What is “Tao”?
The idea of Tao
Common dictionary translations of Tao include: road, path, way, means, doctrine. In the Tao Tee Ching, it is generally used to indicate the unseen, underlying law of the universe from which all other principles and phenomena proceed. It is described as unnamable, unfathomable and inexhaustible. Taoists attempt to be one with this principle.
Most of the Tao Te Ching describes the Tao and its manifestations so this is the best source for more detail. Since it cannot be understood on a merely intellectual level, it is best to feel the words in the Tao as well as understand them. Don’t forget that the Tao is a poem. It even rhymes in many parts in the original Chinese. This may have been to make it easy to remember for illiterate people and it may also have been to help us feelthe meaning rather than seek to intellectualize it.
The Chinese character ‘Tao’
You’ll see the original Chinese Character for Tao all over the book and all over Asia. This is it’s cursive, or artistic appearance.
Chinese Characters are actually pictures of their meanings. The meaning of the “Tao” character is clearer if you see it typed, like this:
It is made of two other characters: Go forward and Head
The idea is that your head chooses to a path to go forward on. For this reason it is often used in Asian philosophy to denote the path or way to clarity.
In China, (Tao) is pronounced “dow”, as in Dow Jones Index and “doe” in Japanese. You have probably heard of it already in words like :
Judo – “soft way”
Kendo – “sword way”
Karate – do – “empty hand way”