Lao Tzu, 18th Century French Print
About the author…
Lao Tzu (6th. cent. B.C.), according to Chinese legend, was an imperial court keeper of the archives. As an old man, discouraged with honesty of those around him, he left to go to the mountains of Tibet but was accosted at Kwan Yin (Hank Pass) by the guard Yin Hsi at the western border of China. The guard demanded that Lao Tzu present his teachings before he could pass. Puportedly, at that time, Lao Tzu composed the eighty-one verses of the Tao Te Ching.
About the work…
The name Tao Te Ching can be translated as "classic of the way and power of excellence." The Tao Te Ching expresses the harmony and simplicity of natural action; in point of fact, the scripture expresses the doctrine of not striving purposely—a kind of non-action or wu-wei. The goal of life is for each person to be one with Tao, the underlying source of the unity of nature.
Although some parts of the Tao Te Ching might have been written in the 6th century, probably most of the scriptual-text dates from around the 3rd century B.C.
What are the two aspects of the Mystery described in Chapter 1?
Explain the doctine of wu-wei or non-action.
What is meant by the assertion that "The highest excellence is like (that of) water." Provide examples with your explanation.
What is meant by leaving a vessel unfilled? Why should "a vessel" be left unfilled? How is it that emptyness is useful?
What are some of the moral qualities of the sage?
Describe of what the happiness of attaining to the Tao consists.
Explain what it means to "hide the light of [your] procedure" or to leave no traces. Is this notion a kind of ecological behavior?
If the Tao does nothing for the sake of doing it, then how is it that there is noting it does not do.?
Discuss whether the movement of Tao is by contrarties or by contradictories. Try to ascertain why this would be so.
What are the relations between Tao and individual contentment or societal peace?
Discuss the possibility of "doing nothing" on purpose? How does this trick of language give insight into "the Way" for excellence? Moreover, how is it in such a life, "the tiger [finds no] place in which to fix its paws"?
How are gentleness, economy, and modesty in accord with Tao?
Lao Tzu. The Tao Te Ching. Trans. James Legge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1891.