Tao or Dao (/taʊ/, /daʊ/; Chinese: 道; pinyin: Dào (help·info)) is a Chinese concept signifying ‘way’, ‘path’, ‘route’, or sometimes more loosely, ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’. Within the context of traditional Chinese philosophy and religion, The Tao is the intuitive knowing of “life” that of which cannot be grasped full-heartedly as just a concept but known nonetheless through actual living experience of one’s everyday being.
Cosmologically, Tao signifies the primordial essence or fundamental nature of the Universe. In the oldest surviving text of Taoism, theTao Te Ching, Laozi explains that Tao is not a ‘name’ for a ‘thing’ but the underlying natural order of the Universe whose ultimate essence is difficult to circumscribe due to it being non conceptual yet evident in one’s being of aliveness. The Tao is “eternally nameless” (Dao De Jing-32. Laozi) and to be distinguished from the countless ‘named’ things which are considered to be its manifestations, the reality of life before its descriptions of it.
The concept of Tao differs from conventional (western) ontology: it is an active and holistic conception of Nature, rather than a static, atomistic one. It is worth comparing to the original Logos of Heraclitus, c. 500 BC. The teachings began from Laozi that gave rise to a religion (Wade–Giles, Tao Chiao; Pinyin, Daojiao) and philosophy (Wade–Giles, Tao chia; Pinyin, Daojia) referred to in English with the single term Taoism.
The word “Dao” (道) has a variety of meanings in both ancient and modern Chinese language. Aside from its purely prosaic use to mean road, channel, path, doctrine, or similar, the word has acquired a variety of differing and often confusing metaphorical, philosophical and religious uses. In most belief systems, Dao is used symbolically in its sense of ‘way’ as the ‘right’ or ‘proper’ way of existence, or in the context of ongoing practices of attainment or of the full coming into being, or the state of enlightenment or spiritual perfection that is the outcome of such practices.
Some scholars make sharp distinctions between moral or ethical usage of the word Dao that is prominent in Confucianism and religious Daoism and the more metaphysical usage of the term used in philosophical Daoism and most forms of Mahayana Buddhism; others maintain that these are not separate usages or meanings, seeing them as mutually inclusive and compatible approaches to defining the concept. The original use of the term was as a form of praxis rather than theory – a term used as a convention to refer to something that otherwise cannot be discussed in words – and early writings such as the Dao De Jing and the I Ching make pains to distinguish between conceptions of Dao (sometimes referred to as “named Dao”) and the Dao itself (the “unnamed Dao”), which cannot be expressed or understood in language. Liu Da asserts that Dao is properly understood as an experiential and evolving concept, and that there are not only cultural and religious differences in the interpretation of Dao, but personal differences that reflect the character of individual practitioners.
Dao can be roughly thought of as the flow of the Universe, or as some essence or pattern behind the natural world that keeps the Universe balanced and ordered. It is related to the idea of qi, the essential energy of action and existence. Dao is a non-dual concept – it is the greater whole from which all the individual elements of the Universe derive. Keller considers it similar to the negative theology of Western scholars, but Dao is rarely an object of direct worship, being treated more like the Hindu concepts of karma or dharma than as a divine object. Dao is more commonly expressed in the relationship between wu (void or emptiness, in the sense ofwuji) and yinyang (the natural dynamic balance between opposites), leading to its central principle of wu wei (non-action, or action without force).
Noted Christian author C.S. Lewis used the word Tao to describe “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, the kind of thing the Universe is and the kind of things we are.” He asserted that every religion and philosophy contains foundations of universal ethics as an attempt to line up with the Tao—the way mankind was designed to be. In Lewis’ thinking, God created the Tao and fully displayed it through the person of Jesus Christ. Christianity, then, would be the path that lines human beings up with the Tao most effectively.
Also the Greek word used in N.T. for the Way is ὁδός (hodos). Here the Way refers to the path of righteousness and salvation as revealed through Christ.
In Chinese translations of the New Testament, λόγος (logos) is translated with the Chinese word dao (道) (e.g. John 1:1), indicating that the translators considered the concept of Tao to be somewhat equivalent to logos in Greek philosophy.
Dao is written with the Chinese character 道 in both Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. It typifies the most common Chinese character classification of “radical-phonetic” or “phono-semantic” graphs, which compound a “radical” or “signific” (roughly providingsemantic information) with a “phonetic” (suggesting ancient pronunciation).
Dao 道 graphically combines the chuo 辶 (or 辵) “go” radical and shou 首 “head” phonetic. Furthermore, dao 道 is the phonetic element indao 導 “guide; lead” (with the cun 寸 “thumb; hand” radical) and dao 檤 “a tree name” (with the mu 木 “tree; wood” radical).
The traditional interpretation of the 道 character, dating back to the (121 CE) Shuowen Jiezi dictionary, was a rare huiyi 會意 “compound ideogram” or “ideogrammic compound“. The combination of chuo 辶 “go” and shou 首 “head” (numbers 162 and 185 in the Kangxi radicals) signified a “head going” or “to lead the way”.
Dao is graphically distinguished between its earliest nominal meaning of dao 道 “way; road; path;” and the later verbal sense of “say”. It should also be contrasted with dao 導 “lead the way; guide; conduct; direct; “. The Simplified character 导 for dao 導 has si 巳 “6th of the 12 Earthly Branches” in place of dao 道.
The earliest written forms of dao are bronzeware script and seal script characters from Zhou Dynasty (1045–256 BCE) bronzes and writings. These ancient dao characters more clearly depict the shou 首 “head” element as hair above a face. Some variants interchange the chuo 辵 “go; advance” radical with the xing 行 “go; road” radical, with the original bronze “crossroads” depiction written in the seal character with two 彳 and 亍 “footprints”.
Yu the Great (Chinese: 大禹; pinyin: Dà Yǔ, c. 2200 – 2100 BC) was a legendary ruler in ancient China famed for his introduction of flood control, inaugurating dynastic rule in China by founding the Xia Dynasty, and for his upright moral character.
The dates proposed for Yu’s reign precede the oldest known written records in China, the oracle bones of the late Shang dynasty, by nearly a millennium. No inscriptions on artifacts from the supposed era of Yu, nor the later oracle bones, make any mention of Yu; he does not appear in inscription until vessels dating to the Western Zhou period (c. 1045–771 BC). The lack of anything remotely close to contemporary documentary evidence has led to some controversy over the historicity of Yu. Proponents of the historicity of Yu theorise that stories about his life and reign were transmitted orally in various areas of China until they were recorded in the Zhou dynasty, while opponents believe the figure existed in legend in a different form – as a god or mythical animal – in the Xia dynasty, and morphed into a human figure by the start of the Zhou dynasty. Many of the stories about Yu were collected in Sima Qian‘s famous Records of the Grand Historian. Yu and other “sage-kings” of Ancient China were lauded for their virtues and morals byConfucius and other Chinese teachers.