). An influential early Confucian, Hsiin Tzu, explicitly noted this contrast. Though he acknowledged the existence and celestial importance of the Way of Heaven, he insisted that the Dao principally concerns human affairs.

As a formal religious concept in Confucianism, Dao is the Absolute towards which the faithful move. In Zhongyong (The Doctrine of the Mean), harmony with the Absolute is equivalent to integrity and sincerity. The Great Learning expands on this concept explaining that the Way illuminates virtue, improves the people, and resides within the purest morality. During the Tang dynasty , Han Yu further formalized and defined Confucian beliefs as an apologetic response to Buddhism . He emphasized the ethics of the Way. He explicitly paired 'Dao' and 'De', focusing on humane nature and righteousness. He also framed and elaborated on a "dàotǒng" (tradition of the Way) in order to reject the traditions of Buddhism.

* v * t * e

Chinese philosophy


* Agriculturalism * Confucianism * Taoism * Han learning * Huang-Lao * Legalism * Mohism * Neo- Confucianism * Neo- Taoism * New Confucianism * Chinese Marxist Philosophy * School of Diplomacy * School of Names * School of Naturalists * Yangism

See also: Hundred Schools of Thought


* Confucius * Gaozi * Gongsun Long * Han Feizi * Huan Tan * Huang Zongxi * Jin Yuelin * Laozi * Li Si * Lu Jiuyuan * Mencius * Mozi * Shang Yang * Su Qin * Sunzi * Tu Weiming * Wang Chong * Wang Fuzhi * Wang Yangming * Xu Xing * Xunzi * Yang Zhu * Zhang Yi * Zhu Xi * Zhuangzi * Zou Yan


* Dào: Way * Dé : Virtue * Fǎ : Model * Jiān ài : Universal Love * Jing : Reverence * Jìngzuo : Meditation * Lĭ : Ritual propriety * Li : Law * Mìng : Mandate or fate * Qì : Energy * Qing : Essence * Rén : Humaneness * Shén : Spirit * Si : Reflection * Tǐ : Substance * Tiān : Divine force * Wú wéi : Nonaction * Xiào : Filial piety * Xin : Disposition or intuition * Xing : Human nature * Yì : Righteousness * Yīnyáng : Interdependent opposites * Yòng : Function * Zhèngmíng : Rectification of names * Zhì : Intention or will; Wisdom or cleverness * Zìrán : Self-so or natural


* Aesthetics * Epistemology * Ethics ( Role ethics * State consequentialism ) * Logic * Metaphysics * Political philosophy * Social philosophy * Theology


* Lingnan Confucianism

* v * t * e





* Orthodox

* Haredi * Hasidic * Modern

* Conservative * Reform * Karaite * Reconstructionist * Renewal * Humanistic * Haymanot


