The Tao of the Tao Te Ching is about as awesome and amazing as something can possibly be. To Taoists, the Tao is everything: the stuff in your room, the cars in the street, the squirrels in the trees, the ocean, the whole friggin' Universe. The Tao is you, us, and everyone who's ever lived, is living, or will live. The Tao is the mother of everything that was, is, and will be.
As if that's not enough, the Tao is not only being, it's also non-being. It's everything that exists and everything that doesn't exist. Ultimately, the Tao is the great flow that puts everything together and takes it back apart. Kind of makes your brain hurt, right? That's what being awesome and amazing is all about.
The idea of the Tao is compatible with every other religion; it even works for atheists.
The existence of the Tao is supported by modern-day science, in particular astrophysics.
If the Tao Te Ching could only say one thing, it might be something like, "Yo, get over yourself." Well, it would probably say it more eloquently than that… which it does over and over again throughout this ancient Chinese text.
One of the TTC's main messages is that we have to eliminate the self before we can truly become one with the Tao, a.k.a. the great big flow of everything that is. By being humble and not going around talking about how great we are, we ultimately join something far greater than we can understand.
The Tao nurtures all things without bragging; if we follow its example of humility, then we will live fuller and more peaceful lives.
The Tao Te Ching is totally wrong about humility being a good thing; if you do something well, what's wrong with talking about it?
You're probably saying, "Isn't all of Taoism a philosophical viewpoint?" Here's a nebulous answer (a shocker, we know: the Tao Te Ching is normally so cut and dried!): yes and no.
The idea of wu wei is one of the key concepts of the Tao Te Ching, and it's such a slippery concept that no other theme can quite contain it. It's been translated a bunch of different ways over the years as Westerners struggle to understand it. Unattached action, the action of non-action, effortless action—all these terms have been slapped onto the wu wei.
Basically (and we mean basic), when a Taoist achieves wu wei, s/he is at one with the flow of the Tao and can succeed in life without ripping his or her hair out over outcomes.
Sometimes the wu wei is used as an excuse for sheer laziness, but that's not what it's about.
In the same way that the Tao achieves everything without effort, so too can we achieve everything through the wu wei.
The Tao Te Ching teaches that being super judge-y of everybody else is a terrible way to go through life. The great Tao nurtures everything there is, whether it's a bad thing or a good thing. So we all ought take a cue from the Tao on this one.
Some rude dude might call you a dirty name. The TTC would tell you to learn from his mistakes rather than insult him back. And if you see him on the side of the road with smoke coming out from under his hood, you're going to do way more good for yourself and the world if you give him a ride to the gas station than if you roll down the window and yell, "See ya, sucker!" as you drive past.
The Tao Te Ching advises that being generous with others is the ultimate gain.
By not judging everyone we meet, we can understand more about humanity as a whole and learn new ways to help others.
To the Tao Te Ching, greediness definitely falls on the dark side of the Force. (See: Emperor Palpatine.) Taoism is all about getting over yourself and being humble, so the idea of packing your bank account with cash and cramming your house with expensive stuff just doesn't fit into the Taoist mindset.
The TTC points out that there's totally no point in lusting after material possessions because 1) you're just setting yourself up for loss, 2) you make yourself a target for theft, and 3) eventually everything fades—you, your stuff, etc.—so what's the point in placing value in material things?
It's idealistic to think that human beings will ever stop valuing things that are hard to find; wanting what we can't have is fundamental to our nature.
The Tao Te Ching is right to condemn greediness since greed is the cause of almost every problem we have in society.
The Tao Te Ching comes down hard on warfare, basically saying that war is awful and ultimately pointless since it only causes more war down the line. We can also take all of the TTC's anti-war stuff and apply to our own lives.
The TTC will tell you that punching a dude in the face might feel good in the moment, but more than likely he's coming at you tomorrow with a two-by-four. All that said, it's a mistake to say that the Tao Te Ching is completely and totally pacifist. While it strongly advises against war, it's also chock-full of tips on how to win one.
While the Tao Te Ching advises against war, it also shows how the wu wei can be used to win them.
The Tao Te Ching contradicts itself when it advises against people having weapons, but later says that the people of a small country be well-armed.
The Tao Te Ching has tons of advice for all you rulers out there, the key point being that the more you try to control your people with force, the more they'll slip from your control. From the TTC's perspective, you'll actually be lucky if they slip from your control.
There's been more than one tyrannical dictator to get taken out in a bloody rebellion led by either dissatisfied civilians or another dictator-to-be. We can also use Tao Te Ching's advice in our own lives, even if we aren't the ruler of a country. How? Click on, dear Shmoopers, and all mysteries shall be revealed.
The Tao Te Ching is naive to think that any ruler can rule without using manipulation; a totally transparent government isn't actually good for the people.
The Tao Te Ching correctly points out the way in which stricter and stricter laws create crime and stifle a country's productivity.
Here's a little irony for you... even though the Tao Te Ching is considered by a ton of people to be one of the wisest books ever written, the book itself totally criticizes the wisdom of seeking wisdom. To the TTC, simplicity is the best way to find oneness with the Tao, and complex intellectualism is just a bunch of hooey that stands in the way of true enlightenment.
So maybe next time you don't bring your homework into class, you can tell your teacher that you were too busy finding oneness. Yes, that probably wouldn't work, but to a Taoist the pursuit of knowledge takes on a much different look than the way we usually think of it.
If everybody followed the Tao Te Ching's advice on seeking knowledge, our society would be backward and ignorant.
The Tao Te Ching is correct when it warns that over-intellectualizing can obscure the simple truths that are all around us.