9 Life Lessons From The Tao Te Ching
This guest post is from Regan Jacklin, a fellow traveler and blogger I met in Mexico late last year.
The Tao Te Ching is one of the most revered spiritual texts of all time. It is the basis of the “religion” of Taoism.
The purpose of Taoism is to create a life abundant in peace and joy through effortless living. Many of the lessons will contradict the lessons of the outside world. It is composed almost entirely of paradox. For this reason, the teachings require study, meditation, and daily application for their true power to take effect.
When this power is realized and acted upon, the Tao Te Ching is capable of bringing us back to our roots where the problems of the world do not affect us.
The following is a list of some of the most powerful teachings and ideas from this text. I urge you to read this list with an open mind and see if even a single one of these lessons doesn’t improve your well-being.
“That which is well planted in the Tao cannot be uprooted.” – v.54
1. The Three Traits Of The Sage
Many times throughout the Tao Te Ching we see The Sage being referenced. The Sage is simply a person of elevated wisdom. Most likely, they have reached enlightenment and understand the true meaning of life.
By understanding the meaning of life, the Sage lives a life that is free of emotional resistance. Instead, they soak in the beauty of life, experiencing a heaven on earth.
The Tao Te Ching is ultimately a passing down of this soul-freeing wisdom. It states that the sage values three virtues above all else: humility, moderation, and compassion.
Today, humility is thought to be a weak trait. In reality, humility is a key to true power.
The humble person admits they are far from perfect. This is where their true power comes from – their weakness.
The humble recognize they don’t know everything. They search for answers and they always get them. These answers allow them to live a more fulfilling life. Furthermore, they aren’t afraid to ask for help and, in return, they receive more assistance than anyone else.
The humble person doesn’t elevate himself or his needs above anyone else. As a result, his relationships are deep, genuine, intensely rewarding, and abundant.
There is an assumption that being humble means you can’t have confidence. However, the opposite is true. Being humble means you have confidence yet you don’t need to impose it on anyone. It comes from within and stays there.
The humble person is rooted on the ground while their quality of life soars past the stars.
“All streams flow to the sea because it lies below them. Humility gives the sea its power.” – v.66
Everything in excess becomes harmful. We aren’t just talking about the typical drugs, fast food, and sex either.
Even things we perceive as good become harmful when we overindulge. When we make any good thing a Godly thing, we set ourselves up for disaster.
Life is characterized by change. What we place our identity and happiness in today may not be around tomorrow. Therefore, the Sage stays rooted in the Tao – the one true constant.
The Sage moderates his emotions. He never allows himself to go too high or too low. Instead, he stays rooted in his calm center preserving his energy for important tasks. His emotions come from his center, therefore, external conditions never tip him too far off balance.
The Sage recognizes that life owes him nothing. Instead, he owes life everything. With this fact, he lives to give back, not to acquire or steal.
The Sage lives from a position of Universal Oneness. He lives in an attempt to nourish all of creation taking no favorites and turning his back to no person or creature in need.
As a result of the Sage’s compassion, his life is naturally filled with purpose, great relationships, and lasting reward. By giving everything he has, he receives more than he could ever wish for in return.
2. Dont Value What Others Have
“The Great Way is smooth and easy, yet people prefer the devious side paths.” – v.53
A better way of life has been around for thousands of years. The secrets to lasting peace and happiness really aren’t a secret, they are just ignored.
Today, people think lasting happiness can be bought, drank, or eaten.
Everyone lives by their ego, thinking timeless wisdom is a set of rules rather than the guidelines to a smoother life that it truly is. In their disregard, people aimlessly try to do life better their way and find themselves depressed, stressed, and run down in time.
In reality, we are ignoring and smothering the cries of our souls. Our outward depression is a result of feeding our bodies and mind the wrong values and input.
The fix is simple:
Value your inner peace over possessions. Value relationships over money. Value discipline over immediate gratification. And gather wisdom instead of catching up on the news..
