Tao means literally ‘path’ or ‘way’. There are three senses in which this ‘way’ can be understood:
The way of ultimate reality: The transcendent, ultimate Tao, the ground of all existence, from which all life springs and to which it again returns.
The way of the universe:The immanent Tao, the ordering principle, the energy and rhythm of nature.
The way man should order his life:To be in harmony with Tao is to attain fullness of life – this is the chief aim of human existence.
Although popular Taoism has degenerated into a type of magic, the philosophical Taoism continues to shape the Chinese character in the direction of serenity and grace.
Virtues of Wu Wei
The basic quality of life in tune with the universe is Wu Wei. This is not inaction but creative quietude or non-assertive effortless ‘being’. When this quality is manifested one lives in Tao.
Water is used as an example because of the way it adapts itself to its surroundings and seeks out the lowest places and yet, despite its accommodation, wears down rocks. Infinitely supple yet incomparably strong – these virtues of water are precisely those of Wu Wei. The man who embodies this virtue works without working – he acts without strain, persuades without argument, is eloquent without flourish, makes his point without violence. Though unnoticed, his influence is decisive. By being humble one does not assert oneself but blends with nature, thereby achieving the highest i.e. to identify with Tao and let It work through one.
This is the traditional Chinese symbolism of life’s two interacting energies – the positive and the negative. Everything that exists is seen to be made up of these basic opposites e.g. good/evil, active/passive, light/dark, male/female etc. They interact in creation, but are held together and finally resolved in the all-embracing circle, symbolizing Tao, which is beyond these relative pairs of opposites. Taoists use this symbol for meditation.
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