Tao Te Ching

Essay by gnerd33High School, 12th gradeA, February 2010

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The Tao Te Ching is the main source of Taoist wisdom available to the Westerner. In my mind it is the first place a student of the Tao should begin. Unlike many other Taoist books it is lacking in humour or stories, and is often seen as difficult by Western Scholars. Succinct and direct, it can look superficial, but a great depth is hidden behind the brevity.

A book of only 5000 characters in Chinese, it consists of a number of 'stand alone' chapters which each contain a separate message. Said to be written by Lao Tzu, its true authorship remains unknown. Lao Tzu is an honorary title meaning 'old master'- a title that would have been applied to many Chinese throughout history. The wise sayings contained within its pages may well have been verbally transmitted through the generations, to eventually be recorded together as a book of wisdom in Lao Tzu's name.

According to tradition, the work originates in the 4th Century BC, but recent discoveries showed that it is no early than the 4th or 3rd century. The oldest existing copy is from 206 or 195 BC. Lao Tzu would have composed this work by the request of Yin Hsi, the Guardian of the Mountain Pass, while he began his wandering towards West. It consists of 81 short chapters among which 37 form the first part, the Book of the Way (Tao), and the next 44 form the Book of Te. Its division in chapters is considered to be the result of the remarks of mysterious Heschang Gong (Han dynasty) (Wikipedia, Tao te Ching).

The philosophy of this work focused on the following concepts: Tao, wu (emptiness), wu -wei (nondoing) and Fu (the return of all things to their origins). The goal of the Taoist philosophy is, according...