* Catholicism

* Eastern Catholic Churches

* Eastern Christianity

* Church of the East

* Assyrian Church of the East

* Eastern Orthodoxy

* Oriental Orthodoxy

* Ethiopian Orthodoxy

* Independent Catholicism

* Old Catholicism

* Protestantism

* Adventism * Anabaptism * Anglicanism * Baptists

* Calvinism

* Presbyterianism * Congregationalism * Continental Reformed

* Lutheranism * Methodism * Pentecostalism * Evangelicalism

* Nontrinitarianism

* Jehovah\'s Witnesses * Mormonism * Jesuism

* Nondenominational


* Sunni

* Hanafi * Maliki * Hanbali * Shafi\'i

* Shia

* Twelver * Isma\'ilism * Zaidiyyah

* Ahmadi * Ibadi * Non-denominational * Quranism * Zahirism

* Salafism

* Wahhabism * Ahl al-Hadith

* Mahdavia * European Islam * Nation of Islam


* Bábism

* Azáli Bábism * Bahá\'í Faith

* Druze * Mandaeism * Rastafari * Samaritanism



* Vaishnavism * Shaktism * Shaivism * Ayyavazhi * Smartism * Balinese


* Mahayana

* Chan

* Zen * Thiền * Seon

* Pure Land * Nichiren * Madhyamaka * Tiantai

* Theravada

* Vajrayana

* Tibetan * Shingon * Newar * Bon

* Navayana


* Dravidian

* Jainism

* Digambara * Śvētāmbara

* Sikhism * Gurung shamanism * Bon Lamaism * Kirant Mundhum


* Manichaeism

* Yazdânism

* Yazidism * Ishikism * Ali-Illahism * Yarsanism

* Zoroastrianism


* Armenian

* Baltic

* Dievturība * Druwi * Romuva

* Caucasian

* Celtic

* Druidry

* Germanic * Hellenism * Italo-Roman * Romanian * Slavic


* Finnish * Hungarian

* Uralic

* Mari * Mordvin * Udmurt

Central and Northern Asian

* Burkhanism * Chuvash * Manchu * Mongolian * Siberian * Tengrism


* Benzhuism * Bimoism * Bon * Cheondoism * Confucianism * Dongbaism * Faism * Hmongism * Jeungsanism * Luoism * Meishanism * Mileism * Muism * Neo- Confucianism * Ryukyuan religion * Shenism * Shigongism * Shinto * Taoism * Tenrikyo * Wuism * Yiguandao


* Burmese * Satsana Phi * Malaysian

* Indonesian

* Marapu * Kaharingan * Kebatinan

* Philippine

* Vietnamese

* Caodaism * Đạo Mẫu * Hoahaoism



* Akan * Akamba * Baluba * Bantu * Berber * Bushongo * Cushitic * Dinka * Efik * Fon and Ewe * Guanche * Igbo * Isoko * Lotuko * Lozi * Lugbara * Maasai * Mbuti * San * Serer * Tumbuka * Waaq * Yoruba * Zulu


* Candomblé * Kumina * Obeah * Quimbanda * Palo * Santería * Umbanda * Vodou * Voodoo * Winti


* Bathouism * Bongthingism * Donyi-Polo * Kiratism * Sanamahism * Sarnaism * Aboriginal Australian * Native American * Mesoamerican * Hawaiian * Polynesian


* Discordianism * Eckankar * Jediism * New Age * New Thought * Pastafarianism * Raëlism * Satanism * Scientology * Thelema * Unitarian Universalism * Wicca



* Paleolithic


* Arabian * Egyptian * Mesopotamian

* Semitic

* Canaanite * Yahwism



* Proto-Indo-Iranian * Armenian * Ossetian * Vedic

* Zoroastrianism

* Mithraism * Zurvanism

* Gnosticism

* Manichaeism


* Celtic

* Germanic

* Anglo-Saxon * Continental * Norse

* Greek

* Gnosticism * Neoplatonism

* Manichaeism * Balkan * Roman * Slavic



* Apostasy / Disaffiliation * Behaviour * Beliefs * Clergy * Conversion * Deities * Entheogens * Ethnic religion * Denomination * Faith * Fire * Folk religion * God * Meditation

* Monasticism

* monk * nun

* Mysticism * Mythology * Nature * Ordination * Orthodoxy * Orthopraxy * Prayer * Prophesy * Religious experience

* Ritual

* liturgy * sacrifice

* Spirituality * Supernatural * Symbols * Truth * Water * Worship


* Animism * Deism * Dualism * Henotheism * Monotheism * Nontheism * Panentheism * Pantheism * Polytheism * Transtheism


* Anthropology * Cognitive science * Comparative * Development * Evolutionary origin * Evolutionary psychology * History * Philosophy * Neurotheology * Psychology * Sociology * Theology * Theories * Women

Religion and society

* Agriculture * Business

* Clergy

* monasticism * ordination

* Conversion

* evangelism * missionary * proselytism

* Education * Fanaticism

* Freedom

* pluralism * syncretism * toleration * universalism

* Fundamentalism * Growth * Happiness * Homosexuality * Minorities * National church * National religiosity levels * Religiocentrism * Political science * Populations * Schism * Science * State * Theocracy * Vegetarianism * Video games

* Violence

* persecution * terrorism * war

* Wealth

Secularism and irreligion

* Antireligion * Deism * Agnosticism * Atheism * Criticism * LaVeyan Satanism * Deconstruction * Humanistic Judaism * Irreligion by country * Objectivism * Secular humanism * Secular theology * Secularization * Separation of church and state * Unaffiliated

Overviews and lists

* Index * Outline * Timeline * Abrahamic prophets * Deification * Deities * Founders * Mass gatherings * New religious movements * Organizations * Religions and spiritual traditions * Scholars

* Category