What is the Tao?

  • The Tao is the reality and energy of the universe.
  • The Tao is directly observed and experienced.
  • The Tao exists by and through itself. It is not dependent on anything or anyone else.
  • We are a part of the Tao, the whole universe. Everything is connected and related. So, we are not individuals but an integrated organic whole.
  • Everything includes two opposite aspects, or Ying-Yang.
  • Only the present exists now.
  • The way of Tao is going with what is natural, going with the flow, and ‘not forcing’. Living spontaneously in harmony with nature / the Tao.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of all things

Free from desire you see the mystery
Full of desire you see the manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 1

Alan Watts, Tao: The Watercourse Way, Chapter 3

  • … it must be clear from the start that Tao cannot be understood as “God” in the sense of the ruler, monarch, commander, architect, and maker of the universe. The image of the military and political overlord, or of a creator external to nature, has no place in the idea of Tao.”
  • The imagery associated with the Tao is maternal, not paternal.
  • Thus the Tao is the course, the flow, the drift, or the process of nature, and I call it the Watercourse Way because both Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu use the flow of water as its principal metaphor. But it is of the essence of their philosophy that the Tao cannot be defined in words and is not an idea or concept. As Chuang-tzu says, “It may be attained but not seen,” or, in other words, felt but not conceived, intuited but not categorized, divined but not explained.

The great Tao flows everywhere,
to the left and to the right,
All things depend upon it to exist,
and it does not abandon them.
To its accomplishments it lays no claim.
It loves and nourishes all things,
but does not lord it over them.

Tao Te Ching, 34

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