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What is the Tao and the Tao te Ching?




The Story-Telling, Game Theorist, Troubleshooter and Taoist Problem-Solver


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Q. What is  “Tao”. It seems to be connected to spirituality but is also common in pop culture.

A. It is ancient but it was first commonly used in a book called the Tao te Ching – a book with many important  insights. 

The Tao Te Ching also known by its pinyin romanization Dao De Jing, is a Chinese classic text consisting of 81 poems or entries. The work is traditionally credited to the 6th-century BC sage Lao Tzu. The text’s authorship, date of composition and date of compilation are debated. The oldest excavated portion dates back to the late 4th century BC, but modern scholarship dates other parts of the text as having been written—or at least compiled—later than the earliest portions of the Zhuangzi.


The Tao Te Ching, along with the Chuang Tzu, is a fundamental text for both mystic philosophical and religious Taoism. It also strongly influenced other schools of Asian philosophy and religion, including Chinese Legalism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, including Zen Buddhism in Japan. Many elements of Chinese culture were largely interpreted through the use of Taoist words and concepts when it was originally introduced to China. Many Chinese artists, including poets, painters, calligraphers, meditation teachers, and gardeners, have used the Tao Te Ching as a source of inspiration. Its influence has spread widely outside East Asia and it is among the most translated works in world literature.


There have been many English translations produced over the past few centuries. One of the most accurate translations was a version edited as a meta-analysis by myself and published in 2016 as “The Tao te Ching: A Meta-analysis of Lao Tzu’s Classic Work”. The process of editing this gender neutral precise edition began in 1972 and took me and my advisory team over forty-four years to complete.




Entry #15, for instance,  goes to the core of the concept of Trikaranasuddhi, a word in the Sanskrit language, indicates the purity and unity of (1) thought (2) word and (3) deed, or a congruence amongst the trio. This has also been referred to as the purity and harmony of thought, speech, and action in many of the great wisdom teachings. There has been exploration about the linkage between Trikaranasuddhi, the way of the sage, and effectiveness in leadership.  The spiritual lore of India speaks about the existence of this congruence in great people (“Mahatma”) through the expression “Manassekam, Vachassekam, Karmanyekam Mahaatmanam”. “thought, word, and deed”.


We can spend years trying to understand Tao. We can dissect it, analyze it, discuss it with scholars, and theologians. It is all a waste of time.


Tao is so deep as to elude human knowledge

and its comprehension is beyond intellectual thinking.


To is pure and provides the path for the serious seeker to also be pure in the most gently yielding way”. In ways that are

simple and unpretentious like wood that remains uncarved,

unshaped, and unsmoothed, hollow as a cave, and opaque as a pool of muddy water.


There is really nothing else to do but live patiently and clarity in the moment through thought, word, and deed. Who can do this?


Those who know Tao!


From a translation, and Meta-analysis, of the Tao te Ching by Lewis Harrison





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