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How to Understand the Tao Te Ching


The Tao Te Ching is an ancient Chinese text, a doctrine. This philosophical and religious text is also known as Laozi, after the man who wrote it (supposedly). Laozi or Lao-tzu can be translated in English as “old master”. Even though this text is translated into many languages, it can be very challenging to understand. The name of the book can be translated as “The way and the virtue”, although the translations vary. Many spend years or even decades trying to understand this moral text.



To understand the text you have to learn more about the time when it was written. You may have to spend a lot of time searching for information. Some believe that Lao-tzu wasn’t the one who wrote it and the text is actually “younger” than him. This is why you may want to read a little more and dig deeper. You will have to learn more about the period of time from 6th to 4th B.C., at that time China was torn between a few states, 6, to be exact. You may want to learn more about each one of them.


Learn more about Taoism. This is a philosophical and religious tradition that teaches us to live in harmony with nature. It also encourages us to refuse from blessings of civilization and have a simple lifestyle – live in harmony with nature, no culture and no civilization. Understanding Taoism is essential when trying to understand Tao Te Ching. As you have to know what China was like at the time.


What you need to study to understand Tao Te Ching (aside from Taoism) is Confucianism, Legalism and Mohism. Confucianism views the society as a whole, Taoism is “younger” and it is sort of opposed to Confucianism, and understanding this contrast is important to get Tao Te Ching. Legalism and Mohism appeared at the time of Taoism and are opposed to it, study these philosophies & Confucianism to grasp the idea of Tao Te Ching.

Influence research

Learn more about ancestral worship and religions that might affect the old master (Lao-Tzu), visit places where he might have been (if possible). Try to go through the same stuff.


Books you may want to read if you are eager to understand Tao Te Ching. Read books on:

  • Taoism;
  • Confucianism
  • legalism
  • absolutism
  • Chinese civilization
  • ancestral worship
  • local gods and goddesses
  • Lao-Tzu



Don’t read books from unreliable sources, and read books that have been written by different authors: not only Chinese, as you what to get an objective picture.


Don’t give up. If you are persistent, you will sure make a progress.



Ask other people, talk to professionals who have achieved something. Other people can help you understand Tao Te Ching and you will be able to discuss your guesses and share your opinion with them. Dig deep and you will find what you are looking for. Register on forums devoted to Tao Te Ching and keep exploring the culture.

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