What is the Tao Te Ching?
The Tao Te Ching is an ancient text of legendary wisdom written by Lao Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher and founder of philosophical Taoism.
Dating back to the 6th century BC, the Tao Te Ching contains 81 short chapters and is often considered to be one of the most important pieces of wisdom ever written.
Most translations agree that the title’s meaning should be translated as “The Classic Way” or “The Way,” but it is also commonly referred to as “The Book of Life” or “The Way of Virtue.”
The wisdom of the Tao Te Ching has been translated into hundreds of varying interpretations, but at its core, it presents us with themes and ideas that challenge how we see ourselves and the world around us.
Each chapter offers a different perspective on life, as well as timeless tips that are relevant even today,
Here are 7 tips for incorporating the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching in your life today:
1. Slow down and allow life to unfold in perfect timing
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” – Lao Tzu
Often in our lives, we are constantly rushing and trying to force things to happen at a faster pace, because we are taught to believe that this is the mark of a true successful achiever.
However, Lao Tzu urges us to remember that, “Rushing into action, you fail. By forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.” In other words, everything in this world and in our lives happens in its own correct time and hurrying things along can actually do more harm than good.
He urges us to savor the journey without constantly forcing movement and seeking instant gratification. Although a seed won’t grow into a tree overnight, we never need to worry that the end goal will be accomplished at the right time.
2. Empty your mind of unnecessary thoughts in order to experience true inner peace
“Renounce ceaseless thinking and your problems will end.”– Lao Tzu
We all want to achieve the “perfect” life and in doing so, spend endless time and energy searching for the ultimate relationship or chasing the dream job. However, once we achieve these things, we’re often disappointed when the satisfaction doesn’t last and we end up constantly worrying about maintaining these accomplishments.
This is because the more things we have, the more we ultimately have to worry about. In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu urges us to “empty ourselves” of unnecessary thoughts and desires by recognizing that most of our problems exist only in our minds.
By letting go of our mental tendency to cling to thoughts and possessions, we can experience a much more peaceful life. Lao Tzu explains that by allowing thoughts to come and go freely, we will no longer be swept away and controlled by them.
3. Allow life to happen without always trying to control it
“When you realise there is nothing lacking,” Lao Tzu says, “the whole world belongs to you. When you realise you have enough, you are truly rich.”– Lao Tzu
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu recognizes that, “The Tao does nothing, but nothing is left undone.” In other words, there is a magical intelligence behind life that unfolds naturally without any interference needed from us. Life simply ‘lives’ itself the same way the river always reaches the sea.
Lao Tzu urges us to recognize this natural cause and effect pattern in life and to let go of our obsession of constantly trying to control situations and shape life into the way we think it should be, rather than the way it actually is.
Often referred to as the “terrible burden of human beings,” this obsession with always trying to make life “work” and control reality is unnecessary and causes great suffering, according to Lao Tzu. Try to relax and just let life happen.
4. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today
“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”- Lao Tzu
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu recognizes our tendencies towards self doubt and procrastination. We are all guilty of finding any number of reasons not to begin today, whether it’s not having the right amount of money, time, resources, or confidence in our abilities.
Self-doubt can truly be our biggest enemy when it comes to getting started and sticking with a goal or project until completion. Often using nature to portray his teachings, Lao Tzu points out that “an ant on the move does more than a dozing ox.”
What he means by this is that taking small steps towards your goals today is far greater than putting off bigger efforts until later on. Once we take that single step towards beginning, the rest will fall into place.
5. Recognize how little we know in comparison to how much there is to know
“To tamper with it is to spoil it”; “To grasp it is to lose it.” – Lao Tzu
We all see the world through our own personal lenses and often forget that our version of the world is only a very small part of the larger picture.
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu addresses human ignorance and reluctance to accept the fact that there is actually much more that we don’t know in comparison to what we do know at any given moment. It’s natural for us to use our personal experiences to view life as how we think it should be rather the reality of how it actually is.
Lao Tzu urges us to become more open-minded in this way and to accept that when it comes to the inner workings of the Universe, we as humans only see a very small part of the entire picture. None of us really knows enough to be absolutely sure of anything.
6. You are so much more than you think you are.
“To see things in the seed, that is genius.” – Lao Tzu
In his teachings, Lao Tzu wants us to understand the incredible potential living within each and every one of us. Using nature as a metaphor, he explains that we should see potential within ourselves the same way that we would see an entire oak tree inside of a single acorn seed. The potential is there all along.
We are often our own biggest critics and feel as if our efforts are not amounting to anything, nothing is happening, and things are moving along too slowly. Many times, this limiting belief is what leads to us give up on projects or goals that would otherwise have lead to great success and fulfillment in our lives.
Lao Tzu wants us all to remember that we are also the ‘entire oak tree inside of the seed’ and that the work you are putting in today leads to great potential in the future.
7. Embrace unexpected changes by being as flexible as water
“Like the tree, we have to bend with life. If we don’t, our own rigidity will break us.” – Lao Tzu
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu speaks often about the concept of nonresistance to life. In other words, he believed strongly in “going with the flow” and urges us to be as flexible and free-flowing as water bending around the rocks in a stream.
Much of our suffering is caused by our resistance to changes in life and in the reluctance to accept the non-permanence that is inevitably tied to our existence here on Earth. When we learn to flow with life without resisting it, we are better able to practice non-attachment and have faith in knowing that like water, we are always on a journey back to our source.
In this way, Lao Tzu reminds us that no storm lasts forever and teaches us that the flexible will always outlive the rigid.
How do you live the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching in your life?