Taoism > Basics

What is Tao?

The word "tao" is usually translated as "way", "road", "method", "technique" or "principle". As a concept, Tao is the most important topic in the philosophical Taoism (tao-chia).

In Tao-te ching, Tao is the name given by Lao-tzu to the Great Pervader or the Mother of all Things. Tao is the creator and sustainer of everything in the Universe. It is described as follows:

    There was something undefined and complete, coming into existence before Heaven and Earth... (Chapter 25, James Legge.)

The words "undefined" and "complete" mean that Tao is understood as the fundamental layer of the created universe that includes both things and beings (wan-wu).

It has no shape or anything that one can perceived as a material feature and this is why we can compare it rather to a spirit. It is complete because it misses nothing.

Tao is the model of conduct for the Taoist disciples and as such it is associated with wu-wei (nondoing) and wu (emptiness).

tao graph
The Chinese character for Tao is made of two images: head and foot, that is, walking. The ideas suggested are "conscious walking" or the way of ruling of the ancient sovereigns

The word "tao" refers further to the special skills of people such as: a good archer, musician, painter and even butcher. The skill itself was called a "tao".

Finally, the Tao concept may be found at Confucians too. In this case it points to the art of ruling of the ancient Chinese emperors taken as models of virtue and humanism.


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