‘Lao-tzu Riding an Ox’ (Part) – Chen Hongshou – Wikimedia
“The Sage attends to the inner
and not to the outer;
he puts away the objective
and holds to the subjective.”
~ Tao Te King (trans. Lionel Giles)
The Tao Te Ching is an ancient treatise and one of the most widely translated work in world literature. Its philosophical influence was major in the civilisation of China, colouring other religious currents like Buddhism, and becoming a guiding light for millions of people, including countless thinkers, artists, and poets — even political movements. It was allegedly composed between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, and has been traditionally ascribed to the sage Lao Tzu, which literally means ‘Old Master’. There is doubt among scholars that Lao Tzu is a historical figure, and not a semi-legendary one, but he is nevertheless a key figure in Chinese culture and history, being both the founder of Taoism and one of its deities.
The Tao Te Ching is a fairly short text of 5000 chinese characters, divided in 81 chapters. Written in Classical Chinese, it is linguistically complex and is a challenge for translators. Tao is a central word and concept in East Asian philosophy, which means ‘way’ or ‘path’. It is understood as being a principle that is eternally present and is described as being the natural order of the universe, empty and hidden, ‘nameless and unchanging’, yet the ‘source of all things’ and the giver of excellence and virtue.
“Tao is like an empty container:
it can never be emptied and can never be filled.
Infinitely deep, it is the source of all things.
It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than the concept of God.”
~ Tao Te Ching (trans. J. H. McDonald)