(Pinyin: Dào, pronounced "taů" or "daů")

  The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
—(Lao-tzu - Tao Te Ching)

Tao or Dao is a Chinese character which means ‘Way’ also path or road.  It is of central importance to Tai Ji Quan and the Taoist philosophy with which our art is so closely intertwined. Since the time of ancient China, Tao has meant the Way of Nature.                     

Sages like Lao Tsu and Confucius taught that the secret of success and fulfillment in life was to renounce one’s own way and instead follow the Great Way.                                                               

The Tao Te Ching is a Chinese Classic (a usually ancient and always important book) that is attributed to Lao Tsu. In his discourse about Tao and Taoism he described this as the way of ‘non-action’ – often misunderstood as advising inaction, what he was describing was congruence, tending towards harmony with the natural harmony of nature and the world we inhabit. 

‘The World is ruled by letting things take their course.                                                                          

It cannot be ruled by interfering’ - (Tao Te Ching; Verse 48).  

Tao refers to the organising principle in nature that has an (intuitive) intelligence of its own and that principle is that is best served by leaving it alone.

 ‘Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?...The universe is sacred.                            

You cannot improve it. If you try to change it you will ruin it.’ - (Tao Te Ching; Verse 29).
It is an idea that is still being refined today; you might remember the Gaia Theory, brain child of the visionary scientific thinker and inventor James Lovelock. He describes the earth as a super organism of all living organisms in a non-living environment. Gaia has the ability to self-regulate its own climate and chemistry.

However it was Lao Tsu, the legendary author of the Tao Te Ching, who first put on paper the principles of Tao. He wrote in a poetic, somewhat mysterious and dense style with many allusions to how life was lived at the time. If his work does intrigue you, each line is a rich source of wondering to carry about with you during your day as you integrate it with your Tai Ji Quan practice and the way you choose to live your life.      
‘He who follows the Tao is one with the Tao…Being at one with the Tao is eternal, though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.” - (Tao Te Ching; Verses 23 & 16)

Lao Tzu contrasts the Way of Nature with the way of human beings:
“The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough. Man’s way is different. He takes from those who do not have enough to give to those who already have too much. - (Tao Te Ching; verse 77.)


Taoism is a natural science. The notion of Taoist Tai Chi and the study of the Tao (explanation below) and was started by very enlightened, dedicated and, I suspect, quite persistent folk (the Taoists) some 5000 years ago. The process continues to the present day.

- Tries to make sense of the laws that govern life and to  
- Attempts to define the best way for each of us to contribute to and interact with these laws.

It is a very practical philosophy, based in reality and focused on results.
It is also rooted in cause and effect.
So please brace yourself, as it may come as much of a surprise to you as it did to me to learn that unlike the computer in Douglas Adams inspired “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” the Taoists did not conclude that the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything had a numeric answer.

Tai Ji Quan is a physical and mental expression of the principles that all those generations of observant Taoists consider to be the basis of all life: 

Balance within a process of constant change.

When we practice, with the right focus of attention, movements like taking weight from one leg to the other in the form or dragon walking can sometimes give the practitioner a little insight that can lead to the journey towards better understanding the principles which govern all movement.

Another “timeless principle of Taoism” is the relationship between the Microcoao Te Ching; verse 77.sm and the Macrocosm; the inner experience and the outer reality. They would suggest that the laws that govern one are the same as those that govern the other.

With this focus, our form gives us an awareness of the principles of all movement as we become part of the endless, constant change; we shift our weight and move our minds towards calm as the wind blows a cloud across the sky and the planets orbit the sun, so please move mindfully and remember what your teacher told you so patiently and often.

The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough. Man’s way is different. He takes from those who do not have enough to give to those who already have too much. - (Tao Te Ching; verse 77).

The way of Man, Lao Tsu describes the way of Man as as one in which force is applied without the attainment of desired results:

Just do what needs to be done. Never take advantage of power…Force is followed by loss of strength. This is not the way of Tao. That which goes against the Tao comes to an early end.”  - (Tao Te Ching; verse 30).

Doesn’t your teacher’s voice ring in your ears when you read that? Mine is telling me to be “song”  (relaxed). To be absolutely frank with you, he has mentioned it to me more than a few times.

