Home Discussion Forum How does paradox function in the Tao te ching? Which overall philosophy...

How does paradox function in the Tao te ching? Which overall philosophy support their position?See Lao Tzu,?

I was reading Lao Tzu from The Tao Te Ching and I don’t quite understand it. The book “Reading The World Ideas That Matter was authored by Michael Austin.


  1. it’s okay to not QUITE understand it. I used to read it quite a bit and didn’t quite understand it. This actually went on for years.
    Then one day in Phoenix, while reading a book by Alan Watts, I woke up.
    And THEN I understood Tao Te Ching.

  2. One of the things I do almost every time I post an answer, is to look up the key words or terms to make certain I am understanding them in a commonly expressed manner. This is not because I don’t know the words, but because language is actually a VERY limiting faculty.
    Paradox (in a nut shell) is a self-contradictory concept that on its merits, makes sense, but defies logical solution. Everything about the Tao is about paradox! Examples: You build a structure, you mold a pot, you cut a door… but it is the absence/emptiness that makes them useful. The man of Tao ‘does’ nothing, therefore nothing is left ‘undone’. The best way to ‘control’ a thing is to give it wide open spaces in which to roam free unhindered. Yield and overcome, Bend and be straight. Paradox…. all of it is paradox. What the Tao is saying is that when we ‘try to do something’ or ‘create’ a need, we are stepping outside of the natural ebb and flow of Tao. If you are hungry, and your tummy growls… you will seek food and eat. This is Tao.
    If you eat, and you are not particularly hungry… maybe you are bored so you grab a sandwich… this is not Tao. When you seek food when hungry.. when you do what you are supposed to do without being told, just because it is the right thing to do… when you clear a path because it is obstructed and not for any other reason… these actions are Tao. They are non-actions because they are in flow with the natural way of things. They are non-doing! When a sapling bends in the wind (yields) it over-comes the wind not by resisting it, but by moving with the winds Tao and not resisting it’s nature. The Oak, who fights the wind at all times and never yields, will eventually be blown over. It may resist for a long while… but eventually the wind (nature) will win out. The last thing I’ll share is another paradox… There is a saying in the Tao (or in Chuang Tzu.. I forget) where the author speaks about words. He says that words express ideas and concepts, but that they (words) are difficult because they have different meanings and misunderstandings are commonplace. So he says that he’d like to find the man who has forgotten all of the words… that is the person that he would like to talk to.
    Paradox…. ya gotta love it!

  3. You aren’t supposed to understand it, “The Tao that can be known is not the eternal Tao”. You’re supposed to accept the fact that you can’t understand it and live with it in harmony. Taoism cannot be meaningfully analyzed in the same way as would a Western Philosopher, the cultural differences are too great.

  4. The Tao strives for simpleness. If you get rid of wants and desires you are infinitely rich. If you get rid of ambition you’ll abolish man’s lust for power, get rid of riches and have no reason for theft and steeling.
    The words of the Tao are extreme in nature only because it matches man’s own desire for personal gain. We strive to get closer to the Tao, and you will be content. One may never reach completely reach harmony with the Tao in his/her life time, but the closer you hold the it your heart the happier you will be.

  5. The Tao Te Ching seems obscure unless you tap into its inner meaning. There is even a sentence there that says, “True words seem paradoxical”. But in truth, they are not.
    Why is it like this?
    The Tao Te Ching is basically an attempt to describe reality as it actually is. We are all naturally full of desires, fears, memories, and so on; and when we look out at the world, what we see is greatly distorted by the way we look at things. To put it simply, we see what we want to see.
    Lao Tzu (or whoever actually wrote the Tao Te Ching, which is also a big question) was doing his best to describe things AS THEY REALLY ARE, using words that we all use – words that are limited by convention, culture, black-and-white logic, and so on… so naturally, there were bound to be difficulties in understanding.
    Here’s an example:
    Imagine that we lived in a world where everyone wore glasses. But each pair had its own colored lenses (pink glasses, red glasses, green…), so that each person saw the world in some particular color.
    Now imagine that some maniac (lets call him Lao, just for fun) took his glasses off. Then if Lao wanted to tell about this to someone, he’d say that he was looking at the world without glasses at all. Naturally, our dear “someone” would ask (since he’s limited to thinking in colors): “Friend Lao, what color is the world, really?”
    And Lao would naturally answer:
    “Friend Someone, the world is no color at all, and all the colors at once.”
    Now isn’t that a wonderful paradox? It would be to our friend Someone, but to Lao (and to us) it should make perfect sense.
    That’s the kind of paradoxes we find in the Tao Te Ching. They only make sense if you see their inner meaning. The paradoxes are actually meant to shake up your logic a little, so that you might begin to let go of “seeing things the way you’re use to” and start wanting to really figure things out regardless of conventions.
    How can we learn to see?
    By direct experience. There’s so much to say about this, so I won’t go too far, but the best way is by meditation. The Taoists practiced it (and still do), and so do the Buddhists and many others. They’re all learning to see, after all. Check out theopengateway.org – it’ll have some more links and maybe a few stories and texts you might find useful.
    Also, the book “The Tao of Pooh”, by Benjamin Hoff, is a really great introduction to Taoism in simple terms (it’s not meant for kids, though it is fun).


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