Any book that’s a few hundred years old and is still being read is worth reading. The Tao is the way, the path, the route. The author, philosopher and thinker Lao Tzu — if such a person even existed — outlines the basic philosophy for what was later to become known as Taoism. It’s strongly influenced by other schools of Chinese philosophy and religion like Buddhism and Confucianism.
Main tenets: Taoism takes its name from the word “Tao” (“the Way”), the ancient Chinese name for the ordering principle that makes cosmic harmony possible. Not a transcendent ultimate, the Tao is found in the world (especially in nature), and can be encountered directly through mystical experience. It is the ultimate reality as well as the proper natural way of life humans must follow. Taoism prizes naturalness, non-action, and inwardness.
This book is short and sweet, commenting on everything from how to be a good leader, the art of taking action, and the art of not-thinking and not worrying. You can pick any random chapter and get something out of it. Being a bit of a Buddhist myself, it’s definitely one I’ll go back to every once in a while!
Some of my favorite quotes:
Do your work and step back
Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt. Chase after money and security and your heart will never unclench. Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.
He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm. He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far. He who tries to shine dims his own light. He who defines himself can’t know who he really is. He who has power over others can’t empower himself. He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures. If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.
The power of emptiness
We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move. We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want. We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable. We work with being, but non-being is what we use.
Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich. If you stay in the center and embrace death with your whole heart, you will endure forever.
On being a leader
If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.
Dangers of attachment and control
Trying to control the future is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place. When you handle the master carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut yourself.
Non-thinking and polluted mind
Our mind is like a glass of clear water. If we put salt into the water, it becomes salt water; sugar, it becomes sugar water; shit, it becomes shit water. But originally the water is clear. No thinking, no mind. No mind, no problem.
Wanting to reform the world without discovering one’s true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.