Study Guide

Tao Te Ching Chapter 1

By Lao Tzu

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Chapter 1

  • First, we're told that the Tao that can be named isn't actually the eternal Tao. (Huh, what is it then?)
  • The eternal Tao is actually the nameless origin of everything there is. It's the place where Heaven, Earth, and all that good stuff came from.
  • The named Tao is the "mother of myriad things," which you might interpret to mean all the different stuff that eventually came to physically exist in the Universe—which is a lot of stuff (1.4).
  • Next, we dip into ideas about desire vs. lack of desire.
  • According to the TTC (as we'll loving refer to the Tao Te Ching from here on out), lack of desire allows us to see the "essence" of the Tao, while desire lets us see its "manifestations" (1.5-6).
  • Mega-Taoist scholars might disagree, but we're gonna go out on a limb and say that "essence" means the spirit of the Universe and "manifestations" refers to everything that physically exists.
  • Even though the Tao's essence and manifestations are different, they are still unified, and that, dear Shmoopers, is "the door to all wonders," which could be oneness with the Tao (or the front door of your local Pinkberry) (1.9).

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