Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Tao Mean?

Tao is a Chinese word that has different meanings, but is typically translated as “way” or “path.” It is the principle upon which the religious and philosophical traditions of Taoism are based. Tao is difficult to define because it is, by definition, beyond human understanding. In the religious and philosophical contexts, it is both the source and guiding principle of all that exists and all the happens.

Tao is also defined as a path or way of virtuous conduct that, if followed, leads to a life of harmony. In addition, tao is used more generically as the art of doing something or performing a skill in harmony with that something’s essential nature – for example, the tao of cooking, the tao of bowling, the tao of golf and even the tao of yoga.


Yogapedia Explains Tao

The concepts of the tao are described in an ancient Chinese text called the “Tao Te Ching,” also known simply as “The Tao.” Authorship is popularly attributed to Lao Tzu, but that’s been subject to debate. Many of the principles outlined in “The Tao” are strikingly similar to those of the Yoga Sutras. According to the “Tao Te Ching,” tao is non-contentious, non-intentional, simplicity, wisdom, humility and duality (qualities only have meaning with the existence of their opposite).

As a philosophical concept, tao is further described by what humans cannot conceive: It is unknowable, indefinable and unnameable. Even so, we do know it as the natural universe, the way of nature, the source of creation and by a term that it shares with yoga and Hinduism – the Ultimate Reality, or Brahman.

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