Dao De Jing

Dao De Jing – Laozi

Dao De Jing

Recently I was reminded of an exquisite collection of Classical Chinese texts; the Dao De Jing, widely attributed to the 6th century sage, Laozi (aka: Old Master).

Just a note; this book is also translated as the Tao Te Ching and the author’s name varies between Laozi, Lao Tze, Lao Tse or Lao Tsu. There are many who debate its origin and age, with the dating of the oldest portion of excavated text being only 4th Century BC. Further, some believe that the Old Master isn’t a single person, that it is the name given to sages, (it translates to Old Master), so it could have been an earlier sage who actually first contemplated the Dao De Jing, or the book (Jing) of the virtuous (De) way (Dao), passing the concept through the ages via teachings.

Laozi Lao Tse

Chinese Sage Laozi

The Dao De Jing consists of 81 chapters, the oldest found being inked onto thin bamboo strips, bound with silken threads. It records the Old Master’s Doaist, (or Taoist), philosophies on the mystical wisdom of all existence.

We 21st Century people tend to brazenly believe that seeking an innate wisdom is a ‘New Age’ concept; whether we call it Universal Mind, Divine Power, Religious Belief, Great Spirit, Higher Consciousness, Mother Nature, Metaphysics, Inner Wisdom or any other reference to an unknown force or source. The existence of books and texts such as the Dao demonstrates that we humans have always cleaved to a belief in something bigger than us; in a divine wisdom that we are allowed only a glimpse of.

Tao Te Ching

The 81 chapters of the Dao De Jing are scribed in just 5000 Chinese characters. The style of writing is poetic. The texts have been translated many hundreds of times by scholars across the globe. As Ancient Chinese has no punctuation, the translations are subjective; they are the personal interpretation of each translator and as such, they all differ.

It is worth reading and comparing a few versions of a chapter to see which version resonates with you. Reading and meditating on a single chapter at a time to ponder the words and attain deeper understanding is a great idea. However, the Dao De Jing is short enough to binge read over a few hours, marking those chapters you want to revisit later.

Finding your centre and balance to achieve enlightenment is the theme of the texts. The Dao De Jing accepts that there are extremes of thought and extremes of existence. It tells us that the Way, or Dao, to enlightenment is at the centre point between extremes; the point at which something is itself, it is also its opposite and it is nothing at all while still being everything. (Mind. Blown).

I’m a visual person so I often have to think through complex concepts in pictures, here’s how I visually conceive the concept of balance and being centred as described in the Dao De Jing:

Think of a wide, deep, half globe bowl. All around the inner rim of the globe are inscriptions of pairs, scribed at opposing points; yin, yang; light, dark; sad, happy, angry, placid; good, bad, etc. Take a large, heavy glass marble and place it on the point which says yin – release the marble. The marble speeds down the curved edge of the bowl, travelling through the centre point, momentum encouraging the ball of glass to travel up the opposing side of the bowl towards the point of yang. As it runs out of energy, the glass ball falls back down the bowl, gaining more energy from gravity to help it roll back up the other side towards yin, not quite reaching as high. The marble continues its pendulous swing between yin and yang until it completely runs out of energy and comes to rest at the very centre point of the bowl. That point is the Doa, or the Way, to enlightenment.

4th century BC silk manuscript
Dao De Jing ink on silk manuscript dated 4th C. BC

A daily life is full of a myriad of thoughts and whatever energy is given to a thought will force your mind out of balance, away from the centre. We have between 60,000 to 90,000 thoughts a day, so getting yourself to the point of being centred is a task in itself!

Day to day, our thoughts will oscillate around, (imagine giving that marble in the bowl some energy by giving it a spin). The marble will orbit between opposing points and through the centre point, all the time being given an extra boost of energy via your little spins, the marble never resting. That’s how our thoughts flow through our conscious, in, out, round and around. Every time we overthink or focus on a particular thought it is akin to giving the bowl an extra spin of energy in the direction of the extremes around the rim. The more energy you give a thought, the more out of centre you become.

But if you can stop giving energy to thoughts, allow them to flow in perfect transience through your mind, paying  no special attention to any one thought, the mind quietens. When the mind is quiet and thoughts flow without notice, balance is restored and you are perfectly centred to reach the point where enlightenment is possible.

There is much to learn from the Dao De Jing, the philosophies are as relevant today as they were in ancient times. An understanding of human existence is an age old need.

My favourite chapter, Chapter 16, talks of silencing the mind away from the chaos of life to attain stillness. Life is always moving, changing. New things are born, grow and die. Chapter 16 affirms to us that the Dao, (the Way), to enlightenment presents itself when we occupy the space between everything and nothing; where opposites meet & they become both and neither. It is here that we ascend the chaos of human existence and experience enlightenment; eternal consciousness, an enduring place somewhere beyond space and time where we never have to fear death, neither do we have to fear living our best life.


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