Don’t be a sheep following the crowd and feeding off low hanging fruit. Everything the sheep chase will fall into your lap as you live a life of virtue, wisdom, and discipline.
Feed your spirit and you will walk a path of bliss known only to few… This is the Great Way.
“If I have any sense, I should walk the Great Way, and my only fear would be straying from it.” – v.53
3. Look Inside For Life’s Answers
“Man was made to sit quietly and find the truth within.” – v.5
There are inherent truths to the meaning of life that the Universe rests on and that can be found by looking within oneself. God or the Universe preinstalled them within our operating system.
When these answers are known, understood, and followed, life becomes an effortless experience of joy and wonder.
Unfortunately, the outside world has one-thousand easy distractions. We no longer look at the compass within. Instead, we look at everything but the compass and then we wonder how and why we ended up so far off course in our life.
4. What You Will Resist Will Persist
“When two great forces oppose each other, victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.” – v. 69
Brazilian jiu-jitsu has become extremely popular in recent years.
Jiu-jitsu is a form of submission wrestling that uses the opponent’s weight against them. A well-trained athlete can overcome someone dramatically bigger than himself by using his opponent’s weight to his own disadvantage. At this point, strength and size become irrelevant.
To bring this back to the Tao, when life throws you an enormous problem, just step out of its way. Rather than fight with something bigger than you, use its own weight against it and watch it collapse on itself.
In reality, it isn’t usually our problems that cause us our grief. It is our resistance to the problem, our kicking and screaming as we try to rush the problem out of our life.
What if we made the decision to be content in any of life’s circumstances?
If we are doing everything we can, then all that’s left for us to do is to trust the powers that be and keep on keepin on. Resisting life’s flow will only ever cause you further depression, anxiety, and health problems.
Follow Life’s Lead And React Accordingly
“A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind.” – v.76
Life is a powerful force. To fight it would be as wise as showing up to a shootout with a nerf gun. Life has its own perfect and pleasing timeline. Although the problems life has given you may not make sense at the moment, the dots will always connect in the future.
The Tao suggests that the trajectory of your life is geared toward perfection if you would simply submit and go with the flow. Therefore, there is never anything worth resisting or worrying about.
When you try to control life, you are trying to take the place of God. Surely you will find yourself in over your head, drowning in worry and mistakes.
5. Universal Oneness
“One who sees himself as everything is fit to be guardian of the world” – v.13
This quote can be wildly misinterpreted. It isn’t the widespread call to ego that it appears to be. In fact, it is the complete opposite.
Through the infinite and eternal source of the Tao, every being is connected as one far greater whole. Seeing yourself as everything is believing you are part of that greater whole.
When meditated upon, this inherent oneness will alter the way we live our lives. When you live with belief of this inherent oneness, you will begin to live in accordance with your true nature. You can then assume your role as a guardian of the world – nourishing and showing compassion to all living things.
Then, you no longer need to spend your whole life in competition. We don’t need to drag others down so we can get ahead and achieve our goals.
Instead, the Sage finds happiness through helping all of creation. And the more people he treats with compassion and unity, the more whole and secure he finds himself.
6. Inherent Goodness
“It isn’t our true nature that causes us to act in destructive ways. It’s IGNORANCE of our true nature that is responsible.” – Rory Mackay
Who is more likely to do bad: someone who believes they are a bad person or someone who knows they are good?
Believe you are a bad person and you will never feel shame in doing bad things. Over time, these destructive behaviors manifest as unfortunate circumstances.
However, believe you are good and doing wrong will cause you internal distress. This distress would urge you to correct course with good actions and, eventually, those good actions would yield reward and progress your life.
Your reality is first created in your mind.
Connect with the teachings of the Tao and you will surely come to the realization that you are inherently good. You may be misguided by the world, but you are not a bad person. You might have made mistakes, but so has every last person on this planet.
The Tao Te Ching teaches that the infinitely good and eternal source of creation lies within you. And it begins to correct your course the second you let it.
