The Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing) is an ancient Chinese moral and philosophical book that is often attributed to Laozi (or Lao-Tzu), "the old teacher." The verse can be difficult to understand; Thus, many people have spent their entire lives studying the Tao Te Ching in vain, but some have succeeded in forming basic theories. With a few tips, you may be able to gain a basic understanding of one of the most difficult and most captivating masterpieces in the world. Here's how to get started.
Method 1 of 3: Clear Your Mind
Step 1. Clear your mind of all your thoughts while reading the Tao Te Ching
The Tao Te Ching is an eternal masterpiece that was written with a lucid state of consciousness. His teachings are older than the world, how can you grasp them with your mind?
Step 2. Be fully present with your whole being
Be aware of the stillness of your inner body and the breath and then read it with your whole being. The more you investigate, the less you will understand.
Method 2 of 3: Read it every now and then
Step 1. Read some of the verses from time to time
"If you want to become complete, allow yourself to be partial," Tao Te Ching. Read some verses, especially when you feel anxious, fearful, impatient, restless, or when you feel any other negative emotion. In this way, when you are in that state of consciousness, you will be "biased." Thus, if you read related verses, at that moment that will help you understand it better. Therefore, allow yourself to be biased and then read. Makes sense?
Method 3 of 3: Investigate
Step 1. Start by researching China during the Lao-Tzu era
Unfortunately, little is known about Lao-Tzu (even the years he lived is debated), but he is known to have lived around the 6th to 4th centuries BC. At that time, China was torn apart by the six warring states. In your quest to understand the Lao-Tzu era, research the six states at war and the effects of that constant struggle on Chinese society. Many Chinese elders believed that morale had declined at that time, which may be one reason why the war broke out.
Step 2. Research Confucianism
Confucianism is a moral philosophy and a religion that focuses on society as a whole, hierarchies, and obedience to superiors. Some people consider that Taoism arose as a reaction to Confucianism. By understanding the reasons behind the rise of Confucianism and its beliefs, you will be in a good position to compare and contrast the elements of each.
Step 3. Research Legalism and Moism
Both Chinese philosophies emerged in the time of Taoism. Each advocated philosophies opposed to Taoism. Investigate both philosophies in order to understand some of the hidden meanings in Taoism, which are often attacks on certain tenets of these philosophies, similar to making a joke about Qin Shi Huang Di and not knowing who he is. Qin Shi Huang Di was the first emperor to give China its name and the one to defeat the other five family clans.
Step 4. Study ancestral worship and local religions, particularly those of the region where Lao-Tzu lived or traveled to
The ancestral cult was very important in China at that time and it was perceived as something that the people of the day had forgotten. Lao-Tzu and the Tao Te Ching may have been influenced by ancestral worship and local gods and goddesses.
Step 5. Research Chinese culture
Taoism is completely against culture and civilization instead of believing that people should cultivate a simple and ascetic lifestyle in tune with nature and the universe, which is naturally harmonious (perhaps working towards a goal). To understand why the Tao Te Ching is anti-civilization, you must know what Chinese civilization was like at that time, in particular you must know about the immorality of certain groups such as the elite and, worst of all, the tax collectors, which is a clear sign of civilization.
Step 6. Build a library with books on Taoism, Confucianism, Legalism, Moism, Absolutism, Chinese civilization, Chinese culture, ancestral worship and local gods, the six kingdoms at war, and finally Lao-Tzu himself
Make sure you have a variety of books on each topic and that you have access to well-crafted opinions and many different points of view.
- It is best if the books are written by reputable people, such as professors of Chinese religions or renowned historians. However, be sure to buy books from Chinese and foreign teachers dealing with these topics (for example, British or German teachers), as doing so will give you both an internal and external opinion.
- It is preferable that most of your books are not written by Chinese teachers (only a few) as the Chinese government tried to suppress Taoism. Chinese teachers could have been under such pressure that they had to write defamatory things about Taoism, which is often seen as very sexual and liberal, even by Western standards.
Step 7. Learn from other people who were inspired by the Tao Te Ching
Many artists, poets, authors, calligraphers, and gardeners received inspiration from the Tao Te Ching. Their interpretations could inform your own understanding.
Step 8. Spend time reading the Tao Te Ching
As you read it, write down your questions, thoughts, and impressions in a journal. Check back on your notes regularly so that you keep trying to work out your own ideas of the meanings of the text.
- Keep in mind that the style of the Tao Te Ching is poetic and that the ideas are unique. The Tao Te Ching deliberately encourages contradictory interpretations through the use of vague and ambiguous words.
- Your interpretations and understandings of the Tao Te Ching may change over time. There is no correct way to interpret it, and no reader can claim to have the advantage of understanding its "real essence." Perhaps its ambiguity is its real beauty, which will allow you to reevaluate yourself through different stages of life.
- You may also like to explore the links between Taoism and Buddhism.
- The Tao Te Ching is also written as Dao De Jing.
- It is okay to admire the Tao Te Ching as a series of beautiful poems that could simply point to a way of being relaxed, balanced, as well as enjoying life and avoiding suffering. The Tao Te Ching is only complicated if you decide to make it so. The whole point of the book is to strive to be natural, to exist in the moment, and to live well: morally, joyfully, and to benefit yourself as well as others.
- You can determine whether a book is by a Chinese or foreign professor by reading the back of the book or the inside cover, parts of which will usually indicate the name (a resounding gift) and the university (another gift).
- The themes in the Tao Te Ching are:
- the mysterious woman;
- the eternal return;
- the vacuum;
- knowledge and humility.