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What Is the Tao?

The Valley Spirit, one expression of the Tao

The Tao is the underlying nature of everything. The ideogram (道) shows a person floating with no resistance within the current of a watercourse way, such as a river. This ideograms is illustrating that the Tao is a process of following the natural flow of things. It precedes even Heaven and Earth, and is the source of everything, and everything has its Tao. Nature follows its Tao, and so should humanity as a whole, and each individual.

The “Universal Tao” is also called the “Great,” “Perfect,” “Constant,” “Cosmic,” or “True Tao.” Whatever its name, it refers to the source of everything existent and nonexist­ent—the one constant behind all duality of yin and yang. Yin and yang are considered the active and passive principles of the universe, defined by dualities such as male and female, black and white, and so on. From the interactions between yin and yang come the 10,000 things, or all phenomena.

The Tao does not have a consciousness, design, plan, or will, neither was it created by a divine being. The Tao is in everyone, but we have clouded it through false thinking and perplexities, and so have forgotten it. Once we glimpse the Tao and recall what we have lost, we can then return to the Source (Tao).

This Divine Current [Tao] is above time, space, and ‘existence’ itself but It fills, guides and nourishes the Universe according to Its own laws. It is Infinite Love, Infinite Wisdom, and Infinite Simplicity and contains infinite potentialities. It is beyond the attributes known to the human mind and therefore, Its nature is beyond all comprehension.

Laotse [Lao Zi] called it Tao, a word which he himself admitted, he chose for convenience sake. That of which he wrote has no name, being infinite and indescribable in earthly language.… The word ‘Tao’ means ‘Way’ or ‘Road’ and it conveys a more sublime idea to the mystic who can thus imagine the Divine Spirit as a majestic road along which the world and our lives are moving.

Being a profound mystic and a shrewd observer of nature and men, Laotse evolved during his long life a definite concept of the laws according to which the Divine Tao acts in the world. He found out, undoubtedly from personal experience, that if man follows closely these laws, he would find wonderful comfort and happiness in his identification with the Divine and that the Gates of Nirvana, the ultimate bliss and a key in the meaning of life would be opened to him at the end of his peregrinations.

—Peter Goullart, The Monastery of Jade Mountain

The Tao is unknowable, vast, eternal. As undifferentiated void, pure spirit, it is the mother of the cosmos; as non-void, it is the container, the sustainer, and, in a sense, the being of the myriad objects, permeating all. As the goal of existence, it is the Way of Heaven, of Earth, of Man. No being, it is the source of Being, it is the source of Being. It is not conscious of activity, has no purpose, seeks no rewards or praise, yet performs all things to perfection. Like water, it wins its way by softness. Like a deep ravine, it’s shadowy rather than brilliant. As Lao-Zi taught, it is always best to leave things to the Tao, letting it take its natural course without interference; for, ‘the weakest thing in heaven and earth, it overcomes the strongest; proceeding from no place, it enters where there is no crack.…

Lao Zi tells us that ‘Tao’ (Way) is just a convenient term for what had best be called the Nameless. Nothing can be said of it that does not detract from its fullness. To say that it exists is to exclude what does not exist, although void is the very nature of Tao. To say that it does not exist is to exclude the Tao-permeated plenum. Away with dualistic categories. Words limit. The Tao is limitless. It is T’ai Hsu (the Great Void), free from characteristics, self-existent, undifferentiated, vast beyond conception, yet present in full in a tiny seed. It is also T’ai Chi (The Ultimate Cause, the Mainspring of the Cosmos). It is also T’ai I (The Great Changer), for its changes and convolutions never cease. Seen by man with his limited vision, it is also T’ien (Heaven), the source of governance and orderliness. It is the Mother of Heaven and Earth, without whose nourishment nothing could ever exist.

—John Blofeld, Taoism: The Road to Immortality

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