You don’t have to try to be a good person, you are.
7. Less Is More
“It is easier to carry an empty cup than one that is filled to the brim” – v.9
The Tao Te Ching states that the less we have, the happier we will be… doesn’t society teach us the exact opposite?
Society teaches us that we need a big house, prestigious career, fancy car, and accessories to match our elegant lifestyle. The more we have and the wealthier we appear, the happier we will be.
In verse 9 of the Tao, Lao Tzu emphasizes that having more only sets us up with the stress of maintaining it.
Let’s use the example of a CEO as an illustration to prove this:
Jane finds her identity in her career. She spends 10 hours a day for six days per week trying to move up the company ladder. Her hard work ethic ensures she moves up the ranks quickly and she sees many pay rises along her path.
But, she is never fulfilled and tells herself she’ll be happy once she reaches the status of CEO. Well, one day she does reach the coveted position of CEO. Over the course of the next few months, she hardly sees her friends. Her health deteriorates rapidly from high stress and long hours. To boot, she can’t even enjoy her money because she is spending all her time at work.
Three years down the road, she is on antidepressants and highly overworked. She can’t remember the last time she saw a beach or had dinner with family, yet she wonders why she isn’t enjoying life anymore. After all, she’s living the dream.
Now, let’s look at Joe who, in contrast, lives a modest life.
Joe works four days per week because money doesn’t constitute his happiness. While he does work hard, he values free time more than money.
Joe settles with an average car, average house, and modest clothing but he’s happy with that. He doesn’t compete in the rat race of “more” and, therefore, he can work less and take the time to experience his journey through life.
Joe gets to spend the evenings with his wife and two daughters and always has time for friends. He is a regular at the local golf course and always has a tan from all the time he spends outside hiking and biking.
Jane is always striving and never arriving. Her lifestyle of more leads her down the rabbit hole of depression with an escape becoming increasingly impossible.
Joe is happy with what he has every single day. As a result, good experiences and relationships give him a fulfilling life beyond what a pay rise ever could. His health – the only thing that we really want more of – flourishes as a product of his peaceful life.
“Be content with what you have; realize that nothing is lacking. If you know when to stop, the whole world belongs to you.” – v.44
8. Let The Inner Child Out
“The child is one with the Tao, living within harmony and grace. This is why the child finds eternity within a single day.” – v.55
The Sage can learn as much from a child as a child can learn from their parents.
The innocent mind of a child is protected from the lies of the world. The child is aware of the true nature of existence without even trying to grasp it.
Depression in children is all but unheard of. It isn’t until we get older and our consciousness becomes distracted that we lose touch with what it means to really live and be happy.
A child loves unconditionally, plays joyfully, and lives freely. They invest their heart so fully into everything they do that they cannot possibly be concerned with yesterday or tomorrow. A child goes with the flow and forces nothing in life and yet they are always taken care of.
No wonder they sleep so well at night.
9. The Journey Of A Thousand Miles
“The great pine tree grows from a tiny seedling; a tower starts with a single brick. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – v.64
Many people’s misery is in-part due to dreams that were never acted on. These dreams were likely highly realistic, however, due to their size, they were forfeited.
What stopped you from pursuing your dreams? Were you overwhelmed as you stared at the peak of your glacier-capped mountain from the base? Perhaps someone else told you that your dream was impossible and you chose to believe them?
Once again, we see a powerful paradox come from the Tao:
The giant dreams we deem undoable are accomplished by taking small steps. When attacked daily, these dreams slowly unwind like the strands of a cable. Inside, we see the big dream consists of many smaller disciplines intertwined.
The same is true of your grandiose dreams. A few weeks, perhaps months, of daily discipline and your dreams will look less like dreams and more like reality.
If you previously let a dream slip you by, take that first step towards it today! When tomorrow comes, take one more.
This verse can also be applied to overcoming any problem that has been ruling your life. Start today by adding one small discipline that sets you on the path to triumph.
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