Lao Tsu tells us that all mankind’s troubles on the Earth are caused by his having forgotten the Way. Excellent, so if we just remember the Way all will be well -if only it was that easy. Remembering the Way (sometimes called the Great Way for obvious reasons) is a spiritual awareness of one’s deep connection with the original principle that gave rise to and continues to organise everything in this universe. We are back to adopting ‘non-action’ (not inaction) and concord with the natural harmony / justice of Tao whilst avoiding that tendency towards egotism – it’s OK there is no one here but us dear reader, we can admit we are both a little insensitive sometimes, not as bad as everyone else we know, of course.   
And now a quote that would even stimulate Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells (one of my favourites –if that is not too egotistical)
“The greatest virtue is to follow Tao and Tao alone. The Tao is elusive and intangible. Oh, it is intangible and elusive, and yet within is image. Oh, it is elusive and intangible, and yet within is form. Oh, it is dim and dark, and yet within is essence. This essence is very real, and therein lies faith. From the very beginning till now its name has never been forgotten. Thus I perceive the creation. How do I know the ways of creation? Because of this  - (Tao Te Ching; verse 21).

So if Tao popped in for tea right now, what would it look like and more importantly what would be its taste in music? It would bear remarkable similarity with what is described in current theories about the role of the (presently) four universal forces. Those who study such things tell us these forces keep everything from sub-particles to atoms to planets and on to the universe (or universes) all ticking over.  Tao would feel like a flow in the universe; a flow that is slow never stagnant -like Tai Ji Quan. In spite of its slowness it is staggeringly powerful and keeps things in the universe balanced and in order. It has a strong connection with (or perhaps it is) the natural world so we can see it in the change of seasons, the cycle of life and once you get your eye in so much more. Qi and Tao go hand in hand. Qi is a Chinese term that is translated as breath, vapour and most significant for us right now, energy, you can find more about it if you click this link if we have put an article about Qi on the site yet.  If Qi (energy) sat around watching TV and eating junk food little would be happening anywhere. Here is when Tao enters from stage left and everywhere else because Tao is ultimately the flow of Qi; the very thing that people often ask us to go with because if we do, things that are meant to be fall into place.

To understand Tao is to appreciate that the only constant in the universe is change. Our task, if we choose to accept it, is to be in harmony with this change. This change itself is a constant flow from non-being into being, potential into actual, yin into yang and all the other examples that have just come to your mind, dear reader. Tao is the where Yin becomes Yang and Yang becomes Yin in keeping with the principle of continuity drives the constant evolution of the world.

Tao is felt and though it can’t be seen we can see its effects and it does have a symbol; clearly a very appealing one as it can be seen everywhere and is even used as a decoration on clothing. I suspect that the origin and significance of the symbol may be a little less familiar to the fashionable Taijitu wearer.

The Taijitu illustrates the Taoist principles of change with its close association with the flow and interchange of Qi (Link to article about the yin yang symbol here please, if it has been done).

Although Tao and Taoism is the main, if not only theme of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, intriguingly the book does not define what the Tao is and the author was clear why in the first sentence “The Tao that can be told of is not an Unvarying Tao". He does, however, suggest some of its attribute; the origin of things and an inexhaustible nothing (“The Way is like an empty vessel that may be drawn from without ever needing to be filled”; Tao Te Ching: verse 42).

Sadly its taste in music is shrouded in mystery.

Etymology: According to Rose Quong in her book Chinese Characters: Their Wit and Wisdom, the Tao character is decomposed to mean "the path of the warrior," where warrior-monks were the original keepers of martial arts, spiritual knowledge and wisdom.

The character Tao’s composition is (shǒu) meaning 'head' and (chuò) 'go' (Source: Wenlin).   In turn the decomposition etymology for the character shou is distinguished by the tufts at the top. These represent the distinctive hairstyle of the warrior class (their "bun"). The shou character as a whole is used to refer to concepts related to the head, such as leadership and rulership.

The character chuò 'go' in its reduced form, resembles a foot, and is meant to be evocative of its meaning "to walk," and "to go," as well as  "the way of."

If we need any, here are some references:  

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu - The fundamental book of Taoism, and an important work to many other religions and cultures.                                                                                                          

Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English (translators). 1972. Lao Tsu/Tao Te Ching. New York: Vintage Books. Chang, Dr. Stephen T. The Great Tao. Tao Publishing, imprint of Tao Longevity LLC. 1985. ISBN 0-942196-01-5.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Rose Quong (Author) & Dr. Kinn Wei Shaw (Illustrator). 1944. Chinese Characters: Their Wit and Wisdom. Ram Press.                                                                                                                                Wei, Wei Wu,"Why Lazarus Laughed: The Essential Doctrine Zen-Advaita-Tantra", Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., London, 1960. [1]                                                                                               Taoism Portal - Wikipedia resources on Taoism and the Tao.                                                                                                                                                                                                          The Tao of Physics - A 1975 book exploring Taoism from the perspective of a physicist.   
The Tao of Pooh - An entertaining 1982 fictional book introducing western readers toTaoism.