Dào (Dao, Tao) – the Way

In my blogs I have been using a term Dào (Dao, Tao) and would like to share with you my understanding of the meaning of the concept.

Dào is usually translated as way, road, channel, path, doctrine, or line. Chinese language is a tonal language so we must not confuse Dào with Dǎo, although for us it sounds the same. The latter, Dǎo, has an entirely different meaning: to lead, to transform, to guide, to conduct and or to direct.

Yin Yang

There are some who would like to believe that Dào is a sort of ultimate creator, a God? It is not. God interferes with people and things, Dào never does. It is said that he who pursues Dào does less day by day. Less and less is done until nothing is done at all; when nothing is done at all, nothing is left undone. This is the fundamental difference between God and Dào – there is no interference when Dào is in concern. At the same time we should understand that Dào in Daoism can have dual meaning. One is religious and the other philosophical. The understanding and use of Dào in my book Leadership by Virtue is the latter.

In old China a sage explains Dào through a story: When King Shun asked his prime minister how I can hold Dào the minister replied ‘You don’t possess your own body. How can you procure and possess Dào?’ to which King Shun asked again ‘If I don’t possess my own body, then who possesses it?’ and the prime minister replied ‘It is the Heaven and the Earth that endow you with body. Neither is your life your own possession, for it is the concordance endowed by the Heaven and the Earth. Your descendants are not your own possession either. When bringing into play Heaven and Earth the story does not really bother with supernatural but rather with Nature itself.

bamboo bookLǎo Zǐ, another Chinese sage explained Dào as ‘Life comes without any trace and goes without any boundaries. Everything in the world finds substance in Dào, which is never deficient.’ Hence, Dào can be described as a method and, in philosophy the path or teachings or truths that followers of a particular school adhere to. Dào, a single mother, source of life, is juxtaposed to its creation, the ten thousand things. Heaven/sky and Earth/land themselves are an intermediate creation, serving the Way as a framework that imparts forms and names, and thus duality in all things as they are produced. The ten thousand things move between two poles: negation and existence, unity and division, potentiality and actuality. The Way describes a recurring circular or continuous S-shaped process, which is best viewed in the symbol of Tai Chi that must return to its starting point before beginning again. ‘All living forms . . . go round home again’ (stanza 14 in Dao De Jing); ‘the Way moves on by contra-motion’ (stanza 40). There is no human role at the level of the Way’s creative power, neither for the living nor for their ancestors or the ancient god-kings. Dào is Cháng or long, everlasting, constant, common to the ten thousand things.

night skyZhuāng Zǐ , yet another of China’s sages, defined Dào: the Heaven and the Earth have the highest virtue, although they do not speak a word or interfere. The four seasons occur in regular cycles, but they do not raise a single argument. All things in the world grow in a fixed pattern, but they do not give a single explanation. Things have died or have been born or have changed to various shapes and sizes, but no one knows the fundamental cause of the process. Everything has followed its own life-cycle and existed in its own way since ancient times. The Universe is immense, but operates within the range of Dào. The great Dào is so obscure that it exists as if it did not exist. In fact, it is ubiquitous. All things in the world are nurtured by it, but they are unaware of its existence. It is also called ‘the root source,’ with which people can observe the ‘laws of Nature.’

Zhuāng Zǐ said ‘Set your mind at flight by going along with things as they are. Cultivate your mind by resigning yourself to the inevitable.’ The first stage is ‘the fasting of the mind’ –  ‘The mighty Dào can only gather in emptiness, and that emptiness is the fasting of the mind.’ In other words, the mind must be quiet and empty. He evolved the unique concept of Dào in Chinese philosophy and enriched its connotation far beyond Herakleitos’ logos, Parmenides’ hedos, Plato’s ideas of the good and other concepts.

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