Tao or Dao (//, //; 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, Tao is a metaphysical concept originating with 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 concept of Tao was shared with Confucianism, Chán and Zen Buddhism and more broadly throughout East Asian philosophy and religion in general. Within these contexts Tao signifies the primordial essence or fundamental nature of the universe. In the foundational text of Taoism, the Tao 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. Tao is thus "eternally nameless” (Dao De Jing-32. Laozi) and to be distinguished from the countless 'named' things which are considered to be its manifestations.
In Taoism, Chinese Buddhism and Confucianism, the object of spiritual practice is to 'become one with the tao' (Tao Te Ching) or to harmonise one's will with Nature (cf. Stoicism) in order to achieve 'effortless action' (Wu wei). This involves meditative and moral practices. Important in this respect is the Taoist concept of De (德; virtue).
Tao - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: In all its uses, Tao is considered to have ineffable qualities that prevent it from being defined or expressed in words. It can, however, be known or experienced, and its principles (which can be discerned by observing Nature) can be followed or practiced. Much of East Asian philosophical writing focuses on the value of adhering to the principles of Tao and the various consequences of failing to do so. In Confucianism and religious forms of Taoism, these are often explicitly moral/ethical arguments about proper behavior, while Buddhism and more philosophical forms of Taoism usually refer to the natural and mercurial outcomes of action (comparable to karma). Tao is intrinsically related to the concepts yin and yang (pinyin: yīnyáng), where every action creates counter-actions as unavoidable movements within manifestations of the Tao, and proper practice variously involves accepting, conforming to, or working with these natural developments.
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
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 of wuji) and yinyang (the natural dynamic balance between opposites), leading to its central principle of wu wei (non-action, or action without force).
Dao is usually described in terms of elements of nature, and in particular as similar to water. Like water it is undifferentiated, endlessly self-replenishing, soft and quiet but immensely powerful, and impassively generous. Much of Daoist philosophy centers on the cyclical continuity of the natural world, and its contrast to the linear, goal-oriented actions of human beings.
De (德 "power; virtue; integrity") is the term generally used to refer to proper adherence to Dao; De is the active living or cultivation of the way.
Historically, the concept of De differed significantly between Daoists and Confucianists. Confucianism was largely a moral system emphasizing the values of humaneness, righteousness, and filial duty, and so conceived De in terms of obedience to rigorously defined and codified social rules. Daoists took a broader, more naturalistic/metaphysical view on the relationship between humankind and the universe, and considered social rules to be at best a derivative reflection of the natural and spontaneous interactions between people, and at worst calcified structure that inhibited naturalness and created conflict. This led to some philosophical and political conflicts between Daoists and Confucianists.
Alternatively, philosophical Daoism regards the Dao as a non-religious concept; it is not a deity to be worshiped, nor is it a mystical Absolute in the religious sense of the Hindu Brahman. Joseph Wu remarked of this conception of Dao, "Dao is not religiously available; nor is it even religiously relevant." The writings of Lao Tzu and Chang Tzu are tinged with esoteric tones and approach humanism and naturalism as paradoxes. In contrast to the esotericism typically found in religious systems, the Dao is not transcendent to the self nor is mystical attainment an escape from the world in philosophical Daoism. The self steeped in Dao is the self grounded in its place within the natural universe. A person dwelling within the Dao excels in themselves and their activities.