Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Books That Changed My Life: The Tao Te Ching

(This is a cross-post from GOS.)

I first encounter the Tao Te Ching when I was in college. After I graduated I looked for a good version of the book and it took a few years and the help of some Chinese friends but I finally found the perfect book. It is translated by Gia-Fu Feng and illustrated by Jane English. What made this book so unique is that it has the translations but it also has the original in calligraphy on black and white photographs. It is quite simply one of the most beautiful books I own.

The Tao Te Ching was written by Lao Tsu in the 6th Century B.C. There are 81 chapters and approximately 5,000 words. Tao means “the way.” According to Rowena Partee Kryde who founded the Creative Harmonics Institute in Mount Shasta, California there are four basic tenets of traditional Taoism.

1. The way of Tao underlies all things.

2. That human interaction that is harmonious with Tao is spontaneous, effortless, and inexhaustible.

3. That the perfected individual is a sage, free from desire and strife.

4. That the sage conducts government by guiding his people back to a state of harmony with Tao.

The chapters are short but very profound.

Chapter 8

The highest good is like water.

Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.

It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.

In meditation, go deep in the heart.

In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.

In speech, be true.

In ruling, be just.

In business, be competent.

In action, watch the timing.

No fight: No blame.

Chapter 11

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;

It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there.

Much of the Tao Te Ching is very mystical. It speaks of simplicity in life. It speaks of the unknowable and trying to live with the unknown. It is the opposite of our Western driven world where power and greed are rampant.

When I first read the Tao Te Ching in college one of my art teachers told me that I had the greatest sense of “space” in any artist he had ever taught. He remarked that I knew that what wasn’t there was just as important as what was there. He loved the fact that I didn’t always try and fill my canvas to the brim. I knew how to let the blank spaces be part of my art. The Tao of Art.

I learned that from the Tao Te Ching. I learned that possessions aren’t the important things. I learned that what is inside and how I treat others are infinitely more important then personal power and acquisitions. I can’t say that I even now fully understand the Tao Te Ching but I find in times of great stress that sitting down and reading it soothes me. I learned to love and value nature. I learned balance and harmony. For something of only 5,000 words I found that the Tao Te Ching taught me some of the most important lessons I learned about life.

Yin Yang photo YinYang_zpsac902418.jpg


  1. ursoklevar

    I met Gia Fu Feng when I was about 32 and in the midst of a nasty divorce. It’s so long ago now that I can’t remember what circumstances connected us, and I don’t think we exchanged more than a handful of words. It was his presence that I recall: serene and complete, as opposed to the chaotic and fragmented creature I was at that time.

    Now, some 30 years later, here’s your diary to remind me of that meeting, to remind me that it’s time for me to walk my spiritual path (largely Tibetan Buddhism) with greater diligence. The very first chapter of Gia Fu Feng/Jane English’s Tao is, as you note, mystical, and for me, incantatory:

    The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao,

    The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

    The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.

    The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

    Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.

    Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.

    These two spring from the same source but differ in name;

      this appears as darkness.

    Darkness within darkness.

    The gate to all mystery.

Comments are closed.