What is the “Tao” after which the spiritual tradition of Taoism is named?


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Tao: the pathless Way

Although there are hundreds of deities in the Daoist pantheon – with Tai-shang Lao-chun (the deified Lao Tzu) at the top – Daoism’s ultimate principle, named as Dao (pinyin transliteration) or Tao (Wade-Giles transliteration), is decidedly non-theistic, pointing to a realm beyond any specific form.

The literal translation of Dao is “way” or, more loosely, “path.” It is commonly associated with a path of simplicity, quietude and harmony (with the natural world in particular, but also with social/political institutions – either via being in accordance with or by withdrawing from them). Being a man or woman “of the Dao” means being in attunement to cycles of change; being consciously aware of ones place within the web of inter-dependency which is the manifest world; and of acting in this world via the principles of wuwei – non-volitional living.

In terms of Daoist cosmology, Dao is the realm that is the source of all manifestation (the “10,000 things”), though itself is transcendent of any particular “thing.” To have experiential access, in a stable and continuous way, the the Tao, is to be an Immortal (a Buddha or Awakened One).

What “Dao” points to is the same as what “Buddha” (or Buddha-nature, or Dharmakaya, or Primordial Wisdom) points to in Buddhism; what “God” points to in Christianity; what “Self” (or Pure Consciousness) points to in Advaita Vedanta; what “Brahman” points to in Hinduism; and what “Allah” points to in Islam and Sufism.

In contemporary usage, to say “the Tao of {insert here pretty much anything you like: physics, golfing, tea, Pooh}” tends to imply a way of “doing” that is infused with something beyond our usual conceptual/egoic patterns – a source of greater power, ease or inspiration. It is being “in the groove” or “in the zone” – a conduit for spiritual energy.

Wei Wu Wei, one of the most profound and innovative 20th-century interpreters of Daoism and Buddhism, has this to say about Tao (in his amazing little book, published by Hong Kong University Press, “All Else Is Bondage”):

“Tao, the pathless Way, has a gateless Gate which, just as the Equator separates the Northern from the Southern hemisphere, illusorily separates and unites the phenomenal and the noumenal, samsara and nirvana. It is the open road of escape from solitary confinement in the dungeon of individuality. It is the way of reintegration in this-which-we-are, and it is pure as-it-isness.”

submitted by Elizabeth Reninger, http://www.purplemistpoems.com