Meaning of TAO-TE CHING in English

(ChineseClassic of the Way of Power) classic of Chinese philosophical literature. The name was first used during the Han dynasty (206 BCAD 220); it had previously been called Lao-tzu in the belief that it was written by Lao-tzu, identified by Ssu-ma Ch'ien, China's first great historian, as a 6th-century-BC curator of the Imperial Chinese archives. Lao-tzu, however, is better known as the reputed founder of Taoism, a way of life (Chinese Tao, Way) that, among many competing Ways, alone became known as the Tao school, or Taoism. The long tradition that Lao-tzu was the author of the Tao-te Ching was so badly shaken in the 19th century that some scholars even questioned the historical existence of the sage. The problem of authorship is still unresolved. The Tao-te Ching, moreover, contains no references to other writings, persons, events, or places that might provide a clue for dating the composition. Scholarly opinions consequently range between the 8th and 3rd centuries BC. The Tao-te Ching presented a way of life intended to restore harmony and tranquillity to a kingdom racked by widespread disorders. It was critical of the unbridled wantonness of self-seeking rulers and was disdainful of social activism based on the type of abstract moralism and mechanical propriety characteristic of Confucian ethics. The Tao of the Tao-te Ching has received a wide variety of interpretations because of its elusiveness and mystical overtones and has been a basic concept in both philosophy and religion. In essence it consists of nonaction (wu-wei), understood as no unnatural action, rather than complete passivity. It implies spontaneity, noninterference, letting things take their natural course: Do nothing and everything is done. Chaos ceases, quarrels end, and self-righteous feuding disappears because the Tao is allowed to flow unchallenged and unchallenging. Everything that is comes from the inexhaustible, effortless, invisible, and inaudible Way, which existed before Heaven and Earth. By instilling in the populace the principle of Tao, the ruler precludes all cause for complaint and presides over a kingdom of great tranquillity. The popularity of the Tao-te Ching is reflected in the vast number of commentaries that have been written: over 350 have been preserved in Chinese, about 250 in Japanese. Since 1900 more than 40 translations have appeared in English.

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